As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact everyone, it is imperative that consumers make safe choices with regard to the personal care and beauty products they use. The virus can be deadly, especially for those with suppressed immune systems. Doctors have advised avoiding potential exposure to the virus, for example by washing hands frequently and staying home.
Using safe and effective personal hygiene products are essential for hand washing and cleansing and even self-care during the crisis. Furthermore, as products like disinfectant soaps and sanitizer become part of the daily routine for some, it is imperative that consumers understand the ingredients that are used in the products and how they may impact their health.
There are hundreds and thousands of chemicals in products, many of which are being absorbed into the human body. The largest organ on your body is your skin. As such, the skin plays a crucial role as a barrier between the outside world and the highly regulated systems within the body. The skin performs a variety of essential functions, including protecting the body from chemicals and other environmental toxins, and invasion by microorganisms.
Although the CDC provides recommendations for sanitizing, it is equally important to take safety measures with the cosmetic and personal care products being used.
Familiarize Yourself with the CDC's Sanitizing Guidelines
Find the full list of guidelines here:
- After leaving the store, use hand sanitizer. When you get home, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- After receiving your delivery or bringing home your takeout food, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- After collecting mail from a post office or home mailbox, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
In addition to these recommendations, disinfectant may also be applied to the outer packaging of cosmetics and personal care products. And as we continue to face the spread of COVID-19, good safety and hygiene practices are more important than ever. The following safety measures go a long way:
- Avoid synthetic fragrances
- Avoid using products with talc
- Read ingredient labels closely
- Research ingredients for their safety
- Avoid products with known harmful chemicals
- Pay attention to expiration dates
- Don’t share cosmetics with anyone, even friends or family members
- Tightly close containers and jars after each use
Watch Out for Deceptive Marketing
Not all products are what they claim to be. Consumers should be mindful that while some products may be labeled “clean,” or “natural,” the FDA has not provided a meaning for the terms. Although the FDA regulates cosmetics under the authority of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, the term “organic” is not defined in either of these laws or the regulations that FDA enforces under their authority. Meaning, cosmetic manufacturers can use these terms to label their products even if their products are not natural or clean.
Unfortunately, this was the case in September 2019, when Miami Beach-based Truly Organic was ordered to pay $1.76 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that the company deceived shoppers by labeling its products as organic and vegan. According to the complaint, Truly Organic Inc. falsely claimed in its advertising that its products were "100% organic," "certified organic," "truly organic" and "vegan."
Fragrances May Smell Good, But Are They Safe?
Lastly, as mentioned above, it is important to avoid synthetic fragrances. Fragrance ingredients are often protected as trade secrets. Due to trade secret protections, U.S. manufacturers can legally hide hundreds of synthetic chemicals in the one word “fragrance” without revealing what those ingredients are. Meaning you'll often see the term "fragrance" or "perfume" on a product label without information about the actual chemicals used and the amounts. There are two families of fragrance: those that occur organically or naturally and those that are created artificially. Synthetic fragrances are mixtures of various chemicals that produce a desired scent.
Synthetic chemicals in fragrances can include endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) commonly found in our everyday beauty products. As well, endocrine disruptor are linked to cancer, can trigger asthma attacks, and cause damage to the reproductive system. For these reasons, it is best to avoid products that list “fragrance” in the ingredient list.
Better Safe Than Sorry—Helpful Resources
Ultimately, researching the safety of products will be helpful while navigating the hundreds of products that often seem “safe,” but are not. With so many cosmetic and personal care products on the market, it can be overwhelming to know which ones are safer and healthier. Utilizing resources like the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Data base, which allows users to search ingredients, products and brands for their safety, may be helpful for consumers interested in making healthier choices.
The National Women’s Health Network provides educational resources on the dangers of toxins in cosmetics to help women and consumers make safe choices.
M. Isabelle Chaudry, J.D., is the Senior Policy Manager for the NWHN and an advocate for marginalized communities of women. Isabelle actively lobbies and provides expert testimony before Congress and the FDA for women’s health and cosmetic policies. She is an LL.M candidate in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and a Board Member for Women’s Voices for the Earth.
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