You never see the words “dioxane”, “formaldehyde”, or “nitrosamines” in the ingredients list, but those are the names of chemicals linked to asthma, allergies, and even cancer that are present in many personal care products. Loopholes in FDA guidelines allow manufacturers to omit certain chemicals from the ingredients list if they are present due to contamination. Think of it this way, if you often leave a bit of egg shell in the batter when you make cookies, that doesn’t mean you have to include “egg shells” when someone asks for the recipe. Product manufacturing isn’t a perfect process either and FDA regulations don’t require companies to “tell all”. The FDA also doesn’t test cosmetics before they are sold in stores, so no one truly knows what’s in a product except the manufacturer.
Any product, even those that have the words “natural” or “organic” on their labels can contain harmful chemicals. Usually the levels of unwanted chemicals are very small, but health advocates argue that consumers, especially women, use so many products that when you add up all the small amounts of chemicals, you end up with a high level of exposure. This issue has gotten enough public attention that some large companies are making the effort to formulate safer products, but until stricter guidelines are put into place, it’s up to you to protect your health. Use these five strategies to improve your beauty routine and limit your exposure to chemicals from hair, skin, and body products.
1) Decrease the number of products you use on a daily basis. Can you get it down to less than 10? That would include everything from mouthwash to perfume. The fewer products you use, the better.
2) Pay the most attention to the products that you leave on your skin. Some chemicals are not harmful when they’re rinsed off, but they cause problems when they’re left on. This is the most important reason not to leave conditioner on your hair and scalp for longer than the maximum time in the instructions.
3) Always wash your hands with soap and water after applying personal care products. A chemical’s ability to cause you harm depends on which areas of your body it comes into contact with and for how long. If you apply your products and then proceed to rub your eyes, touch your mouth, cook dinner, etc., you are increasing your risk of exposure.
4) Minimize the number of store brought products you use on children. Just like with certain foods, pregnant women and children need to be most careful. With that said, it’s important to use products that deliver results so that your children can grow up understanding how to work with their coils and curls. My favorite hair products for kids are made by CURLS, Free Your Mane, Kinky-Curly and Mixed Chicks. You can replace other products like lotion and lip balm with homemade mixes.
5) If you have a bad reaction to a product (hair loss or a rash for example) report it to the FDA as soon as possible. The FDA relies on consumers to report problems, especially when the reaction is visible. You may be able to prevent other people from having a bad (or worse) experience if you speak up.
Luckily, hair products are the least of your concerns. Hair is not a living tissue like your skin, so it makes more sense to focus on minimizing your face and body cosmetics. Simple changes like washing your hands and using products as directed can make a huge difference.