By Dr. Mercola
You may be happy to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the use of mercury, chloroform and nine other substances in your shampoo, soap and other personal care products.
That is, until you learn that the European Union prohibits the use of more than 1,300 substances in their personal care products.
The FDA's paltry restriction of just 11 substances is even more ridiculous considering there are nearly 13,000 chemicals used in cosmetics, and only about 10 percent have been evaluated for safety.
Although the FDA has the authority to regulate harmful ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, it typically doesn't, preferring instead to rely on the products' manufacturers to regulate themselves.
If customers claim that a product has caused them harm, however, the companies are not required to report such claims to the FDA. And in the event that a product is deemed to be harmful, the FDA can't even order a recall.1
Do You Know What's in Your Shampoo?
It's a simple enough question, but chances are you have no idea what's lurking in your shampoo. Even if you read the label, you probably won't recognize most of the ingredients. The fact is if you use common commercial shampoos, you're lathering up your scalp with chemicals with every wash.
Several years back many people were shocked to learn that even Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo contained toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane.
In response to consumer demand, in 2012 Johnson & Johnson agreed to remove some of the toxic chemicals from their products (and reportedly took formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane out of their personal care products as of 2015).2 However, many questionable chemicals still exist in popular shampoos.
Shampoo commonly contains endocrine disruptors, for instance, which are chemicals known to interfere with development and reproduction, and they may cause serious neurological and immune system effects. What else might be in your shampoo?
• Sodium lauryl sulfate, a surfactant, detergent and emulsifier used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners.
It's present in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundations, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents, and bath oils/bath salts.
The real problem with SLES/SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic byproduct.
• Phthalates are plasticizing ingredients that have been linked to birth defects in the reproductive system of boys and lower sperm-motility in adult men, among other problems. Be aware that phthalates are often hidden on shampoo labels under the generic term "fragrance."
• Methylisothiazolinone (MIT), a chemical used in shampoo to prevent bacteria from developing, which may have detrimental effects on your nervous system.
• Parabens, chemicals found in shampoo, deodorants and other cosmetics, have been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which can drive the growth of human breast tumors.
A study published in 2012 suggested that parabens from antiperspirants and other cosmetics indeed appear to increase your risk of breast cancer.3
The research looked at where breast tumors were appearing and determined that higher concentrations of parabens were found in the upper quadrants of the breast and axillary area, where antiperspirants are usually applied.
Cancer-Causing, Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals and Heavy Metals Are Common
Unfortunately, you cannot assume that your personal care products are safe, and it's not only shampoo and soap (often loaded with toxic antibacterial triclosan) that's the problem.
One of the biggest offenders is hair straightener, some brands of which may contain up to 10 percent pure, cancer-causing formaldehyde. Not only does this pose a risk to the customers using the product but also the stylists who apply it.
Further, when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested teens to find out which chemicals in personal care products were found in their bodies, 16 different hormone-altering chemicals, including parabens and phthalates, were detected.4
Another EWG study found that 37 nail polishes from 22 companies contained dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which is known to cause lifelong reproductive impairments in male rats, and has been shown to damage the testes, prostate gland, epididymus, penis, and seminal vesicles in animals.
It's used in nail polish because it increases flexibility and shine; research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that all 289 people they tested had DBP in their bodies.5
Worse still, this chemical, which is linked to birth defects in animals, was found at the highest levels in women of childbearing age.
Environmental Defense also tested 49 different makeup items, including foundations, concealers, powders, blushes, mascaras, eye liners, eye shadows, lipsticks and lip glosses.6 Their testing revealed serious heavy metal contamination in virtually all of the products:
- 96 percent contained lead
- 90 percent contained beryllium
- 61 percent contained thallium
- 51 percent contained cadmium
- 20 percent contained arsenic
Environmental Chemicals May Become More Toxic When Combined
It's thought that 1 in 5 cancers may be caused by exposure to environmental chemicals, and according to a study published in the journal Carcinogenesis, this includes chemicals deemed "safe" on their own.7
However, the analysis found that by acting on various pathways, organs and organ systems, cells, and tissues, the cumulative effects of non-carcinogenic chemicals can act in concert to synergistically produce carcinogenic activity, turning conventional testing for carcinogens on its ear.
This is especially concerning because the average U.S. woman uses 12 personal care products and/or cosmetics a day, containing 168 different chemicals, the cumulative effects of which are completely unknown.8
While most men use fewer products, they're still exposed to about 85 such chemicals daily, while teens, who use an average of 17 personal care products a day, are exposed to even more.
