What’s in Your Bottle? (Guest Post by an Ecotoxicology Major)

              Let us take a moment to delve into the vast and bewitching subject of beauty products. Many of us find ourselves succumbing to the seductive siren’s call every time we near a cosmetic store.  When you’re on the prowl at Sephora and giddily pulling cosmetics off the shelf, pause and survey the products in your basket. Why did they end up in there? What determines which of the items you will purchase? Is it simply whatever catches your eye? Price? Popularity? Color? While all valid and understandable reasons, most do not realize that the most important factor in determining your cosmetics is the ingredients list! As someone who has graduated with a B.S. in Biology, and is currently enrolled in a Biology master’s program, educating those around me about the hidden dangers in our daily products is a passion of mine. Throughout my studies I was fortunate to be enrolled in a course called Ecotoxicology, which looked at chemicals and their effects on both the environment and our bodies. It was extremely eye-opening, and made me realize just how important everyday decisions, such as which brand of cosmetics that you buy, can completely impact our bodies and the planet.

Hidden Toxins

            Looking at the back of your cosmetics, you may notice ingredients such as Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Xylene, and Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP), listed alongside many other lengthy and intimidating names. Most of these chemicals are as scary as they sound, as many are known endocrine disrupters and/or carcinogens. Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system, or the hormone circuit in your body. The body’s endocrine system is incredibly important for normal daily functioning. Hormones are responsible for hunger, thirst, sleep, a healthy functioning immune system and reproductive system, growth, and even generating emotions. Disrupting any of these functions could be extremely dangerous, and therefore taking preventative steps to avoid exposure to these chemicals is highly recommended.

Now what about carcinogens? Simply put, these are cancer-causing agents. This includes chemicals and toxins like tobacco, asbestos, and ionizing radiation. Certainly, the government would not allow these chemicals to be put into our health and beauty products, right? Well… not exactly. Herein is where the problem lies. Individual governments can and have determined their own personal standard of what they consider a carcinogen. Jessica Assaf, founder of the organic skincare company Raw Is Everything, tells us that “The European Union has banned over 1,300 chemicals found in cosmetics. The FDA has only banned 8 and restricted 3. [In the U.S.] it’s a free market and you don’t have to do anything — no safety testing required — until there is a problem. And the issue is, a lot of these health impacts are long-term. It’s not like if I develop breast cancer in 20 years, I can link that to the aluminum zirconium in my deodorant. We don’t know how these ingredients are interacting when they come into play.”

Crazy, right? Not to get all tinfoil-hat-paranoid but, looking at the statistical differences between the U.S. and the EU alone, we can see that simply because a chemical has not been banned does not necessarily mean it is safe for use. Some local governments have taken matters into their own hands, like the state of California, which publicly lists 65 toxic chemicals (the Proposition 65) that have been shown to cause cancer or birth defects. So why the vast difference between our national government and a state government? Unfortunately, the EPA’s process for approving new chemicals for corporate and public use is anything but thorough. Lots of paperwork, red tape, and carefully twisted legislation allows companies to push their newly synthesized chemicals right through the system and into the open market. While we can’t completely fault the EPA for this shoddy system, it still is a lamentable fact that the public should be made aware of, as the responsibility of determining what is safe to put into our bodies has consequently fallen to the people. 

What’s the big deal?

All right, so perhaps the EPA’s chemical approval system leaves a lot to be desired, but some of you may still find yourself wondering why this even merits discussion. After all, the majority of the human population uses products containing these chemicals daily, and we’re not seeing people drop dead after applying a touch of foundation. Maybe these chemicals are not natural, but are they really that bad for us? To answer that, we need to look at the definition of “toxic.” Merriam-Webster lists it as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.” That’s certainly a heavy definition. What do toxic chemicals do to our body? As mentioned earlier, toxic chemicals often are carcinogens and/or endocrine disrupters. The American Cancer Society (ACS) publicly lists 112 chemicals as a Group 1 (Carcinogenic to Humans) toxins alone. This does not include countless others that the organization also lists as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  

If we take a known carcinogen from the ACS’s list, such as tobacco smoke, we can acquire a deeper understanding of how carcinogens affect the human body and evaluate how readily society accepts invisible threats. It is widely accepted that repeated exposure to tobacco causes cancer, and this information is corroborated by irrefutable studies. Cancer is caused when the DNA in our bodies’ cells become mutated and cannot be repaired. The mutated cells begin rapid unchecked growth, which leads to a cancerous mass, or a tumor. Smoking can damage the vital and sensitive cells lining our lungs beyond repair, leading to the formation of cancer. It was only 65 years ago that the effects of smoking were completely unknown, and it took until 1964 for a finalized report on the dangers of smoking to even be published. By that point lung cancer had already become “the most common cancer diagnosed in American men,” (American Cancer Society Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley, M.D). Smoking trends have declined significantly in recent decades due to active efforts to spread awareness, yet new reports are showing that the chances of developing cancer in your lifetime is 1 in 2. What is responsible for this sudden large spike in cancer trends? Many scientists have stepped forward with various promising theories on this subject. One hypothetical cause is the exponential influx of chemicals that have been introduced into our environment and our bodies in this past century. We are constantly exposed to synthetic chemicals, whether it be from receipt paper or breathing in polluted fumes in urban air space. Some things, like the latter, unfortunately cannot completely be avoided, but thanks to forward-thinking and health-conscious entrepreneurs, more toxin-free options are becoming available on the market. It took decades to understand how harmful smoking tobacco truly was, so let’s avoid getting caught in that same vicious cycle where other toxic chemicals are concerned. 

Smart Choices, Healthy Life

Looking back at the ingredient lists on your cosmetics, you may now want to rethink what you are willing to expose your body to. Jessica Asaaf also said: “The average woman puts 515 synthetic chemicals on her body every single day without even knowing. And 60 percent of what we put onto our skin is absorbed into our bodies.” This includes products like lotions, shampoo, makeup, and even nail polish. Even though nail polish is applied directly to our nails, chemicals are still absorbed into our body via contact with our cuticles and the skin at the sides of our fingernails, as well as through our lungs. We all recognize that harsh, dizzying smell of conventional store-bought nail polish. Studies have shown that inhaling nail polish fumes can potentially cause long-term detrimental effects to your brain, as it can alter the way your brain functions. While shocking, this isn’t particularly surprising, as nail polish contains several (unnecessary) toxic ingredients. 

             As a general rule, we’re picky about quality – whether it’s what we put into our cars, what we eat, or even what we feed our pets – so why aren’t we picky when it comes to what we put onto our bodies? The world today is more dynamic than ever, and we are entering an age where we need to rely on ourselves for determining what we find to be healthy and safe for our own bodies. Take control of your future and start your journey to live a healthy long life by switching to toxin-free beauty products. If you’re looking for nail polish, check out Northern Nail Polish’s products. They use a formula that is free of the ten most common and harmful nail polish toxins, so that you don’t have to sacrifice your health for beauty!

Guest PostKC Springberg