I bought perfume. I know, what was I thinking?
I've ranted and raved about the evils of perfume, but the key is not the perfume -- it's the nasty extra crud that's in it, i.e., phthalates, toluene, coal tar. I've never tried real perfume, the kind made the old-fashioned way with botanicals and maybe some alcohol or other oil as a carrier. So I looked around at a few sites and picked Ayala Moriel. I didn't have a particular reason, except that she is really good at communicating. I wrote to her asking questions about perfume and toxins, she wrote back and was pleasant, professional and sympathetic with my concerns. That spoke volumes to me. I ordered a box with 10 samples in it. And believe me, the samples are tiny. I chose the 10 randomly, reading the descriptions and looking up perfume terms. As with many other professions, perfumers have their own jargon. I wanted to give perfume as a present to a few young women and maybe keep one or two for myself (if they weren't too awful).
The descriptions are delightful: Spicy roses with incense and amber dries down to a powdery snow of fluffy fur. And: The scent of the West Coast rain forest after the rain.
I've tried a couple of the samples on myself and they are divine. They're subtle, they don't leave that horrible trail of smell everywhere you go -- they're too intimate for that. I'm glad I tried this. It's important for me (and you too) to know that perfume is NOT the problem. Toxic chemicals are. Enjoy.
I bought perfume. I know, what was I thinking?
Environmental Working Group
We reached our goal!
WE DID IT!
With your support, we surpassed our goal by $40,000. Thank you. And the Pollution Solutions Gift Bag has become the green hit of the holiday season.
Since I told you about our goal of raising $175,000 last month, your response has been amazing.
EWG supporters donated over $215,000, including the $75,000 match, for a healthy and safe new year. Thank you.
One of the best parts of my job is reading what inspires you to give. Here are some of my favorite recent comments.
I was inspired to give to EWG because...
* I'm grateful for your work on sunscreen and cosmetics and kids' products. Keep up the good work!
* I've been using your site for years and have found it to be invaluable. Your advocacy is making a difference.
* I want to do my part in helping the world get greener.
* Instead of Christmas presents, my in-laws decide each year on a charity to give to, and this year they chose EWG.
* I am a nutritionist and always interested to find out about making the world a healthier place!
* I appreciate your fight for organics and the research you do to keep my family safe.
* You have finally offered me chocolate for a donation...excellent job!
With your support in 2008, we'll update Skin Deep, support the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, fight for organics, get dangerous chemicals out of your food and water, and protect your favorite national parks from mining damage.
Thank you again for all you do. You are making a real difference and I look forward to an even better 2008.
Happy holidays from all of us at EWG,
Ken Cook, President
and the EWG staff
I'm really steamed. I've come across this ridiculous sentiment enough times today to make my blood boil. I cannot believe anyone is this stupid. Please, tell me you don't think it's logical to expect a person to go find a new job because they have a serious reaction to the chemical soup in their workplace. This is just unbelievably ludicrous. I'm actually sputtering, I'm that mad.
I believe NIOSH and OSHA have something to say about toxic environments, don't they? Maybe we should give them a call. Or, how about the EPA? I've heard they have something to do with air quality. What do you think? Perhaps the Centers for Disease Control would like to put in their two cents worth.
Is it just me, or does it seem like there's a great big, gigantic, humongous gap here? On one side, we've got people who are saying that perfumes and fragranced products make them sick, from mildly uncomfortable to fully, flat-out, unable-to-function sick. Way over there are the people who don't think perfume is a problem and who think some people are just too sensitive and are making up a weird "disease" that doesn't really exist and we don't need to do anything to help them and besides, there are more important chemical problems to worry about, so those too sensitive folks should just get a different job if somebody is wearing perfume in their workplace.
