Editor’s note: Columnist Riley Quinn is not a licensed doctor … yet.
In late spring 2009, I was in the midst of “dolling” up for my senior prom. The dress, shoes and date were well-decided, and a brief moment of spontaneity led my father and I on a daddy-daughter hunt to the department store cosmetics counter.
All little girls know one secret, if you can melt your dad’s heart, you can have anything you want. So, with my charm and razzle dazzle, I left the mall with a gorgeous tube of Clarins’ red lipstick, followed by my dad’s signature saying, “You never miss an opportunity, Ri.”
One would suspect that a $26 tube of lipstick would be safe and harmless, right? Unnerving but true, that fabulous little cosmetic investment was a lead-loaded, toxic gun ready for fire.
On average, we use about nine personal care products per day, each containing around 126 chemical ingredients. Many of these chemicals are closely linked to an increased risk of cancer, infertility, birth defects, asthma, learning disabilities and hormone disruption. It is a very real notion that the human race has become an experimental think tank for heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.
Like the popular saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Well, you are also what you lather onto your skin. Anything and everything applied to the porous regions of your body is absorbed into your life-preserving bloodstream.
Take one step into the bathroom, and you’ve stumbled upon a treacherous mine field of toxic substances. Common constituents found on your typical shampoo and conditioner label may be Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Tetrasodium EDTA or Methylisothiazolinone – sounds more like an organic chemistry course than your average, easy-to-read ingredients.
In fact, while on the topic of chemistry class, the makeup foundation in your beauty bag and shampoo in your shower caddy, have a similar chemical structure to estrogen, which interferes with the body’s natural production of hormones. And gentlemen, your shaving gel contains the same chemical structure, leaving you and the guys to deal with risky business as well.
Less than 20 percent of chemicals found in cosmetics have been assessed for risk by the industry’s safety panel. As a famous proponent of sustainability, Annie Leonard offers the question, “Would you fly an airline that only inspects 20 percent of its planes?”
Last October, Estee Lauder ran a monumental breast cancer research campaign. Despite the company’s “sincere” efforts, it may have been more beneficial to the field of women’s breast health to simply remove the carcinogenic toxins polluting its products in the first place.
Just to put the politics behind these famous cosmetic companies in perspective for you – the beauty industry has designed its very own committee who essentially “self-police” their cosmetic products and whether or not compliance occurs within the set of recommendations decided upon.
Therefore, it is the beauty companies who create the rules and choose whether or not they would like to follow along.
The Food and Drug Administration claims that the toxins found in beauty products are only located in insignificant amounts and are virtually harmless to the consumer. Realistically, these products are being used every day by men and women in conjunction with other cosmetic products – we are essentially building a toxic chemistry lab in our bodies! A little toxic dose on our nails, hair, under arms and on our lips day after day can equals a science experiment gone awry.
The FDA does not monitor the ingredients of cosmetics closely enough, as proven by its century-long hiatus of banning harmful components used in makeup and skin care. It is not even a requirement to list all of the ingredients found in personal care products upon the label. Marketing vocab such as “herbal,” “natural” and “organic” has virtually no legal definition in the beauty industry, so companies continue to perpetually abuse our trust.
The cosmetics industry in the United States has claimed that it is impossible to remove all of the synthetic parabens and other toxic counterparts in the products we use daily, but this is incorrect. There are many “green” chemists abounding the beauty world with safe, non-toxic products right from the get-go.
Just a hop and a skip over the pond, our lovely European friends are relishing in top-care beauty essentials, which are heavily monitored by the European Union. Just in the past several years, Europe has banned the use of all substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction, proving that the capabilities to comply are present. Unfortunately, the U.S. has yet to follow in these fantastic footsteps.
The future cancer statistics are frightening; we are expecting a whopping one-third of the male population and half of all women to be diagnosed with cancer by 2050.
The great news is that we hold consumer power. If we take the time to educate ourselves on consumer product safety, we gain the authority to vote with our wallets and ultimately select cosmetic products that both look and feel lovely on our beautiful, bombshell bodies.
To double check that your beauty essentials are safe to use, visit ewg.org/skindeep for a complete database of more than 79,000 products.