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08182013-1Every day, men and women, tweens, and teens fight a war for beauty and hygiene. It is a war against bad breath, body odor, and the bad hair day. Your war paint is a cabinet full of shampoo, body wash, and soap, gel, lotion and acne remedies, perfume, cologne, and aftershave, hair color and nail color, deodorant and toothpaste. And then there is the makeup—a secret vault of potions, colors, and camouflage that ladies use to extend, color, and darken, hide or emphasize their facial features. Think about it: how many products do you use each day? Which personal care products are part of your daily routine? 

08182013-2The choices are endless. Products are advertised as organic or natural. Smells are described as sport, spice, fruity, fresh, or herbal. Hair products promise to tame frizz, to add body, to de-tangle, to bolster shine. Skin products offer the fountain of youth—fewer wrinkles, no acne, banished dark circles, and even skin tone. Makeup promises to extend, to plump, and to last all day. Each product pledges it will be the panacea—the answer to your persistent beauty woe. Use me, it beckons, and you will be more attractive, more irresistible, a better version of your natural self. Of course you also need products to remove the makeup and night-time products promise to revitalize your skin and to prepare your face for the next day’s battle. It is a never-ending cycle and it fuels a 60 billion dollar personal care industry

08182013-3There is nothing wrong with wanting to look and to smell attractive. That desire is as normal as apple pie. In fact, makeup has been around for eons. However, there are dangers in this battle. Most Americans are unaware of the dangers lurking in the potions, lotions, and sprays they apply every day to their skin, hair, and nails. A recent study by researchers from the Environmental Health Sciences Division at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health found evidence of lead, cobalt, aluminum, titanium, manganese, chromium, copper and nickel in 24 lip glosses and eight brands of lipstick. Lead and aluminum, especially, are not ingredients most would want to smear on their lips or absorb into their system.

True or false: personal care products are regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA)? False. In the United States, there is no federal or state oversight of personal care products. Claims and ingredients are not monitored. It is your responsibility to research what you are slathering on your body, what you are absorbing into your cells, and then to make informed choices about your purchases and habits. Before you begin your beauty ritual today, take a few moments to learn about the science, business, and politics of personal care products.

Beware Your Shampoo 

Stacy Malkan, co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, explains the connection between toxic chemicals and American personal care products. Annie Leonard further explains the connections between toxic chemicals, health issues, the beauty industry, and government regulation in The Story of Cosmetics.

08182013-5Annie challenges companies and government to, “Just get the toxic chemicals out of our products!” Exactly what toxics are in our products? What is your skin eating? View an infographic of the toxic chemicals your body is absorbing. View an infographic that explores the chemical dangers lurking in four common personal care products. Read the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ collection of frequently asked questions.

As the beauty industry has grown and convinced consumers that they need to plump, straighten, color, and hydrate, they have also become sophisticated about how to market their products. Many companies advertise their products as 'natural,' or 'organic.' But are they? Visit Howstuffworks to read Natural 101 and to answer, “Is natural makeup better? Is ‘natural’ natural?”

08182013-6One of Malkan’s anecdotes was about clothier Abercrombie and Fitch. It is not possible to walk past their storefronts without being assaulted by a cloud of cologne. It is true for art, interior decorating, and cologne: less is more. Actually,  may want to ditch the perfume or cologne all-together. Those potions are chemical concoctions that trigger allergic reactions in many users and innocent bystanders.

Safer Options

08182013-7What purpose do all these chemicals in our personal care products serve? Why are they part of shampoo, toothpaste, and soap? Beauty products are engineered by chemists. Discover more about the chemistry of cosmetics at Howstuffworks. Of course, it is not necessary to use oil-based ingredients or toxic chemicals. You can harness your inner chemist and whip up a batch of lipstick made with wholesome ingredients in your kitchen. Watch Makeup with Jazi and Danielle to see how two teens created lip gloss using ingredients they bought at the drug store. Read the background essay to learn more about the process of creating makeup, and then follow up by considering five brief discussion questions.

08182013-8Without outside regulation, you cannot simply assume the ingredients in personal care products are wholesome. But, the battle to look your best need not include toxins. If you decide to clear your bathroom cupboards and switch to healthier personal care products, visit the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database . Here you will find extensive lists of products and the hazard score card for each. Search by brand, ingredient, or category.