By Dr. Mercola
The average U.S. woman uses 12 personal care products and/or cosmetics a day, containing 168 different chemicals, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). While most men use fewer products, they're still exposed to about 85 such chemicals daily.
Teens, whose developing bodies are especially vulnerable to chemical exposures, use an average of 17 personal care products a day and are exposed to even more.1
You might be surprised that potentially harmful chemicals exist in your body lotion, deodorant, shampoo, and cosmetics, but it's really par for the course. Cosmetics can come on the market without any type of approval necessary.
Only after a product is deemed to be harmful, adulterated, or misbranded can the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take regulatory action, although it rarely does. Now a bipartisan group of lawmakers, fed up with the addition of dangerous chemicals to beauty and skin care products, is calling for much-needed change.
Congress Wants to Give FDA More Power to Make Personal Care Products Safe
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 simply does not have the resources to routinely test such products or even to take regulatory action except under extreme circumstances. According to the FDA:3
"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, could change that. As reported by ABC News:4
"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."
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 Europe, more than 1,300 chemicals are banned from use in lotions, soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, and other personal care products. Contrast that to in the US, where just 11 are banned.5
Adding insult to injury, the FDA tasks the companies that manufacture and market cosmetics and other personal care products with ensuring their safety.
Not only does this pose an obvious conflict of interest, but according to the FDA, "neither the law nor FDA regulations currently require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients."6
The new bill, which is expected to pass, would change that and, little by little, some of the worst offenders could begin to be taken out of your personal care products. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told CBS News:7
"It's because of the addition of some chemicals - chemicals for staying power, chemicals for shine … Our laws should provide for adequate testing of chemicals before they go into widely used products."
Chemicals in Mouthwash Linked to High Blood Pressure, Cancer
If you're wondering just how quickly exposures to the chemicals in your personal care products add up, consider the long list of chemicals found in conventional mouthwash.
Using mouthwash containing the antiseptic chemical chlorhexidine twice daily has been linked to an increase in blood pressure, for instance.8
This is because the chemical eliminates oral nitrate-reducing microbiota (beneficial bacteria that help your blood vessels relax), which play a role in determining your blood pressure levels. Lead study author Professor Amrita Ahluwalia told The Daily Mail:9
"Killing off all these bugs each day is a disaster, when small rises in blood pressure have significant impact on morbidity and mortality from heart disease and stroke … We are not telling people to stop using antiseptic mouthwashes if they have a gum or tooth infection — but we would ask why anyone else would want to."
Alcohol, which is also commonly added to mouthwash, is another risky chemical. It's been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer, with researchers concluding:10
"… [W]e believe that there is now sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that alcohol-containing mouthwashes contribute to the increased risk of development of oral cancer and further feel that it is inadvisable for oral healthcare professionals to recommend the long-term use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes."
Your mouthwash might even contain the preservative methylparaben. Parabens are a class of chemicals found in deodorants and other cosmetics that 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 appeared to increase your risk of breast cancer.11
Not to mention, contrary to popular belief, antimicrobial agents and alcohol mouthwashes designed to "kill bad bacteria" actually do far more harm than good by killing off your oral microbiome. For a more natural alternative, try Living Traditionally'shomemade mouthwash recipe below.12
Natural Remineralizing Mouth Wash Recipe
- 2 teaspoons calcium carbonate powder
- 1 teaspoon xylitol crystals
- 10 drops trace mineral liquid
- 10 drops peppermint essential oil
- 5 drops lemon essential oil
- 2 drops wild orange essential oil
- 2 cups of filtered water
- In a large mason jar, stir together the calcium powder and xylitol crystals.
- Add liquid minerals and drops of essential oils.
- Add filtered water and stir.
- Close mason lid tightly and shake ingredients for a minute or until the xylitol dissolves.
- Shake well before each use.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Even Feminine Hygiene Products May Be Toxic
Like most personal care products, feminine hygiene products are not required to disclose ingredients, which means women have no way of knowing what they're putting into their bodies.
Consumer group Women's Voices for the Earth tested Always pads, made by Procter & Gamble, and found they emit carcinogenic styrene, chloroethane, and chloroform. While the emission levels were relatively low, the group noted "their presence warrants health concerns for women."
Since 1997, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York has introduced legislation nine times to require more makers of feminine hygiene products to fully disclose their ingredients. She also called for the National Institutes of Health to examine the health effects of such products, as very little research has been done. Unfortunately, the bill has failed every time.13
Most tampons are made from cotton, rayon, or another pulp fiber, but these materials may contain toxic disinfection byproducts from the chlorine bleaching process, including dioxins and furans, as well as pesticides from non-organic cotton.
Studies show that dioxin collects in your fatty tissues, and according to a draft report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxin is a serious public health threat that has no "safe" level of exposure. The FDA maintains that "trace" amounts of dioxin pose no human health concerns, but this doesn't take into account a woman's lifetime exposure. Microbiologist Philip Tierno of the New York University School of Medicine told the Review Journal:14
"Sure, one tampon is trace … but consider the menstrual lifetime of a woman. They use approximately 12,000 tampons in a lifetime. That means 12,000 exposures of dioxin ... five, six, or seven times a day. That's a lot of dioxin absorbed directly through the vagina. It goes directly into the blood."
Alexandra Scranton, director of Science and Research for Women's Voices for the Earth, continued:15
"Vaginal tissue isn't like other skin. It's covered in mucous membranes, it's very permeable. It's a direct route to your reproductive organs. We need to be really careful of these products."
What Else Is Lurking in Your Personal Care Products?
Your personal care products may or may not disclose their full list of ingredients. If they do, you may notice some of the following, which are better off avoided:
- 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.
- Toluene, made from petroleum or coal tar, and found in most synthetic fragrances and nail polish. Chronic exposure linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing fetus.
- Synthetic musks: These are linked to hormone disruption and are thought to persist and accumulate in breast milk, body fat, umbilical cord blood, and the environment. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG):16
"An analysis of the chemical contents of products reveals that the innocuous-looking 'fragrance' often contains chemicals linked to negative health effects. Phthalates, used to make fragrances last longer, are associated [with] damage to the male reproductive system, and artificial musks accumulate in our bodies and can be found in breast milk. Some artificial musks are even linked to cancer.
And if you've got asthma, watch out – fragrance formulas are considered to be among the top 5 known allergens, and can trigger asthma attacks. The same kinds of chemicals are often used for fragrances in cleaning products, scented candles, and air fresheners. To avoid those unpleasant side effects, choose fragrance-free products, but beware labels that say 'unscented.' It may only mean that the manufacturer has added yet another fragrance to mask the original odor."
If in Doubt, Don't Put It on Your Body
It's important to remember that 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.17 Products bearing the USDA 100% Organic seal are among your safest bets if you want to avoid potentially toxic ingredients.
Beware that products boasting "all-natural" labels can still contain harmful chemicals, so be sure to check the full list of ingredients. Better yet, 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.