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Green Choices: The Need for Healthier Personal Care Products

June 29, 2010

The environment has always taken a backseat to my passion for women’s rights and reproductive justice.  Sure, it’s good to recycle, use less water, walk or use public transportation instead of driving, etc.  But environmental advocacy has never moved me to activism.  Recently, though, I am learning more about the ways environmental toxins may affect reproductive health.  To be blunt, I felt terrified after discovering how widespread the use of potentially toxic chemicals is in cosmetics, including chemicals that affect our reproductive health.  On the large scale, women’s infertility in the U.S. has increased 40%, and the likelihood that a woman will develop breast cancer has increased from a 1 in 10 chance in the 1970s to a 1 in 8 chance today.  There are effects on men and on children of all sexes, too.  On a personal note, it turns out the baby sunblock I’ve used since my daughter turned six months old is rated a 7 out of 10 on a hazard scale of various cosmetic products, because it includes a variety of chemicals that studies have found to be carcinogenic, or hazardous for reproductive health and development.  (Like I said, terrified.)  

It’s important to understand that cosmetics aren’t just make-up.  Cosmetics include hair care products, deodorant, moisturizer, baby products, sunblock, and toothpaste, just to name a few.  This information is important because everything that falls under the heading of cosmetics is unregulated.  Neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the Environmental Protection Agency have the authority to regulate cosmetic products.  (And there are plenty of questionable or dangerous chemicals in other products being sold throughout the U.S. that aren’t regulated, too.)

There are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and friends.  First, read labels – and question all those things you can’t pronounce.  Check out specific cosmetic products you use at the Environmental Working Group’s Safe Cosmetics website.  Take a look at every hygienic or cosmetic product you put on your body (or someone else’s body) every day, and consider whether it’s really necessary.  Do you – or your mom – really need three different creams for that sensitive skin around your eyes?  And if you decide to stop using a particular product, write to the manufacturer to tell them why you’ll no longer buy their product.

Voting with your dollars only goes so far, so keep the environment in mind when you cast your vote for elected officials this year.  We need to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, and we need to take another look at the regulations that authorize the FDA, which have remained unchanged for over 70 years.  (Seriously, over 70 years.  Because the world my grandparents grew up in is so similar to today, who needs updated safety regulations?)  Tell your representatives this is a priority.  There are several pieces of legislation that would make our lives safer – from cosmetic products to the foods we eat.  Learn more and take action today.

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