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      News — ewg

      Guidelines for Navigating Green Washing

      Stacy Malkan, the co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry to give us an update on where we are—and action we can take today to further the cause. She also put together some guidelines for navigating greenwashing, and the many claims in beauty that actually mean nothing.


      What do you think needs to happen for the industry to evolve more acceptable safety standards?


      We need to update the 1938 law that gives the FDA almost no authority to regulate cosmetics. Right now, companies are allowed to put nearly any chemical into personal care products sold in the US—even known carcinogens—without any safety testing, and without disclosing all the chemicals on labels. We’ve learned a lot in the past 70 years! For example, current science tells us that even low doses of certain chemicals can contribute to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, and other health problems that are on the rise. Each day, the average American woman uses about a dozen personal care products containing more than 100 chemicals that we ingest, inhale, and absorb through our skin, so they end up inside us.

      The good news is, companies have already figured out how to make safer personal care products without using hazardous chemicals—products that work just as well and often better than the old formulas. Yet many of the leading brands continue to use old, outdated, toxic chemistry, because it’s easier than changing.

      We need to shift across the board to green chemistry, which is the science of designing chemicals in ways that avoid hazardous substances. Scientists already know how to do this. But large investments from the big beauty corporations are necessary to take this new science to scale. The problem is, since companies can get away with hiding the toxic nature of their products—and marketing them as “natural,” “pure,” and “healthy”—there is no incentive to change. That’s why stronger safety laws are necessary not only for the health of people, but also for the long-term health of the American cosmetics industry. People around the world want safe cosmetics. European companies are already far ahead; in 2003 the EU banned chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects from cosmetics. We need to do that here.


      What have been recent triumphs? What are the setbacks?


      The cosmetics industry is clearly responding to consumer demand for safer products. Walmart and Target have recently announced initiatives to push for safer cosmetics. Whole Foods has already motivated many companies to reformulate to safer ingredients, as part of their Premium Body Care program. Some large beauty brands are now promising to remove certain chemicals such as triclosan, phthalates, and parabens. These are huge victories, and they happened because of activist efforts like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which has been watchdogging the industry and pushing for safer products for the past decade. They happened because people across the country are discovering the links between toxic exposures and disease, and they are demanding safer products.

      It’s so obvious that people want to buy non-toxic products, so it’s stunning that some of the most popular brands continue to use hazardous chemicals even though safer alternatives are available. They just hide these products behind bogus marketing claims of “natural” and “pure,” or pink ribbons that make it seem like they care about women’s health.

      One of the most disheartening trends in the beauty industry is “pinkwashing”—I wrote a whole chapter in my book about the companies that market themselves as champions of women’s health yet continue to put carcinogens in their products! They slap a pink ribbon on their products and promise some vague “portion of proceeds” will benefit breast cancer awareness, but what they don’t want to discuss is how to prevent breast cancer in the first place. We’re all aware of breast cancer, we need strategies to prevent it, and a good first step would be getting carcinogens out of the products we put on our bodies and our babies. Also beware that many leading breast cancer charities are avoiding this discussion as well, while they take money from the chemical and beauty companies. To learn more about breast cancer prevention, check out my favorite cancer organization, The Breast Cancer Fund, the only national breast cancer organization focused solely on prevention.

      Greenwashing Claims With Beauty Products

      By Stacy Malkan

      Studies show that people often read product labels for only a few seconds—start reading the label all the way through, particularly if a product boasts one of these claims.

      The best advice for finding safe products is that simpler is better. Choose products with fewer chemicals, avoid synthetic fragrances, and use fewer products overall, especially on children or when pregnant. The Skin Deep database from the EWG is a great resource for researching your favorite products to find out what’s in them and how they rate for toxicity. Choose products in the 0-2 least toxic range, with the green circles.

      (For more on ingredients to avoid, click here.)




      NOTHINGThere are no standards for “organic” personal care products sold in the United States—none. People are confused by this because it’s different for food. Food packaging can’t boast the word “organic” unless the product meets the government’s USDA organic standards. But with personal care products, companies can, and often do, slap the word “organic” on products that are full of synthetic chemicals. They may have no organic ingredients at all! In many cases, they have organic ingredients listed at the top of the label, followed by the typical synthetic chemicals found in conventional products. Buy USDA certified personal care products, which meet the government standard.


      NOTHING“Natural” on a package means that the company understands that natural ingredients are important to you, but the product may not contain anything natural at all!

