Last week I picked up AG Hair Cosmetics’ fastFWD dry shampoo and when I got home I noticed it contained the following ingredients: aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, butane, and propane.
While none of these is on the “Dirty Dozen” list of the worst chemicals to avoid, it struck me as probably not a great idea to rub lighter fluid and heavy metals into my head on a regular basis. Turns out the aluminum starch octenylsuccinate is probably the most hazardous to my health, and the other ingredients aren’t so hot for the environment. Even though I don’t think of myself as someone who uses a lot of cosmetics, it got me wondering what other chemicals I was using every day.
- Shampoo: Trader Joe’s Refresh Citrus Shampoo & Conditioner. Contains methylparaben and propylparaben, two types of parabens, which the Suzuki Foundation lists as suspected endocrine disruptors that may damage male reproductive function. Also contains the ever vague and troubling ingredient “fragrance”, whose effects can range from triggering allergies or harming fish and wildlife.
- Toothpaste: Colgate MaxWhite with Mini Bright Strips. Contains two ingredients from the Dirty Dozen list: PEG-12 and sodium lauryl sulfate, both of which can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer.
- Body Wash: The Diva Wash. This wash, intended for Diva Cup users, had none of the top hazardous compounds on their ingredients list, although it does contain some suspected environmental toxins.
- Moisturizer: Olay Complete All-Day Moisturizer. Had to go online to find the complete ingredients as only active ingredients were listed. Contains parabens, fragrance, and PEG-4 and 100.
- Facial Cleanser: Neutrogena Extra Gentle Cleanser. PEG-40 and PEG20, parabens, and a new one: BHT, a preservative that’s a suspected endocrine disruptor and which may cause cancer.
- Eye Makeup Remover: Body Shop Chamomile Gentle Eye Makeup Remover. Disappointingly, given their eco-friendly branding, this contains parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate.
- Flat Iron Product: got2b Guardian Angel Flat Iron Balm. I was surprised to find the only ingredient in this product from the Dirty Dozen list was fragrance.
- Hair Product: Catwalk Sleek Mystique Blow Out Balm. Contains dimethicone and phenyl trimethicone, types of siloxane, which are suspected endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxicants. It’s also not so hot for the environment. Also contains fragrance and alumina, an aluminum derivative.
- Shaving Lotion: Alba Moisturizing Cream Shave. This product is branded as natural and it does have a pretty great ingredient list except that it contains PEG-7, which just goes to show how hard it is to find cosmetics that are truly free from the “Dirty Dozen”.
- Eyeshadow: CoverGirl Eyeshadow Palette. Parabens, dimethicone and BHT.
It’s shocking and a little depressing to think how prevalent these chemicals are in the products we use every day.
The fact that there are so many toxins in our cosmetics is a feminist issue, because it’s primarily women who are expected and pressured to use these products, although the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics does a great job noting the chemicals in men’s products as well.
But what can you do when it seems practically impossible to find safe products? Changing social standards to lessen the pressure to use beauty products is a long-term process. But in Annie Leonard’s video “The Story of Cosmetics” (below), she makes an important point: “It turns out the important decisions don’t happen when I choose to take a product off the shelf; they happen when companies and governments decide what products should go on the shelves.”
Although Leonard’s film talks about US laws, we deal with similar issues in Canada. The Canadian Cancer Society and the Suzuki Foundation would like to see clear warning labels on personal care products to help consumers decipher the risks, and there are other labelling loopholes to be closed, such as the one that allowed an incomplete ingredients list on my moisturizer because it has a “therapeutic” function (UV protection).
Then there’s the fact that companies aren’t forced to disclose ingredients lists to Health Canada until days after products hit the market. How does that make any sense?