Sales of organic personal care items reached $350 million in 2007, increasing 24 percent from 2005. Sales among the top three natural personal care brands -- Burt’s Bees, Jason Natural Cosmetics and Tom’s of Maine -- brought in $155 million alone.
But are organic and natural cosmetics any better than the others? Maybe, and maybe not.
Cosmetics and their ingredients do not have to undergo any type of government approval before hitting store shelves, and the terms “natural” and “organic” have no definitions. In other words, when it comes to cosmetics labeling, it’s a free for all.
Some products may include a few organic ingredients, for instance, along with several chemical ones -- and still claim to be natural or organic on the label.
Reading labels carefully can be an effective way to sort out which products are truly natural. Researchers recommend watching out for, and avoiding, at least the following three ingredients in your cosmetics:
- Parabens, preservatives that have been linked to cancer
- Phthalates, chemicals used in fragrances that are harmful to your reproductive system
- Talc, which has been linked to ovarian cancer
What you may not know is that some products that claim to be “organic” or “natural” may not be any better. I find this disturbing, don’t you?
Take a look under your bathroom sink or wherever you keep your toiletries. Now think about this: none of those products had to undergo any type of testing before they reached you. The companies that make the products are pretty much left to police themselves, and the end results are products that use the cheapest materials possible, at any cost to your health. Do you trust the marketing claims of these “natural” products?
For instance, Alba Body Lotion, a "natural" body product, contains ingredients such as octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone-3, and methyl/propylparaben. The EPA has linked methyl parabens to metabolic, developmental, hormonal, and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers.
Here is a list of chemicals that are common in personal care products from shampoo and lotions to mascara and perfumes:
- Paraben, a chemical found in underarm deodorants and other cosmetics that has been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which can drive the growth of human breast tumors.
- Phthalates, plasticizing ingredients (present in nearly three-quarters of 72 products tested by the Environmental Working Group), which have been linked to birth defects in the reproductive system of boys and lower sperm-motility in adult men, among other problems.
- Musks, used as fragrances, can accumulate in your body, and have been linked to skin irritation, hormone disruption, and cancer in laboratory studies.
- Artificial fragrances, which are among the top five known allergens, and can cause asthma and trigger asthma attacks.
- Methylisothiazolinone (MIT), a chemical used in shampoo to prevent bacteria from developing, which may have detrimental effects on your nervous system.
- Lead, a known toxin, was found in more than half (61 percent) of 33 name-brand lipsticks tested in September 2007.
If You Wouldn’t Eat it, Don’t Put it on Your Body
Would you take a taste of your mascara or shaving cream? Probably not. However, if you do happen to eat these chemicals, your digestive system can produce specific enzymes to break down these toxins and excrete them … something that doesn’t readily occur when you absorb them through your skin.
In general, you need to seek out personal care products that are so pure you could actually eat them. Coconut oil is a great example here, as it makes a great moisturizer that you can also eat. Olive oil is another one that you can use to deep condition your hair.
Additionally, I am proud to report that my team has been researching this topic extensively and we are getting very close to launching one of the best, most pure skin care product lines out there. It is truly effective, has absolutely no synthetic ingredients, and is packaged in brown glass bottles.
Until then, I suggest you scrutinize the labels on your personal care products and cosmetics just as closely as you do your food. If you’re not sure what an ingredient is, type it into the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, and you’ll get all the information you need about whether or not it’s safe.
And remember, if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t use it.