The 515 Chemicals Women Wear
Justine van der Leun
We think it's a treat for our body when we exfoliate, moisturize and polish, but are we actually making ourselves sick? A recent study by Bionsen, a natural deodorant company, estimates that the average woman wears 515 chemicals a day -- from eye shadow ingredients linked to cancer to perfume ingredients linked to kidney damage.
In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found extremely high levels of lead in lipstick. In addition, recent research from the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) showed that teenage girls are exposing themselves to potentially hormone-altering substances by engaging in that seemingly-innocent coming-of-age tradition of applying makeup. Yet, despite the dangers, women need to bathe and groom -- and most of us like a little extra color on our faces. So what can we do to stay healthy and still look good?
The quick answer is: Use fewer products and educate yourself. The average American uses 10 products every day, and chances are, she doesn’t know what’s in them. “It’s simple: Read the labels and be a smart shopper,” says Leann Brown of EWG. “Buy from companies that disclose their formulations.” Since producers aren’t required to make their ingredients public, many choose not to. “A company that discloses all ingredients and keeps out ingredients of concern will probably have lower risk products than cosmetics with mystery ingredients,” says Brown. These transparent products are likely to be equally effective -- your hair will be just as smooth, your cheeks just as bright -- but without the lurking health hazards.
When shopping, there are a few key ingredients to be avoid. However, due to lax regulation, you may find them in products marked “organic” and “all-natural,” so be on the lookout. Choose from the many nail polishes that have been reformulated to remove a common “toxic trio:” Dibutyl phthalate, a reproductive toxin; toluene, which affects the nervous system and may cause headaches; and formaldehyde, which can cause allergies and irritation. Stay away from sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate, which are spopular in cleaning products, such as body washes, as they can cause skin irritation.
Triclosan and triclocarban, which pop up in antibacterial hand soap, can damage both the thyroid and the environment. Instead, use plain soap. If you wash for 20 seconds, you’ll be just as germ-free.
Finally, stay away from parabens, common in shampoos, lotions and shaving gels. These preservatives have been so widely and publicly exposed as toxic contaminants that it is now relatively easy to find clearly-marked parabens-free products. Brown also counsels cutting out fragrance completely, since the term “fragrance” is poorly defined and could contain any number of mysterious and unhealthy synthetic compounds.
If the ingredients sound too long to remember, the Cosmetics Database offers a free pocket-size ingredients guide, where you can also find out more about over 50,000 products. If improving your health and helping the environment isn’t enough, think about this hidden benefit: Eliminating every mascara with toxic ingredients will make choosing from the overwhelming array of drugstore brands (Thickening! Lengthening! Double-thickening and lengthening!) much quicker and easier.