Archive for the ‘Fashion & Beauty’ Category
By Theresa Meehan (guest writer)
Since starting my internship with Green Living Consulting, I have learned a lot about how to be more environmentally friendly, but also how to be healthier by educating myself about what I put in and on my body. I had heard about the issue of toxins in common products before I started researching toxins in cosmetics specifically, but I didn’t know much about them. I was definitely not aware of the fact that toxins are in almost EVERYTHING we use, including ones that are proven carcinogens. It is surprising that this issue is not common knowledge, especially since it isn’t very difficult to find out about if you know where to look. Of course, you have to be aware of the problem in order to search for more information on it.
There are many organizations dedicated to identifying and doing something about toxic substances in our daily-use products, such as the Environmental Working Group, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. However, aside from the work done by these dedicated groups, very little action has been taken to evaluate the toxicity of cosmetics ingredients, not even by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is in charge of their regulation. While the FDA has banned or restricted only a few color additives and other chemicals, the European Union recently banned 1,000 ingredients from use in cosmetics. This is partially due to the fact that the FDA doesn’t have the same regulatory power over cosmetics as it does over other products. However, it is also due to the tendency of Americans and others to judge an ingredient innocent until proven guilty, important in a court of law, but not when it comes to our health. We should instead be invoking the precautionary principle, which states that even if there is not yet enough scientific evidence to prove that something is harmful, actions should be taken to prevent any possible injury.
Some people may not think that this is an important concern because they trust in the decisions of government and industry, or because they have never experienced adverse effects from using cosmetics. Nonetheless, it is important to be aware of the potential dangers you are exposing yourself to every day. The average person uses nine cosmetic products a day, exposing him or herself to at least 120 chemicals that can be absorbed into the skin and bloodstream. These products can also be harmful to wildlife and the environment when they are thrown away or washed down the drain. There are many chemicals in cosmetics whose toxicity is unknown, but there are also many that pose a clear health risk. Among them are coal tar, lead, triclosan, hydroquinone, formaldehyde and parabens, which are also very toxic to the environment. These chemicals are found in toothpaste, deodorant, nail polish, sunscreen, lotion, antibacterial products and many others. Fragrance is another potentially dangerous ingredient because it often contains endocrine disruptors called phthalates. Moreover, companies don’t have to differentiate between the harmful and non-harmful substances contained in the fragrance. They also don’t have to list byproducts or contaminants, since they were not intentionally produced or included.
Fortunately, Congress is aware of this issue and is currently working on revising the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, which does not currently regulate cosmetics, food, drugs or pesticides. The TSCA has many problems, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lack of power to enforce its regulations. The act puts a heavy burden on the EPA to be 100% sure that something is dangerous before being allowed to take any action. The TSCA also grandfathered in a lot of chemicals, making it “unnecessary” to test their toxicity levels. Since 1976, the EPA has only tested 200 out of 62,000 chemicals. That is absolutely ridiculous!
Currently there are two bills being discussed, the Toxic Chemical Safety Act in the House and the Safer Chemicals Act in the Senate. These bills would make chemical companies prove that their chemicals are safe instead of putting the burden on the EPA to prove they are harmful. This is a very effective way to make producing healthier products a priority for industry, because they would bear the burden of research. Basic information about all chemicals would be required so that consumers would know what they are buying and could thus make informed decisions about their health and that of their families. The bills also suggests a program for the EPA to identify and improve hotspots around the country where chemical exposures are particularly high.
That Congress is aware of the problem of toxins in cosmetics is a great step in the right direction, but it is critically important that average consumers, like you, learn about this issue as well so that they can make informed decisions about what they purchase and use. Some good places to start, especially since you are already online, are the following websites: Skin Deep (cosmeticsdatabase.com) by the Environmental Working Group rates many cosmetics based on the toxicity of their ingredients, their website (ewg.org) and blog (enviroblog.org) have great information about toxins and other environmental/health problems; the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (safecosmetics.org) has information on developments in cosmetics laws and issues, as well as how to make your own, safe cosmetics; and the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition (saferchemicals.org) is working on reforming the TSCA so that it better protects us and the environment—their website includes an opportunity to send a letter to your representatives in favor of reform.
People always talk about how “going green” costs more money. This is not true and we will continue to give you reasons why. This week is about a community group that has been designed to help people exchange clothes that no longer fit with other sizes. It is a website called www.clothesswap.meetup.com. The purpose of this site is to help people in similar communities exchange old clothes for a different size. I have a 6 year old daughter, so I could take a large bag with all her size 5 clothes and exchange them with an individual that has size 6 clothes. It is an amazing concept and has been quite successful in many communities. New York has approximately 580 people in their group, and there are many others throughout the United States as well. Try and get involved and start one in your community today!! You can go to www.clothesswap.meetup.com for more information.