Let's have a look at these notions. 1) Perfume is not a problem. Ok, it's true that real perfume, the kind that is made from purely botanical sources the old fashioned way, is not toxic. I don't know if people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) have problems with real perfume. BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT THE WOMAN IN THE CUBICLE DOWN THE WAY IS WEARING! Her perfume can be smelled two floors away. You know who and what I'm talking about. But the real question is, is perfume harmful (whether you have any "sensitivity" to it or not)? There's this:
"Fragrance is a known trigger of asthma. Many of the compounds in fragrance are suspected or proven carcinogens. Phthalates in perfumes are known hormone disruptors. In 1989 the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects. They identified 884 of them as toxic substances. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of perfumes contain toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus." (from the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia's site Guide to Less Toxic Products)
Moving right along, we have 2) Some people are just too sensitive. Hmmm, I'll admit it may, on the surface, appear that there are "too sensitive" types. But who gets to determine what is "too sensitive" and what is the right amount of sensitivity? We're probably actually fortunate to have these "too sensitive" folks around. Maybe they're like the canaries that used to go down into the mines with the miners. I do not suffer from MCS but I am sensitive to fragrances in my vicinity. I'm very aware of them and I do not like them. I do not, however, get a strong physical reaction like people with MCS get. For some people, the presence of fragranced products triggers migraines that can last three days. And it may not take very much to get that reaction. Are these people "too sensivitive?" I don't think so. And they have a right, yes, a right, to a non-threatening, non-harmful work environment.
Next we have 3) MCS is a weird "disease" (as in, it doesn't really exist because I don't know anybody who has it). It's true there is lots of debate on this one. Is it or isn't it? Well, let's see, if people miss work because of the poor indoor air quality, does that prove there's a condition of some sort? How about if the health care costs sky-rocket because of poor indoor air quality? Here are some statistics: "In 1992, EPA conservatively estimated that poor indoor air quality costs the U.S. $1 billion annually in lost productivity. That same year, the National Academy of Sciences estimated indoor air pollution contributes $15 to $100 billion annually to health care costs." (taken from An Overview of MCS by Cynthia Wilson, Executive Director of the Chemical Injury Information Network [CIIN]). There is substantial research into the causes and existence of MCS. At the request of the US Interagency Taskforce on Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, CIIN prepared a report on MCS as a global health problem. The report, written in 1995, documented MCS health problems in 36 countries. CIIN was the only group to be asked to make a presentation to the taskforce. The Wikipedia article is also enlightening. Please inform yourself before you go jamming your foot even farther down your own throat.
Here's 4) We don't need to do anything to help them. Yeah, you're really being asked to make a huge sacrifice. The important thing here is that, if you made some changes in your life to reduce the amount of fragrances you were putting into the environment, you'd ACTUALLY BE DOING YOUR OWN SELF A BIG FAVOR. Remember that part about it's harmful whether you're sneezing or not? That's a key part of this equation. You light your "aromatherapy" candles, throw those dryer sheets around like confetti and slap a few handfuls of your favorite odour du jour on your neck and you've just inhaled and absorbed a dose of toxic chemical soup. It's not good for you. Besides, not help other people who are suffering from something you have control over?? Come on. Who thinks that way?
Now for 5) There are more important chemical problems to worry about. This one is so silly I'm not sure I can even respond to it. Yes, there are lots of nasty chemicals floating and flying around in our environment and some will do more damage than others. SO WHAT?? Who says that new carpet chemicals are more harmful than the toluene, phthalates and coal tar in perfume? How would we ever adjudicate these sorts of questions? They're completely irrelevant anyway! Our focus, our impetus, our goal, our destination should always be no more damage, no more chemical soup, no more hiding our heads in the sand, no more letting some bit get by because some other bit is larger!
And last, but not least, 6) Get another job. There actually are people who think this is a kind of solution. They don't think the perfume wearer could help out by maybe wearing a lot less, or, god forbid, none. They don't think the perfume manufacturers should be taken to task for ignoring the research implicating their ingredients in horrific damage to reproductive systems. They don't think that human beings should be aware of and considerate of other human beings who are suffering and do something to help. So the person who is choking for 8 hours a day at their job because of the toxic perfume lady, should just quit that job and go find a different one. Doesn't matter if it's a job they've had for a long time, or a job they like a lot and do well, doesn't matter that it's a bad time to be unemployed. Nope. Never mind that stuff. If the perfume bothers you, go get another job. Unbelievable.
To those of you who have to endure someone in your workplace who doesn't have the good sense to tone down the perfume, I say, stand up and say something! Look at the research, print something you can use and take it to your boss or the perfume wearer's boss. Leave anonymous notes all over the place. Quietly ask others if they're having a problem, then hand out copies of the research to them. Form a coalition. By the way, in doing your research, you may come across information about how Canada is taking this much more seriously and has banned fragrances from hospitals and government offices. Use that. The CIIN is a good place to start. Then just trust in Google to take you where you need to go. Good luck and keep us posted.
