How to Identify Clean Personal Care Products

Personal care products are a large part of our everyday life, from shampoo and bodywash to face cream and perfume. A study conducted by the David Suzuki Foundation, found that the average Canadian applies 6 to 12 personal care products daily. In Canada, the personal care and cosmetic industry is regulated by the Food and Drug Act, which has taken many steps to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals allowed in personal care products, including  the ones listed on the Cosmetic Ingredients Hotlist. Within the list, there is a total of 500 ingredients. However, there are still many that are not included which pose a risk to consumer health – including bi-products that are generated during the manufacturing process such as formaldehyde.

There has been an increased demand for clean personal care products and many companies are beginning to make such products available, however many personal care products that are on the market today contain a plethora of harmful chemicals. When these products are used on our bodies, they get absorbed by our skin and can impact the body’s tissues, organs and glands. Many personal care products get rinsed down the drain after each use, which can then contaminate water ways and have similar impacts on aquatic life.

How to Identify Clean Products

Trying to identify which products contain harmful chemicals can be daunting since many products contain a long list of ingredients, most of which the average person cannot identify.  A general rule of thumb is to look for products that contain shorter, more recognizable ingredients. There are limited regulations around labeling products as “natural” and “organic” so it is always important to check the ingredient list.

The David Suzuki Foundation lists the Dirty Dozen as the twelve worst, most commonly-used chemicals that can be found in personal care products. The Dirty Dozen includes:

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) – commonly used in moisturizers and makeup;
  • Coal tar dyes (p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as “CI” followed by a five-digit number) – commonly used in hair dyes and cosmetics;
  • Diethanolamine (DEA), concamide DEA and lauramide DEA – commonly used in moisturizers and shampoos;
  • Dibutyl phthalates – commonly used in nail care products;
  • Formaldehyde- releasing preservatives – commonly used in cosmetics;
  • Parabens – commonly used as a preservative in cosmetics;
  • Parfum – commonly used in all types of products;
  • PEG compounds – commonly used in cream bases;
  • Petrolatum – commonly used in hair products, lip balms, lips sticks and moisturizers;
  • Siloxanes – commonly used in cosmetics that are intended to smooth and moisten;
  • Sodium laureth sulfate – commonly used in shampoos and cleansers; and
  • Triclosan – commonly used in toothpaste, cleansers and antiperspirants.

This list can be used as a general guide for the top ingredients to avoid when purchasing personal care products.

Organizations Raising Awareness

The David Suzuki Foundation has been raising awareness of the health and environmental impacts that poorly-regulated personal care products are creating. In 2010, a study was conducted across Canada that asked individuals to look through their everyday personal care products and report which products contained harmful chemicals, including the Dirty Dozen. This study not only allowed the foundation to gather valuable information, but it also helped raise awareness that seemingly safe products may not be what they seem.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that promotes healthy living and a healthy environment.  The EWG has several databases including EWG’s Skin Deep which allows consumers to easily find information regarding the ingredients used in personal care products as well as obtain a safety rating for each product.  You can also look for EWG’s verified products identified on their website.

What You Can Do

As a consumer you can begin to incorporate “clean” products into your daily routine. By supporting companies that produce clean personal care products, the demand begins to shift away from companies that create “dirty” products, which may be doing more harm than good for both your own health and the environment.

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