What is in your personal care products? Are they safe for you and your family to use? Stop falling for the hype or greenwashing – words such as organic or natural on the front of the labels. Read the ingredients listed on the back and ask yourself these questions – are the ingredients safe for me or my family to use? Or are there common endocrine disruptors or harmful chemicals in skin care products that could cause harm to me and my family?
I was just like most of you. Before 2011, I knew absolutely nothing about personal care products or questioned what was in them. I assumed the products I was using at the time and the ingredients in them went through some kind of safety testing and were safe for me to use. The products I was using at the time were not cheap either. I used a combination of drug store brands to higher end department store brands.
However, in 2010, I developed 3 autoimmune/endocrine disorders (endometriosis, hyperthyroidism and Grave’s Disease) in the same year which required surgery. In fact, my doctors could not even tell me if I had endometriosis even after 2 pelvic ultrasounds and a MRI. I had two large masses on my ovaries and it required them to open me up to see that it was endometriosis and not cancer.
There is still not a lot known about endometriosis or how to prevent it from reoccurring. It is extremely invasive and often requires multiple surgeries. It can recur within several months and is extremely painful. I remember the nurse on my floor after my laparoscopic surgery had 5 surgeries because her endometriosis kept reoccurring but she wanted to have more kids. Hysterectomy is a common solution for women who suffer from endometriosis. My endocrinologist basically wrote me a prescription to help control my thyroid.
This did not sit well with me. I wanted to know if there was anything that I could do that could potentially help reverse my conditions and give me my health back. After all, I am a scientist and conduct research for a living.
So I plunked myself down in front of my computer and started typing in ‘natural or herbal preventions for endometriosis and hyperthyroid’ and ‘causes of endometriosis and hyperthyroid’. I started to notice patterns and words such as ‘hormone mimickers’ and ‘common endocrine disruptors’ found in foods and ingredients in personal care products. Did the products I was using have some of these harmful ingredients?
It turned out they all did. From my shampoo, conditioner, facial wash, moisturizers, and makeup to even some of the food I was eating such as soy all contained ingredients that mimicked my hormones and/or disrupted my endocrine system. Common endocrine disruptors examples are dioxin, phthalates, lead, mercury and parabens. I was mad!! How could these ingredients be allowed in the products that I was using?
So I started to do some digging into our laws and legislation, and was surprised by what I had found.
The FDA’s modern regulatory functions began with the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act. The FDA and its responsibilities have changed a lot since 1906 but when it comes to how it regulates cosmetics, their authority over cosmetics is limited, and how they determine whether products are safe for consumers to use. “The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market.” Health Canada is not much better.
What kinds of products are “cosmetics” under the FDA?
“The FD&C Act defines cosmetics by their intended use, as "articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body...for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance" (FD&C Act, sec. 201(i)). Among the products included in this definition are skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, eye and facial makeup, cleansing shampoos, permanent waves, hair colors, and deodorants, as well as any substance intended for use as a component of a cosmetic product. It does not include soap.”
Since I started my research over 6 years ago, the lack of authority and safety testing on ingredients allowed in personal care products has gained media attention. Yet still, not much has changed.
The Environmental Defence of Canada wrote a report in 2011 about 8 heavy metals found in makeup - Heavy Metal Hazard: The Health Risks of Hidden Heavy Metals in Face Makeup. For a copy of the full report visit http://environmentaldefence.ca.
They reported that the face makeup they tested did contain heavy metals and as consumers we are unaware they are in there. The Environmental Defence of Canada asked 6 women of various ages from across Canada to have 5 pieces of face makeup they use every day to be tested for heavy metals.
49 face makeup items in total were tested including brand names such as L’Oreal, Cover Girl, Avon, Maybelline, Quo, Urban Decay, Sephora, Clinique, Mary Kay and MAC. The 8 heavy metals of concern were arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, beryllium, nickel, selenium and thallium. In all cases but nickel, these metals are banned as intentional ingredients in cosmetics. Heavy metals can build up in our bodies over time and cause a variety of health issues such as cancer, reproductive disorders, neurological problems, immune issues, memory loss and kidney problems. Many are suspected hormone mimickers, common endocrine disruptors and respiratory toxins. Here is what they found:
- Seven of the 8 metals of concern were found in 49 of the face makeup items tested. On average, the products contained 4 of the 8 metals of concern.
