“Give your cosmetics a safety makeover by using this simple website by the Environmental Working Group” – The Guardian

crop person with smear of face cream

THE DATABASE WEBSITE https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville

How many of us know the ingredients of the shampoos, lotions and creams we use?

How many of us know the ingredients of the products we use?

Photograph: Alamy

On 24 February, a jury in Missouri awarded $72m to the family of Jacqueline Fox, a woman who died of ovarian cancer at age 62. Lawyers for the Fox family brought a civil suit against personal care product giant Johnson & Johnson, stating that Fox used their baby powder as a feminine hygiene product for years. Her lawyers alleged that these products were the cause of her cancer and the jury agreed, holding Johnson & Johnson liable for counts of fraud, negligence and conspiracy.

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One of the most troubling pieces of evidence presented to the court was an internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant which stated, “anybody who denies [the] risks” between “hygienic” talc use and ovarian cancer would be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “Denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”Advertisementhttps://e2fb7ec94739b724216f606d5beedd6d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

It’s a stark reminder to consumers of just how disconnected we are from what we’re putting in, and on, our bodies. Think of the dozens of shampoos, lotions, serums and scrubs that you use on a daily basis – and add makeup to the list. Do you know what makes your body wash foam, or what gives your lipstick that deep red hue?

Reading the product label will give a breakdown of individual ingredients, but even this information is pretty useless unless you know offhand what penthenol or dimethalymine are (I certainly don’t). Companies don’t make it any easier by cramming 84 ingredients into one tiny 8pt paragraph, slapping words like “natural” on their products when they are anything but.

So – let’s say you’ve been suitably horrified by this story and desperately want to give your bathroom a makeover to avoid death by beauty product. Where do you begin?

First, trim the fat. Stop buying useless crap – the stuff flashy multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns convince you to buy. Perfumed body wash, razors with strange aloe strips surrounding the blades, toners, astringents and a different soap for your hands, body and face – you don’t need most of it. Reducing the amount of beauty products you use means less shopping, less cost, less packaging waste, fewer thrown-out plastic bottles, and fewer questionable chemical compounds being absorbed into your skin.

Next, for the stuff you do need, try to make as much of it as you can. In previous columns, I’ve provided recipes for body lotion, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner and even some sweet, simple scrubs. Maybe now’s the time to give them a shot. Creating your own products ensures you have almost complete control over the ingredient and the manufacturing and packaging process.

For the stuff you can’t make (or for those of you well-intentioned folks who just know there’s no way you’ll ever be found whipping up a batch of homemade body cream) there’s a wonderful gold mine of a site called Cosmetics Database. This non-profit site, run by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an absolute warehouseof information.

EWG staff scientists take the ingredients found in more than 75,000 popular health and beauty products and cross-reference them with information found in more than 60 toxicity and regulatory databases. EWG then comes up with a 0-10 safety rating for each product and provides links between individual ingredients and studies which have proven possible organ toxicity, reproductive issues or carcinogenic effects.

To use the site, simply type in the name of your product and you’ll be redirected to a product page which lists each ingredient, along with any potential health concerns and a score between 0-10. A score of 0 indicates a pretty innocuous product with little to no proven health concerns, while a score of 10 indicates something you most likely do notwant to be slathering all over your skin anytime soon. It’s one way to educate yourself about the products you’re using, and also a great way to demystify the process of buying “safe” products.

As for Johnson & Johnson, many are saying that the $72m verdict is unlikely to stand in appeals court, and cancer experts state that the link between talc use and ovarian cancer is tenuous at best. Regardless of the outcome, Johnson & Johnson may have already begun moving toward creating healthier products. In 2012, the company bowed to consumer demand and promised to remove potentially toxic and carcinogenic components from its product line, including removing formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, limiting parabens, and completely eliminating triclosan from their product line.

It’s never too late to do better.”

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