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  • Writer's pictureLisa Lee Freeman

How dangerous are the chemicals in YOUR cosmetics?

BEHENTRIMONIUM CHLORIDE. Try to pronounce that one! It's one of the top ingredients in my favorite shampoo, which has the words "100% Vegan" stamped on the label. It also says it's "free of sulfates," "gluten free," and "paraben free." But in tiny, nearly unreadable mouse print is a list of ingredients that scare me. The Environmental Working Group rates my shampoo an 8 out of 10 (the higher the number the worse it is). But the good news about shampoo is that you wash it out—and the FDA says the products you should worry most about are those you rub in and leave on, products like body lotion and lipstick.

Why should we worry about them? Because as a great new article in the New York Times says and as I've pointed out in the past, ingredients in cosmetics and personal-care products don't have to be tested like drugs before they are sold to you. The industry is mostly self-regulated and that's not going to change anytime soon thanks to our anti-regulation government. Regulators don't act until there are boatloads of consumer complaints—and even then it can't always get products off the market. So we're all basically guinea pigs.

Personally, I'd rather pet a guinea pig than be one. So my goal has been to try to make the switch over to products that have pronounceable ingredients, or at least those with low scores on the EWG's Skin Deep Database. I realize that's a tall order. It takes time to find replacements for your go-to products. (I'm still looking for a new shampoo that I like!) So don't worry about tossing all of your stuff just yet. Here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Make a list of products you use every day. These should be products that you don't wash off, such as body lotions, makeup, and facial moisturizers.

  2. Get the scores. Check each item on the EWG Skin Deep Database and circle the items with the worst ratings. Some of the most risky products, according to the EWG, are hair straighteners, dark permanent hair dyes, loose powders, and skin lighteners.

  3. Experiment! Make a shopping list of your circled items and start trying out natural and organic alternatives. But don't just check front labels: The word "organic" has some meaning, but relying on the word "natural" is risky because it is basically meaningless from a regulatory standpoint.

  4. Make the smartest choices. Get in the habit of reading ingredients lists and checking user reviews. Also check a retailer's return policies so you can return products that don't work for you. (Natural deodorants have been particularly problematic for me!) While you're shopping, consult the Skin Deep Database's Healthy Living app and the Think Dirty app. The truth is even all-natural products have some potentially problematic ingredients. Plutonium, after all, is all natural!

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