What’s Really in Your Beauty Products?
Penis deformation? I don’t like those two words together. It’s not easy to make fun of deformed genitalia, but Stephen Colbert gave it a valiant try when he interviewed NYT columnist Nick Kristof about the bizarre plight of fish in the Potomac River (and the humans that drink it).
As Kristof explained, hormone-disrupting chemicals are causing strange genital malformations in the wild kingdom — frogs, fish and salamanders with mixed-up sex organs. In the Potomac, 100% of male small-mouth bass are growing eggs. You read that right: their testicles are growing eggs instead of sperm.
All is not well with male genitalia in the human kingdom either. An increasing number of boys are being born with undescended testicles and deformed penises. A quarter of American women are already contaminated with high enough levels of phthalates – a plastic-softening chemical — to cause malformations in their male offspring.
Years ago, when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics broke the story that phthalates are also found in most beauty products , I was asked a funny question. More than a few people asked me: If phthalates are harmful to boys, why should we worry if they’re in products used by women?
I thought, seriously? But when the question kept coming, I learned that you actually have to answer it: Um, because boys come from the bodies of women.
So yes, we need to worry about beauty products laced with gender-bending chemicals. If we want to protect boys and girls and fish and frogs, we need to keep these chemicals away from females who are, might be, or might someday want to become pregnant. We need to keep these chemicals off our bodies and out of products that run down our drains. In other words, we need to keep these chemicals out of commerce.
That’s why the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is working to pass laws to ban hazardous chemicals, and to pressure the $50-billion beauty industry to clean up its act. Please help give the beauty industry a safety makeover by joining our action list.
In the meantime, here’s what you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones and the salamanders from exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals:
-Avoid products with synthetic fragrance: Phthalates are used to make fragrances last longer. Our study found phthalates in more than 70% of fragrance-containing products, including shampoos, hair gels, lotions and deodorants. None of the products listed phthalates on the label. Until we get better laws, it’s best to avoid ALL synthetic fragrance-containing products.
-Just say no to cologne and perfumes: There are better ways to say “I love you” than spraying gender-bending chemicals on your body!
-Check labels carefully: Even “fragrance-free” products may contain masking fragrances, which are chemicals used to cover up the odor of other chemicals. -Choose products with no added fragrance, or with natural fragrance.
-Also avoid parabens: These chemicals, which act like estrogen in the body, are used as preservatives in a wide array of lotions, shaving cream, make-up and shower products. Avoid products that list the word “parabens” on the label.
–Use EWG’s Skin Deep: The free database is a great way to find safer products with no parabens and no added fragrance; try the advanced search function.
-Remember that less is better than more: Avoiding fragrance and parabens is not easy – the chemicals are in everything from cleaning products, to laundry detergent, candles and even toothpaste. So just remember the “less is better” rule. Avoid and reduce exposures wherever you can and there will be fewer hazardous chemicals in your home, your body and the fish. Future generations will thank you!
Stacy Malkan is a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of the award-winning book, “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.” Join Stacy on August 25 for the first Safe Cosmetics Book Club Webinar.