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What’s Really in Your Beauty Products?

July 9, 2009
By Stacy Malkan
|16Comments|


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.



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14 responses to What’s Really in Your Beauty Products?
  1. Excellent overview and tips for consumers! I became aware of my personal product labels about 4 years ago, and have since revamped my whole lifestyle. Today I use minimal products, and of those that I do, all of them are researched thoroughly to make sure they do not contain any known or suspected chemicals, and are basically as natural as possible.

    Another good resource for readers is the new book that just came out “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” – it examines this whole issue and so much more exceptionally well! (I did a review of it on my site too, because it is such a must read!!!)

  2. Stacy, thanks for the info & the work you are doing to increase awareness of the effects of all these harmful chemicals. Although I don’t know about levels of definitive “proof”, I suspect that these same chemicals & others that are in both the consumer products we use regularly & now in our water supplies, are contributing factors in the development of hormonally sensitive cancers & other hormonal conditions such as endometriosis & fibroids and cysts. Our indiscreminant use of toxic chemicals over the years appears to be disturbing at the very least, important hormonal balances in both humans & animals, as well as generating transformations in basic genetics. Time to wake-up! Time to change! Thank you for helping to wake us up collectively.

  3. Wow. I’ve been cutting out traditional beauty products for a year now because of these dangers. But hearing about the frogs and fish…very upsetting!

  4. I am sitting here stunned. My 7 year old son just had a serious day surgery procedure last week to bring down undescended testicles! I have been wondering what on earth could’ve led to this and there is no known answer according to the urologist. Fortunately, he is recovering very well, but I don’t doubt for one minute that chemicals could play a major role. I have been very sensitive to products we use, but that has been just several years ago. Keep these interesting articles coming!

  5. Ok… now I am freaking out…………….. I have got to investigate this further.. but folks this is drastic for this southern belle.. but out meat, dairy, chemicals..ok.. easy.. MAKE-UP…. well I would scare the hell out of the devil without my spackel so someone is going to have to have some good coverup and foundation out there.. I am willing but I need a detox for this one. HAHAHAH lol. love ya thanks for the jolt. Callie

  6. Thanks for all the great comments. The good news is that you can find safer spackel! There are great products on the market that don’t contain phthalates, parabens or other hormone disrupting chemicals. The challenge is that you have to do some research to find them. But there are less-toxic choices in every product category, listed on Skin Deep database at http://www.SafeCosmetics.org.

  7. Yet more great insight on what is going on in our toxic world today! SAD. People need to wake up and take charge of their health before it’s too late.

    Check out this vid with Anderson Cooper CNN Anchorman, it’s a real eye-opener http://tinyurl.com/chwxxc

    Stacy, would you mind if I shared your post on my blog? All credits would go to you as I continue to promote your August 25th book webinar.

  8. Hi Vicky, yes please feel free to share my post. We need to keep telling these stories! Thank you..Stacy

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