Toxic Chemicals in Our Personal Care Products
by Cherry Staszczak
My journey into the murky world of toxic ingredients in personal care products began on November 19, 2011. That was the day I read an article about how the Johnson & Johnson company was going to eliminate formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from their baby products. FORMALDEHYDE? IN BABY PRODUCTS?? I was incensed!
You see, in 2006 my grandson was born. I am of the generation where Johnson & Johnson and babies were synonymous so, of course, J&J products were in both my house and my daughter’s. After a few months, the baby developed eczema. Eventually, he needed a prescription cream but even then, his eczema would flare up. And after reading that article, I knew why! Formaldehyde is a skin irritant (as well as a carcinogen) so of course the flare-ups continued because we continued to use J&J products.
Why didn’t I know that formaldehyde was in those products? It wasn’t listed on the label. My intense frustration took me on the journey of learning… and what I learned scared me. As a high school teacher, I wanted to share what I found with my students, the future’s parents. I developed a presentation for students and staff, then a blog. Eventually my book, There’s What in my What??? Our Toxic Relationship with Personal Care Products, was born. It provides information on what is really going on with those products on the shelves. It offers suggestions for safer products. Each short chapter tackles just one idea, which makes it an easy, sometimes light-hearted read about an overwhelming topic. Following is some of the information I discovered.
The reason formaldehyde wasn’t listed on the label is because companies do not have to list any ingredient that is a by-product or an additive or a contaminant. Formaldehyde is considered a by-product and, therefore, won’t be listed.
As well, the ingredient “fragrance” or “parfum” is considered to be proprietary, which means the company does not have to divulge its particular fragrance “recipe.” Hidden within that word are harsh chemicals about which the average consumer will never know.
Perhaps the one fact that shocked me the most was that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not require any specific safety test results from any company that makes personal care products. The FDA simply has no legal authority to approve cosmetics before they hit the shelves. That means we are the guinea pigs. Unless there is “proven harm,” the FDA has no teeth.
On average, women use 12 personal care products daily, exposing them to about 168 different chemicals, day after day and decade after decade. This is called our chemical body burden. How can these toxic chemicals not have an effect on our health over time? Babies (who, by the way, are born with toxins already in their blood) are also exposed to about 27 different chemicals daily. I strongly believe that if safe non-toxic products are used on babies from the beginning of their lives that their body burden will be greatly diminished over their lifetime.
My book only scrapes the surface of this huge and controversial topic. We, the consumers, are at the mercy of the big companies whose mandate is their own bottom line. It is up to us to read ingredient labels and understand at least some of what we are reading. This book helps us do exactly that.
Cherry Staszczak, mother and grandmother, is a retired English teacher living in Wynyard, SK, where she is a substitute teacher and a volunteer with various community groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 306-554-3768 or via a Facebook message.