I ordered a few books to help me become educated about the issues, the research and the agencies involved. It's scary to me how many of my assumptions have been wrong. For instance, one assumption is that there are federal agencies charged with overseeing these matters and they have laws they're following. Nope. There may be agencies charged with protection, but something else is going on. So, first on my list is Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power, by Mark Schapiro, an investigative journalist who reports for the Center for Investigative Reporting. I read the first couple of paragraphs and already I know this isn't going to be pleasant. But then, I didn't expect it to be. The next one is The Safe Shopper's Bible, a Consumer's Guide to Nontoxic Household Products, Cosmetics and Food. I glanced at the index and I have to say I was shocked that MSG wasn't there. How could that be? Perhaps after reading it, I'll know. On the surface it seems possible (if problematic) that they somehow missed it as a prevalent toxin. In their defense, I found this in the Author's Note in the front: "Anyone who knows of data that may alter the evaluation of the products and foods reviewed in this book is encouraged to make this information available to the authors by them, etc." This one is designed to help us figure out what to buy and what to avoid -- I guess that's pretty obvious. But along the way it educates. It lists the chemicals that are toxic and why they shouldn't be in the products we buy. Another not fun one. Next we have The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, the First Complete Survey of the Causes of Breast Cancer and the Steps you can Take to Reduce your Risks. These two books are by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., and David Steinman. Dr. Epstein is also the author of The Politics of Cancer Revisited and many other books about the causes and prevention of cancer. He's been fighting the two big agencies (National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society) that are supposedly on our side, for some years now. He doesn't think much of them and is not shy about it. And last, but not least, I've got Not Just a Pretty Face: the Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. This is the expose I hope everyone will read and heed. It's by Stacy Malkan. She is Communications Director of Health Care Without Harm and media strategist for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition working to eliminate hazardous chemicals from personal care products. Stacy is a former journalist and newspaper publisher who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Description of the book from Amazon.com:
Lead in lipstick? 1,4 dioxane in baby soap? Coal tar in shampoo? How is this possible?
Simple. The $35 billion cosmetics industry is so powerful that they've kept themselves unregulated for decades.
Not one cosmetic product has to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration before hitting the market. Incredible? Consider this:
- The European Union has banned more than 1,100 chemicals from cosmetics. The United States has banned just 10.
- Only 11% of chemicals used in cosmetics in the US have been assessed for health and safety – leaving a staggering 89% with unknown or undisclosed effects.
- More than 70% of all personal care products may contain phthalates, which are linked to birth defects and infertility.
- Many baby soaps are contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical 1,4 dioxane.
It's not just women who are affected by this chemists' brew. Shampoo, deodorant, face lotion and other products used daily by men, women and children contain hazardous chemicals that the industry claims are "within acceptable limits." But there's nothing acceptable about daily multiple exposures to carcinogenic chemicals — from products that are supposed to make us feel healthy and beautiful.
Not Just a Pretty Face delves deeply into the dark side of the beauty industry, and looks to hopeful solutions for a healthier future. This scathing investigation peels away less-than-lovely layers to expose an industry in dire need of an extreme makeover.
I'll keep you posted about what I read and any other books that make their way into my research project. I intend to be educated as well as self-righteous, so that when I go about on my high horse, I'll have something to say and it'll be the truth.
The list (on the right) of companies that make products that are better for you and the environment came from me just surfing around and reading about different products. It is by no means a particularly exhaustive list of the possible companies you could use. There is a directory of companies that have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics site. From that site: "These companies have pledged to not use chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation or birth defects in their products and to implement substitution plans that replace hazardous materials with safer alternatives in every market they serve. Several major cosmetics companies, including OPI, Avon, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal, Revlon, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever have thus far refused to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics." (emphasis and color added) I suggest you take some time and look at that site. They have excellent information, good links, up-to-date news and, of course, the list of signers. It's an important site -- bookmark it. That's how a self-righteous asshole makes a suggestion.
Also, I've mentioned Guide to Less Toxic Products before, but it's pertinent here because in each section, i.e., personal care, household, etc., they list companies that are safer. It's another excellent site that is worth returning to again and again. It has some very useful links -- like to sites for making your own make-up. Hmmm.
None of these companies know that I made this list; they're not paying me.
