A Plug for EWG, and the Stepwise Approach to Less Toxic Products   Leave a comment

This year’s summer eco-audit was exposure. For the audit I’ve focussed on personal care products, and this year also looked at cleaning products. Previously it has been a bit of a challenge to do this audit as it was hard to find information about safety of the various ingredients in the products I was using. And what resources I did find didn’t really help with the questions “how much should I be concerned about this?”, or “what’s in this product that doesn’t list ingredients?”. But thanks to Environmental Working Group, I was actually able to do a comprehensive audit of every personal care product that Conan and I use this year because if the product itself isn’t in their Skin Deep database, I could search by ingredients. (I only had one bottle from a gift set that didn’t have ingredients listed, and I ended up tossing it anyway because the rest of the set turned out to be unacceptable.) Since Skin Deep includes a 0 to 10 ranking for each product and ingredient, as well as an indication of how much data there was on which to base the ranking, it is a great tool for getting a sense of where to focus my concerns. The Guide to Healthy Cleaning isn’t as comprehensive, but I still found the rankings to be really helpful since I otherwise have no idea if some complicated chemical name is something inert or harmful.

Overall I found that my products are generally pretty well ranked (it helped that I just tossed all my conventional makeup when Conan became tall enough to reach into that drawer, and tossed a couple other things that I had laying around when I found out the ingredients). That made me realize that my “stepwise” approach to reducing exposure to potentially harmful compounds in personal care products works better than I had expected. When I first did this I was completely overwhelmed by the list of compounds that “they” say are “bad” and not to use. Most of those compounds are also things that I would never be able to keep in my mind between shopping trips and I’m not willing to keep a bunch of wallet cards. So I focussed on a couple things at a time. Turns out you reach a point where the products that don’t contain the easy-to-remember chemicals-to-avoid, also don’t contain many of the hard-to-remember chemicals! (It might also help that I’ve all but stopped shopping for personal care products at conventional grocery stores and drug stores.)

My personal path started back in college when I decided that I wanted to avoid mineral oil and petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly) as they are petroleum products not plant products. As time went on I started to avoid D&C and FD&C colors (not necessarily an exposure thing but based on the desire to avoid compounds derived from coal tar), BHT, parabens, and “fragrance” (which is an issue because it can include anything and often includes some very toxic compounds). Lots of “natural” brands do still use the term “fragrance” on their ingredient lists, but for some of those brands I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they do explicitly say that they don’t use any toxic compounds (like Aveda, Dr. Bronner’s, and Toms of Maine).

My next step? Aside from “fragrance” in a handful of my products, most of which are companies that I’ll take the gamble with, the only red-flag compound in my list was retinol (vitamin A). Since I need to go to the dermatologist soon anyway, I’ll talk with her about Vitamin A. Apparently, it’s a cancer hazard when exposed to sunlight, and can bioaccumulate to the point of being a developmental toxin. I sort of knew this already from a dietary standpoint: too much vitamin A is bad since it can build up in the body, but eat all the beta carotene that you want (it won’t build up but is easily converted into vitamin A). I’m guessing that the little amount in my lipstick and under-eye concealer isn’t really a concern but I’ll follow up anyway.

I will also add that this is why we need a Safe Chemicals Act! No one should have to worry about whether the personal care products they are using contain carcinogenic or toxic compounds, and we shouldn’t be the guinea pigs used to find out.

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