What you don’t know can hurt you when it comes to using personal care products and cosmetics.
Green-washing? What is that? I recently came across the term and was surprised to understand its meaning and use. I think many of you will be equally surprised. Green- washing is a term used to describe the practice of making a product appear “greener” or more personally or environmentally friendly than it actually is. It is essentially using marketing and language to make a product seem like it is made up of healthful or environmentally friendly ingredients and to hide the fact that the product is composed of many – and often mainly – harmful and toxic ingredients.
Many of us shop for organic foods and understand the difference between claims that a piece of produce – like an apple or a head of broccoli – is “organic” or if it has been approved by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and qualifies to be labeled “certified organic.” Of course, all produce is “organic” meaning that it is grown in the earth, but to qualify as “certified organic” means that it meets a higher standard as established by the U.S. government. According to the USDA’s website:
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. …. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”
However, many of us are less informed when shopping for other products that are safe and nontoxic. There is the tendency to use terms across industries or in general ways. This lack of information can lead us to making unintended decisions and buying choices that do not really support our desire to use safe and harmless products. Since the skin is the largest organ in the body and is very porous, absorbing into the body anything that is placed on the skin, it is critically important that we make informed choices about our personal care products and cosmetics.
The Webster’s dictionary defines “natural” as “produced or existing in nature, not artificial” and “organic” as “of, like, or derived from living organisms.” But, what do natural and organic mean when used on a personal care product or cosmetic label? Nowhere do the terms “natural” or “organic” take a more gratuitous bruising than by the cosmetics industry!
The commercial cosmetic industry definition of natural is “any ingredient ‘derived from’ a natural substance.” What does “derived from” mean, anyway? For instance, we often see long chemical names followed by the phrase “derived from coconut oil.” For example, to create cocamide DEA from coconut oil requires the use of a carcinogenic synthetic chemical, diethanolamine – DEA. It is therefore no longer natural (or safe). To insinuate that it is a natural substance by adding the phrase “derived from coconut oil” is deceptive. So, it is the process that renders the end product. It is like saying that Vodka is a natural product that can be made from potatoes; therefore it is good for you!
As for the word organic, the commercial cosmetic industry defines it as “any compound containing carbon.” Carbon is found in anything that has ever lived. So, by using this definition of organic we could say that the toxic petrochemical preservative, methylparaben is “organic” because it was formed by leaves that rotted over thousands of years to become the crude oil used to make this toxic preservative. Making things appear more natural or healthy is green-washing.
As you can see, the food industry and the personal care/cosmetic industries can and do use very different definitions underlying their claims. The consumer must be on their toes to protect themselves and their families from the often misleading claims about these products. It is very important to read the labels. Ingredients should truly be natural substances that make sense. The consumer should be watchful of marketing claims and do their own research of claims. It is fairly easy to do a web search of ingredient names. Some helpful websites include: http://www.NonToxicLife.com.au/pdf/Miessence-Article-on-Skincare.pdf; http://www.lifekind.com/catalog/chemical_glossary.php; http://www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/051203_natural_cosmetics.cfm.
Amazingly, many of the ingredients routinely used in personal care/cosmetic products are toxic or carcinogenic. Of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products, 89% have not been evaluated for safety by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or any other publicly accountable institution. In 2004, leading scientists from the European Union countries took courageous action by identifying and banning more than 1,100 ingredients in widespread use in cosmetic, body care and cleaning products, which were known or suspected of causing cancer, birth defects or fertility problems. By comparison, in the United States, the FDA has banned only nine. The average adult uses nine personal care products daily (such as toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, moisturizer, shaving cream, etc.), exposing them to 126 chemicals every day.
Many products put the natural sounding ingredients, such as botanical extracts, on their front label and in their marketing literature to give the product the appearance of having great ingredients that are good for you while in truth the majority of the product may consist of harmful chemicals. It can take very little of a toxic ingredient to be harmful or cause a negative reaction. And there is a cumulative effect from even little bits of harmful ingredients in nearly all of the products you use. Here are a few facts regarding impurities of concern in personal care products:
This is a short list of concerns with personal care products and cosmetics, and how green-washing misrepresents the truth. There are many things in life that you cannot readily protect yourself from. That is why it is so important to make good informed choices where you can. Choosing toxin-free, truly natural and organic personal care products and cosmetics is one area where you can make an active choice to enhance your health and the health of your family. It is about making the right choice to protect your family and the planet. You can be part of the solution.