In the loosely regulated world of cosmetics, labels like paraben-free and all-natural don’t guarantee natural beauty products are free of harmful chemicals, according to the Center for Environmental Health.
The center investigated and found more than 100 major brands — including some supposedly natural ones — used a carcinogenic foaming agent called cocamide DEA without a warning label.
Want to find safe products? Check the free Skin Deep database of product safety. A free app is also available. Scan products in store to see if they contain harmful ingredients.
Negligent brands included even natural-sounding ones like Shikai, despite its tagline, “Natural solutions that work.” Lush products were also found to contain the carcinogen, proving that handmade doesn’t mean toxin-free.
How did this happen?
The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees cosmetics companies, doesn’t define terms like “all-natural” and even “organic.” That’s why you’ll see USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) stamps on certified organic shampoos and soaps.
This can lead to misleading product packaging on natural beauty products. Consider the brand Organix, which manufactures natural-sounding products like coconut milk shampoo and conditioner with kukui oil.
If you purchased Organix’s macadamia oil shampoo thinking it sounded like a good, natural-enough product to use, you’d be left wanting more. It contains cocamide DEA and other potentially carcinogenic and toxic chemicals, according to the Skin Deep database.
Organix has since started marketing itself under the name OGX after California courts ruled it needed to actually use organic products or change its name.
Additional California court agreements have been reached with OGX, Lush, Shikai and others, which agreed to stop using cocamide DEA. All told, 26 companies have agreed to cut cocamide DEA from their formulations. Full list here.
Although California is on the cutting edge of cleaning up the cosmetics industry, the federal government is woefully behind.
The feds don’t oversee safety testing for the 12,000-plus chemicals used in personal care products.
Most of those products have never been tested for safety, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Plus, the FDA has no authority to issue cosmetics recalls. That’s why the agency couldn’t recall Brazilian blowout products when they were discovered to contain formaldehyde.
Why so little regulation?
Federal law governing cosmetics dates back to 1938 — well before the avalanche of potentially cancer-causing chemicals came onto the market.
Existing law cedes oversight to manufacturers while also giving them loopholes to avoid disclosing ingredients like phthalates — chemicals used to soften plastics that have been restricted in children’s toys, but not cosmetics or food.
Research has shown phthalates to disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates hormones, and potentially increase cancer risk, according to the Breast Cancer Fund.
What does the future hold?
Changes are coming in the world of natural beauty products. You can see that as momentum builds against triclosan, the cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting anti-bacterial agent found in toothpaste and soaps. Companies are phasing it out and some states are passing laws against it.
On the federal level, advocates are working to update cosmetics industry regulations, increasing FDA oversight and safety testing while requiring companies to phase out known toxic chemicals from the products we all use on our skin every day.
What can I do?
- Use the Skin Deep database to find the safety products with the lowest toxicity ratings.
- Use oils and other pure products when possible. Jojoba oil or argan oil make wonderful facial moisturizers without any additive at all. Coconut oil is good to use on the body.
- Be aware! Educating yourself, your friends and family in a helpful, nonjudgmental way helps to spread information. People can make smart choices no matter what the law says.
- Encourage your congressperson to pass updated FDA rules regulating the cosmetics industry.
What are your tricks for making sure natural beauty products actually are natural? Share your tips in the comments below.
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