Breast cancer, hormonal disruption, skin ailments, and leukemia—the list goes on and on.
In today’s modern world of science, one would think that technology could keep pace with, if not advance beyond, many of the disease processes facing women.
Having unique needs—or at least different preferences than their male counterparts—they are continuously faced with decisions which often lead them to ultimatums, either they prefer not to take (but do anyway), or ones in which the consequences are not clear.
On average, the typical woman (even though I don’t believe there is a typical woman) uses about 10 products each day. Of this list, there are over 160 chemical compounds in those products, with little information shared with an unsuspecting public.
Beginning at birth, you have been cleaned, bathed, and covered in lotion from head to toe, nearly every day of your life. As you mature, you begin to use products to improve or soften your skin or use makeup advertised as a means for becoming more beautiful than the girl next door.
With aging comes hair-coloring—a secret between you and a box, or if you can afford it, your hairstylist.
Laboratories develop just about everything you desire or believe will improve your appearance. While chemists test the results of their innovations (usually on rodents), the goal is not to decide if a product will harm or kill consumers; instead, they strive to seek levels of toxic ingredients the body can tolerate—with constant use—this is called creating a “standard.”
Too often, women become unintended subjects of product testing, and unless they are harmed, and a direct link can be established, liability for injury is impossible to prove.
If a devastating diagnosis is ever made, often with an unconfirmed etiology, seldom can the disease be traced back to a lotion or potion you may have used? But, it does make you wonder if any of the personal care products was a contributor.
Compounding the importance of this issue is the alarming aspect of how companies are marketing personal care products to a young and influential audience.
Gone are the days when a young girl would ask permission from a parent to purchase her first tube of lipstick, or her mom handing her a deodorant stick and saying, “You might want to start using this.”
Instead, young ladies are taking it upon themselves to get advice and direction from older sisters, friends, social media, or worse—advertising that targets them as the next life-long consumer.
These actions raise concerns since these women will face a lifetime of products that are at the least, questionable, and for the worst—deadly.
With our country’s medical model focused on cure rather than prevention (though this is improving over the last 10 or 20 years), this approach is cyclical. It never addresses the cause of illnesses related to the environment or human-made substances.
In a study conducted by Dr. Kim Harley, from the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley, found that a group of teenaged girls not only had measurable levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in their bodies, the research also showed that once subjects stopped the use of personal care products, (cosmetics, soaps, and shampoos), the levels of substances plummeted, leaving their bodies clear
If nothing else, there is comfort in the fact that stopping the use of questionable products can return body chemistry to normal. But, we need to question these findings and ask; should we use products that infiltrate into our biological system in the first place?
Harley, who happens to be an epidemiologist, identified three particular substances that have been labeled endocrine disruptors: phthalates, paraben, and triclosan.
These chemicals are found in dozens upon dozens of health-care, beauty, and cleansing products on the shelves of practically every retailer; this includes grocery stores that promote organic-based and chemical-free products.
In addition to these chemical compounds, identified by Harley, it has long been felt that antiperspirants containing aluminum are high on the do-not-use list. This active ingredient blocks sweat glands and prevents the natural flow of toxins from being released from the body to the skin’s surface.
Research has suggested that the aluminum components of these products are absorbed by the skin and result in changes to estrogen receptors of breast cells. It should be noted that estrogen is responsible for both cancerous and non-cancerous cell development, making antiperspirants containing elements of aluminum a high-risk agent.
Another concern is the relationship between aluminum substrates and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. While medical experts are claiming they are linked in some manner, nothing has been done to eliminate aluminum from store shelves or online retailers.
What can be done?
Over the last few years, many new health-conscious companies have been identifying problematic substances in the products used by women and began to offer viable alternatives—although more expensive than what is mass-marketed.
Over the last year, the quest to control harmful compounds available is a good news/bad news scenario.
In the past, the government agency known as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t been looking out for you as once believed. Because they have zero authority for the monitoring of personal care products, it is an open playing field.
It is a little-known fact that most industry leaders in this category can manufacture products and use chemicals or substances without having to show evidence that they are safe for our health or the environment.
These large companies are also experts in the manipulation of messages about health and beauty.
This loophole is evident when they show a cute, chubby baby wrapped in a pink or blue blanket in the arms of a caring mother, but neglect to tell you about the possible toxins you exposed your child to during a bath.
With what we know, this form of
promotion is unfathomable; the notion that mothers and fathers in this country are
continuously exposing their children to dangerous products is on the verge of recklessness, but the answer is often the same: “Show us where the harm is being done.”
On April 20, 2015, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced legislation to protect consumers and proposed a bill that would create a method for industry compliance known as the Personal Care Products Safety Act. It sat in committee until March 7, 2019, where it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. As of today, it remains idle and un-passed.
This new law would give governance to the FDA to regulate all of the ingredients found in personal care products. Most noteworthy is that this soon-to-be regulated industry sector is expanding to an estimated $70 billion in US revenue; troubling, is that it is an industry lacking oversight during the last 75 years.
According to Senator Feinstein’s website, which details the bill, long discussions have taken place between the FDA and companies manufacturing many of these targeted products.
