17 September 2010

What price pretty?

Most cosmetics contain toxins – in tiny doses. But we love our paint and perfume so much we give ourselves millions of those tiny doses. Is this chemical load hurting our health?

Most cosmetics contain toxins – carcinogens, allergens, hormone disruptors – in tiny doses. But we love our war-paint and perfume so much we give ourselves millions of those tiny doses over a lifetime. What is this personal chemical load doing to our health?

It sounds unbelieveable, yet 12 personal care and beauty products, which is the average number used per woman (a man uses about 6) each day, contain 168 synthetic chemicals.

  • Synthetic musks used in commercial fragrances found in the umbilical cord blood of newborns.
  • Formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane, both carcinogens, found in baby products, including such trusted names as Johnson's Baby Shampoo.
  • Endocrine disruptors found to be widespread in fragrances, and in the urine of teenage girls. J Lo Glow, and Halle by Halle Berry, to single out two examples, were found to each contain six oestrogen-mimicking and a thyroid-disrupting chemical.

  • The Environmental Working Group's “Skin Deep” is a database of cosmetics and personal care products, ranked according to how likely they are to be hazardous. Plug your favourite cosmetic into “Search” on the the database, and it will give you a hazard rating. It's not a perfect or complete system, because the information on ingredients in products is incomplete, but it's helpful for gauging relative risk of products, and choosing ones on the safer end of the scale.
  • Dissuade your children from using chemical products at a young age – the later they start, the better. Exposures accumulate over time.
  • Avoid artificial fragrances, of any kind, not just perfumes. Fragrance manufacturers do not state many of their ingredients because fragrance “recipes” are usually a closely guarded trade secret.
  • Reduce the chemical load on your life. Use fewer products, less often, and for shorter lengths of time (never take that chemical load to bed, for instance). And remember it's not just cosmetics – we steep ourselves in air fresheners, laundry detergents, household cleaning products.


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