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November, 2007,

What's in Your Beauty Products? Don't Take a Chemical Bath

By Judi Ketteler,

With literally thousands of chemicals and fragrances added to
everything from moisturizer to nail polish, how do you know if your
beauty product is safe?

We live in a chemical-infused world. Although there are some benefits
-- clean drinking water, for example -- when it comes to beauty
products, chemicals are thought by many to cause adverse health
effects. That's because chemicals from beauty products don't pass
through your digestive system where they might be filtered; instead,
they head right into your bloodstream.

It's important for consumers to understand that the cosmetic industry
is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Companies
are required to list all the ingredients in order of use, but they're
not required (by federal law) to test products for safety. The FDA can
only act if they have strong scientific knowledge that a product is
dangerous. That doesn't mean that companies don't have safety
standards, but it does mean that claims like "natural," "botanical" or
"organic" are basically useless.

So where does this leave the consumer? The Environmental Working Group
(EWG) -- a non-profit, non-partisan organization working to educate
consumers about chemicals in cosmetics -- created Skin Deep a
searchable database that analyzes about 25,000 beauty products and
10,000 different ingredients.

"It's about trying to pick better products in the same category," says
Kristan Markey, a chemist and research analyst for EWG. For example,
it's not reasonable to stop using all soap, but you can choose milder
soaps with fewer ingredients. "It's a big challenge, but basically,
it's just a matter of slowly going through your bathroom cabinet,"
Markey says. The best place to start is by looking at the ingredients.
However, even that can feel like a Herculean task, given that most
ingredients are multi-syllabic words you can't even pronounce, let
alone have any idea what they do.

Here are some tips to get started:

Minimize Fragrances

Beware of the word "fragrance." You might think it's something that
simply smells pretty, but scents are chemicals. The truth is, it's
impossible to know exactly which chemicals are in a fragrance. There
are more than 5,000 different fragrances used in cosmetics and skin
care products, reports the American Academy of Dermatology. Plus, not
all chemicals are listed on a label. To complicate matters, fragrance
chemicals are a leading cause of allergic reactions to cosmetics.
Choose "fragrance free" whenever possible. Or, if the bouquet of
lavender fields is crucial for your morning shower, look for products
with no chemical preservatives. "

Scrutinize Nail Polish

Phthalates -- used widely in nail polish -- are a big topic of
controversy and research. Scientists have been studying this group of
chemicals for at least 20 years and have found that they may be linked
to birth defects in humans (they're definitely toxic to animals).
Unfortunately, phthalates often get hidden under "fragrance," so it's
hard for the consumer to know if the nail polish contains it or not.
The best tactic: Use less nail polish -- perhaps just paint your toes
and skip the nails.

Use Hair Dyes Less Often

Salons are not required to list the ingredients in their hair dye,
Markey says, but we know that many contain coal tar ingredients --
chemicals that have been linked to cancer. Black hair dyes for men
have also been found to contain lead (called lead acetate), which has
been restricted in both Canada and the European Union. Avoiding hair
dye altogether is a tough pill to swallow -- but try to go as long as
possible between uses.

Avoid Skin Lighteners

"You want to avoid anything that changes your skin composition, "
Markey says. Watch out for products that have hydroquinone -- a
chemical that bleaches the skin and can cause lesions. The FDA has
issued warnings about it and recommended that it no longer be
generally recognized as safe and effective.

Choose Shampoo Carefully

Be especially wary of dandruff shampoos, because they often contain
selenium sulfide -- a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen. If you can,
avoid shampoos that list ethanolamine or diethanolamine -- called TEA
or DEA on the label. These are nitrosamines, says Markey, which are
thought to be carcinogenic (though it's not clear in what amounts).
The FDA has also been monitoring the contaminant 1,4-dioxane, which on
a label could be called "PEG," "Polyethylene, " "Polyethylene glycol,"
"Polyoxyethylene, " "-eth-," or "-oxynol-."

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Once you start digging into the ingredients of many of your favorite
beauty products, it's easy to become disheartened. After all, who
doesn't like to look nice, smell nice and have smooth skin and pretty
nails? But try to look for ways to cut down the amount of products
you're using: Drop a step from your skincare routine, give your hair
days off from washing, use fragrance free whenever possible and always
look for products with less ingredients.
 

for Products without controversial ingredients

  

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