I've bought products from FragranceFree Body Products and like them a lot. They weren't expensive, they have almost no odor to them at all and they feel great. I tried their face cleaner powder, skin lotion, skin balm and soap. Yummy. Otherwise, I have no recommendations. Please let us know your experiences with various companies. If you find products you like, let us know; if a company is lying, tell us!
I signed up to receive emails from Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home. Her site is full of information, and links, and a Green Living Q&A. I was reading the section about Burt's Bees Products today and was amazed at the number of people who have had a not-so-good reaction to Burt's products. I once used a "berry" scented shampoo and conditioner and was appalled at the horrible smell that stayed and stayed and stayed in my hair. It took multiple washings with a totally unscented product to get the smell out. So these readers had suggestions about other products they use. Here are two of them:
We offer a wonderful line of all-natural products scented with essential oils that promote relaxation and healing. Our scents include: LavenMint, Lavender and Chamomile/Lavender. For those that are interested in Bath & Body Care Products that are unscented, please ask for Moonbeam.
Hugo Natural Apothecary’s luxurious products are as easy on the earth as they are excellent for your body and hair. Loaded with nature’s finest ingredients – like jojoba ester, coconut oil, shea butter and nutrient-rich botanical extracts – our treatments restore your skin and hair to their most beautiful, healthiest state, without using harsh additives or fillers.Enjoy!
Always on the lookout for something positive to balance the godawful negative, I found this wonderful article about the owner of a salon called dtox. Now, this is my kind of place! Thank you to Edwards Magazine for bringing me this story and thank you to Ashley for being brave and smart. And the really really really good news is: she's making more money than ever. Whooohooo.
Okay, so I won't be going there any time soon, but who knows? I might just take a trip to Alberta for the sheer pleasure of visiting such a place.
I admit I'm feeling discouraged. Ginormous multinational companies own the world. They seem impervious to any change us wee mortals might wish to make. They do what they want, they make lots of money and that's that. But what if we could do something to affect them? What if we had more power than we thought? Think about it: The tobacco companies went about their business making cigarettes and handing them out to unsuspecting men and women in the work force and in the military. Pretty soon the tobacco companies had an addicted consumer base. Cigarette smoking was normal, it was average, it was everywhere. I'm sure you've seen movies from the '50's and '60's in which everyone is smoking. It was no big deal. And those companies just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and more powerful. They had (and still do have) very powerful lobbyists and congressmen. But they've taken hit after hit and they're shrinking. Maybe the day will come when they won't exist. But don't think for a minute that they're not still playing the game -- they want your money and they don't give a flying fuck about your health, no matter how much they want you to think otherwise. It's absolutely no different with a company like L'Oreal or SCJohnson. Do not think for one minute that they are not all about the bottom line. They only only ONLY care about money. They do NOT care about you, your family, your health. They do not. They will go to any lengths to protect their market share, to continue to sell products and to make the hugest possible profit.
Side note: Back in September, the Natural Resources Defense Council took it upon themselves to test 14 air fresheners for phthalates (pronounced thal-ates) -- hazardous chemicals known to cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems. None of the 14 products listed phthalates as an ingredient but 86% (12 of 14) of the products tested, including those advertised as "all-natural" or "unscented," contained phthalates. You can read NRDC's complete report here. Well, 4 of the 12 that contained phthalates are products made by the SCJohnson Company. The day after the NRDC report was released SCJohnson peed their pants and started waving their arms about the inaccuracy of the study, the bias of NRDC and so on. Hmmmm. Methinks thou doth protest too much. If you want to read Johnson's denial of responsibility it's here. Why would they go off like that? Doesn't that tell you something? It says to me they're scared. It also says to me they will probably be looking for ways to get rid of phthalates (without admitting any wrongdoing) from their products. But they'll do it quietly and in a way that will allow them to later say "See, we really do care about you and your family." Such bullshit.
What matters is that we do something. We can make a difference. We can change things that we don't like. I know it's hard. I know those companies are huge. But I also know it's possible to make them do the right thing. The NRDC's report did something. I know, I know-- you and I are not going to be conducting lab tests anytime soon. But we can boycott products that we know are going to hurt us and our loved ones. That's an excellent start. Use resources like SkinDeep and Guide to Less Toxic Products, be a smart consumer. Tell those big bullies you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it any more!