When we shop for our bath and body products, it's all too easy to do so with our eyes, acting unconsciously on our impulses for the most popular brands that have come into our subconscious in recent time. And further to our benefit, these products may be on sale - which brings them to a price reality much closer to one familiar to our wallet. But how often do you read the label? Have you ever? Okay, okay, the front, sure. And the ingredients label on the back?
Labels can, and often do, achieve a level of deception. They visually attract the eye, and when combined with the subconscious advertisements you've seen on the telly, work together to create the impression of brand acceptance. Though it's not always malicious - good advertising is good advertising. But why deceive intentionally - what is the intention behind the deception?
It's because there is an entire industry in the United States built on potentially dangerous ingredients. And the cosmetic industry is not alone on its' journey through the shadows - capitalism has created a playground for mistruths in all industries.
1,328 Ingredients Banned from Cosmetics by the European Union
And we are going to talk about each one of them - just joking. But if you are interested in reviewing the list in its' entirety, you can do so by going to the EU's website here (1).
Of the one-thousand three-hundred and twenty-eight ingedients banned by the EU, only about 30 of them were considered harmful enough for full banishment in the United States (2). But we are not going to talk about all of those, either.
As a general rule, I avoid products with ingredients that have strange names and are difficult to pronounce. A Latin name is different. The FDA does not require anything more complicated than listing ingredients "by their common or usual names" (3). According to FDA nomenclature:
"If a cosmetic product is marketed on a retail basis to consumers—such as in stores, online, or “person to person”--the ingredients must be listed by their common or usual names, generally in descending order of predominance."
Which leads us our next question: how do we tell the difference between a synthetic or chemical ingredient and a word in Latin? What about the chemical ingredients that aren't dangerous? My best advice is practice. In time you begin to see the difference between them, whether it is the Latin name for a species of plant or oil, something that is synthesized, or an ingredient that is toxic.
The Latin names commonly used in the ingredients for coconut oil is Cocoes oleum or Cocos nucifera. And an example of the chemically modified form of coconut oil and the synthetic name is Cocamide, Cocamide DEA, or Cocamide Diethanolamine. See the difference? It's subtle.
Is the FDA at Fault?
In short, no. The FDA has limited authority when it comes to the approval and regulation of cosmetics. This sets cosmetics apart from other regulated products in the United States such as "drugs, biologics, and medical devices" (4).
Like everything and everyone in government, the Food and Drug Administration has to refer to someone - and that someone is the United States Congress. How do I mean? Let's use gun violence research in the U.S. as an example. I won't get into the details, but gun violence research in the United States lost funding in 1996 - and that is only the fault of the United States Congress.
The FDA is in a similar situation in that the "FDA's regulatory authority for cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act has not been updated (except for color additives) since 1938" (5).
In a letter from the Department of Health & Human Services to Senator Dianne Feinstein, "Even though Congress has updated FDA's enforcement authorities over other products, it has not done so for cosmetics" (5).
So what can we do as consumers to protect ourselves? Educate, educate, educate. And avoid these following ingredients!
The FDA defines Talc as "a naturally occurring mineral, mined from the earth, composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen." Its' use in cosmetics is specific: for texture, to prevent your makeup from caking, and, most commonly in bath and body products, to absorb moisture (6).
The issue with Talc is not that it is with talc itself, but in that talcum mining sites have been found in close proximity to Asbestos. And it's more common than most realize (6).
Research and literature dating as far back as the 1960s on asbestos suggest that it is a carcinogen. And since the 90's we've known that the fibers of the asbestos can become lodged in the lungs, which causes the most apparent threat to human health (7).
Talc itself does not contain asbestos. However, there is plenty of room for debate on the risks, which lands itself on our list of cosmetic and body product ingredients to avoid.
Your first thought is probably, "how do I say that?" The "phtha" creates a "THa" sound - tha-late.
Phthalates banned entirely from the European Union. They are not a mineral, but a chemical that is used to soften the texture of cosmetic and body products. It turns out that phthalates are in many consumer goods. ToxTown has quite the list of goods - past and present (8).
The health issue caused by phthalates are being researched with enthusiasm, as it is already known that one kind of phthalate, "Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is an endocrine disruptor and can cause cancer," says ToxTown (8). Add it to the list, and read more about the health risks here!
This is likely the additive many are a familiar with or have on their radar. Parabens are synthetic preservatives that have been around in our cosmetics and bath and body products for a long time. And that should be alarming because they are known to accumulate in the human breast tissue and can be found in tumors (9).
These synthetic preservatives are not broken down in the body. Instead, they have been found to act, or mimic, the hormone estrogen, and interacting with our body's natural chemistry where it is collected by our tissues. Although research does not prove Parabens to be carcinogenic, their toxicity has been associated with reproductive issues and breast cancer. Parabens land themselves on our list because o the fact that they do not breakdown through and instead are stored in our body tissues.
Fragrance makes our honorable mention list because it has a double meaning. One, meaning refers to the ingredient found in our products known as fragrance; and two, meaning the term used to describe the scent of something. So we don't want to alienate the word fragrance or avoid scented products - after all, they may have organic scents derived from plant and fruit essential oils.
I am referring to the single ingredient: "Fragrance." The reason for this is that a "Fragrance" is not just one ingredient, it is a series of ingredients - usually a proprietary blend - and the law does not require the manufacturer of the blend to report what is all in the fragrance.
In defense of fragrance: If your product offers a scent that can be identified in your ingredients, such as vanilla bean essential oil, there is no harm in that ingredient when combined with the right carrier oils or wax.
There are of course 1,300 something more ingredients we can talk about. But for now, we will let those ride, and continue to keep you informed to the best of our ability.
1) Official Journal of the European Union. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=OJ:L:2009:342:FULL&from=EN
2) Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=b3c2ec25e4dea41bf85d0a191f559b44&mc=true&n=pt21.7.700&r=PART&ty=HTML
3) Ingredient Names. https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/Labeling/IngredientNames/default.htm
4) FDA Authority Over Cosmetics: How Cosmetics Are Not FDA-Approved, but Are FDA-Regulated. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/guidanceregulation/lawsregulations/ucm074162.htm
5) Letter from the FDA to The Honorable Dianne Feinstein on October 05 2016. https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/2/6/2619f3d2-f537-405c-b6e0-759aacb7d09c/C2C841EA1ADC6C76FC295473995A1A24.response-feinstein-cosmetics.pdf
6) Talc. https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/default.htm
7) Asbestos: When Should I Worry? https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/asbestos
8) Phthalates. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/phthalates
9) Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14745841