In support of the bill, Senator Feinstein is quoted as stating, “The use of personal care products is widespread; however, there are very few protections in place to ensure their safety. Europe has a robust system, which includes consumer protections like product registration…I am pleased to be introducing this bipartisan legislation with Senator Collins that will require the FDA to review chemicals used in these products and provide clear guidance on their safety. Additionally, the legislation has broad support from companies and consumer groups alike.”
But who is behind the legislation?
One organization involved with the construction of this bill is known as the Personal Care Products Council.
This trade association, representing over 600 industry-related concerns (who most likely have a Washington lobbying company working diligently on their cause), would appear to be the wrong people to sit at a table when discussing safety over profits. The very nature or objective of this group would, at face value, be counter to the ultimate goal.
The intimacy between the industry and the government gives rise to another question: How well will consumers’ rights be protected—within the language of the law—if the industry is writing it?
It is important to identify others included in the writing of the bill:
• Johnson & Johnson, whose brand names include: Neutrogena, Aveeno, Clean & Clear, Lubriderm, and a long list of Johnson’s baby products.
• Conglomerate Proctor & Gamble (how appropriate), with a list of popular products used by women, including Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Clairol, Herbal Essences, Secret, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Ivory, Cover Girl, Olay, Sebastian Professional, and Vidal Sassoon.
• Revlon, with a line-up of Revlon, Almay, and Mitchum.
• Estée Lauder, with brand names including Clinique, Origins, Tommy Hilfiger, MAC, La Mer, Bobbi Brown, Donna Karan, Aveda, and Michael Kors.
• Unilever, with names under their umbrella such as Dove, TREsemmé, Lever, St. Ives, Noxzema, Nexxus, Pond’s, Suave, Sunsilk, Vaseline, and Degree.
• L’Oréal, known by their product line of L’Oréal Paris, Lancôme, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Kiehl, Essie, Garnier, Maybelline-New York, Vichy, La Roche-Posay, the Body Shop, and Redkin.
In light of full disclosure, the bill is supported by the following consumer groups (though we are unable at this time to learn how they contributed to the legislation):
• The Environmental Working Group
• Society for Women’s Health
• Research National Alliance for Hispanic Health
• Healthy Women
• Endocrine Society
• National Psorias
What seems to be missing in this cooperative effort is a national watchdog organization that monitors the language and follow-up enforcement piece of the legislation. From first glance, it seems that government agencies, trade associations, and companies producing or at least marketing these controversial products are a bit too cozy. Since this is such an important issue, should we as consumers want businesses to be allowed to exert so much influence?
Even with this proposed legislation, how can we believe these sizeable personal care companies will modify or change their successful formulas due to suspicion—especially with a lack of scientific data to demonstrate harmful outcomes to the end-users of their products?
According to the analysis of the bill, the FDA would be responsible for evaluating at least five ingredients yearly. From a long list of chemicals considered conspicuous of causing health problems, this process would create a means for notifying companies how and when compounds can be used, at what levels they should be regulated, and if a consumer warning needs to be issued.
A problem that could result from this approach is that the law ends up as window dressing only to allow the opportunity for these personal care companies to claim they are adhering to the will of the people and government and until such time evidence can demonstrate a cause and effect relationship between product and illness.
It’s been announced that one of the first compounds to be reviewed is known as diazolidinyl urea (just the name sounds threatening), a preservative found in bathing products, lotions, deodorants, shampoos, and conditioners.
Also, to be examined—once legislation is passed—will be lead acetate, found in hair dyes, along with methylene glycol and quaternion-15, both components of shampoo, shaving and skin creams, and cleansers.
While the FDA will be able to enforce labeling on products, we have to question if it will go far enough.
It can be hypothesized that those who read labels are already aware of harmful content and will make personal judgments, but for the majority of consumers, the only label they’re concerned with is the one with a price.
Another interesting—but late-to-show—rule is that companies will be to provided “information” about their dangerous personal care products (within 15 days) if they receive a report of a severe or adverse problem which resulted in disfigurement, hospitalization, or perhaps death.
Having to wait until a horrible outcome occurs before action is taken seems to allow a considerable corridor for problems to exist and not be reported.
It would be nice to believe a company would come clean (no pun intended) when something they produce and market is hurting people.
It’s apparent we need oversight of businesses that touch our lives, especially in such a personal manner; if nothing else, this is a good beginning.
After all of that—what is the cost?
If you want to know the answer to this question, simply follow the money. Of course, as with anything the government becomes involved with, there will be a price to pay; and, who better than the consumer to cover the cost for protection.
This new law will result in personal care product companies having to pay a user fee to the government agency, only to have this charge passed on to the consumers.
From this, we can conclude that for many Americans, the choice they end up making will be based on price. Unfortunately, the lowest price is usually the least desirable product from a
We should be pleased that some action is being taken on our behalf; however, change takes time, and so we can probably expect the process of how consumers select personal care to be slow in coming.
Now is the time to teach the next generation of our mistakes and ignorance. By explaining to teens and young women what they are subjecting themselves to when using products that promise everything, but a healthy life; it’s vital to give them alternatives which are pure and natural. Perhaps as consumers, we can pressure a multi-billion dollar industry to put health in front of profits.