5 Things You Need to Know About Cosmetics

I was pretty shocked when I was diagnosed with a rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma nearly 3 years ago. I was a health coach, eating organic, avoiding sugar, doing everything right. And then to have a second diagnosis of Triple Negative Breast Cancer right after, in fact they think I had both cancers at the same time, I really began to wonder what the heck was going on. Actually, I used a much stronger swear word at the time.

When I got the first diagnosis, I knew it wasn’t the food I was eating that had caused that very first cell to split funny and become abnormal, replicating itself to become a cancer tumor. I was eating a very “clean” diet of lots of veggies, particularly greens, no dairy, very little grains, wild caught salmon and only organic humanely raised meats. I suspected it was more likely that that first cell split funny due to exposure to a cancer causing chemical.

We are exposed to thousands of chemicals every day from the chemicals in the air, like off-gases from carpet or fabrics, to chemicals in the plastics in which we wrap our food. In our modern life, there are some chemicals that are hard to avoid. Others we can avoid more easily through the purchases we choose to make. I began to look for ways to avoid chemical exposure to do what I could to avoid a third cancer diagnosis. As I took actions like storing our food in glass containers instead of plastic GLAD type containers, I learned that there are also loads of chemicals in our every day personal care products.

I hadn’t thought much about the shampoo or lotion or mascara I was using. I mean, wasn’t the FDA or some other governing body regulating these products, to make sure we consumers weren’t exposed to harmful ingredients? Nope. I found out no one is regulating this industry, the companies are expected to regulate themselves.

I also found out that there are chemicals that have been shown to cause the very cancers that I got in products that I used regularly! I am now on a mission to share what I learned. Here are the top 5 things I want everyone to know about their cosmetics and personal care items.

1. The FDA is not regulating cosmetics

As I said above, the industry is expected to regulate itself. The result is that in the U.S. they can put anything they want in their products and make claims like “natural” and even “organic” and no one is checking to see if these claims are true. A product might have one organic ingredient and the company feels justified in putting organic on the label. Take away: Do not believe any claims on a label from a U.S. company including “paraben free”, “no phthalates”, “all natural” or “organic”.

2. They put nasty shit in personal care products!

I learned about parabens that are used as preservatives and that they’re not always even on the ingredients list. Often found in deodorants and other cosmetics, parabens have been shown to disrupt hormones and have been found in breast cancer tumors. I also learned about Triclosan, an antibacterial agent which has been linked to cancer in humans. Or how about Benzoyl Peroxide used in acne medications—it produces DNA damage and acts as a tumor promoter. But my favorite shocker was finding out that chemicals in permanent hair dye (which I had been using faithfully for over 10 years every 5 weeks) increase the risk of breast cancer three-fold and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma two-fold, and other cancers as well. Maybe that’s how I got two cancers at the same time? Take away: Read labels!

3. We are using chemicals that other countries have banned.

As of 2013, the EU has banned over 1300 chemicals that are suspected to be harmful, following what they call The Precautionary Principle, meaning that if a chemical is suspected to be harmful, they ban it. In the U.S., a chemical must be proven to be harmful before it is banned. So by contrast, the U.S. has banned 11 chemicals to the EU’s 1300. Also disturbing, chemicals are allowed to be used often times without any testing. Take away: Buy from European companies.

4. The chemicals in lotions and deodorants and other cosmetics are absorbed directly into our system. 

Studies show that on average 64% of the chemicals in products are absorbed into our system through our skin, while other studies showed up to 100% at our underarms and 100% for fragrance. What I also learned with my Lymphoma diagnosis, is that we have a network of lymph nodes lying just under our skin whose job it is to collect those toxins and take them to the liver and kidney to eliminate. Don’t you think it makes sense to not overload this system by piling on excessive chemicals? Take away: Keep your lymph system happy!

5. There are some good product lines

You may know that my personal favorite that I found after 2 years of searching and trying several companies’ products, is Neal’s Yard Remedies out of the UK. They are certified organic by the UK Soil Association and have earned an ethical score of 100/100, the first ever company to do so by the Ethical Company Organisation, “an independent body that aims to set a benchmark for corporate social responsibility by producing comparative research on companies, brands and NGOs”. Not only that, but their products are rich, effective, healing and smell divine from wonderful essential oils. Shop on my website here: us.nyrorganic.com/larenwatson. But there are other good companies as well. I do encourage you to find one from Europe, however, where the industry is regulated. Take away: Find a solid company you like.

Let me know in the comments below what products you use and if you’d like a free sample of Neal’s Yard Remedies.

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Kath - April 19, 2016

Thanks for the great info, Laren! I’ve started using the Skin Deep database when I am shopping for anything that goes on my body: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

I was shocked to see some products that label themselves as “natural” “organic” and “non-toxic” were full of nasty chemicals!

P.S. Love Neal’s Yard products 🙂 I need to put an order in soon!

    Laren - April 19, 2016

    Thanks for your comment Kath! I agree the Skindeep database is great and a helpful resource!

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