Have you ever wondered what's in your shampoo?
Unsafe ingredients lurk in many personal care products. To make matters worse, packaging often lacks transparency, leaving consumers unaware of exactly what they're putting on and in their bodies. Lots of folks use personal care products as a form of self-care, taking time to rock a perfect cat's eye or do a mask to help push back some of the world's heaviness. Of all things, it should be easy to make healthy choices, but you need to do your homework. How do you make more sustainable choices?
Ingredients in Products Threaten Our Health & Environment
According to reports issued over the last two decades, makeup, shampoo, skin lotion, nail polish, and other personal care products have been found to contain chemical ingredients that lack sufficient data to declare them safe for topical use. Even worse, an Environmental Working Group report found that beauty and hair products marketed to black women are even more likely to contain potentially harmful chemicals and ingredients.
Some ingredients have been linked to cause harmful birth defects, hormonal disruptions, skin allergies, and other serious health effects in animal studies. Perhaps the most recent and notorious example is talc, which may be linked to incidents of ovarian cancer. Talc can be found in baby powder, face powders, deodorant, lotion, bath bombs, and other cosmetics.
Then, of course, are the toxic chemicals and synthetic ingredients used in the products we literally put inside ourselves. Menstrual products can contain dioxins, furans and pesticide residues, which then sit next to some of the most sensitive and absorbent skin in the human body. Many users report rashes, infections and other side effects, making their period a problem.
Here is a non-comprehensive list of other ingredients to be aware and highly cautious of:
- Parabens — Popular preservatives found in makeup, body washes, deodorants, and cleansers with estrogen-mimicking properties associated with increased breast cancer risk in high amounts.
- Fragrance — Blanket term for chemicals that sensitize the skin and are associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and possible reproductive issues. Can be found in just about anything.
- Phthalates — Increases the pliability of plastic and are found in deodorants, perfumes, hair spray, nail polish, and moisturizer. Associated with increased breast cancer risk.
- Formaldehyde— Prevents bacteria growth in cosmetics, but was determined to be a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC).
Cotton — Certain materials and fabrics found in clothes, such as inorganic cotton, are treated and made with many of these ingredients as well. Wrinkle-resistant clothes, for example, often use formaldehyde. However, chemicals in clothing have not yet been linked to human health effects.
Many of these ingredients and materials also come with destructive environmental consequences, both in their use and their manufacture. Many have the tendency to bioaccumulate and find their way into our oceans and water supplies, destroying marine life.
Additionally, materials used in disposable pads and tampons, along with “fast fashion” clothing, have a horrific impact on our landfills. In fact, an estimated 20 billion pads, tampons, and applicators are sent to North American landfills every year. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, each American disposes of an average 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually.
To learn more about the kinds of ingredients that have been linked to adverse health and environmental effects along with the products they’re found in, use the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Chemicals of Concern search tool and their Health & Science resource center.
Using Consumer Power For Change
The good news is, consumer demand incites progress, and entrepreneurs are listening and creating companies that harbor an unwavering compassion for human and environmental health, and their products are proof.
Some of our favorite, most-trusted non-toxic and environmentally-friendly products and retailers include:
- Vapour Beauty — Winner of Allure’s Best of Beauty Award in the “Naturals” category, Vapour sustainably sources high-quality organic ingredients and even uses solar and wind power in their warehouse, lab, and offices. Co-founder Krysia Boinis states, “This commitment to planetary and personal health is in our DNA.”
- Rahua — This natural haircare brand is dedicated to the preservation of the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people.
- Drunk Elephant — An eco-friendly option that’s actually effective, Drunk Elephant avoids what they call “the suspicious 6” ingredients, and they are mindful about any ingredients that will find their way back into our ecosystem.
Lunapads, of course! — Lunapads are sustainably made, using organic fabrics and transparent methods of production. Products like the Performa line are next-generation cloth pads that outperform disposables, and the organic cotton period undies are must-haves.
- PACT — This organic cotton clothing company is both super comfortable and Fair Trade Certified (meaning better conditions for cotton farmers). They don’t use toxic dyes or pesticides, and they partner with organizations that ensure their workers are well-paid.
Tips For Moving Forward
We know that learning about the consequences of our consumer choices can be quite overwhelming. It’s easy for it to feel like no matter what we do, it won’t make a difference. But that’s just not true.
Here are a few tips for how to start making healthier choices for yourself and the environment.
- Start small — Replace one item in your routine at a time. Think about what you buy and use the most; swapping that out for something better will make the most immediate impact.
- Read labels — Check product and clothing labels for certifications, ingredients, and materials. However, be aware that in the cosmetics and hygiene categories, companies are not regulated or required to list everything in their products.
- Don’t shop, invest — Buy items for the long-haul. They should be made to last with quality materials and ingredients, not easily disposable.
- Donate and recycle — Research the proper way to dispose of your products, from everything to makeup to clothing. Resist the urge to just throw things away, where they’ll end up in a landfill.
- Use your voice — Don’t be afraid to ask for change! It’s okay to start small - ask for more recycling programs at work, write to your favourite brands to ask them about their sustainability programs and call your political representatives. Several small changes can mean a big difference for the planet.