- None of the heavy metals were listed on the product label
In 2012, ABC News revealed in a broadcast (Consumer Watchdog Report) that approximately 120 chemicals in personal care products were used every day by women and roughly 80 chemicals were used every day by men and these chemicals were mostly untested for safety because the government does not have the authority to do anything.
The majority of consumers interviewed were just like me and never really thought about whether their personal care products were safe for them to use. You just assume they are safe. Here is a list of chemicals we tend to put on our bodies every day: formaldehyde, dioxane, lead, parabens, mercury, toluene, and diethyl phthalate (many common endocrine disruptors).
Common Endocrine Disruptors in Beauty Products? Watch the video below.
In 2012, California added cocamide DEA to its list of known carcinogens after tests by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found “sufficient evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of the chemical.” Cocamide DEA is a chemically modified form of coconut oil used as a thickener or foaming agent in products.
Recent tests have shown 98 shampoos, soaps, and other personal care products sold at retailers such as Sears, Target, Sephora, Babies R Us and Bloomingdales contained cocamide DEA but did not include a warning on the label. To find the full list of products the Center for Environmental Health claims contain cocamide DEA click here.
“Research conducted by the FDA shows that more than 99 percent of all cosmetic lip products and cosmetics applied externally – nearly all such products currently on the market – are tainted with lead (common endocrine disruptor). But the agency maintains that these levels are below the threat level.”
However, lead is still allowed in personal care products along with other harmful ingredients and cancer-causing toxins. In 2013, research published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) found that of all the major personal care brands tested, all of them were tainted with toxic metals such as manganese, titanium and aluminum. Many are known carcinogens. They are at levels that could pose serious health risks. The FDA has yet to address the problem.
Many of us were shocked when Johnson & Johnson was sued for $72 million for using a known carcinogen in their products and failing to warn consumers in 2016. It is unsettling to find a product such as Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder to contain a known carcinogen when it is promoted as being safe to use on a daily basis.
- The Department does not regularly test cosmetic products to verify the accuracy of product labels or to check for the presence of prohibited substances, microbial contaminants, and heavy metals.
- The chemical components of cosmetic ingredients characterized as “parfum,” “aroma,” “fragrance,” or “flavour,” which might contain chemicals of concern, are not required to be disclosed to Health Canada or consumers.
- In contrast to consumer products, where industry is required to report health and safety incidents to Health Canada, there is no legal requirement to report such incidents related to cosmetic products.
This means that as consumers we are not provided with the information required to make informed choices on how to protect our health and safety. In 2015, Canada had only listed 573 ingredients on their Hotlist compared to 1, 715 ingredients restricted or prohibited by cosmetic regulations in Europe. The FDA has only 11 ingredients that are prohibited or restricted.
In 2007, Health Canada committed to require companies to declare incidents from cosmetic use and require mandatory labelling for 26 known allergens in fragrance or parfum. Yet in 2012, Health Canada decided against making these changes and according to the Commissioner, these changes remain unaddressed.
In April 2015, the Personal Care Products Safety Act was introduced in the US. This is huge since the FDA, adopted in 1938, essentially allowed personal care product companies to self-police. However, do not get overly excited. The act only allows the FDA to review 5 chemicals a year. There are at least 57,000 chemicals used in personal care products. This means it would take the FDA 260 years to catch up to the European Union. And remember, there is politics involved and companies lobbying against the act. But it is a start!!
What can you do in the meantime?
Tips and Guides to Reduce Your Exposure to Common Endocrine Disruptors and Other Harmful Chemicals in Skin Care Products & House-hold Products
- Educate yourself – avoiding toxic chemicals in everyday products is easier if you know what to look for
- Speak up – sign the petition and ask Canada to protect us from toxins
- Keep an eye on the Personal Care Products Safety Act
- Be aware of possible dangers around your home
- Avoid chemicals in household products and replace with safer alternatives
- Avoid synthetic fragrance
- Read labels and ask questions
- Choose chemical free (NO common endocrine disruptors and other harmful chemicals) personal care products
- Go BPA free – avoid canned foods, polycarbonate or PC #7 plastics and be skeptical of BPA-free
- Choose alternatives to plastics where possible
- Turn down the heat on non-stick cookware (at or below medium heat)
- Ditch air fresheners that contain harmful ingredients
- Look for certification logos on personal care products
- Buy organic products online
- Purchase a drinking water filter certified to remove atrazine
- Do not use plastic food containers or #3 plastic wrap
- Stay away from vinyl flooring and products
- Have your water tested
- Rinse rice before cooking and cook in more water to lower arsenic levels
- Choose wild-caught fish
- Avoid non-stick cookware, make popcorn on the stove and avoid stain resistant treatments on furniture and carpets
- Avoid pesticides and herbicides
- Rethink your birth control
- Change your diet
- Avoid processed and refined foods
- Buy pasture-raised animal products
- Avoid soy
You can find chemicals just about everywhere, but you can make simple changes that greatly reduce your personal load of common endocrine disruptors and hormone mimickers and what you pass on to your children.
