Richard Klecka for AHA! INC.
Chemical poisons in cosmetics, personal care, and massage therapy products are affecting your clients, and you, more than
you may know. With the incidence of cancers and autoimmune disease on the rise, no matter how much research is done, it is
still wise to be knowledgeable and cautious about what you put in and on your body.
Your skin absorbs what you put on it! Your lungs absorb what you breathe!
The Integumentary System
Do you know that we absorb 60 percent of the substances we put on our skin, from lubricants and lotions to makeup and
perfume? The approximately six pounds of skin each human carries around is a porous membrane one-twentieth of an inch
thick, through which environmental toxins can rapidly enter the body. In fact, the integumentary system is actually a more
significant gateway for toxins than the alimentary (food digestive) system. Any chemicals you apply in the form of personal
care products go through your skin and into your bloodstream, bypassing the kidneys, liver and other vital filtering systems.
This includes your hands.
Here’s a partial list of potentially harmful products you could be using or are exposed to in your home, practice and office
space; shampoos, conditioners, hair spray, hair dyes, face care, shaving products, after shaves, lotions, body oils, creams,
moisturizers and penetration enhancers, cleaning agents and materials, cosmetics, antiperspirant, insect repellents, perfumes
and scents, dry-cleaned clothes, laundry detergents and treatments, dishwashing liquid, nail polish, glues and other chemicals
associated with artificial nails.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ 2004 annual report, the total annual number of exposures
related to cosmetics/personal care products was 224,792. That was second only to exposure to analgesics at 279,955, and more
than cleaning substances (household) at 215,630, and exposures to pesticides reported at 102,754.
What’s In This Stuff Anyway?
The ordinary idea is that body care products sold in the United States are safe because of regulation. This belief could not
be further from the truth. In fact, the rules governing the sale of "cosmetics” (a very broad category used by the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) that includes everything from makeup and deodorants to massage creams and lotions, bubble
baths, and mouthwashes) are much less stringent than those that apply to other products regulated by the FDA. In 1938, the
FDA granted self-regulation to cosmetics manufacturers, allowing the industry to determine what to include in products,
regardless of what tests may show. Manufacturers may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a
few prohibited substances, to market a product without government review or approval. Many commonly used chemicals used
in personal care products, massage products and cosmetics are known to be toxic. Not only that, many of them have been
proven to be carcinogenic.
The toxicity of product ingredients is scrutinized almost exclusively by a self-policing industry safety committee, the
Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel. Because testing is voluntary and controlled by the manufacturers, many ingredients
in cosmetics products are not safety tested at all.
Environmental Working Group's analysis of industry and government sources shows that: “eighty-nine (89) percent of the
10,500 ingredients that the FDA has determined are used in personal care products (FDA 2000) have not been evaluated for
safety by the CIR, the FDA, or any other publicly accountable institution (FDA 2000, CIR 2003).” One of every 120 products
on the market contains ingredients certified by government authorities as known or probable human carcinogens, including
shampoos, lotions, creams, oils, make-up foundations, and lip balms manufactured by Almay, Avalon, Biotone, Natures Gate,
Neutrogena, and others. An incredible one-third of all products contain one or more ingredients classified as possible human
Also, the potentially harmful cumulative and synergistic effects of repeated absorption of low-level toxins should not be
dismissed. There is still very little research being done on the slow poisoning of our bodies by these toxins. No one knows what
will happen when these substances enter into your bloodstream and end up mixing with others you’ve ingested weeks before!
Environmentally, these products contribute to our dependency on petroleum and the related environmental destruction
associated with drilling and refining; many chemical body care ingredients are petroleum-derived. In addition, when these
products are washed off of our bodies, they are released into our environment and require intensive cleaning processes to be
removed from water sources. Much of it ends up polluting our streams, rivers and estuaries.
Is It Really Organic?
Know Your Ingredients
You should be equally attentive to ingredients in products labeled "natural" or "organic.” A "natural" label implies that the
ingredients came directly from nature. However, while products labeled "natural" may include a few plant-based ingredients,
they are commonly mixed with chemicals, synthetic dyes and fragrances. As of 2006, cosmetic and body care products
bearing the USDA Certified Organic symbol theoretically meet or exceed the USDA Organic Standards Act guidelines, but
even these regulations have been weakened by industry “pay to play” companies. In fact, some of the most popular "organic"
shampoos and lotions contain essentially the same synthetic ingredients as conventional body care products, but are labeled as
Certified Organic! These companies are simply including added water (renamed “organic hydrosol”) as an organic ingredient
(Organic Consumers Association). The best advice is to read product labels and know what the ingredients are.
Fortunately, many companies with integrity and caring have addressed these concerns and are committed to providing
honestly natural and honestly organic products. There are many new resources available on the internet and at the grocery
store, both for good products and for a rising tide of information. Buying natural and organic body care products is better
for your health and our environment, and with some critical assessment you can make sure that what you are buying is
meeting your standards.