      Green or eco

      NOTHINGAgain, there are no legal standards for any of these terms. Even the word “hypoallergenic” has no legal meaning. Some hypoallergenic products contain potent allergens, such as formaldehyde-releasing preservatives or fragrance.


      NOTHINGCase in point: One brand of children’s face paint labeled “non-toxic,” “FDA-approved,” and “hypoallergenic” was tested by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. We found that it contained lead (a highly toxic substance) and nickel (which is allergenic). “FDA-approved” is a lie because the FDA doesn’t approve any cosmetics before they go on the shelves.


      What about products that are preservative-free? Is that a good thing?


      Not necessarily. Preservatives are important for water-containing products, otherwise microbes could become a big problem. And preservatives are definitely tricky; their job is to kill bacteria, so they are toxic by nature. But some are far more toxic than others. The worst offenders are preservatives that release formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen and potent skin irritant and allergen. These formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are in many popular products; they go by names such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and bromopol. Parabens are also worrisome because they can act like estrogen in the body, and higher estrogen exposures are linked to breast cancer. Many products contain parabens, and the exposures add up.


      Are there any worthwhile certifications?


      I don’t put much stock in certifications, there are so many and it’s too confusing to keep them straight. But I do appreciate the Whole Foods Premium Body Care Standards—the standards are tough and the products with this special label at Whole Foods are among the best. Also look for the USDA organic seal—any product that meets that designation is the best of the best.


      What are the five most perilous personal care products and why? What can consumers do to find safer alternatives/options?


      When our partners at EWG first created the Skin Deep database, which compiles toxicity data on thousands of products, we were anxious to see which company was the worst offender for making toxic products. We were surprised to find there was no “worst”—the mainstream companies are making basically the same products! Formulations are remarkably similar across the board, from the high-end boutique products to the cheapest drugstore brands. Most haven’t changed in decades. When you pay more for conventional products, you are paying for marketing and packaging, not better formulas.

      We did find, however, that certain product types are far more toxic than others. Among the worst are hair dyes, hair straighteners and perms. Anything that changes the shape and color of hair tends to be quite toxic chemically. While there have been some interesting innovations in hair dye, the truly safe and effective hair dye has yet to be created—we’re keeping an eye out for that! For straightening or curling, stick with heat treatments and avoid the chemicals.

      Also among the most toxic: Nail treatments such as acrylics (with formaldehyde glue) and nail products containing acetone, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, or formaldehyde should also be avoided. And last but not least: skin lighteners. These products are problematic not only for what they say about cultural standards of what is supposedly beautiful, but also because they are highly toxic. Most contain hydroquinone, a carcinogen that is banned in most industrial countries but is still legal to use in the US.


      If women want to do something about this on a legislative level, what can they do?


      There has never been a more important time to get involved. I’m convinced that women will be the ones to lead the charge to a new economic revolution—one that values life, health and happiness over ever-increasing sales of cheap and toxic stuff. We need to get organized. We need to work together. Here are some things you can do:

      Get connected with like-minded others. Join the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics list serve and Facebook page.

      Make a commitment to buy safe products: Look not just at the label but at the company. Are you supporting companies that support your values? I’ve stopped buying products from all the mainstream beauty companies and choose instead to buy from smaller independently owned companies (local if possible) that I have come to know and trust. Check out the Safe Cosmetics champion companies and other companies that have low scores on the Skin Deep database.

      Get political: How can we turn the powerful and growing green and organic consumer movement into an unstoppable political movement? All these issues are connected: toxic products made from oil byproducts, rising rates of disease, our increasingly unhealthy and pesticide-laden food system, climate change… We need to exert our power as moms, sisters, daughters, sons and fathers to say No to systems that are poisoning people and the planet, and Yes to an economy that values life.

      We are creating the world we want to live in through the choices we make every single day about how we spend our money and our lives. Get registered to vote, run for office, vote your values, shop your values, and let’s create the future our kids deserve.

      Join me to continue the discussion at my website MovetheMarket.org.

      Article by: Goop and Stacy Malkan

      EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database

      Why this matters- Cosmetics and your health

      How many personal care products do you use in a day? According to our survey of 2300 people, on average, respondents use nine products daily. These contain 126 unique ingredients. One man in 100 and fully 25 percent of women surveyed apply 15 or more products each day.

