Happy Friday! Big news: Scientific groups representing more than 40,000 researchers and clinicians have come together in the pages of the super-influential journal Science to insist that federal regulators do more—and do more, more quickly—to assess the human safety of the 12,000 new substances registered every day at the American Chemical Society.
“The need for swifter and sounder testing and review procedures cannot be overstated,” the letter says.
The letter’s corresponding author Patricia Hunt, a professor in the Washington State University School of Molecular Biosciences, said:
“As things stand now,” she added, “things get rapidly into the marketplace and the testing of them is tending to lag behind.”
Hunt told ScienceDaily that the letter was inspired by growing concerns about BPA, which more than 300 studies have found to cause adverse health effects in animals. Hormone disruptors more broadly, were also of concern. She says:
“Hormones control everything—our basic metabolism, our reproduction. We call them endocrine disruptors. They’re like endocrine bombs to a certain extent because they can disrupt all these normal functions.”
Boom. She also said one of the problems is that the methods used to assess safety—primarily toxicology—are insufficient. “The FDA and EPA need to look beyond the toxicology of substances to the other ways chemicals can affect us. … One of the problems they have is they look at some of the science and don’t know how to interpret it because it’s not done using the traditional toxicology testing paradigm,” she said. “We need geneticists, we need developmental and reproductive biologists and we need the clinical people on board to actually help interpret and evaluate some of the science.”
I think this qualifies as a sign that things are changing, no?
Fantastic news coming out of Denmark. The country’s environment ministry announced today that it was banning two parabens in products for kids under 3, making it the first in Europe to ban those pesky hormone disruptors. Hey, it only applies to kids’ products, but it’s a HUGE start. I’m curious to see what will happen. Will companies start reformulating for Denmark only? Will they just replace parabens with another cheap synthetic preservative like phenoxyethanol, which is also on our black list in the book? Will the EU follow suit? Will the United States? (That last one was a joke. Kind of.)
You can read all about it in Danish or stay tuned for more news from us. And if you speak Danish, would you be a doll and email us at nomoredirtylooks at gmail dot com? Grazie!
Two weeks ago, upon landing at LAX with a couple of friends, I got a text message from Alexandra warning me about something of critical importance to people like us.
The hotel we’d be staying at, the text message read, was scent branded. Her sister had already checked in and the word was out: It totally reeked in the lobby, but not to worry—the rooms weren’t scented.
How bad could it be? I thought. Turns out, really, really bad. The lobby, the hallways on every floor and even the bath products (which I would never use anyway, unless… well, we’ll get to that). The fragrance is probably best described as spicy, toxic coconut. And it was intense—even to people less fussy about such things.
On our second day there, we were chatting up the concierge and I asked him if he liked it. He looked a little sheepish and said “People either love it or hate it,” and left it at that. It got me thinking about two things. First, how lucky I am to work in a field where inhaling chemicals all day is not an occupational hazard. Second, how powerful scent is in affecting, informing and remembering different experiences.
Example: Yesterday someone popped by my office at work smelling terrific. She was wearing a Chanel perfume I used to spritz myself with daily—it’s one of these classic fragrances that’s a little different on everyone, but always smells fantastic. I was struck by how much I liked it, because in my quest to clean out all my products, and forgo perfume altogether, I tend to react pretty badly to synthetic fragrances of all kinds. Like the toxic coconut at that hotel, for example, or the too-close-to-me dude on the train who bathes in Axe.
Smell, we’re told, is our most powerful sense for memory triggers, which is probably why my coworker smelled so good to me, and why it made me really like having her in my office (well that and her lovely disposition, obvs). Because I wore that perfume when I was falling in love years ago, and it reminds me of a really happy time. There are a few smells I still love: Old Spice deodorant on dudes; Tide; my mom’s Hanae Mori perfume, which Alexandra and I also used to wear; J+J baby lotion. What do they all have in common? Very fond memories!
So back to the hotel. On day three I was no longer sharing a room with my friend Anna, who, unlike me, didn’t forget her shampoo and conditioner at home. Day one I used her stash. Day two I didn’t wash my hair. And day three I was out of luck. Needing a wash for a big event that night—oh you know, just ALEXANDRA’S WEDDING—I was left with no choice but to use the hotel’s “signature” stash. Holy crap was that a bad idea. I spent all day complaining about how terrible it smelled; I got a headache; I tried to spray my hair with other things to mask the smell, to no avail. Alexandra’s sister even offered me her shower and her stuff and I declined, against my better judgment. The result? I was really, really mad at the hotel!
But here’s the thing. I loved that hotel. The rooms were massive, the staff was charming and attractive, the outside couch area was an urban oasis and the brussell sprouts at the restaurant were bananas. When I think about being there, I think about happy times. And yet I am fairly certain that if I had to smell that coconut concoction again, it would completely—and negatively—affect my memory of the place.
So we want to know—if you’re already all cleaned up with your cosmetics or even if you aren’t: What synthetic smells do you still love? And are they attached to fond memories?
There was an interesting article this morning on MSNBC about how some women just don’t care about formaldehyde if they can get frizz-free hair. From the piece:
“Chemicals are a way of life now,” says Stefeny Anderson, a 36-year-old event planner from Renton, Wash., who got her first Brazilian Blowout two weeks ago in an effort to tame “corkscrew curls” that frizz at the slightest hint of rain (a given in Washington state). “It’s not like you’re putting it in your hair every day.”
One thing we’ve tried to make abundantly clear is that if you know what’s in your products, and you want to go ahead and use them anyways because you like the cosmetic result, we think that’s fine. What is tricky about the Brazilian blowout, though, is that even if somene is cool with some formaldehyde, the workers are the ones being exposed to those fumes on a daily basis—to say nothing of the other clients in the salon at the time, who didn’t sign up for the BB.
Now if Brazilian blowouts were always done in glass boxes, like the weird smoking room at the airport, and everyone who walked in knew what they were signing up for—well, hey, that would be a different story.
What’s your take?
If you grew up in Canada like we did, you probably grew up loving David Suzuki. The environmentalist and educator has been ahead of so many issues for so long, so we were quite delighted to see that the foundation that bears his name has taken on cosmetics. Yesterday they announced the findings of their months-long research into cosmetics, and they’ve unveiled their own Dirty Dozen, which has a lot in common with the ingredients we warn about in the book (where we show you how to actually find these mysterious things on product labels, and in which products they appear). We like their list!
We’d love to see Canada pave the way for reform, but considering the head of the cosmetics industry in Canada is also a former government health official, we won’t be holding our breath.
You can download the complete PDF here. And read on to see what made their list:
1. BHA and BHT
2. Coal tar dyes
4. Dibutyl phthalate
5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
8. PEG compounds
11. Sodium laureth sulfate