Thursday, April 10, 2008

The bad stuff

Major gaps in public health laws allow cosmetics companies to use almost any ingredient they choose in everything from sunscreen and mascara to deodorant and baby shampoo, with no restrictions and no requirement for safety testing. Some of the stuff they put in commercial personal care and cosmetic products is pretty bad stuff. The Environmental Working Group has researched practically every single thing out there, and has put together a list of the 9 worst ingredients, some of which are pretty hard to find on a label. They have also put together a huge database of products broken out by category so you can check out what you've already got. The following is excerpted from their site - the 9 worst things report, and what to look out for. You can read it all in more detail at their own website.

Placenta: Extracts from human and cow placenta can condition skin and hair. Vital to a growing baby in the womb, these same extracts in cosmetics give the body a slug of hormones that may be enough to spur breast growth in toddlers according to a few recent case studies.

Mercury: Given everything we've learned over the past 30 years about mercury's ability to damage brain function at low levels, it's hard to believe it's still used in cosmetics. But it is. We found it in (designer name) mascara listed as the mercury preservative "thimerosal." If you get a little bit of mascara in your eyes or face when it clumps or as you wash it off, you may also be getting a little dose of mercury.

Lead: When scientists recognized that lead harms the developing brain of a child, the government demanded its removal from gasoline and house paint — but not hair dye. This pernicious neurotoxin is in Grecian Formula 16 and other black hair dyes for men. It's hard to keep all the lead on your hair — studies find residues on door knobs and cabinets. Don't expose yourself or your children to this one.

Animal Parts: If fat scraped from the back of the hide of mink and emu isn't something you'd like to smear on your skin, you may want to avoid mink and emu oil, conditioning agents in sunscreen, shaving cream, hair spray and more. These are just two of many ingredients made from animal parts

Hydroquinone Skin Lightener: On a quest for lighter skin? Take a cue from FDA's recent warning, and avoid skin lighteners with hydroquinone. This skin bleaching chemical can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with "disfiguring and irreversible" blue-black lesions that in the worst cases become permanent, intensively black bumps the size of caviar all over the skin.

Nanoparticles: These tiny little inventions are touted as the next green revolution, but we don't find much sexy or green about untested ingredients that can slide up the optic nerve to the brain or burrow inside red blood cells. They're found in cosmetics in forms ranging from tiny wire cages called "buckeyballs" to miniscule bits of metals used as sunscreens. Good luck finding them, though — companies don't have to tell us that they're in our products, though we found that more than one-third of all products contain ingredients now commercially available in nano forms. And we did find them listed outright on the labels of some sunscreens (nano metals) and skin creams (buckeyballs).

Petroleum By Products: Surprised to learn that the same factories making gas for your car also make emollients for your face cream? Meet the workhorse chemicals of the cosmetics industry — petroleum byproducts, and the cancer-causing impurities that often contaminate them. These ingredients include carcinogens in baby shampoo and petrochemical waste called coal tar in scalp treatment shampoos.

Phthalates: Pronounced "tha'-lates," these little plasticizer chemicals pack a punch to male sex organs. Whether it's sperm damage, feminization of baby boys, or infertility, a growing number of studies link phthalates to problems in men and boys. Pregnant women should avoid it in nail polish ("dibutyl phathalate") and everyone should avoid products with "fragrance" on the label, chemical mixtures where phthalates often hide.

Fragrances: It may smell great, but do you know what's in it? Fragrances are the great secrets of the cosmetics industry, in everything from shampoo to deodorant to lotion, and falling straight into a giant loophole in federal law that doesn't require companies to list on product labels any of the potentially hundreds of chemicals in a single product's secret fragrance mixture. Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top 5 allergens in the world.

Okay, that's all good. But what about Soapworks Studio products? Well you'll never find the first 7 things in any of my products. And the last two are a bit more complicated. As hard as I've tried to distinguish the phthalate bits from the few fragrances I use, I've been continually told that it's a trade secret or proprietary information. So obviously I should just skip those, right? Well, that's a bit harder. People expect their products to smell good, and they want their bodies to smell good after using it. The list of natural essential oils used for fragrance is a bit limited. And lots of people are very attached and attracted to things that don't fall into that list. So I've cut back where I can. I'm designing mostly all-natural fragrances going forward, while still utilizing fragrance oil supplies that I have on hand (hey, I still have to make buck here and use up what I've got).

What's important is that I'm super conscious of the fragrance oil issue. I've tried to make the distinction of which are all natural and which have a synthetic component much more obvious for those who are paying attention to that. I have always had full disclosure of the ingredients in all of my products, and I never use artificial anything else (colors, preservatives, fillers, etc.) The only synthetic hoo-hah in any one of my products ever is that pesky fragrance - and I've worked hard at buying the highest quality ones when they are used, so that the risk of possible junk is less.

ETA: Sorry for the triple post - couldn't get the links to work!