The 'Dirty Dozen' Common Endocrine Disruptors That Maybe Lurking in Your Home
BPA is used to make certain plastics, epoxy resins and thermal cash register receipts. It imitates the sex hormone estrogen. It has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, infertility, obesity, heart disease, and early puberty. Avoid canned foods, polycarbonate or PC #7 plastics, and be skeptical of BPA-Free.
Dioxin is formed during many industrial processes when chlorine and bromine are burned in the presence of oxygen and carbon. Dioxins are very long-lived and build up in the body and food chain. They are powerful carcinogens and can affect the immune and reproductive systems. Dioxins are banned in the EU. In order to avoid it, eat lower on the food chain. Dioxin builds up in animal products. Dioxin can also be found in personal care products, so purchase products that follow the EU standards for health and safety.
Atrazine is a toxic weedkiller that actually turns male frogs into females that produce viable eggs. It is used widely in most corn fields in North America and is a common contaminant in drinking water. Buy organic and get a drinking water filter certified to remove atrazine.
Phthalates are used to make plastics soft or to make fragrances, cosmetics or personal care products stick to your body longer. It triggers death-inducing signaling in testicular cells and linked to thyroid irregularities. Avoid 'fragrance' on personal care labels, do not use plastic food containers or #3 plastic wrap, and stay away from vinyl flooring and products.
Perchlorate is a byproduct contaminant of rocket fuel. It competes with the nutrient iodine when it gets into our bodies causing thyroid and metabolism dysfunction. Test your water to make sure it is not contaminated. If it is, use a reverse osmosis filter.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widespread. They are used to prevent fires. Contamination has been detected in the breast milk of mothers and even in polar bears. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, avoid reupholstering foam furniture, take care when replacing old carpet (foam underneath may contain fire retardants), and when buying a couch look for models manufactured after January 1, 2015 with a TB 117-2013 label that states the upholestry materials used do not contain flame retardant chemicals.
Lead harms almost every organ system in the body. It has been linked to permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, kidney damage, increased blood pressure, miscarriage, premature birth, nervous system problems, and disrupt hormone signaling that regulates the bodies major stress system. Test water for lead and filter accordingly, eat healthy, remove any lead paint, and purchase lead-free personal care products.
This heavy metal can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer. It also interferes with hormone functioning in the glucocorticoid system that regulates how bodies process sugars and carbohydrates. Make sure your water is not contaminated and filter accordingly. Rinse rice before cooking and cook in more water to lower arsenic levels. Purchase arsenic-free personal care products.
Mercury ends up in our air and oceans primarily through the burning of coal. It binds particularly to one hormone that regulates women's menstrual cycle and ovulation. Choose wild-caught fish and purchase mercury-free personal care products.
Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)
PFCs are used in nonstick cookware and to coat the inside of popcorn bags and fast food containers. It is also used in waterproof gear. It has been linked to decreased sperm quality, kidney disease, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and more. Avoid nonstick cookware, make popcorn on the stove, and avoid stain-resistant treatments on furniture and carpets.
Neurotoxic organophosphate compounds produced by the Nazis in WWII for chemical warfare. One of the most commonly used pesticides today. Buy or grow organic.
Glycol Ethers are common solvents in paints, cleaning products, cosmetics and brake fluid. It has been linked to shrunken testicles and may damage fertility or the unborn child. Make your own non-toxic cleaners and avoid products with ingredients such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol.
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If you have any questions, feel free to contact me anytime. I would be happy to answer your questions!