Why we should all think twice about our personal care products.

For the last couple of months, Kris and I have been slowly taking a closer look at our personal care products (let’s call them PCPs for short). Actually, I have. He’s been mostly doing what I tell him to do, and winning the "Husband of the Year" award by hardly complaining at all.

Since this is such a sensitive area for me, as I’m sure it is for you, I’ve decided to make a series out of it. It will consist of four parts: body, hair, face, and oral care. Each post will discuss what to look out for and discuss viable store-bought and DIY alternatives.

But before we start the series, I want to share some of the information that has compelled me to start questioning our morning routines and the products we use daily. (And this is just skimming the surface.)

  1. The personal care and cosmetic industry is not required to test any of their ingredients or even their final product before sending it to market.

  2. The FDA has no authority to require or enforce pre-market testing on any personal-care product, and the industry has blocked nearly every pro-regulation bill that has been attempted since the late 1930s. (You read that right, the laws on cosmetics and PCPs have had only very minor changes since 1938.)

  3. Nearly every marketing term used to influence our opinion of a product is unregulated. That includes, but is not limited to: "organic," "all-natural," "herbal," "gentle," "natural," and even "allergy-tested," "dermatologist-tested," "hypoallergenic," and "cruelty-free."

  4. While the EU has banned over 1,300 chemicals from the manufacturing and production of PCPs and cosmetics, the US has banned a whopping 11.

  5. Many of these ingredients are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, can cause developmental and reproductive problems, and a lot more.

Now, take all that in and remember:

Your skin is your largest organ, and it absorbs as much as 60% of what you put on it.

YIKES!! Transdermal absorption. It’s an incredibly effective method of getting stuff straight into our systems. It’s why things like the pain patch and nicotine patch work so well. There are a whole lot of scary facts I could continue to throw at you here, but let’s take it slow.

What are the chemicals or products we should be most concerned about?

This is the scary part. There are too many to name here. Then there are by-products (which are created from the combination of other ingredients) and contaminants (which make their way into the product through the process or packaging). You won’t see either on the ingredients list. And they can be the most dangerous ones.

This helpful infographic by Mercola gives you a pretty good run-down of what to watch out for.

Some of the more insidious products are talc-based powders, body washes and scrubs, perfumes, hair dyes, deodorant, and even so-called “organic” products. We’ll take a closer look at these and more products and their ingredients during the Morning Routine Makeover Series.

Okay, so what should we do about it?

Fortunately, there are quite a few entities working to make the info that does exist public, and make that information easily understandable so we can choose better products.

One such entity is the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Which I’ve written about before. Similar to the Healthy Cleaning Guide discussed in that link, EWG has a guide for personal care products called SkinDeep. And it’s EVEN BETTER than the cleaning guide. It has rated nearly 70,000 products and has a mobile app that lets you scan the barcode of an item and see its rating, ingredients and their individual ratings, and any areas of concern. It’s super handy for going through your medicine cabinet, and just as great when you are in the store attempting to find suitable replacements.

Simple tips for evaluating your arsenal of PCPs:

  1. Ask yourself what you actually NEED, and does that item really do the job well? You may find that you can toss out a lot of the bad stuff without needing to replace it at all.

  2. If there is a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce, it’s probably bad news. Check it with the SkinDeep website or app to be sure.

  3. “Fragrance” is a single term that can cover HUNDREDS of chemicals, and because it’s proprietary (secret formula), companies never have to test or disclose any of them. Often these fragrances are made by a third party. Which means the company that makes the final product doesn’t always know exactly what is in it. Fragrance is ALWAYS a red flag. Oh, and it’s in nearly every mainstream PCP. Look for replacements made with essential oils and natural plant extracts.

  4. Don’t throw out any of your “essentials” until you have something to replace it with. (This may seem like common sense, but it’s easy to get freaked out and toss everything, then realize you have nothing left to shower with. Not that I did that or anything.)

  5. Replace one thing at a time. If you have a lot of products you are really loyal to, take it slow. Don’t pressure yourself to change everything at once. One step at a time.

One more thing about all this before closing. All these chemicals are NOT effectively making you smoother, cleaner, shinier, less shiny, whatever. They are wrecking your precious skin and necessitating more products to fix the problems. Just imagine what will happen when we replace those items with wholesome products. We need a whole lot less. And look and feel much better for it.

So, now I’d love to know: How does all this make you feel? What are you most concerned about in your own routine? See you in the comments!


p.s. Check out the series: Morning Routine Makeover!

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Burnes, D. (2012, June 21). Putting It on Your Skin Does Let It in: What's in Skin Care and How It Affects Your Health. Retrieved June 25, 2015.

Connor, S., & Spunt, A. (2010). No more dirty looks: The truth about your beauty products-- and the ultimate guide to safe and clean cosmetics. New York: Da Capo Lifelong. 

Epstein, S., & Fitzgerald, R. (2009). Toxic beauty: How cosmetics and personal-care products endanger your health, and what you can do about it. Dallas, TX: Benbella. 

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2015, from http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/GuidanceRegulation/LawsRegulations/ucm127406.htm

Wischhover, C. (2014, August 4). What You Need to Know About Safe Cosmetics. Retrieved June 25, 2015.