You are a healthy person, and very careful about what you put into your body. You pour over food labels like you’re studying for an important exam, and you would just as soon light up a Camel straight as you would eat processed, sugary foods.

You have no problem paying extra for organic over conventional when it comes to foods you buy, and you wouldn’t dream of ingesting any nasty, man-made chemicals–or anything else which didn’t come naturally from the earth, for that matter–would you?

However, when you get to the HABA (Health And Beauty Aides) section, you choose a shampoo based on how the label looks, how well the product lathers, and how nice it smells.

In fact, you don’t even look at the ingredients label–what gives?

What Goes On You, Goes IN You

Here is the thing. Most of us are programed to think of our skin as a “protective” layer, there to keep our insides safe and bad things out–sort of like a plastic wrapper, if you will.

But did you know that your skin is actually your body’s largest organ? Or that your skin has countless pores, and that it absorbs everything (as in, EVERYTHING) you put on it?

In fact, studies have shown that your skin soaks in an average of 64% of the chemical contaminates in your drinking water, with as much as 100% absorption in the underarm and genital areas.

And for the really scary part? You know that wonderful rich, sudsing lather which swayed you to buy a particular shampoo? Well, the chemical which helps create that sultry lather may very well double as an industrial degreaser! 

And how about that intoxicating fragrance–you know, the one which leaves your hair smelling so nice all day long, and even into the next day? Well, beyond it being completely unnatural for a fragrance to last that long, that very aroma (or rather, the chemicals which create that aroma) just might be why you are experiencing those headaches and asthma, and perhaps even a few other health problems as well.

So, while eating right and avoiding environmental pollutants is just part of your everyday life, you may very well be taking the counterproductive measure of then putting even worse things in you via your skin–yikes!

And The Bad News?

Now, you may simply think, “No problem, I’ll just start reading ingredient labels.”  However, doing so may not get you all the information you need.

You see, just because something is in a body care product doesn’t mean it has to go on the label, at least according to our very own FDA.

Let’s take lead, for instance. As we all know, lead is bad for us. In fact, exposure to lead can be linked to:

  • Learning, language, and behavioral problems.
  • Hormone disruption.
  • Delayed onset of puberty in both girls and boys.
  • Reduced fertility in both women and men.

However, lead is actually found in a variety of mascara’s, hair dyes and lipsticks–along with a few other toxic heavy metals, such as:

  • Mercury.
  • Chromium.
  • Cadmium.
  • Aluminum.
  • Manganese.

But, since these heavy metals occur as contaminants, and not ingredients, the FDA says they do not have to go on the “ingredient” label–isn’t that great?

So while that tube of expensive ruby red lipstick looks innocent, it may actually be quite toxic.

And the longer you use it, the more of those neurotoxins accumulate in your body–comforting, isn’t it?

But What Can Be Done?

For starters, not all body care companies are the same. Some have high ethical standards and would never dream of doing anything to hurt you or the environment, while others are only in it to make a buck. Doing some company research and finding out what your favorite company’s policies are is a great place to start (Hint: Some of the biggest companies have the lowest standards).

And, just as with your produce and a few other items in your grocery basket, looking for organic is a start, although not an end all solution.

You see, “organic” only has to mean “95% organic,” per USDA regulation.

So, even better than looking solely for  the word “organic” on the label, you may also want to look for labels which state the company is:

And if possible:

Companies which have these statements on their labels are far more likely to stand behind an ethical commitment, particularly in the case of a B-corp, which means they are a corporation which values purpose, accountability and transparency.

Additionally, while there is some controversy over the current EU regulations regarding organic labeling, the EU does have far more strict guidelines when it comes to which ingredients are and are not allowed in body care products.

In fact, some of the ingredients banned by the EU that are still being legally used in the US include:

  • Asbestos–found in close proximity to talc, and known to cause cancer.
  • Benzidine–A carcinogenic hair dye which is no longer legal to produce in the US, but is still legal to import and use.
  • Progesterone–A hormone which prepares women’s bodies for pregnancy, used in skin conditioning products–for those who  can never be too ready!
  • Petroleum–Used in lip and other conditioning products, and linked to cancer.
  • Coal Tar–Carcinogenic, and just what you think it is–yuck!

And while it is not an ingredient, the EU has also banned all animal tested products, which is how it should be–why should product testing hurt our furry friends?

And Finally…

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”-Mahatma Gandhi

Change does not create itself, and merely being frustrated while hoping for change will accomplish very little.

However, you can:

  • Boycott companies who are unconcerned with what goes into their products–Dwindling company profits speak more loudly than a thousand words!
  • Let political powers know of your dissatisfaction with current standards–Politicians work for us, not the other way around.
  • Encourage others to do the same–A community speaks louder than an individual.

Keep in mind too that it is not only human health which is at risk here, since the manufacturing of chemicals also produces toxins which go straight into streams, rivers and the environment.

And, if you do see an ingredient which you are not sure about, you can go to an entity such as the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep website, which offers “easy-to-navigate ratings for a wide range of products and ingredients on the market.”

Lastly, even if you don’t know the company well or see the abovementioned tags on the label, use the old standby of, if you can’t pronounce it, it likely isn’t good for you!