Another Failure for Consumers: The Toxic Substances Control Act
Adding to the problem is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which took effect in 1976. It allows high-production volume chemicals to be launched without their chemical identity or toxicity information being disclosed.
It also makes it very difficult for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals. The National Resources Defense Council explained:9
"Under the law now, the EPA must prove a chemical poses an 'unreasonable risk' to public health or the environment before it can be regulated. Widely considered a failure, the law allowed 62,000 chemicals to remain on the market without testing when it first passed.
In more than 30 years, the EPA has only required testing for about 200 of those chemicals, and has partially regulated just five. The rest have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment.
For the 22,000 chemicals introduced since 1976, chemical manufacturers have provided little or no information to the EPA regarding their potential health or environmental impacts. These chemicals are found in toys and other children's products, cleaning and personal care items, furniture, electronics, food and beverage containers, building materials, fabrics, and car interiors."
The Personal Care Products Safety Act Could Address "Glaring Safety Loopholes"
Congress has proposed a law that would give the FDA authority to test whether chemicals added to personal care products are being used at safe levels. If the chemicals are found to exceed "safe" levels, the FDA could force a recall. As it stands, the FDA does not have the resources to routinely test such products or even to take regulatory action except under extreme circumstances. According to the FDA:10
"FDA takes regulatory action based upon agency priorities, consistent with public health concerns and available resources."
The bill, dubbed the Personal Care Products Safety Act, would require cosmetics companies to pay a facility registration fee based on their annual gross sales of cosmetics, and the collected fees would be used for cosmetic safety activities.11 As reported by ABC News:12
"Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced an amendment to the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that would give the Food and Drug Administration more power and oversight to regulate the chemicals men and women slather on their bodies every day."
FDA Would Be Required to Review at Least Five Cosmetic Ingredients Each Year
The bill includes a system requiring product manufacturers to register their products and ingredients, and would require the FDA to review five chemicals in personal care products each year in order to evaluate their safety. The first set of chemicals recommended for testing include:
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Lead acetate
- Methylene glycol/formaldehyde
- Propyl paraben
In addition, the new bill would:13
- Require the FDA to determine which chemicals manufacturers can use and at what levels
- Determine if product labels should bear warnings
- Give the FDA new tools to detect and respond to reports that products are dangerous
- Require manufacturers to report allegations of harm to customers' health, follow good manufacturing practices and keep safety records
As Time explained:14
"The Personal Care Products Safety Act would address these glaring safety loopholes and create a modern regulatory structure for personal care products. Consumer groups, health groups and businesses have joined forces for the first time to support this bill, which is key to moving forward."
Simplify Your Hygiene Routine With Natural Ingredients
Your skin is your largest, and most permeable, organ. Just about anything you put on your skin will end up in your bloodstream and be distributed throughout your body. Once these chemicals find their way into your body, they tend to accumulate over time because you typically lack the necessary enzymes to break them down.
This is why I'm so fond of saying "don't put anything on your body that you wouldn't eat if you had to." And if you don't know what a chemical is on a label, don't take a chance by putting it on your body. The Environmental Working Group has a great database to help you find personal care products that are free of potentially dangerous chemicals.15
In addition, be aware that products boasting "all-natural" labels can still contain harmful chemicals, so be sure to check the full list of ingredients. Look for simple ingredients that you recognize and know to be safe. If you can't find natural options at your local health food market, we carry them in our online store.
You can also simplify your routine and make your own products. A slew of lotions, potions, and hair treatments can be eliminated with a jar of coconut oil, for example, to which you can add a high-quality essential oil, if you like, for scent. For starters, try Tree Hugger's natural deodorant recipe below and, for more information, see the infographic below.16
Homemade Natural Deodorant With Coconut Oil17
- 3 tbsp virgin coconut oil
- 2 tbsp shea butter
- 3 tbsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 5 drops essential oil (lavender, orange, etc.)
- Make a double boiler by placing a half-pint glass jar in the middle of a small pot of water. Bring water to a simmer. Add coconut oil and shea butter to the jar and let melt. Turn off the heat, add baking soda and cornstarch, and stir until completely smooth. Mix in the essential oil of your choice. Let cool.
- At room temperature the deodorant is hard. You can scrape out a small ball and apply it directly to your armpits, or transfer it to an old deodorant tube for easier application. In warmer months, you'll need to keep this deodorant in your refrigerator to prevent the coconut oil from liquefying.
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