On the web
Check your current cosmetics in the Environmental Working Groups' Skin Deep database (ewg.org/skindeep) of more than 69,000 products.
Learn more at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: safecosmetics.org.
View the documentary at unacceptablelevels.com.
Elorie Slater's youngest daughter was born premature. Doctors couldn't find any genetic or biological reasons why, so they suggested the pregnancy problems may have stemmed from something in the environment, Slater says. But she never knew what exactly. That's the tricky thing with chemicals and toxins: They're hard to isolate, and many of the effects are unknown.
Today, the Boulder woman's daughters are pre-teens and gaining interest in makeup.
"Watching my daughter schlep all kinds of products into our house made me ask questions about my health and her birth," Slater says. "And when it comes to personal care products, it's a bit like the Wild West. It's incredibly unregulated."
Slater and a small group of other Boulder County women hope to change that — or at least change consumer awareness around the potentially dangerous ingredients in many of the most popular cosmetics
Last month, they brought the documentary, "Unacceptable Levels," to Boulder, and the event sold out. The recently released film looks at the industrial chemicals in everything from cosmetics to household cleaning products. "Unacceptable Levels" will be available for purchase in Whole Foods markets across the country next month.
Slater continues to hold educational workshops across Boulder County to teach people about other personal care options — particularly the Beautycounter line, which shares everything in its products, and uses only natural ingredients. Nothing synthetic. In fact, none of its products rate higher than a 2 on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database that classifies beauty products on a 10-point scale for potential health dangers.
In the last year, Beautycounter's direct-sales line has grown from about 40 consultants to more than 2,000 across the country, officials say.
A comparable line, Colorado-based Lemongrass Spa, also reports significant growth. All of the Lemongrass Spa products listed on the Skin Deep database score a 1. (Old products reached a 4.)
In the past, even many health-conscious people didn't think about their lotion, hand soap and perfume, but the increase in demand for non-chemical products shows a quick change in tide, says Kate Kellogg, a Boulder-based Beautycounter representative.
"We are all exposed to toxins every single day, from the moment we wake up. They're in the air we breathe, in our water and some of that, we have no control over," Kellogg says. "But there are the things we do have control over. Food is one of those things. ... Personal care is another. If you can eliminate some of the toxins in your daily life, then you're reducing the toxic load, your body burden."
What's in your lip balm?
If you are selling a house painted with lead-based paint, the government requires you disclose the potential risk of exposure to lead, and get written consent by the buyers.
"Lead poisoning in young children may produce permanent neurological damage," the mandatory U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development form states.
Yet 400 of the most popular lipsticks — we put them directly onto our mouths and ingest them — contain traces of lead, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The difference, according to the FDA: The amount of lead in our lipstick is low enough to not be a safety concern.
And the truth is that there is minimal oversight over the ingredients companies put in cosmetics. The last law passed governing personal care products dates to 1938.
Of more than 1,000 ingredients the European Union bans as dangerous carcinogens, toxins, allergens and irritants, the United States only bans 11, Beautycounter teaches.
There is no "acceptable level" of toxins or lead, says Ed Brown, who made the documentary, "Unacceptable Levels." Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there has been no identified safe blood level for lead, and recommends people avoid all sources of lead exposure. Including cosmetics.
The motivation for Brown's film was his wife's multiple miscarriages and keeping his three children healthy, he says. He talks about the growing rates of cancer, autism and ADHD, noting studies that suggest a connection between these rates and some toxins and chemicals.
The National Cancer Institute states that as many as two in three incidences of cancer are linked to an environmental factor. A University of Chicago study correlated autism with environmental toxins, such as pesticides. Another study by the Harvard School of Public Health linked neurotoxins to ADHD and dyslexia.
Although many of these kinds of connections are still not backed by multiple studies, and genetic factors also play a role in neurodevelopmental disorders among children, Louisville resident and pediatrician Debby Hamilton says she has examined more than 600 scientific studies, on which she based her book, "Preventing Autism and ADHD: Controlling Risk Factors Before, During and After Pregnancy."
For example, she cites one study showing exposure to phthalates, commonly found in nail polish, perfume and hair spray, during pregnancy increased children's incidences of ADHD and behavioral issues.
Chemicals are in much of the sunscreen and bug spray we put on our kids, and even the soap they use to clean their hands.
Most forms of antibacterial soap that children use in school a couple of times a day and doctors use in hospitals contain triclosan, a hormone disruptor that is banned in some countries, says Hamilton, who recently moved her office from Boulder to Denver.
Her book features a full chapter on "Toxic Beauty."
Still, Brown acknowledges "correlation is not causation," and that more research is needed. In fact, that's part of his mission.
"For anybody who sits back and thinks the government has all the answers and that they've provided those with complete transparency to all of us, that's just patently untrue," Brown says. "What I can say is this: Most of those [chemicals] aren't tested at all. ... Of the 80,000-plus chemicals out there, less than 1 percent have ever been tested."
Brown says he knows it's impossible to stay away from all toxins and questionable chemicals, so he recommends starting small with these four changes:
Buy organic produce. If you can't afford organic, look for products that are non-GMO certified. Go organic on soft-skin produce such as peaches, strawberries and apples, but don't worry about non-organic hard skin items such as butternut squash.Avoid the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen, which are the fruits and vegetables likely to have the greatest pesticide residue.
Get a water filtration system that can remove toxins from your drinking water.
Don't fill the air in your house with synthetic chemicals from many air fresheners, perfumes, deoderants, personal care products and household cleaners.
Replace your mattress (and all furniture, if possible) with non-petrolium-based products that are not coated with flame-retardant chemicals.