We’re happy to buy local and organic, use transit and cycle to work, but what’s lurking in the bathroom cabinet? More than just options to keep us well-groomed and looking our best, many of our favourite daily products unfortunately contain unnecessary chemicals.
From shampoo to face cream, antiperspirant to perfume, there are many chemical ingredients commonly used in the production of beauty products, documented as being toxic to people as well as Mother Nature.
Since 2010, Environmental Defence, an eco-association dedicated to protecting the planet and informing its inhabitants of what’s green-worthy, has focused on the personal-care category, first with illuminating the research on fragrance, published in the Not So Sexy Report.
As fragrance is listed under the many government regulation definitions as a trade secret, those ingredients aren’t listed on the label of a personal-care product. Several countries have changed the labeling information for beauty products to detail every other ingredient, yet fragrance remains a secret.
According to recent research says Environmental Defence’s Maggie MacDonald, several of the ingredients that can be included in the production of fragrance are better labeled as allergens or hormone-disrupting chemicals. “These toxins need to be banned, with increasing research showing negative effects on health and environment.”
MacDonald added that a recent study of lead found in lipstick, discovered a budget brand had the least amount of the carcinogen, which means it’s not even always a choice because of budget, but may be just what always has been done.
In 2012, Environmental Defence expanded its focus on harmful toxins in beauty products and cosmetics with its focus on the Toxic Ten in the Just Beautiful program: 10 chemicals commonly found in personal-care products.
The 10 offenders are DHA/DHT, parabens, triclosan, petrolatum, fragrance, formaldehyde releasing agents, siloxanes, coal tar derived colors, dibutyl phthalate and sodium laureth sulfate/ sodium lauryl sulfate.
Currently, none of these toxins are banned in North America, yet recent public awareness of parabens (synthetic preservatives) and their possible health effects helped make it a dirty word at the beauty counter.
Several companies started removing them from their products and now are proud to proclaim it in advertisements, such as Garnier Fructis Pure Clean Shampoo, which launched in January, free of parabens and silicones, as well as being biodegradeable.
According to research firm Kline and Company, despite the recent recession, women still happily splurged on beauty and personal-care products, approximately $36.5 billion by the end of 2010.
Consumers can hope other companies will bow to pressure and make the change. “The key is educating the consumer, who can go a long way to influencing faster changes in government policy and on businesses who are still including these toxins in their products”, says MacDonald.
The Just Beautiful program helps educate consumers to avoid these toxins, with a dedicated website with plenty of information and a printable pocket-size shopping guide listing the 10 offenders as well as products that may contain these ingredients, such as soap, shaving cream, moisturizers, cosmetics and hair products.
And don’t think it just stops with women’s cosmetic bags — men’s grooming and personal care products also contain these toxins, as well as personal care products commonly used for infants and children.
A recent success was with Johnson & Johnson, which was lobbied for two years by green groups and consumers to remove formaldehyde from its well-known Baby Shampoo, and in November 2011 the company announced it would start the process to remove the toxin worldwide from its baby products.
“We know that change can happen as more people get informed about these toxins,” says MacDonald, “and our health and environment deserve it.”