Photo by Joanna Kosinska

Toxic Beauty

By Kyla Jacobo, DPT

What’s your beauty routine?  

Mine looks something like this…

Jump in the shower. Wash and condition my hair with a color-safe shampoo and conditioner. Some days, in order to refresh my hair color, I’ll use blue shampoo and let it soak into my hair for 5 minutes or so.  I then lather my body with a lavender scented body wash and cleanse my face with an oil free cleanser. After my shower, I spray a root boosting product into my baby fine hair to introduce a little body when I blow dry it. Next comes makeup. Lotion. And don’t forget the perfume. 

Before I even walk out the door, I’ve applied potentially hundreds of chemicals to my body…while giving very little thought to the effect it has on my body and on the environment.

While it feels like a daunting task, I have attempted to reduce the amount of toxins my family and I are exposed to on a daily basis. Many of the products we use are endocrine disrupting chemicals which have been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, and a multitude of other health conditions. Taking on the world around us is a whole different beast…but at the very least, I can minimize the toxins in my own home. Does this mean I’m some yuppie from California who shops exclusively at Whole Foods and buys 100% organic clothing. Not at all. Although I don’t think that is a bad thing…that’s just not me. I am an informed consumer. A concerned mother. 

And I’m tired…

I’m tired of watching young, beautiful lives ravaged by the grips of cancer. Mothers, wives, sisters…gone too soon. Tired of watching people suffer from chronic illness that could have otherwise been prevented. Tired of allowing our children to grow up in toxic environments, as if they are human experiments on the effects of the latest chemical and drug invention. And most of all, I’m tired of witnessing all of this happen without any changes in environmental and public health policies.

“Never compromise health in the name of beauty”. ~Gregg Renfrew

Gregg Renfrew, the founder and CEO of BeautyCounter, is fighting to reform the beauty industry. As an activist for change, she has created a company that not only provides cleaner, healthier beauty products, but is also leading the charge in DC. She has worked to put into law the Personal Care Products Safety Act, a law that will require screening of products for harmful chemicals and allow the FDA the ability to recall products if deemed unsafe.

Why is she doing all this? To make a buck…?  Because it’s trendy…?

In an interview on the Rich Roll Podcast, Renfrew explains. Like me, she realized that the products she was putting on herself and her family were unhealthy. She realized that government agencies such as the FDA were not screening products and policing companies to ensure that these products lining the shelves do not contain harmful chemicals. 

In fact, the US has not updated laws concerning beauty products since 1938, when the Federal Food Drugs and Cosmetic Act was passed. Over 80 years ago!  This was pre-World War II, before the golden age of capitalism and an economic boom. Before some 85,000 new chemicals had been introduced to the world. At the time, the harmful effects of these chemicals were unknown. However, now that the information has been brought to light, it’s time for change. 

Many Americans, myself included, believed that government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), thoroughly screened any and all products put on the shelves. The reality is, that is not the case. In regards to the food industry, the FDA is able to recall a food product if found to be harmful to health. However, in the case of beauty products, the FDA has not been allowed to remove a product from the shelves. If found to have detrimental effects on health, the FDA can provide suggestions regarding that product, however they are unable to take action. 

This is unacceptable…

Less than 10% of the 85,000 chemicals in commerce have been tested for safety on humans or environmental health. Not only do our products contain these harmful chemicals, but there exists no law regarding the labeling of these products. A company is able to label their products as “natural” or “botanical”, misleading the consumer to believe they are healthy, when in fact it contains toxic chemicals. The Natural Cosmetics Act was introduced in late 2019 to amend the Food Drugs and Cosmetic Act to formally define the terms “natural” and “naturally derived”.

Change is on the horizon…!

In December of 2019, Renfrew spoke in Washington D.C. as an expert witness on the issue of clean beauty and the need for reform.  As of March 2020, The Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act of 2019 was passed into law. While this is a huge step in the right direction, it’s going to take time to see these changes in action. We must be informed consumers…research products and educate ourselves on harmful chemicals to avoid.

How to avoid toxic beauty products…

  • Choose fragrance-free whenever possible

Fragrances contain phthalates, a toxic chemical that binds the scent onto your skin. While these fragrances make us smell lovely, they are wreaking havoc on our endocrine system. In addition, these fragrances are considered proprietary, therefore the companies are not required to divulge the ingredients. 

  • Less is more

Before you lather on a product, ask yourself…do I really need this? Try to buy fewer products of higher quality in order to reduce the amount of exposure to chemicals. If purchasing healthier products is cost prohibitive, remember…be more concerned with the products you rub on your body than those you rinse off.  Also look for products with fewer ingredients. Take extra caution to avoid products with parabens, methylparaben, ethyl paraben and EDTA

  • Get some Vitamin D

As summer is fast approaching, we are now going to be spending more time outdoors. Remember that our bodies need Vitamin D from the sun. So don’t be too quick to slap on loads of sunscreen every time you see a few rays of light.  Some sun exposure is good for us! That being said, any time my kids are going to be in the sun for more than 45-60 min, I ensure we have sunscreen. When purchasing sunscreen, choose non-aerosol, mineral based products without oxybenzone (this chemical is killing our coral reefs!). 

  • Use the Environmental Working Group (EWG) skin deep database

I have the EWG app on my phone that allows me to scan products and check the level of toxicity. This is a great way to determine if products you are currently using are harmful, and which products are healthy alternatives.

  • Print out BeautyCounter’s ‘Never list’

BeautyCounter has compiled a list of over 1,800 ingredients, including 1,400 of which were banned or restricted by the European Union, that should never be used in beauty products. They have conveniently created a PDF you can print out and keep in your wallet or purse when you go shopping. 

  • Vote with your dollar!

Companies want to sell products. They perform market analyses to see what the consumer wants and on which types of products we are spending our money. If we all start buying healthier products, it will not go unnoticed. Thus, companies will begin to follow suit to respond to market demand. 

At the end of day, this is not about who is right and who is wrong. This is about the health of our children, our grandchildren and their children. This is about the health of the environment and all the beautiful creatures within it. Let us not be alarmists, but let us listen to the science that is available and insist that these harmful chemicals be removed from our products. I believe we are a society full of intelligent, innovative individuals, capable of devising healthier solutions. 

Let us use our ingenuity for the good of humanity.