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By Rochelle Langere
As NBC News recently reported, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72M of damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for several decades. But this isn’t the only instance of a personal care products company being called out for harmful ingredients. In fact, with so many carcinogenic ingredients found in beauty products, it’s dawning on women how imperative it is to pay attention to what we buy. After all, the skin is the largest organ of the body.
Nearly 20% of personal-care products contain at least one chemical linked to cancer, and yet the FDA has not regulated beauty ingredients since 1938. This, however, is evolving as consumers change their lifestyle and consumption habits. A 2004 study found parabens in 18 out of 20 samples of human breast tissue. Parabens are in almost 100% of drugstore skincare products and cosmetics. Finally, only about 10% of the 10,000 chemicals commonly found in personal care products have safety data.
Now we can begin to understand why you must throw away your non-organic products. First and foremost, the toxic ingredients they contain can (and do) cause cancer. As the creams, lotions, serums, etc are absorbed through the skin, they are then traveling to your bloodstream and inside the body. Studies have shown that the toxic ingredients have been found in biopsy samples from breast tumors, ovarian cancer and more!
The chemical components of many products don’t break down and instead accumulate in our ecosystems, harming our environment. Most of the damage is done when we wash our face or body and these chemicals are washed down our sinks, which are then streamed to our lakes, rivers, and the water systems. But of course, the manufacturing process of creating nasty chemical personal care products can be harmful to the environment, too. Just take petroleum based oils, for example – these are byproducts of the oil industry. Most palm oil used in cosmetics is the result of razing rainforests to grow palm plants, and non-organic rapeseed or cottonseed oil is almost always the result of GMO farming.
In fact, there are plenty of reasons to use organic skincare, but here are 5 that I think are the most important.
1. Cosmetics Are Badly Regulated
Although the EU has stricter regulations and has banned many of the most harmful ingredients, cosmetic companies in the United States are allowed to use almost any new chemicals without government approval, with the exception of colour additives and any ingredient classified as a drug. Congress is starting to respond to consumer concerns and, for the first time since 1938, the FDA may be implementing restrictions on ingredients placed in beauty products. Not that that’s much help: after all, the FDA has approved aspartame, saccharin, human growth hormone in food products and many other artificial colourings, flavourings and chemicals which have proven to harm human health. For now it is up to you as a consumer to pay attention to the ingredients and do your research – especially if you have any favourite brands you’re ordering from the USA!
2. Most Mainstream Cosmetics DO Contain Harmful Chemicals
Let’s first start by identifying the toxic chemicals to look for in your products. The main toxic chemicals found in lipsticks, nailpolishes, skin creams and are as follows:
Lead – found in lipsticks, toothpaste, makeup, etc. Can cause neurotoxicity (brain damage), seizures, gastrointestinal issues, reproductive dysfunction and kidney dysfunction.
Found in: Some shampoos including baby ‘no tear’ shampoos and haircare products, liquid soaps, nail polish
This chemical that may be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Prolonged formaldehyde exposure may be a contributing factor in cancer development (see here for more info).
Found in: Skincare products, makeup, shampoos, conditioners
The most popular term used in products, this is used as a preservative and are noted as propylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben. They are found in almost any beauty product that has water (a.k.a. ‘aqua’) added to it. Parabens have been shown to not only disrupt hormones, but also to potentially cause cancer and most have been phased out in the EU.
Found in: Nail polish, air fresheners, perfumes, body sprays, detergents, soaps and more
According to SafeCosmetics.org, phthalates were found in at least 72 products they tested, although it was not listed on their list of ingredients. The only exception was nail polish. This toxic chemical is a fragrance used in vinyl shower curtains (it gives vinyl its distinctive smell), air fresheners, detergents and more. Like parabens, phthalates have been shown to disrupt hormones and decrease sperm count.
Found in: Almost everything
Some people argue that certain ingredients in cosmetics, in small doses, are not harmful. This may be true, but what they overlook is the fact that women tend to layer cosmetics on: first a cream, then a base, then a foundation, then a blusher….When certain chemical ingredients are mixed together, nitrosamines can form. These are not often listed as an ingredient on cosmetic products because they are not actual ingredients. But this toxin is so prolific, it is found in almost every skin care product. It’s in baby shampoos, sunless tanning lotions, mascara, concealer — the list goes on and on. Many studies link nitrosamine to cancer and in 1996, the FDA suggested cosmetic manufacturers remove any ingredients that create nitrosamine when combined. This suggestion has been pretty much ignored, and the Environmental Working Group found that 1 in 10 cosmetics still contain combinations of ingredients that create nitrosamines.
Found in: Almost everything
In nearly all scented makeup products and perfumes, you’ll see that fragrance shows up almost all ingredient labels. But, what exactly is a “fragrance” (also known as “parfum”)? Classified as a trade secret, companies aren’t required to list the ingredients that make up “fragrance” in their products. Unless essential oils are used to fragrant the product, the ‘fragrance’ is most likely to be harmful chemical components.
Click here for a more detailed guide to chemicals found in your beauty products.
3. Mainstream Cosmetics Lack Nutrients
Most commercial cosmetics contain very little in the way of nutritional ingredients that can truly benefit your beauty. Instead of helping boost the health of your hair, skin or nails they use chemicals to temporarily mask any issues you may have. Organic products, on the other hand, are often rich in ingredients like:
Vitamin C: a superpower when it comes to antioxidants and it fights free radicals, which attack the skin’s support structure and leads to imparting collagen and the aging of skin.
Vitamin E: another powerful antioxidant that soothes out the skin and helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
Vitamin A: vital for the repair of skin. If you notice your skin is dull, flaky, or quite brass, look for products that include this.
Most organic and natural brands include these essential vitamins and more in their products and you can also purchase pure nourishing serums on their own.
4. You Could Be Harming Your Baby
What most people don’t realize is that non-organic products not only affect you, but also your children, especially when in the womb. Organic beauty products help protect our children so that they are healthy, strong, and don’t have any birth defects. According to The Lancet Neurology study, toxins in cosmetics can affect brain development and lead to neurobehavioral problems like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. Disorders of neurobehavioral development affect 10-15% of all births and are steadily increasing. Of course, it’s impossible to know which percentage of these are related to toxic chemicals in personal care products, but why take any risk?
5. Value for Money
There’s a misconception that organic skincare and makeup is more expensive than mainstream brands, but that’s far from true. Have you checked the price of (highly chemical) Estee Lauder products lately? Lancome? Chanel? Sure, organic products may not be as dirt cheap as mass produced chemical supermarket brands, but think of it like this: junk food is way, way cheaper than organic food, but wouldn’t you rather spend $1 on a few organic bananas instead of a huge bag of free-radical laden, salty, MSG riddled crips? Better for you, and the same price! Some great lower cost brands include Weleda (which is amazing!), Naturaleve, Dizao, Greenscape and many more.
So, why use organic skincare? It should be pretty obvious by now. Organic products are healthier, cheap, and only include ingredients that will nourish your skin and body. It’s important to only put high-quality organic creams on your delicate skin. After all, your it is your largest organ, and you only deserve the best!
Image of model by Bogdan Teodorov