By Mike Valenti
Here at EnviroCitizen.org we like to ask questions. The question we ask you today is what’s inside your makeup bag? A shimmery lipstick, a full-proof foundation and a tube of black mascara? Now take a good, hard look at what’s really inside your makeup bag. Read all the ingredients. The real question is are the products you use every day safe?
Last year, Americans spent about $50 billion on cosmetics and toiletries. While looking good isn’t a crime, it is certainly a matter of concern when those products contain numerous ingredients that have never been tested for safety. We think women are shocked when they find out that the products they put on their skin and lips aren’t tested for toxics.
The United States Food & Drug Administration puts the onus on manufacturers to ensure their products are safe, stepping in only when enough consumers complain of adverse reactions, and the agency does not regulate terms used on cosmetic labels, such as “hypoallergenic,” “all natural” or even “organic.” While these undefined, misleading labels still remain an issue, state governments are working to hold cosmetic companies accountable for the ingredients they use.
California has taken the lead in the safe cosmetics campaign, implementing the California Safe Cosmetics Act. The act requires cosmetic companies to tell state health authorities if a product contains any ingredient—including “trade secrets” and “proprietary” ingredients—listed on California’s comprehensive Proposition 65 list of chemicals deemed carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the National Toxicology Program and those considered as reproductive toxins by the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction. Proposition 65 includes the hormone disruptor di-butyl phthalate, a common ingredient in nail polish, and 1,4-dioxane, an EPA-designated probable human carcinogen that has been detected in trace amounts in shampoos, bubble baths and some cosmetics. Washington state legislators have introduced a similar bill, based on California’s efforts. The European Union will institute a policy called the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), which will require cosmetics firms collect comprehensive data on the possible risks of the substances to human health and to the environment.
It’s too early to see if these pioneering efforts have yet benefited consumers nationwide, but we here at EnviroCitizen.org don’t think that the bill’s effects will be limited to Californians. The California legislation has, in our opinion, raised awareness among a lot of women that, right now, cosmetics aren’t adequately regulated..
Until then, smart shoppers can enliven their spring makeup bags with an organic makeover, reading the fine print and avoiding toxic chemicals. Here are some thoughts as you rummage through your purse and seek to replace some of those questionable items.
Who doesn’t love a good lip balm or a sexy lipstick? But many lip products are petroleum-based, which depletes a non-renewable resource, and petrolatum can cause allergic reactions. Avoid potentially hormone-disrupting benzophenone compounds in lip products with SPF, and watch out for phenol, a common lip-balm ingredient that can cause diarrhea, fainting, dizziness and kidney and liver damage when absorbed or ingested in high concentrations, according to the EPA. Instead, create a safe—and sexy—pout with natural lip-care products.
Among the problematic ingredients in foundations, concealers, powders and blushes are paraben and formaldehyde-based preservatives. Both have been shown to irritate skin, and the known carcinogen formaldehyde, present in small amounts in preservatives such as DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea and quaternium-15, can evaporate from liquid products. Synthetic fragrances, often used to mask the chemical odor of some products, may contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. Choose carefully as you shop for safer, non-toxic products.
Your eyes are one of your most sensitive body parts, so eye cosmetics, full of potentially irritating substances like talc, can be especially problematic. Some mascaras, especially lash-building ones, have been found to contain the mercury-based preservative thimerasol, which may cause allergic reactions and is a known neurotoxin. Petroleum-based ingredients, such as nylon and polyester, are also common in lash-building mascaras as they promote thickness and lengthening, but they have also been found to trigger contact dermatitis.
Cosmetic brushes are made with either real animal hair or synthetic materials, the most common of which is a trademarked polyester fiber called Taklon. Unfortunately, neither comes without a cost. In addition to animal humanity and welfare issues, animal fibers undergo chemical processing for sterilization, while synthetics are derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Organic cotton pads, cotton balls and swabs, when suitable, are a more eco-friendly choice. Otherwise, choose products with other eco attributes, such as animal cruelty certifications and recycled content.
Finally, makeup bags made with polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, can leach hormone-disrupting phthalates and brain-damaging lead onto your brushes and products within. Try replacing your makeup bag with one made from organically produced materials.
While we focused on what’s in your purse this time around, remember that other areas of toiletries and personal care require similar attention. At EnviroCitizen.org we encourage you to take inventory of all of you personal care products for potential toxins, carcinogens and irritants. Think about your hair care products, your soaps, toothpaste and other oral care items and of course skin care items. And remember to do the same for the rest of your family as well as your pets.