"Natural," "Nontoxic" or even "Eco-Safe" on the label of your shampoo, deodorant or makeup, makes you think it'd be made with healthy, safety-tested ingredients, right? Well, not always. Unlike drugs, The FDA doesn't review cosmetic or personal care ingredients for safety before they hit the market. Also, manufacturers routinely do something known as greenwashing: using misleading, vague or even false claims about the eco/health benefits of their products. That leaves us wondering whether our lipstick, skin cream or wrinkle serum is safe. Reports say that many contain chemicals linked to cancer, infertility, hormone imbalances, birth defects, neurological issues and other health problems.
What we put on our skin matters. Our skin is not a barrier... it allows microscopic chemicals to enter our bloodstream which can impact our physiology. What happens inside our bodies when we are exposed to minute amounts of synthetic chemicals every day, for years? No one really knows. So it's best to play it safe and choose natural, nontoxic products. But, there's a lot of confusion when it comes to knowing exactly what to look for on the label. To help you out, I've created my "Top 10 Greenwashing Watchwords." These are words and phrases that will help raise your awareness about the subtle distinctions and nuances being used on ingredient labels on your makeup and personal care products.
Top 10 Greenwashing Watchwords:
#10. "Environmentally Friendly" and "Eco-Safe:" There are currently no specific government or official standards for these terms. Plus, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) considers these phrases to be too vague to be meaningful.
#9. "Dermatologist Tested," "Sensitivity Tested" and "Hypoallergenic:" According to FDA, manufacturers are not required to perform any tests or provide evidence that products were actually tested by a doctor. Look for the organization behind these claims other than the company making the product.
#8. "Allergy-Friendly Fragrance" and "Fragrance-Free:" A product might be made with essential oils instead of synthetically made fragrance oils (which can be allergy triggers), but also contain questionable chemicals like DEA, SLS and artificial coloring. "Fragrance-Free" does not necessarily mean no fragrance. It might contain synthetic fragrances that are used to cover up the chemical smell of other ingredients.
#7. "Nontoxic:" Nontoxic does not mean Not Toxic or Not Harmless. It indicates it's a safer alternative than some other hazardous ingredients, and implies it will not cause adverse health effects. But, there are no specific government or official standards for this term.
#6. "Derived From... :" "Derived from coconut oil," for example, is deceptive, because to create cocamide DEA from coconut oil requires the use of diethanolamine -- DEA -- a carcinogenic synthetic chemical. Therefore, it is no longer natural... or safe.
#5. "Free of... :" Watch for hyping what's NOT in the product. For example, a deodorant claiming "No CFCs." Chloro-fluorocarbons were banned in 1978, so if the product contained CFCs it would be illegal. Or a cream claiming "No Parabens" but substituting Phenoxethanol, which, according the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), if absorbed through the skin (at 100 percent concentration) can cause reproductive damage. Skin creams and baby lotions generally use 1 percent. Does that make it safe?
#4. "Certified Green:" The term "green" implies a product has some environmental benefit or causes no harm to the environment, but the FTC and the International Standards Organization (ISO) consider it to be too vague a word to be meaningful. Also, watch out for self-made seals. Certified by whom? Choose neutral third party seals.
#3. "Natural:" This word can give the illusion that the product is "of nature," when it's not. One large, brand name company claims "100% NATURAL" on the label of its moisturizers but uses synthetic surfactants, preservatives and fragrance. That's not very natural! However, not all "natural" products are bad! Check the NPA (Natural Products Association) Natural Standard for Personal Care Products guidelines.
#2. "Organic:" Some major brands say "organic" but contain few or no organic ingredients. One shampoo company claims their product creates a "truly organic experience" yet it contains sodium lauryl sulfate, propylene glycol and D&C color, which are synthetic chemicals that pose health risks. A study from the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) found several mislabeled "organic" personal care products
#1. "Made with... :" The phrases "Made with lavender" or "Made with real lemon" for example, might be only contain 1 percent of those ingredients, with the rest being synthetic. Or "Made with essential oils" might be only 1or 2 drops of the good stuff. Look for a percentage on the label to be sure. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) found several mislabeled "organic" personal care products.
My advice? Read makeup and personal care ingredient labels like you would food labels. Learn which chemicals to avoid. Here's a list from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
For more practical, simple solutions on how to have a super healthy home or work environment, visit www.BethGreer.com.
Beth Greer, Super Natural Mom®, is a syndicated radio talk show host, former president and co-owner of The Learning Annex, Certified Build It Green® healthy home makeover specialist, and holistic health educator, who eliminated a sizable tumor in her chest without drugs or surgery. She's author of the bestseller, "Super Natural Home", endorsed by Deepak Chopra, Ralph Nader, Peter Coyote and Dr. Joe Mercola. Beth is leading a movement of awareness and responsibility about healthy home, work and school environments. Visit her at www.supernaturalmom.com and read her blog on Red Room.