On a recent trip overseas I was shocked to learn that the same exact brand of lotion I use everyday has a different ingredient list over in Europe. Not only different ingredients, but perhaps even safer ingredients. And it turns out, it's not just my lotion that may be safer in Europe. The same may be true for our shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant -- even the toys that European children are playing with may be safer than those of their American counterparts.
The alarming reality is that 90% of the ingredients in our personal care products have never been evaluated for safety by the FDA or any other independent publicly accountable institution. The European Union has found 1,100 of these ingredients of such concern that they are banned from products sold in Europe.
If skin is our biggest organ, shouldn't we be more aware of what we feed it everyday?
We've often said that our bottled water documentary Tapped is really a microcosm for some of the much larger issues facing our country -- one of which being lack of regulation. We were stunned to find out that there is only one person at the FDA responsible for monitoring all the bottled water in the U.S -- and they only work on that part time. As it turns out, when it comes to our personal care products we'd be lucky to have even one person at the FDA regulating the chemicals found in our everyday products.
The way the Cosmetics/Personal Care industry works is so illogical that I'm going to break it down for you in the simplest of bullet points. Even then, I warn you, the logic is so asinine you will be inclined not to believe me - as such I'll include lots of links so you can see the source information for yourself.
In the simplest of terms, the American regulatory system operates on an "innocent until proven guilty" model. We assume it's safe if the manufacturers tell us it's safe; and until enough scientists raise enough flags to demonstrate otherwise (as was the case most recently with Bisphenol A) then the product remains. The European Union, on the other hand, operates on a precautionary principle wherein it takes action on potential risks. As a result the EU has dwarfed the U.S. for the past 5 years in protecting its citizens by requiring a scientific review of all products "intended to be placed in contact with various parts of the human body." The result is a ban of 1,100 ingredients including any and all CMRs -- Carcinogens, Mutagens or Reproductive toxins.
It's easy to hear all of this and feel discouraged -- just more bad news about things that may kill us. Most people ask me, "well what can I do about it anyway?" While it's true that there seems to be a new boogeyman around every corner these days -- bottled water, cell phones, beef -- we are always presented with the same two options to any problem: we can do something or we can do nothing. Frankly I think doing anything, no matter how small a gesture, is better than doing nothing at all.
For more information on the story of cosmetics please visit us at theeverydayactivist.com.
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