Healthier body care

Why standards matter

Sound Consumer | May 2012

The brands are unfamiliar. The prices look high. What happened to your favorite shampoo?

We hear you. Yes, some products are gone. And yes, the new brands are a bit pricey — but well worth it if you value your health.

The shampoos and lotions you don't see anymore contain ingredients with risks we don't want to pass on to you. They don't meet our standards. Here's why.

Almost any chemical can be an ingredient in personal care products. This includes shampoos, conditioners, lotions, cosmetics and skin and body care products. There is no required safety testing of ingredients or products.

Personal care products can make unsubstantiated claims about benefits. They may have misleading or incomplete ingredient labels. Many shoppers are unaware of this lack of regulation in the personal care industry.

PCC adopted the standards of the Natural Products Association (NPA) to protect our interests as health-conscious consumers. In 2010 the NPA created a list of ingredients not acceptable in products labeled "natural." It includes suspected carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and ingredients with other health risks. (See chart on right)

We've asked the vendors of all our skin, facial and body care products to comply with the NPA standard. Many brands at PCC already comply and PCC is working with others that are striving to become compliant by reformulating. PCC has discontinued brands and products that are choosing not to comply.

We're also welcoming back brands that have reformulated to meet NPA standards. Kiss My Face, for instance, has reformulated its liquid soaps, bath and shower gels, and shaving creams. Desert Essence has reformulated products that previously didn't meet NPA standards. Avalon Organics has reformulated most of its line and is working on the rest.

Without the diligence of our merchandisers and support from PCC shoppers like you, this wouldn't have happened. We want cleaner, safer products and we need your continued support to keep them on our shelves.

In categories of products, such as toothpaste, that may contain an ingredient that doesn't meet NPA standards, we provide choices. The ingredient sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), for example, does not meet NPA standards and is pervasive in toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant. SLS is not in any shampoos at PCC or the vast majority of toothpaste brands we sell, such as Comvita, Coral White, Desert Essence, Ecodent, Essential Oxygen, Heritage, Kiss My Face, Nature's Answer, Organix, Nature's Gate and Burt's Bees. Most Tom's of Maine toothpastes still contain SLS, except the ones labeled Clean & Gentle.

About the standard

Products that meet the NPA standard for "natural" have ingredients that "come or are made from a renewable resource found in nature (flora, fauna, mineral), with absolutely no petroleum compounds." The NPA website currently lists 806 ingredients as safe, and there could be more. The NPA seal may appear on a label only if at least 95 percent of a product's ingredients meet the NPA standard.

A synthetic non-natural ingredient can be used only when there is not a readily available natural alternative ingredient and only when there are no suspected human health risks.

"We periodically review these synthetic ingredients to determine if natural alternatives are commercially available," says Cara Welch, Ph.D., vice president of scientific & regulatory affairs at NPA.

The standard also states that a company must be fully transparent, listing its ingredients "accurately and truthfully." This is not standard practice in the industry.

The NPA standard does not allow animal testing for ingredients or final products. It also requires that companies strive to use only recyclable or post-recycled packaging.

The NPA website lists 37 banned ingredients, "but really any synthetic ingredient that isn't specifically allowed is prohibited," says Dr. Welch.

Prohibited ingredients include parabens, SLS; sodium laureth sulfate, petrolatum/mineral oil/paraffin, chemical sunscreens (avobenzone/oxybenzone), glycols, phthalates, and formaldehyde donors. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors and toxic irritants.

The research

It's good so many natural choices are available, given the growing body of research showing that chemicals in conventional products can have serious negative health impacts.

"Personal care products may be the primary exposure route for many chemicals that raise significant health concerns," said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group in testimony before Congress in 2008.

According to the Campaign for Safer Cosmetics, "research indicates that many personal care products ... contain chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, skin problems and other health effects." Pthalates, for example, which are common in cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, hair products and nail polishes, are hormone disruptors linked to birth deformities, reproductive problems and cancer.

New research indicates the chemicals in conventional products also are linked to obesity. Paula Baillie-Hamilton, M.D., Ph.D., calls chemicals such as phthalates, "chemical calories" because they can mimic hormones and prevent normal hormonal responses that impact metabolism.

A recent report in "Obesity Reviews" analyzed 450 studies on hormone disruptors and obesity and found nearly every study showed a strong correlation between the two, especially when subjects were exposed to the chemicals in utero or as young children.

"Endocrine disruptors may play a significant role in obesity," says the report's author, Jeanett Tang-Peronard, although she acknowledges the research is just in its infancy. Remember, there's no required safety testing of ingredients or products, and only a few of the tens of thousands of known environmental chemicals have been tested for an association with obesity.

The environment and other animals also suffer from chemicals in personal care products. The hormone-disrupting chemicals in shampoos, for example, may not be removed by water treatment systems after they wash down your drain. Eventually they join the watershed, and damage fish (at least), causing male fish to grow ovaries.

One study looked at the fish downstream from where treated sewage was released into a river. Researchers discovered female fish outnumbered males 9 to 1, a disparity attributed to hormone disruptors in the water.

Scandals involving mercury in face cream, formaldehyde in hair products, and lead in lipstick have people calling for meaningful regulations of body care products.

In March, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held the first Congressional hearing on safety in cosmetics in more than 30 years. Three legislative proposals are circulating including the Safe Cosmetics Act, which would phase out carcinogenic and reproductive toxins in cosmetics, provide a safety standard, require full disclosure of ingredients, and give Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to recall dangerous products from the market.

The bill is being supported by more than 100 consumer, public health, medical, faith and environmental groups.

Read our favorite picks for lotions, shampoos and other body care products.

More about: health and body care products, Natural Products Association, product standards

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