Finding Safe and Effective Cosmetics
Cosmetics and skin care are multi-billion dollar industries. The first cosmetics known, based on archeological evidence, dates to 3500 B.C.E., with the first cosmetics use thought to date from 10,000 B.C.E. Since then, there have been all sorts of unwanted side effects, the most awful being birth defects, blindness, and even death.[1. History of Cosmetics]
We are lucky to now know not to coat our faces with lead, but what we don’t know can still hurt us. One of the biggest misconceptions about the cosmetics and skin care industry is that these products must be proven safe for the FDA to approve them. In fact, the FDA does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to be tested for safety and do not have to go through FDA approval before hitting the market.[2. FDA Authority Over Cosmetics]
Women want cosmetics and skin care that are free of the big bads, but we also want our products to be effective. Based on what I commonly hear from women, I think we have three different issues at work here:
- We don’t understand all the ingredients and the role they play (if we can find ingredient lists at all).
- It seems like a continuous damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario between new research and unregulated chemicals. It can be too overwhelming to know what to buy, which can cause a little cosmetic-buying paralysis, which leads to sticking with what we know – even if our lipstick has lead in it.
- It can be hard to find the right balance between safe ingredients and effective products. This is a huge concern for women that want a product to work, want it to be safe, and want it to be cost-effective.
Problem: Understanding Ingredients
Let me start with number one: understanding ingredients. I believe that we all deserve to know exactly what is in our cosmetics, vitamins and other medicine, soil, air and then, and only then, can we make educated decisions based on that knowledge. Too often we are flying blind in the face of deceitful labeling, effective lobbying, and misleading ingredients. But once we have the ingredients in front of us, what then?
We may be able to check for parabens, but how many could decide if sodium benzoate or glyceryl stearate are dangerous while standing at the store? What about propylene glycol? Deciding which are harmful and which are harmless is difficult to decide and since, at least in the U.S., our regulatory bodies have not required safety testing for most of the chemicals and products already on the market, the cosmetics industry may be prioritizing effectiveness over long-term safety.
Problem: New Research and Unregulated Chemicals
So that leaves us with reason number two why women have trouble with choosing safe cosmetics. We are constantly learning new (and sometimes terrifying) information about harmful chemicals that the chemical manufacturers and cosmetics companies have purported to be safe for years! Maybe then we make a switch to an “all-natural” line and find out that the natural label means next to nothing and we still have harmful chemicals in our products. Or a previously “safe” ingredient turns out to be anything but, making us increasingly frustrated finding ANYTHING safe.
Problem: Finding Safe AND Effective Products
Which leads us right to number three: choosing products we know aren’t the safest, but are effective. We know too much, but not enough, so we stick with the cosmetics that work with less regard for their safety. This would be fine, except for that little piece about not always knowing enough. If you are a parent, you likely read the labels and try your best to make sure your children’s bath products are as safe as can be. Do you do the same for yourself? Many of us crunchy mamas try, but unless we eschew cosmetics altogether, it often seems near impossible.
Perhaps we decide that we are going to really work to find the safest products available. Great! This is what I try to do, but it can be time-consuming, expensive when we make “mistakes,” and may not end up being the most effective option. Still worth it for our children, but as adults we want a little more bang for our buck.
Educated Decisions Based on Real Knowledge
No one is perfect and that is true of anything in life. There is a huge difference, though, in making choices based on all the information and making choices based on false claims. I think a push to educate ourselves and others about chemical safety is incredibly important, as well as , is what is going to change the game. If we can solve the problems listed above, then we will have really made progress in understanding how to keep ourselves (and the rest of our families) safe. Until then, do what you can for yourself.
Educate yourself as best you can on ingredient safety.
- EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database
- Chemical of the Day
- Almost All The Truth’s Reading Labels & Understanding Ingredients
Don’t beat yourself up if you knowingly choose a less-than-perfect product. Advocate for better chemical safety reform. Let the following parties understand that you expect chemicals that cause harm to be identified and disclosed. Request that all chemicals meet safety standards before they ever hit the market. Ask that testing and evaluating for chemicals reflect best practices called for by the National Academy of Science.
- Contact your Senators.
- Find out if your state has pending legislation and contact accordingly.
- Contact your favorite company and ask them to remove harmful ingredients from their products.
Opt for products that are safe and beneficial when possible. Just a few of my favorites. :)
- Bubble and Bee
- Earth Mama Angel Baby®
- Dr. Bronner’s
- Style Essentials
- Alima Pure
- Burt’s Bees (some)
Now spill…. Favorite green products? Products you won’t give up, even if they aren’t the safest? What you want out of chemical safety reform? Love it when you leave those comments and get the discussion going!