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Toxic Beauty

Natieka Samuels

It all started with vanity: I hadn’t meant to become a “label-reader,” that’s just how it turned out.

One day I decided that I wanted to have my dream hair: long, full, and healthy. I did some research and joined an online community of women interested in growing longer and healthier hair. Naturally, much of the discussion on these forums is about the various products and concoctions that have worked or not worked on each person’s “hair journey.”

There was always a new ingredient to look for, or rather look out for. Soon I began to notice that women were looking for “paraben free” products. Not knowing what a paraben was, but assuming it couldn’t be good, I did a quick Google search and found that parabens are cheap preservatives used in cosmetics and personal care products, and that exposure to its various forms have been linked to breast cancer. Taking a look at the commercial hair products I already owned, not a single one was free of parabens.

The search for “sulfate free” shampoos was another common source of discussion on the hair boards. Sulfates, such as the popular sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and ammonium laureth sulfate, are detergents: they create that satisfying foam and lather you get when you brush your teeth, use soap, do laundry, or wash your hair.

Ingredients to watch for:

Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS)
Synthetic fragrances
Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)
Diazolidinyl and Imidazolidinyl Urea

Most disturbing, the power of SLS as a detergent is so strong that it is also used as an engine degreaser. In addition to being very harsh, drying, and sometimes irritating to the hair and skin, sulfates have been linked to some pretty scary health effects.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there.

Many nail polish brands contain formaldehyde, and many shampoos and conditioners contain formaldehyde-releasing chemicals.

Furthermore, there are toxic chemicals that can affect your reproductive health and fertility hiding in the things that you use almost every day, such as your plastic containers, water bottles, canned foods and beverages, vinyl shower curtains, and disturbingly, even in your wine. Yes, your wine. Plastic stoppers in wine bottles can contain BPA, but also, wine ferments in vats that are often lined with resin or epoxy.

Epoxy (and the resin that lines metal cans) contains a toxic chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA), which is also an endocrine disruptor.

Upon discovering this information, my first thought was, how can this be? If these chemicals are known to cause harm, why are they allowed to be used in the products I use every single day? Surely, I thought, the government had rules about this kind of thing.

It turns out the current law, known as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), has not been updated in 34 years and does not give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority it needs to oversee the safety of chemicals in everyday products or to hold industry accountable for testing the chemicals they manufacture. The result: many of the chemicals used in our everyday products have not been tested for safety and continue to remain on the market.

Congress needs to reform TSCA because, as you’ll discover when you take a look at the ingredients lists in your bathroom and kitchen cabinets, you can’t shop your way out of exposure to toxic chemicals , especially since manufacturers aren’t required to tell you what’s in their products in the first place.

Since the FDA, not the EPA, regulates cosmetics, regulation of many of our personal care products would not be improved by TSCA reform alone. In order to have more comprehensive reform, we need to also ask Congress to give the FDA the authority to ensure that our cosmetics are safe. More regulation from both the EPA and FDA is needed to ensure that consumers are safe when using all products, whether they are necessities, for personal hygiene, or purely cosmetic.

Change needs to come from the companies themselves, and they aren’t going to make any changes unless the government or your absent dollars tell them to.

To give credit where credit is due, there are a few companies that dedicate themselves to natural, non-toxic ingredients, such as Giovanni Cosmetics, Aubrey Organics, and Dr. Bronners. To find out more about the safety of your cosmetics and personal care products check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

To keep up to date with what’s happening in Congress to change the law, the latest research, and blogs like this one, stay tuned to the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families website and consider fanning its Facebook page.

These days I try to be as conscientious about my purchases and practices as I can.

But I shouldn’t have to be an amateur chemist to buy laundry detergent: chemicals that are thought to be harmful should not be able to make it to our grocery store shelves. Stronger chemical laws will keep me, you and our families safer. So, together, let’s send a message to Washington and demand chemical policy reform.