There are issues in modern life that drive Americans apart. Global Warming. Evolution. Angelina v. Jen. However, when it comes to toxic chemicals in shampoos, lotions and deodorants, Americans stand united: We don't want nasty chemicals in the stuff we put on our bodies every day.
Yet, toxic chemicals are in there, and loads of them. The average American woman uses a dozen personal care products every day. All that cleaning, moisturizing, deodorizing and beautifying exposes her to more than one hundred unique chemicals from her cosmetics and personal care products alone. Every day. We know some of those chemicals in personal care products are linked to serious health issues including asthma, reproductive disorders like infertility, and allergies. More than 1 in 5 personal care products contain chemicals linked to cancer.
But it's not just the ladies who are getting doused with chemicals that reduce fertility or may cause cancer. There are plenty of toxic chemicals in men's products as well, especially those marketed to teenage boys. A recent analysis by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics shows that many men's products contain a range of unsafe chemicals of concern linked to cancer and reproductive and developmental harm, including:
Lead acetate: Found in men's hair color and conditioners, this chemical is banned for use in the European Union and Canada.
Triclosan: This toxic pesticide can be found in antiperspirant, shaving cream and aftershave. Well-established as a hormone-disrupting chemical, some major manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson have phased out or prohibit triclosan in their products. But beware: you can still find it in Colgate Total toothpaste.
Coal tar: Take a look at your dandruff shampoo and you might find this renegade chemical that is a known human carcinogen. Banned or found unsafe for use in Canada and the European Union, there are no restrictions against the use of coal tar in the U.S.; in fact, it is specifically exempted from regulation by federal law.
Men's Fragrances: Testing by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found a range of hidden harmful chemicals in men's colognes and body sprays. You won't find them on the label because fragrance chemicals, which disrupt hormones, are given special protected status as trade secrets.
You may wonder why so many toxic chemicals that mess with our hormones and make us sick are allowed in products we use to look good and meet modern hygienic standards. The simple answer is that there's no law preventing companies from using any chemical they want to use in a cosmetic product. It's been more than 70 years -- yes, 70 years! -- since the Food and Drug Administration was given authority over cosmetics. Gas was ten cents a gallon, Bing Crosby was lighting up the Billboard charts and nylon was still a year away from being introduced at the 1939 World's Fair. Our nation's safety regulations for cosmetics and personal care products are stuck in a rose-colored era that is light years away from the reality of our lives today.
Fast-forward to present day and you might be shocked to know that cosmetics has grown into a $50 billion dollar industry, but the law that regulates it is still only two pages long. Fortunately, there is an effort to update the 1938 cosmetics law and close loopholes that allow chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases on our bathroom shelves. Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts is a guy who gets that it's not hip or smart to slather toxic chemicals on your body. He said, "The last thing you want to worry about first thing in the morning is whether the products that make us and our children clean and comfortable also contain cancer-causing chemicals. From diaper cream to deodorant, our medicine cabinets are filled with personal care products that may contain harmful ingredients."
That's why he and Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois teamed up to introduce legislation to strengthen existing law so personal care products and cosmetics are free of harmful substances like formaldehyde and lead, and all ingredients are fully disclosed.
So what's a guy (and gal) to do? First, commit to ditching the really toxic stuff from your routine and use fewer products overall. Then join the effort to secure safer products and smarter laws that protect all of us from toxic chemicals in our personal care products by asking Congress to support safe cosmetics!