Unfortunately, our skin is far from the perfect barrier. It does a marvelous job of protecting the body from bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. However, evolution has not prepared us for lab-designed, synthetic chemicals. Many of these chemicals are specifically designed to be absorbed more effectively through our skin. Entering easily through our pores and mucous membranes, these chemicals pass into the bloodstream to various organs and tissues.
Should We Be Concerned?
Many top scientists and environmentalists are becoming increasingly concerned about the chemicals in personal care products, with good reason. Most of these chemical ingredients have not been tested for long-term safety. Many have been show to be harmful in scientific tests. (Dingle & Brown, 1999) Some are carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, allergens, and much more.
The concern stems from the statistics, which are alarming: According to the Environmental Working Group, since the 1970-1980s:
-Autism has increased tenfold
-Incidence of male birth defects have doubled
-Incidence of childhood asthma has doubled
-62% increase in childhood leukemia
-40% increase in childhood brain cancer
-23% increase in pre-term birth
-Incidence of testicular and prostate cancer have doubled
-5-10% of couples experience infertility
-3-5% of all babies suffer from birth defects
-1 in 7 women will get breast cancer
Are synthetic chemicals to blame? It is unknown at this point. But what is certain is that we are exposed to a multitude of synthetic chemicals each day that our bodies are not equipped to handle. A number of these chemicals have been definitively linked to harmful health effects, such as cancer or endocrine disruption. Yet this information has pretty much kept quiet by our government and the manufacturers of the products that contain them.
Does the Government Protect Us?
After the Environmental Working Group (EWG) exposed the harmful effects of the commonly used chemical Bisphenol A (contained in baby bottles, baby formula and the lining of canned food), it became particularly clear that our government has not been protecting the public health. Large corporations, with their incredible lobbying power, have been the ones protected. These companies put hazardous ingredients into their products in the name of cutting costs and increasing profits, hoping that the consumer won't realize the dangers inherent in the use of these chemicals. Meanwhile, they earnestly deny their ingredients are harmful. (Malkin, 2007)
By far the worst offender is the cosmetics industry, which includes manufacturers of shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving creams, cosmetics and baby care products. The list of toxic chemical ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products is alarming, to say the least. But the list of harmful ingredients in baby lotion, baby shampoo, bubble bath, and sunscreen is downright criminal. (EWG, 2008)
Under federal law and regulations, the FDA and the United States government cannot require companies to test cosmetic products for safety before marketing, and does not have the power to review or approve products or ingredients before they are sold. They cannot require recalls, and must go to court to remove products from store shelves. (Malkin, 2007)
Product safety is evaluated through a voluntary program called the Cosmetic Industry Review (CIR), which is run by the cosmetic companies themselves. Literally, it is asking the wolves to guard the sheep. If you analyze the ingredients in cosmetics, it is obvious that the cosmetic companies do not even follow the guidelines recommended by their own Cosmetic Industry Review panel. (Gabriel, 2008) Does this sound like adequate protection to you?
According to Environmental Working Group,
This complete absence of accountability to a responsible government agency has...created a culture of ignorance around personal care products, where far too little is known about ingredient safety. (Jane Houlihan, EWG, May 2008)
Dingle, Peter & Brown, Toni. Dangerous Beauty. ONEgroup, June 1999.
Environmental Working Group (website). Washington, DC, 2007. http://www.ewg.org/. Site referenced July-October 2008.
Environmental Working Group (website). Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns. Washington, DC, 2005. [http://archive.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/]. Site referenced July-October 2008.
Gabriel, Julie. The Green Beauty Guide. Florida: Health Communications, 2008
Malkin, Stacy. Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. Canada: New Society Publishers, 2007.