My daily dose of toxics

California just passed a bill that will ban 24 toxic ingredients in cosmetics, and those are just the tip of the iceberg. Make It Toxic-Free Campaign Associate Gina Werdel investigates the ingredients in her own products.

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Gina Werdel
Make It Toxic Free, Associate

Author: Gina Werdel

Make It Toxic Free, Associate

Started on staff: 2020
B.S., Summa cum laude, University of Oklahoma

Gina works to advance U.S. PIRG’s Make It Toxic Free campaign. She enjoys hiking, painting and reading.

On Sept. 30, California signed the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act into law. The new legislation bans 24 toxic ingredients in personal care products and cosmetics. The first of its kind in the country, the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act highlights a serious lack of regulation for cosmetic products at the federal level in the United States. It’s also a wakeup call for consumers, who often assume that the products we use on our bodies every day are safe. I know I used to assume that. But when this bill passed, I decided to check out what toxic ingredients were in my cabinet. As it turned out, there were a lot more than I expected.

I’ve never cared for make-up, face creams or perfumes. I’d rather hit snooze four times than spend 10 minutes contouring my cheekbones, and I’d rather buy take-out food than mascara that doesn’t clump. So, I thought my beauty routine’s simplicity would protect me from toxic ingredients. I was wrong.

Item #1: Deodorant

Disappointingly, I discovered that my deodorant contained talc, which is sometimes contaminated with asbestos. Asbestos is a deadly, cancer-causing material that no one should be exposed to. The deodorant also contains aluminum, a chemical possibly linked to breast cancer. Finally, the deodorant lists “fragrance*” as an ingredient. Companies  aren’t required to disclose fragrance ingredients which means “fragrance” could literally include any of thousands of toxic or untested synthetic chemicals.

Secret, Procter & Gamble, Unscented Deodorant
Secret, Procter & Gamble, Unscented Deodorant. Staff photo.

But, the asterisk by “fragrance” is there because it’s a product by Procter & Gamble, a company that -- thanks to the work of U.S. PIRG and other activist groups -- voluntarily discloses ingredients. To find out more, I searched their website.

After a quick search, I found a long list of ingredients -- some shown here -- that are never included in Procter & Gamble products. I sighed in relief. All these phthalate chemicals, often included in fragrance products, are possible hormone disruptors. I was also relieved to see that P&G never includes “Dried Ox Blood” in their products, which of course begs the question -- which companies do?

Part of the list found on Procter & Gamble’s website, ingredients never used in P&G products
Part of the list found on Procter & Gamble’s website, ingredients never used in P&G products. Staff photo.

Item #2: Eye Shadow  

My sister gave me this eye shadow palette for Christmas in 2018. Even though I’m rarely inclined to use it, I love its shimmery and soft colors. Unfortunately, I found out this product also contains talc. Once a cute gift, I became suspicious this could be a vessel for asbestos. Sadly, I’ll be disposing of this product, following the U.S. PIRG guidelines for safe disposal of talc.

Pixi by Petra, Copper Peach, Mesmerizing Mineral Palette. Staff photo.

Items #3-#6: Lotions, lip gloss, & sunscreen
Finally, I scanned two lotions, a lip gloss and sunscreen. As ingredients, I found fragrance, fragrance, fragrance and you guessed it, fragrance. I felt betrayed -- even my local farmer’s market lotion had fragrance listed as an ingredient!

3) Walmart-Inc, Equate, Sunscreen 4) Locally produced, Glycerin Hand Cream 5) Victoria’s Secret, Vanilla Lotion 6) Nivea, Shine, Natural Lip Gloss
3) Walmart-Inc, Equate, Sunscreen 4) Locally produced, Glycerin Hand Cream 5) Victoria’s Secret, Vanilla Lotion 6) Nivea, Shine, Natural Lip Gloss. Staff photos.

The ingredients in my favorite, simple products alarmed me. Even though I don’t use that many products, every day when I put on deodorant or use lotion, I’m adding to a buildup of toxic chemicals in my body, referred to as “toxic load.” While each use is only a low level of exposure, over time, these toxic chemicals build up the toxic load in my body, which could, depending on other factors as well as chance, lead to devastating future health impacts.

This toxic chemical buildup is even more concerning for the many people, mostly other women, who do relish their personal care routines, using dozens of products, two to three times per day, 365 days per year. They are exposed to an even greater dose of toxic chemicals every day, and their toxic load increases at an even faster rate. 

While California moves forward to protect its citizens, the rest of the country should do the same. People should absolutely be able to enjoy their personal care routines without increased risk of cancer. But right now, it’s hard to use any personal care product with certainty that it won’t contain toxic ingredients and contaminants. People shouldn’t have to reconcile the simple enjoyment of beauty products with the consumption of toxic chemicals. It’s simple: personal care products need to be safe.

Gina Werdel
Make It Toxic Free, Associate

Author: Gina Werdel

Make It Toxic Free, Associate

Started on staff: 2020
B.S., Summa cum laude, University of Oklahoma

Gina works to advance U.S. PIRG’s Make It Toxic Free campaign. She enjoys hiking, painting and reading.