The Colossal Hoax of Skincare: why your products are tearing you apart from the inside out (and what to do about it) – Part 1

I’ve known for a while that there’s a LOT wrong with the skincare industry. I’ve recently started learning more, and the picture isn’t pretty.

Rather than overwhelm you with a reeeeeeeally long post and a ton of information, I’m going to break it down into 4 parts:

  • Today in part 1 you’ll learn why the U.S. cosmetic industry is not up to snuff, and the truth about marketing ploys and terms like “natural.”
  • In Part 2 (released next week) we’ll examine how you can protect yourself, and what specifically to avoid.
  • In Part 3 we’ll discuss awesome alternatives.
  • In Part 4 you’ll discover how to make your very own products at home. If you’re not yet subscribed, be sure to sign up here so you’ll get the next posts in the series via email.

 

Part 1: Why is the U.S. Cosmetic Industry Not up to Snuff? (And why should you care?)

makeup-on-counter

 

The Magic of Marketing

You’ve heard it all: Age-defying. Pure. Natural.

The message is “You need this on the shelf at home, especially if you want to look young and beautiful!”

Lots of terms are tossed around casually – “natural,” “healthy,” “chemical,” – and while they can make you feel warm and fuzzy or want to run the other way, the fact is these terms don’t really mean anything.

Many of us aim to use natural products, thinking they’re better for us. But what is natural? “Existing in or caused by nature.” This includes poison ivy, toxic mushrooms you might find while hiking in the woods, and disease.

Natural isn’t all we might hope it would be.

What about “healthy?” That’s good, right? Unfortunately, it turns out this term is only regulated for food, and so calling a cosmetic product “healthy for your skin” doesn’t mean a darn thing.

“Natural” and “healthy” are used as marketing ploys to convince us to buy products with the implication that they’re good for us, don’t have harmful “chemicals” (another term often used incorrectly), and don’t have any negative aspects to them. Brands want us to think that using their products will make us look younger and more beautiful.

The FDA has been petitioned multiple times to define the term “natural.” Their current working definition is “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.” Like “healthy,” the standardized definition of “natural” applies only to food.

What about cosmetics? And, while we’re on the topic, cleaning products? Do they go unregulated?

The answer is yes, cosmetics and cleaning products are very much unregulated. In fact, the only ingredients in them that ARE regulated, by the FDA or otherwise, is color additives. Nothing else.

 

A Closer Look at Regulation

It’s illegal for cosmetics to contain banned ingredients – but other than that, cosmetic companies are given free range, and allowed to decide for themselves what’s safe.

According to a paper shared by Harvard Law School, “The FDA has come to rely heavily on the cosmetic industry to regulate itself in order to ensure consumer safety. Recent criticisms allege that this system of self-regulation is ineffective, inefficient, and/or inappropriate.”

And from the Environmental Working Group (EWG):

“There is very little regulation of the $60 billion-a-year personal care products industry. The federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, which was supposed to guarantee the safety of cosmetics, is nearly 80 years old and falls far short of ensuring that cosmetics are safe…federal regulations [have] remained largely unchanged since 1938.”

Why are personal care products here in the U.S. so unregulated? Simply put, the last federal law to regulate their ingredients was passed in 1938. That’s nearly 80 years. Do you KNOW how much science has been done since then? How much more we know now than we did then?

If I was a betting type of gal, I’d bet good money that research has uncovered thousands of new pieces of information about ingredient safety and health impacts.

These last 80 years have seen the invention of computers, smart phones, microwaves, the Internet, post-it notes, and even men walking on the moon. But in these last 8 decades, you’d guess from regulations that we’ve discovered nothing new affecting cosmetics.

The United States is not the norm in its lack of regulation. Many other countries put safety ahead of industry, and don’t allow their cosmetic industries as much freedom and self-regulation. Around the world, ingredients may be banned for links to or suspicion of causing cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm, or birth defects.

How many ingredients fall into these categories? Let’s look at the numbers:

Canada has prohibited the use of 587 ingredients in cosmetic products.

The European Union has banned 1,328 ingredients.

Any guesses how many ingredients the good ol’ U.S. of A. has banned?

11. Eleven. ELEVEN. That’s IT. (You can find the list here.)

Maybe you’re trying to rationalize the fact that we in the United States have banned a mere 0.8% of the ingredients prohibited in Europe. Maybe you’re asking:

 

Is it really dangerous to put a product on your skin?

According to Dr. Samuel Epstein, founder of the Cancer Prevention Coalition,

“It’s more dangerous to put a product on your skin than to eat it.”

This may be counter-intuitive, but think about it – when you eat something, the body has its own way of dealing with toxins. It enlists the resources of your liver, GI tract, lymphatic system, and more. But when we put something on our skin, it’s absorbed straight into the bloodstream in under 30 seconds. This includes lotion, soap, bug spray, sunscreen, makeup, and anything else you apply.

makeup-brushes

A 2004 survey by the Environmental Working Group estimates that on average, a woman is exposed to 168 unique ingredients in cosmetics every single day. Wondering where all of those come from? Think shampoo, conditioner, and soap, followed by lotion, fancy face creams, deodorant, makeup, and so forth.

This affects not only us, but also our unborn children. On average, a newborn has 200 chemicals in his or her cord blood – many of which cause harm to the brain and nervous system, and are linked to cancer, birth defects, or abnormal development.

makeup-baby-feet

 

So what’s the moral of the story?

If you use a product with harmful ingredients once or twice, no biggie. We all have our own daily beauty routines. It’s the routine part that presents the danger. For example, if you’re using a soap all over your body every day that has some harmful ingredients, that will add up over time.

The body is designed to process and remove toxins, but it’s hard to keep up when we’re putting them on or in our bodies faster than they can be managed.

When we put these chemicals in our bodies faster than we can process them, we run into bioaccumulation. Bioaccumulation occurs when our bodies absorb substances at a faster rate than we’re able to process and eliminate them. Picture an ant trying to eat through the growing pile of food under baby’s high chair – it just can’t keep up.

Nor can our bodies.

We have very few products banned from our cosmetics, while other countries have many. If a substance causes cancer or birth defects in Canada or Germany, you can bet your favorite face cream that that substance will do the same thing in the U.S., whether it’s banned or not.

You’re probably wondering:

How can you protect yourself and your family?

What are the worst offenders to be on the lookout for?

How can bioaccumulation of these ingredients harm you?

How can you screen your products lickety-split and choose the safest option without doing a ton of research?

Oh, do I have some great resources and information to share next week! Keep your eyes peeled for my next post, and make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it.

This is a lot of information to take in. What are your reflections? Your questions? Please share in the comments below.

 

makeup-person

 

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2 Comments

  1. Fantastic article, Nicole. Just seeing that the USA has banned 11 ingredients compared to hundreds? Enough to make me look differently at products on the shelves.

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