"If I shouldn't use a product while pregnant, why would it be okay to use it when I'm not?"
This is the question that has spurred me on in research about the products we use in our home, and nudged me to make small changes toward cleaner alternatives over the past year and a half. In fact, I can still recall the very first time I realized the irony of the "do not use while pregnant or nursing" warning on a label...
Dog shampoo. Yep. I was newly pregnant with Edie and our dog Mick needed a bath STAT. Instead of washing Mick myself, I made an appointment with the professionals, but it really got me thinking for the first time about how many harmful chemicals Will and I were being exposed to, all while trying to CLEAN our dog. What else were we being exposed to?
It turns out that the big offender in dog shampoo that pregnant women are advised to avoid is "phlalates," a group of chemicals that is everywhere. Forget dog shampoo. I discovered this chemical is also found in many other personal care products, often hidden under the catch-all title of "fragrance." Studies have linked phlalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities. Yuck.
Can you imagine my horror as a pregnant mom?
The more I kept researching, the more harmful chemicals I found. The truth is that there are thousands of untested chemicals in our household and personal care products, and when they are tested the results aren't good!
I found out that another big offender is formaldehyde (yep, the one that's used to preserve dead bodies) but it is ALSO often used in smoothing hair treatments. (What?!) I'm sure you won't be surprised to know that the CDC has linked formaldehyde to an increased risk of cancer, and that just makes me mad. But what makes me even angrier is finding out that it has been used in baby shampoo! Seriously?! It wasn't until 2013 that Johnson & Johnson caved to consumer pressure and removed formaldehyde (and other chemicals) from its baby shampoo. I. don't. have. words.
ANOTHER big toxic chemical to watch out for is propyl paraben, which is used as a preservative in a wide range of personal care products. It mimics estrogen and can therefore disrupt your endocrine system. This has a wide range of hormonal effects and has been linked to reproductive system disorders. For a momma who's pregnancy did not come easily, this one gets my blood boiling.
Lastly, fragrance. I love aromatic, delicious scents as much as the next girl, but it turns out that "fragrance" is a catch-all term for chemicals in products.
“Fragrance secrecy is legal due to a giant loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance,” the EWG explained. But those unlisted ingredients include endocrine disputers, possible carcinogens (ingredients that cause cancer), neurotoxins, and environmental toxins.
When the Environmental Working Group (EWG) independently tested fragrance products it found a total of 12 different hormone-disrupting chemicals in the tested products, with an average of four in each product. Fragrances are also considered the leading cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), and allergies to fragrances are also on the rise.
The truth is that our skin is our largest organ, and within 3-5 seconds it absorbs what we put on it. So chemicals in our personal care products and makeup are a BIG DEAL. Even Mick's skin is going to absorb whatever is used on him! Despite having both undergraduate and doctoral degrees in the sciences, this little fact never became a big enough deal to apply my every day life until I became pregnant.
While I had become diligent about reading labels on my food, I hadn't yet applied that same intentionality to the products I put on my body.
But doesn't the government regulate the chemicals that are allowed in them?
Well, no, actually. There has not been any significant legislation passed regarding the personal care products industry since the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and even that is only a page and a half long. No, really.
Fast forward to 2016. Thanks to advocacy work done by many individuals and corporations, the Personal Care Products Safety Act has been introduced to the senate and would require that the FDA review the safety of at least 5 cosmetic ingredients per year, starting with the following list, according to Senator Diane Feinstein of California.
- Diazolidinyl urea, which is used as a preservative in a wide range of products including deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath and lotion
- Lead acetate, which is used as a color additive in hair dyes
- Methylene glycol/formaldehyde, which is used in hair treatments
- Propyl paraben, which is used as a preservative in a wide range of products including shampoo, conditioner, and lotion
- Quaternium-15, which is used as a preservative in a wide range of products including shampoo, shaving cream, skin creams, and cleansers
If you're like me, your next question is, "Why would the government allow harmful chemicals like those in my everyday products?" And the answer is..."Good question!" Over 1400 chemicals have been banned by the European Union thanks to stringent guidelines, compared to only 30 in the United States. We can do better than that. We MUST do better than that. The good news is that there are companies who definitely ARE working hard to let Congress know how important we think it is.
So, what's a girl to do? Here are some simple places to start:
- Read the labels, just like you do for the food you eat. But more specifically, look for brands that are EWG Verified. You can use the Environmental Working Group's "Skin Deep" database to find trustworthy brands you can make your new "go-to's" for skin care and cosmetics. It is a GREAT tool. There's even an app called "EWG's Healthy Living."
- Don't be fooled by terms like "all natural" and "organic," which are often mistakenly interpreted to mean that a product is safe or free of toxins. The reality is that *most* products labeled as such still contain a mile-long list of ingredients you and I cannot pronounce. Gross.
- Skip the fragrance. This is a big one. That's where a lot of hidden toxins hang out. No, you aren't doomed to never have beautiful smelling products again. Instead, look for products scented with essential oils. I just started using Beautycounter products, and one of (many) things I love about them is how great they smell...using essential oils. I share more about that in this blog, "Why You Should Forget the Fragrance."
- Be a change-maker by calling your congressmen, educating your friends, or joining a movement of women, such as Beautycounter, that is "walking the walk" and not waiting around for government regulation when it comes to cosmetics and skin care.
Do you have a favorite safer skin care product you love? Or questions about where to start? Let us know!