Examining Our Body Care Products

We love our body care products in the US, don’t we? Lotions, make-up, creams, shampoos, soaps, mouthwash, deodorant, perfume- all of these products we use daily, and the synthetic chemicals they contain, can actually have a significant impact on our health.

Many of us have body care products we swear by and love using because of the scent, the look, they "work", a heavy marketing influence, or some other nostalgic reason. I believe we also want to make choices that we feel good about as informed consumers and health advocates for our families.

As a community health nurse, I encourage education, awareness, and consideration of the Precautionary Principle in purchasing and using body care products. The Precautionary Principle states: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically (Retrieved from http://www.sehn.org).

If there ever was a time to examine what we are putting on our skin, in our hair and in the air around us, it is during pregnancy and when we have young children in the home. More than 200 industrial chemicals have been discovered in the cord blood of newborn babies, raising concern about the toxic burden on young children. Children are more susceptible to these chemicals in products used in the home because their small body mass means that even minimal exposures can have a bigger impact on their developing immune systems.

A few fun facts about the cosmetic industry:

  1. The Food and Drug Administration has no authority to require companies to test cosmetics products for safety. The agency does not review or approve the vast majority of products or ingredients before they go on the market. FDA conducts pre-market reviews only of certain cosmetics color additives and active ingredients that are classified as over-the-counter drugs (FDA 2005, 2010).
  2. With the exception of color additives and a few prohibited substances, cosmetics companies may use any ingredient or raw material in their products without government review or approval (FDA 2005). Whereas the European Union has banned more than 1,000 ingredients from use in cosmetics, the FDA has only prohibited 8 (FDA 2000a).
  3. The FDA has authorized the cosmetics industry to police itself through its Cosmetics Ingredients Review panel. In over 30 years, the panel has only declared 11 ingredients or chemical groups as unsafe, although this recommendation is not binding on companies. People are exposed to cosmetics ingredients in many ways: breathing in sprays and powders, swallowing chemicals on the lips or hands or absorbing them through the skin. Biomonitoring studies have found that cosmetics ingredients – such as phthalate plasticizers, paraben preservatives, the pesticide triclosan, synthetic musks and sunscreen ingredients – are common pollutants in the bodies of men, women and children. Many of these chemicals are potential hormone disruptors (Gray 1986, Schreurs 2004, Gomez 2005, Veldhoen 2006).
  4. Cosmetics frequently contain enhancers that allow ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin. Studies have found health problems in people exposed to common fragrance and sunscreen ingredients, including increased risk of sperm damage, feminization of the male reproductive system and low birth weight in girls (Duty 2003, Hauser 2007, Swan 2005, Wolff 2008).

Source: The Environmental Working Group: Myths on Cosmetic Safety

In general, I prioritize products that are going to have the biggest impact on my family’s health this way:

  • Products that cover a lot of skin surface area (lotions, body oils, foundation, sunscreen)
  • Products that go in our mouths (toothpaste, mouthwash, lipstick, chapstick)
  • Products with fragrances or that could be inhaled (perfumes, hairsprays, body sprays)
  • Things we use multiple times a day (hand soap)

I do NOT lose sleep (anymore) over these things:

  • Makeup such as eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara
  • Nail polish

Once again, The Environmental Working Group’s work in this area is incredibly helpful. They have created a guide with over 68,000 products you can search for a score based on potentially harmful ingredients. CHECK IT OUT HERE. EWG also has a Guide to Safer Sunscreens to help you make wise for your family. I have found these resources to be so helpful in navigating this often overwhelming issue and most of the safer products can easily be found in stores and online.