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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Toxic Beauty

What’s hiding in your body care products? By Lisa Moore

If you think beauty is merely skin deep, think again. Harmful side effects from skin, hair and fragrance products may be the price you pay for looking good and smelling good. The unregulated $50-billion beauty industry is wreaking havoc on the health of their customers without them even knowing it.

No FDA Regulation

In the past few years, the food industry has been under a microscope about the safety of what we eat, raising consumer awareness. But who is governing the safety of the products we put on the largest organ of the body? No one.

The FDA doesn’t regulate the cosmetics industry and basically any ingredient is permissible in body care products. According to the FDA Handbook, "With the exception of color additives and a few prohibited ingredients, a cosmetic manufacturer may, on his own responsibility, use essentially any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without approval."

While the European Union has banned more than 1,100 chemicals from cosmetics, the United States has banned only 10. The FDA doesn’t require testing cosmetic products before they go on the market, can't require follow-up health monitoring and can't even recall products.

Chemical Cocktails Pose Health Risks

So what is lurking in our luscious lipstick and nourishing moisturizer? Mercury, lead, petroleum, parabens, formaldehyde-forming preservatives and an extensive list of unpronounceable carcinogenic cocktails. Sadly, these chemicals are also prevalent in infant care products as well.

The average woman uses 12 body care products each day, applying as many as 200 chemicals to the skin. Most of these dangerous compounds are easily absorbed by the skin, but the body has no way of cleansing itself of them. The toxins can eventually spread through the body causing allergies, numerous diseases and organ damage.

Anni Loggins, an organic esthetician and owner of Lighten Up and Face It, a skin care center in Charlotte, says many toxic ingredients in body care products include cheaper fillers used to help the products spread easier, stay mixed or make the product smell or look more appealing to the consumer.

“Whatever lotion, moisturizer, lipstick or deodorant we put on our skin also gets into our bloodstream and body systems. If the product you are using has toxic ingredients, you are making your liver, kidneys and immune system work harder to detox those chemicals out of your body.”

Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, notes that only 11% of chemicals used in cosmetics in the US have been assessed for health and safety – leaving 89% with unknown or undisclosed effects. More than 70% of all personal care products may contain phthalates, which are linked to birth defects and infertility.

The former beauty queen, who has experienced health problems that nobody could explain, acknowledged the effect marketing plays in making beauty products so appealing.

“We're all being targeted with messages that make us feel like we have to be different than we are: lighter hair, straighter hair, lighter skin, darker skin, plumper lips, no wrinkles. This industry has way too much power over our minds, our sense of selves, and even our bodies as they continue to expose us to toxic chemicals.”

Toxic Products Harmful to Teens

Unfortunately, teenagers are taking these marketing messages to heart, using an average of 17 products a day with detrimental repercussions.

Environmental Working Group (EWD), an organization that works to protect kids from toxic chemicals in food, water, air and products, performed laboratory tests on blood and urine samples of 20 teen girls aged 14-19. They detected 16 chemicals from 4 chemical families - phthalates, triclosan, parabens, and musks. Studies link these chemicals to potential health effects including cancer and hormone disruption.

This toxic assault on teens comes at a crucial time of rapid maturation of the reproductive, immune and hormone systems and changes to brain structure and function. An alarming number of girls are experiencing premature puberty. Scientists and medical professionals consider exposures to hormone-disrupting chemicals as a possible factor in unnaturally accelerating this critical period of development.

After learning about the EWD report, teenager Ava Anderson was shocked enough to search for safe products for herself and her friends.

“After hundreds of hours of research it was apparent that although the market was flooded with ‘organic,’ ‘natural,’ ‘safe’ and ‘pure,’ there were almost always toxic ingredients and chemicals in there as well, not to mention the ones hidden in the ingredient ‘fragrance,’” states the 16-year-old on her website.

She eventually started her own company, Ava Anderson Non-Toxic, offering the first full line of skin care and cosmetics in which every ingredient in every product rates "zero" for toxicity on the Cosmetics Database, an online safety guide for cosmetics and personal care products.

Mary Beth Bender, a local sales rep for the online and home party company, says the lack of restrictions on labeling can confuse consumers. Her company has a 100% transparency policy about product ingredients, never using the terms “key ingredients” or “active ingredients” that leave consumers wondering what other ingredients are in a product.

“The Environmental Working Group has randomly tested products off the shelf and found phthalates in more than 72% of the products tested, yet not listed on a single bottle. Studies link phthalates to genetic changes, cancer, autism, ADHD, infertility and more,” states Bender.

When selecting beauty care products, Loggins recommends looking for ingredients that you recognize: blueberries or other fruits that have great exfoliating properties, aloe, shea butter, calendula flowers and vitamins C and E.

A general rule of thumb on deciphering labels: If you can’t pronounce it or wouldn’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t put it on your skin. Loggins acknowledged this food for thought.

“Shouldn’t we all be using products that are good enough to eat and provide our bodies with healthy, wholesome nutrition?”

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