This week I listened to The What We Said podcast episode on holistic skincare with Celeste Thomas. I didn’t realize that this episode would open my eyes to the bigger issues of the beauty industry. The problem with the beauty and cosmetics industry is the lack of regulation of products and harmful chemicals that we unknowingly put on our skin.
While I’ve heard phrase “clean beauty” being thrown around, I never really took the time to look into it. Being vegan, one of the things that has frustrated me most is lack of information and regulation on the food industry. I never realized that the beauty industry and the food industry in the US have clear parallels with their questionable practices in comparison to other countries in the world.
On the same day I had listen to the podcast, I found out through Maddy Corbin about Toxic Beauty, a documentary about the potentially dangerous chemicals that our beauty products contain. The documentary was released on Amazon and iTunes on February 7th (yesterday as of writing this). I knew immediately that I would want to watch this documentary to learn how my products affect my health in the long-term. This documentary ripped open the beauty and cosmetic industry, exposing these companies because of the harmful ingredients that they are blindly using as well as ingredients that the companies are fully aware cause harm.
What is Clean Beauty & Personal Care Products?
Clean beauty products are essentially products that are non-toxic. In the U.S. the beauty, cosmetics, and personal care industry is practically unregulated. There are only 11 ingredients that are banned for use. Just to compare this around the world, the EU for example, has banned more than 1300 ingredients for use in their personal care products. While ingredients can be banned for a variety of reasons, common reasons could be that the ingredient is carcinogenic, an endocrine disrupter, toxic to reproductive health or a skin irritant.
In recent years there has been a big push for clean beauty, yet it’s still hard to figure out what products are really even clean. Since there are basically no regulations, greenwashing (companies claiming products are clean or natural even if they really aren’t) has become a serious issue. I took a trip to the natural section of hair care at my local grocery store today just to find that most of the ‘natural products’ still had mysterious ingredients like “fragrance” along with hazardous chemicals.
Want to see how your current beauty products compare? The EWG Skindeep Database analyzes the ingredients of thousands of products and their potential harm. You can search your products here to get a little more insight on how safe they are and why they were ranked that way. Products are ranked on a scale from best to worst. The EWG verified label is the best ranking. Products ranked a 1 or 2 are considered safe, 3-6 being moderately toxic and 7-10 being the worst for your health. You can click on any product to learn more about how it was ranked and certain ingredients it contains that aren’t safe. The database doesn’t just rank makeup. Look up your sunscreen, shampoo, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, products for your baby, beard oil (basically whatever product you would use).
The Toxicity of the Personal Care Industry Affects Everyone.
We all use these products. It’s not just makeup that is harmful. Some of these ingredients can even be harming fetuses in utero. That’s why it’s so important for there to be regulation on products. If something contains phalthates, it shouldn’t be masked on the ingredients by “fragrance,” let alone be legal to be allowed in products in the first place. Something needs to change.
The Toxic Beauty Documentary
As of yesterday, The Toxic Beauty documentary was available to stream on iTunes and Amazon so I jumped right on the opportunity. I wanted to know more. What damage could my beauty products really be doing? I usually wear makeup everyday along with using skincare products, hair products, and all the hygiene basics like toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner. That’s exposure to 20+ products that I’m not sure whether or not the ingredients are safe. With a quick search of a few in the database above, I don’t have confidence in really any of them, since they were all above a 4. My Batiste Dry Shampoo which I spray everyday on my bangs (right by my face) even has butane, isobutane, and propane as the first three ingredients (along with fragrance further down) and I had never even realized. Yikes.
Here’s the thing, it shouldn’t come to a surprise if a common ingredient is actually really dangerous and not marketed as such. Cigarettes at one point in time was deemed safe (as well as physician approved) along with lead, mercury, arsenic and asbestos. With beauty being a billion dollar industry, a lot is on the line. With money involved there are going to be people in the industry insisting their products are safe even if scientifically proved otherwise. This was just the case in the documentary which followed the use of talc in Johnson and Johnson products.
The Toxic Documentary
Right off the bat there was immediate shock factor. Mercury is in skincare products and formaldehyde is in shampoo. Things that are clearly unsafe and should not be in the products that you use on your body are legally allowed to be. Plus, there are so many ingredients we don’t know whether or not are harmful and they are still used in cosmetics and are even being used by children who are especially at risk. In the cosmetics industry, ingredients are added first and research is an afterthought. Even when research has been done (like that on mercury), companies are still insisting that their products containing that chemical are safe.
This documentary also follows a medical school student, Mymy, who tested her toxin levels during a day when she used her regular products versus a day she used clean beauty products. She discovered that the levels of carcinogenic chemicals were 35x higher on the day she used her regular products compared to clean beauty products.
My Thoughts on Toxic Beauty
This documentary has changed my entire mind about the beauty industry and the products that I use. I’ve been wearing makeup since I was 13 and I have no idea what harm that 8 years has done to me, even if I change my products now. Aside from the makeup, I’ve used other potentially toxic products, like most people probably have, my entire life which has resulted in a mass amount of exposure.
This documentary was scary. It’s the reality that I don’t want to exist. I am personally most concerned about endocrine disrupters (because thyroid disorders run in my family), cancer, and reproductive health (because I hope to have kids one day). The effects of these products have been known since the 1930’s but almost nothing has changed.
In my opinion, anyone would benefit in watching this documentary. The personal care industry affects everyone and lack of information among the public would result in no change, just like it has the last 90 years.
What do we do about it?
Transitioning the products that you are currently using with safe products is the first best step. Cosmetic and beauty products are expensive, there’s no getting around it. There is no way that I would be able to throw out every product I have and buy a completely new one to replace it. The solution is slowly transitioning. When running out of one product, you can replace it with a non-toxic product.
It’s also important to be aware of what we are putting on (or in) or bodies. Using the EWG Database you can check your current products. Do you know whether or not there are harmful chemicals in your kids bubble bath or your moisturizer? If you don’t you should check. The exposure of all your products combined is what can cause cancer, infertility or hormone imbalances in the future.
We vote with our dollar. By not buying toxic products and supporting the companies that use them (and instead supporting clean beauty companies) we are supporting a future with less of those harmful products. Companies like BeautyCounter and W3ll People are paving the way for clean beauty to be accessible to anyone. Supporting brands that care for the wellbeing of their consumers means not supporting the companies that don’t.
If you want to watch Toxic Beauty, you can rent or buy it here.
What are your thoughts on the regulation of the personal care and beauty industry in the United States? I would love to here in the comments below!