First Blush

By Genevieve LeFranc

Stop and think for a minute; just how many products do you spray, slather, and swipe on from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, without a second thought? If you’re anything like me you have dozens of products scattered atop your dresser, lined up in your bathroom, and overtaking the shower shelf. And that’s because cosmetics and personal care products are supposed to be fun to collect and experiment with. Everyone knows the thrill of testing that talked about new shampoo or saving up for the must-have lipstick of the moment, but how thrilled would you be if you knew most of your tried and true favorites are chock full of harmful chemicals, toxins, and carcinogens? And what’s worse—no one is telling you.

Lead in your lipstick. Dioxane and formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) in your favorite shampoo. Parabens (linked to cancer) in your deodorant. Diethyl phthalate in your perfume. What gives? Although difficult and depressing to accept, under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetic products and their ingredients do not require FDA approval before they go on the market to be sold to unsuspecting consumers. The FDA actually has no authority to require safety assessments on cosmetics before they are sold for both salon and customer use, making them some of the least-regulated and least-reviewed products on the market. Some numbers say as much as 89 percent of all ingredients in cosmetic products have not been evaluated whatsoever. And what’s worse, it seems America is behind on the game—the European Union had already banned 1,200 of these harmful chemicals while the United States had only banned 10 as of 2014.

In short—no one is making sure your moisturizer, mascara, shampoo, or even baby products are safe. Americans are at serious risk of being unknowingly exposed to harmful chemicals. Scary stuff. Don’t believe me? Head on over to the FDA’s own website: “FDA’s legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA pre-market approval authority, with the exception of color additives.”

When you think about all the products that go into your Saturday date night or happy hour with the girls, or even the several products you use to simply take a shower, small exposure to these chemicals consistently over time can add up to some harmful outcomes like cancer, immunotoxicity, or developmental and reproductive issues.

So What Can You Do?

Thankfully, a trend has been surfacing where consumers are making themselves more aware of what goes into their products, and demanding that manufacturers be more transparent about their ingredients. But what’s a girl to do when said ingredients make as much sense as hieroglyphics? A “fragrance” labeling alone can contain up to 3,163 different harmful ingredients, and most of us won’t be memorizing those any time soon. Well, naturally, there’s an app for that!

I’ve found the simplest and quickest way to stay on top of what’s really in my products is by taking advantage of some of the wonderfully detailed and informative apps available for your smartphone. Technology takes all the guesswork out of clean, green beauty shopping. My personal favorite is Think Dirty. This app is the nearly fool proof answer to learning the truth about the potentially toxic and harmful ingredients in your products. Simply type in the name or scan the barcode of 68,000 North American and European products and Think Dirty rates them on a “dirty scale” from one (cleanest) to ten (dirtiest).

You can be an educated, empowered consumer and receive straightforward, easy-to-understand information as well as several options for cleaner alternatives, all from your phone.

When I first heard about Think Dirty, I straightaway typed in the products I had been using for almost a decade. You know, that staple face scrub that never fails you, or your tried and true mascara you’ve never seemed to beat. I was shocked and honestly upset to see that the face wash I had stood by since my preteen acne days was a whopping 10 on the toxicity scale. Despite its crisp white bottle and wholesome-ingredient, all-natural marketing angle, I was indignant that I had been duped by great packaging and smoke and mirrors.

But I am optimistic that one day soon we won’t have to choose between our favorite products and our health. With the rising popularity of this app (it’s already been downloaded more than 70,000 times!) and similar ones, like The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep, there is real hope that the go-to brands we’ve come to love will be held accountable and their manufacturers will actually change their formulas to substantially reduce or eliminate harmful ingredients.

Products & Brands

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that couldn’t be truer in the case of safe cosmetics and care products. Even as little as a decade ago it would’ve been nearly impossible to find all the products you love and use regularly in a safe, organic, toxic-free line, let alone a variety of lines and brands to choose from. Using only certified organic ingredients and/or a mix of natural and organic ingredients can be limiting, so most brands don’t go that far, and a lot of the standard, big names aren’t as all-natural as they claim to be. And honestly, it’s more about what these organic lines aren’t using that matters here: absolutely no unnecessary chemicals, parabens, fillers, preservatives, or additives.

But ask and you shall receive! We beauty lovers and product-hoarders have spoken, and with our demands we have noticed a surge in just how many great lines and brands there are these days offering safe, harm-free cosmetics. Even big name brands are starting to roll out safer products one by one.

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