      Your grooming ritual probably includes shampoo, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, hair conditioner, lip balm, sunscreen, body lotion, shaving products if you’re a man, and makeup if you are a woman.

      And what about your children?  Sunscreen, diaper cream, shampoo and lotion are common kids’ products.

      Most people use cosmetics and other personal care items without a second thought, believing that the government oversees their safety. Not so. No health studies or pre-market testing are required for these products.

      Americans’ frequent exposures to cosmetics and personal care products raise questions about the potential health risks from the myriad of unassessed ingredients in them. These ingredients migrate into the bodies of nearly every American.

      For instance, in August 2005, scientists from the University of Rochester reported that prenatal exposure to phthalates — chemicals found in personal care products and other consumer products — could cause the reproductive organs of male infants to develop abnormally (Swan 2005).

      Studies have shown again and again that hormone systems of wildlife are thrown in disarray by chemicals from personal care products that rinse down drains and into rivers (NIEHS 2010).

      At the Environmental Working Group we have researched and advocated personal care product safety for eight years and consider this issue an integral part of our work to strengthen the system of public health protections from industrial chemicals. Here’s why:

      Personal care products are manufactured with 10,500 unique chemical ingredients, some of which are known or suspected carcinogens, toxic to the reproductive system or known to disrupt the endocrine system. Though some companies make products that are safe to eat, others choose to use dangerous ingredients like coal tar and formaldehyde, both human carcinogens, and lead acetate, a developmental toxin.

      No premarket safety testing is required for the industrial chemicals that go into personal care products or the chemical industry as a whole. According to the Office of Cosmetics and Colors at the federal Food and Drug Administration, “…a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA.” (FDA 2012) The FDA does no systematic reviews of safety, instead authorizing the cosmetics industry to self-police ingredient safety through its Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel. Over its 36 years, this industry panel has rejected only 11 ingredients as unsafe in cosmetics (CIR 2012). By contrast, the European Union has banned hundreds of chemicals in cosmetics (European Commission 2012).

      When risky chemicals are used in cosmetics, the stakes are high. These are not trace contaminants that may be measured in parts-per-million or even parts-per-billion in food or water. They are substantial components of the product, just as flour is a primary ingredient in bread.

      Cosmetic ingredients do not remain on the surface of the skin. They are designed to penetrate, and they do. Scientists have found many common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, including phthalates in urine, preservatives called parabens in breast tumor tissue and persistent fragrance components in human fat. Do the concentrations at which they are typically found pose risks? For the most part, those studies have not been done. But a small but growing number of studies serve as scientific red flags (Swan 2005, Sathyanarayana 2008, Swan 2010).

      To learn about the safety of ingredients in personal care products, EWG has compiled an electronic database of ingredient labels for body care products and cross-linked these ingredients with large databases describing chemical toxicity and government determinations. The database also contains information about cosmetics ingredient restrictions in Canada, Japan and the European Union.

      We consider the prevalence of possibly dangerous chemicals in personal care products cause for concern, and action!  Much study remains to be done on exposure levels and health risks. But what we do know shows that such study — and direct consumer action to avoid known toxic ingredients — is essential.

      What are the limits of EWG’s Skin Deep? Skin Deep’s product ratings are based on the known hazards associated with ingredients listed on labels. These ratings represent EWG’s best effort to present solid information on cosmetic safety. But the answers are not as clear as we would like. Due to the weakness of the FDA’s cosmetics rules, many products with “green” ratings contain ingredients that have not been tested. These products appear to be free of ingredients that we know or suspect to present health hazards. But absence of evidence is not proof of safety. There may be chemical hazards that scientists have yet to identify. In cases where data are lacking, a “limited data” or “no data” rating is shown alongside the green hazard score.

      EWG’s ratings are subject to revision based on new evidence in the scientific literature or new determinations by government bodies regarding the safety of chemicals used in these products.

      EWG’s ratings are based on data suggesting that certain ingredients are hazardous. But we add a significant caveat:  in most cases it is impossible to predict whether a particular product poses a health hazard. Actual health risks, if any, will vary based on how much exposure each person has to a toxic ingredient, as well as that person’s age, health status, genes and other factors.

      For practical purposes, EWG’s ratings represent the best available information on the safety of personal care product ingredients. As science advances, Skin Deep will embrace new insights into the safety of chemicals in personal care products.

      To read more and to see their user guide to Skin Deep

      Visit: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/users-guide-to-skin-deep/