Monday, September 16, 2013

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Pollution Prevention Week is September 15 -21 this year.  I think it’s safe to say most people don’t pollute on purpose.  It’s pretty obvious when someone throws litter out their car window or doesn’t pick up their dog’s poo while on a walk.  Most of us are still polluting, often without even realizing it.  We’ve posted about plastic pollution and household chemicals previously, but many people don’t know that some of the products you’re purposely applying to your body every single day can be polluting and harmful to your health.  Like pharmaceuticals, many personal care products may not be removed during the wastewater treatment process.  All of that soap, lotion, makeup, and toothpaste that washes down the sink and shower drain ends up in our environment….along with everyone else’s.  While we’re focusing on green cleaning products for pollution prevention week, it seems obvious to also try greening the products that go right on our skin; not just for the environment’s sake, but for your health as well.
The FDA doesn’t require cosmetic and personal care product companies to test their ingredients for safety or have their products approved except for color additives (source).  If a product is considered a “drug” as well (for example, some dandruff shampoos) requirements are more stringent.  So, while you may assume that all of the products on the shelf are tested and safe for your health and the environment, this is not necessarily the truth. There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market in the US, most of which haven’t been tested (source)   Knowledge is power, so here are some components in cosmetics and personal care products that you might want to know a bit more about…

Phthalates (DBP, DEP, DEHP, BzBP, DMP): found in nail polish, deodorant, perfume/cologne, aftershave, shampoo, hair gel, hand lotion, insect repellent, plastics.  Phthalates are endocrine disrupters, chemicals that mimic hormones and cause reproductive system problems. 

Isopropyl Alcohol: used in hair color rinses, hand lotion, and aftershave.  Can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

Petrochemicals (phthalates, parabens, fragrance, sodium laureth, lauryl sulfate, oxybenzone): Found in shampoos, soaps, conditioners, sunscreens, lotions (and pretty much everything else).  These chemicals can lead to problems with sexual development, cancer, organ toxicity, skin and eye irritation, etc. 

Diethanolamine, Monoethanolamine, Triethanolamine: Found in shampoos, soaps, and facial cleansers.  They are hormone-disrupters and may lead to liver and kidney cancer.

Propylene glycol: Found in makeup, toothpaste, and deodorant.  Can cause brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities (

Triclosan: Found in antibacterial soaps and toothpaste.  Can lead to cancer, lowered fertility, birth defects, paralysis, and heart broblems.

So what can you do to avoid these chemicals?  Don’t assume that because a product says “organic” or “natural” on the label it is safe.  Read the labels and look up your favorite products to see if they have these ingredients or other dangerous components.  There are some great resources online with information about product safety, the frontrunner being the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep Database (see here).  Organic Consumers Association also has information about different brands here.  So, in honor of preventing pollution, take the time to think about what your personal care products and cosmetics could be doing to your health and the health of our waters.

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

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