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Green Bathroom Cabinet: Stand By Your Brand?

By Angelique LeDoux
August 12, 2009
File under: Health, Personal Care, Products


Take a look inside your bathroom cabinet. Have you used the same toothpaste or deodorant your entire life? Maybe you’ve tried others, but you still come back to your tried and true? After all, we’re talking serious stuff… the source of your fresh breath and sparkling white teeth; your clear, flawless skin.

If you learned that your brand contained ingredients with potentially harmful side effects, would you make a change? Maybe you’re betting that if the product hasn’t killed you yet, it probably won’t. But if you’re not the gambling type, how do you find out what personal care products are safe? The answer depends whom you ask.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not test cosmetics before they are sold in stores. Cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients, according to the FDA site.

However, the FDA does restrict the use of several ingredients used in cosmetic products such as: bithionol; mercury compounds (except in certain eye area cosmetics); the use of vinyl chloride; certain halogenated salicylanilides; aerosol products containing zirconium; chloroform; methylene chloride; chlorofluorocarbon propellants; and some cattle materials. (Yikes!) And be aware that manufacturers are not required to register their cosmetics, ingredient information or cosmetic-related injuries to the FDA, although they do offer a voluntary program.

We, the consumer are given one heads up at the urging of the FDA – a mere warning label that manufacturers may use that reads: “Warning—the safety of this product has not been determined.”

As a parent, let me just say that a warning like that wouldn’t make me feel good about my choice, especially if I’m giving that product to my toddler. But that’s the current regulation.
So, are the personal care products you currently use safe or not?

Here are some useful resources, but as always, consider the source of the information—and the industry behind the funding of the information. And keep things in perspective. If you have concerns about a potentially harmful ingredient in your brand, find a replacement.,¹ provides safety information and an ingredient database. The site permits (industry) members to post information about ingredients contained in or used in the manufacture of their products.
Just an FYI: this site can make formaldehyde sound good.

• The Cosmetic Ingredient Review,² (CIR) is a panel of nominated physicians and scientists whose job is to review and assess cosmetic ingredient safety data. The CIR qualifies ingredients as: safe as used, safe with qualifications, insufficient data or unsafe. Their current findings are available on their website (see below).

If you’re like me, you’d probably rather type in the name of your product to check its safety rating rather than go through individual ingredients.  If so, try the Skin Deep website:

Environmental Working Group’s SKIN DEEP Cosmetic Safety Database³ According to the EWG, nearly one-third of all personal care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer. And while some companies make products that are safe enough to eat, others use known carcinogens or developmental toxins in their products.

The EWG researches ingredients of thousands of products and offers a searchable database of its findings, in addition to a list of what not to buy.

A bit of a warning: This site may freak you out so badly that you’ll be afraid to use anything on your body, so start with the EWG’s safe shopping tips.

Environmental Working Group’s Safe Shopping Tips:

  • Avoid problematic ingredients: products that contain placenta, mercury, lead, fragrance, animal parts, nanoparticles, hydroquinone skin lightener, phthalates and petroleum byproducts
  • Use fewer products to reduce potential health risks
  • Read labels carefully, use milder soaps
  • Minimize dark hair dyes
  • Cut down on use of powders
  • Choose fragrance-free ingredients
  • Reduce your use of nail polish

See more details about problematic ingredients at:

  1. is sponsored by the Personal Care Products Council –formerly the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), a trade association for the industry.
  2. Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) was established and funded by the CTFA (now the PCPC) with the support of the FDA.
  3. Environmental Working Group’s SKIN DEEP Cosmetic Safety Database is a non-profit with a mission to protect vulnerable segments of the population from health problems and contaminants, and replace federal policies that damage the environment with policies that invest in sustainable development and conservation.
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