There’s no room for toxic chemicals in our beauty products
Chances are that if you’ve landed on this post you’re already somewhat savvy to, if not vigilantly avoiding, toxic beauty products. This is quite remarkable considering that only five or so years ago the majority of consumers were still quite unaware about the serious dangers of chemical toxicity in personal care products, and in many cases were without access to natural/ non-toxic alternatives.
Thankfully because people like us have become increasingly educated and vocal about the impact of synthetic chemicals on our health, consumer demand has managed to shift the trajectory of the beauty industry. In the last few years beauty has exploded with natural skincare lines and as a result some major multinational corporations have begun to take baby steps to make their products safer for consumers. These corporations are not making improvements to their formulas because they are vested in consumer safety, but rather because consumers are forcing their hand.
For decades many people harbored the assumption that if a product could be sold to the public that meant it had been vetted by the FDA or some other government agency to assure consumer safety. However logical this may seem, this is not the case – in fact, the American beauty industry is entirely self-regulated.
This means that products sold in stores have been developed for market with no oversight and no mandatory guidelines in place to protect the health of consumers. Companies are not only at liberty to put whatever they please into their formulas, but they also don’t have to list all the ingredients on the label.
This is how we ended up with “baby oil” made from a highly carcinogenic crude oil byproduct called “mineral oil.” And why a label can read “fragrance” without listing the hundreds of toxic chemicals that go into making the synthetic scents. If you use multiple different synthetically perfumed products, you could be exposing yourself to over 3,000 chemicals in a single day just from the fragrance ingredients in your lotion, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, eye cream, make-up, perfume, and on and on.
Safe Until Proven Guilty
There is no requirement in place that the chemicals contained in common beauty products be tested for safety. Neither are there requirements that the hundreds of thousands of chemicals that are currently used to make myriad personal care, beauty and other everyday household products be tested for adverse synergistic reactions.
Rather, the industry’s protocol is to use a chemical until proven guilty – an impossible game of cat and mouse in which the consumer is bound to lose. Only after a chemical has already become pervasive in use and then linked to particular health outcomes and toxicity, does the safety of the chemical come into question.
If you’ve been paying attention to these issues, you might remember the BPA (bisphenol A) scandal and the industry’s knee jerk reaction to remove BPA from products only to be replaced by BPS (bisphenol S). That did not mean that the new chemical had withstood a battery of testing for safety. No – all it meant was that because there was no data on the sister chemical used to replace BPA it had a clean slate. Some of us found the switch laughable, but many people fell for it and felt safe again when they saw packaging indicating that a product was BPA free. That was true, it was BPA free, with BPS in its place. Within a couple years studies showed that BPS was potentially more toxic than the original offender. 
Like BPA, several chemicals found in beauty products have recently caught the attention of media. Some might sound more familiar than others, but this small fraction of hazardous chemicals found throughout conventional beauty products have gained attention due to their documented toxicity:
- Sodium laureth/ laurel sulfate (SLS/ SLES)
- Coal Tar Dyes
- Diethanolamine (DEA)
- Butylated compounds (BHA, BHT)
- DMDM hydantoin (One of many formaldehyde-releasing preservative)
- Plastic Microbeads (mostly harmful to the environment, also toxic to rub into your skin)
These rightfully vilified chemicals are just the tip of the iceberg. In my opinion they are a bit of a distraction from the real problem – being that people are dousing themselves on a daily basis with highly complex chemical cocktails.
Similarly to the BPA issue, you can remove SLS or Dibutyl phthalate from a formula, but that just gives the company a marketing advantage by slapping an “SLS/ Phthalate Free” label on their product while replacing the chemicals with yet to be condemned compounds. Meanwhile, as we equivocate, these industrial chemicals pose a real threat to the health of everyone exposed to them.
According to PIRG many of the chemicals used in personal care products are linked to serious health effects, like:
- endocrine damage
- developmental and reproductive problems ,
- neurotoxicity 
- hormone disruption ,
The problem is that negative health effects are not immediate or possible to track, so many people have a hard time letting go of their favorite products, or spending a little more on natural beauty because they’re not armed with a dire call to action. But disease caused by micro doses of chemicals is a process that takes time. Cancer rates around the world are higher than ever. In the United States in particular, 2012 data shows that 39.6% of people will be diagnosed with cancer within their lifetime. This is not normal and it’s a fair assumption that the untested industrial chemicals pervasive in our homes and medicine cabinets are at play.
Thankfully there’s no shortage of natural products or natural DIY solutions to use in place of just about any toxic counterpart. In my opinion industrial chemicals are simply not safe. I don’t need data linking chemicals to disease to make this call for myself, and if you haven’t already, I would urge you to clean up your beauty regimen as well. My Clean Living Products list grows with each week and can serve as a reference point if you’re not sure which products are actually safe.
Clean Beauty for All
That’s not to say that you should turn a blind eye to drugstore brands that may no longer be a part of your lifestyle. There’s a lot at stake – the inhumane practice of animal testing, environmental pollution, and the poisoning of the vulnerable in our population – so we must stay vigilant and keep the pressure on corporations to disclose the chemicals that so many of them keep secret.
And with organizations like PIRG on our side, our outcry is producing results. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group is an independent public health and environmental justice group, and a leader in the movement to de-tox personal care products. PIRG has been instrumental in motivating huge conglomerate Unilever to remove toxins like phthalates, triclosan and plastic microbeads out of their products.
With this victory, PIRG set out to urge Unilever to take it further, to “disclose the specific mixture of ingredients in ‘fragrance’ in each of (their) products.” Beginning with an open letter also sent to Proctor & Gamble and L ‘Oreal, the effort was going to culminate in a massive social media campaign that would crash down on Unilever this Valentine’s Day. Ironically, or more likely by effect, Unilever announced a new fragrance disclosure policy a week in advance of the action day.
Our demand for transparency
As a society we are no longer fooled by sleek marketing. Many of us have learned how to read labels and we are concerned about the safety of chemicals in our products. Though perhaps with social media and the advent of the “selfie” we are more than ever obsessed with looking good, we’re going to do it naturally.
Together we can put the pressure on corporations to disclose all ingredients in their beauty products, including product-specific constituent ingredients of fragrance and preservatives. These chemical packs are toxic and it is our right to know the full scope of ingredients. Once out in the open, increasing consumer backlash will build momentum needed to deliver us an ever cleaner beauty industry.
 By Jenna Bilbrey, PA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous, on August 11, 2014
 Susan Duty et al, “Personal Care Product Use Predicts Urinary Concentrations of Some Phthalate Monoesters,” Environmental Health Perspectives 113: 1530-1535, doi:10.1289/ehp.8083, 18 July 2005.
 Sheela Sathyanarayana et al, “Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant Phthalate Exposure,” Pediatrics 121: e260-e268, doi:10.1542/peds.2006-3766, 1 February 2008.
 Veldhoen N, Skirrow RC, Osachoff H, Wigmore H, Clapson DJ, Gunderson MP, Van Aggelen G, Helbing CC. 2007. The bactericidal agent triclosan modulates thyroid hormone-associated gene expression and disrupts postembryonic anuran development. Aquat Toxicol. 2006 Dec 1;80(3):217-27. Epub 2006 Sep 29.
 Routledge EJ, Parker J, Odum J, Ashby J, Sumpter JP, 1998. “Some alkyl hydroxy benzoate preservatives (parabens) are estrogenic.,” Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1998 Nov;153(1):12-9.