Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Shampoo, Sunscreen and Cosmetics – Are You Safe?

Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.
~Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m not much of a make-up wearer. Even before taking up the Ecovillage lifestyle, it wasn’t very appealing. In high school I tried makeup once. But the foundation was gross (how did one manage to scratch one’s nose without wiping it all off?), the mascara smeared under my eyes no matter what brand I tried (and I tried many) and lipstick just plain tasted gross (I now know that it often contains lead – yum!). Why on earth would I want that on my face? I also tried to paint my nails, but jeez, the polish was always chipping, and I simply have too many other things to do besides sit around and wait for my nail polish to dry.

It makes sense that I met my husband on a backpacking trip, where there was more dust than blush. When we got married, our photographer suggested that I wear a bit of makeup for the photos – my friends had to put the makeup on me right before the wedding, and then it all went back into the bag, where it is still sitting, 12 years later…

But enough about that. I used to make product decisions with an eye towards ease of use and a smidgen of common sense. Since then, I’ve learned to read the labels. But what are we to do when the labels are misleading, or incomplete?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety of personal care products in the U.S., but lacks basic authority needed to ensure that products are actually safe. The FDA cannot require companies to test products for safety before they are sold, does not systematically review the safety of ingredients and does not set limits for common, harmful contaminants in products. The FDA also does not require contaminants to be listed on product ingredient labels. As a result, consumers have no way of knowing if their products contain toxic contaminants.

I don’t know about you, but I find this troubling.

I have come to rely on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and their Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. It is where I turn when I need to buy products for myself, and even more importantly, products for the Milkweed Mercantile. I trust EWG, and support their efforts. (NOTE: In an effort to be as transparent and ethical as possible, I purposely accept no advertising on either of my blogs.) I also support their Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which is working to protect your health by eliminating the use of chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems.

Some companies are making safer products today and striving for even greater improvements. More than 1,000 companies have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to replace hazardous chemicals with safe alternatives and to publicly report on their progress. I encourage you to support these companies.

As an adult, I have a choice about what I slather on my body. If I want to trade off having no dandruff for the scary stuff in, say, Neutrogena Shampoo, well then that's up to me. But kids depend on us to keep them safe.

Children’s bath products are often marketed as safe and gentle. However, laboratory tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found these products are commonly contaminated with formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane – and, in many cases, both. These two chemicals, linked to cancer and skin allergies, are anything but safe and gentle and are completely unregulated in children’s bath products. To learn more and make your OWN decision about what you want to be bathing and shampooing your children with, click here to read No More Toxic Tub.

I don't use most major brands of shampoo and cleansers - there are many, many brands which use only non-toxic ingredients, have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, are affordable and really work. Why expose myself and my family to ingredients which have not been proven to be safe? Do some investigating before going shopping. Plug your favorite brands into the Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database and see what pops up. If it's good news, fantastic! If the results aren't so rosy, well, that's good too - becoming informed is the first step.

Good luck, and let me know if I can help!


  1. Great post - I love turning to Skin Deep for product research, as well. I also agree that better regulation is in order, because what can you do on the fly when you don't have ten minutes to spend plugging product ingredients into EWG's tool? By the way, for dandruff sufferers, last time I got a bit of a dry scalp, I massaged olive oil into my scalp, washed with baking soda, and rinsed with vinegar (which is anti-fungal) and poof! Healthy scalp a couple days later. ;)

  2. Very important information for selecting right skincare and bathing products!!

  3. We recently posted about Skin Deep on our site, It really opens your eyes! Glad to see others are spreading the word. Visit us if you can!



Now it's your turn - what do YOU think?