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Organic Consumers Association

Why Your Natural, Organic Soap, Cosmetics and Other Personal Care Products May Be Bad for You

It all began with toxic nail polish. About a decade ago, Jane Houlihan, who is now the senior vice president of research at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), was researching phthalates, a class of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, in nail polish. A few years later, the organization Health Care Without Harm, which was working to get phthalates out of medical supplies and equipment, noticed data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showing that women of child-bearing age had high levels of phthalates in their bodies. They wondered why -- and suspected cosmetics. Teaming up with Houlihan and EWG, they tested a wide range of personal care products -- none of which listed phthalates on their labels -- and found that over 70 percent contained phthalates.

The environmental groups then wondered what other chemicals were used in the cosmetics and personal care products that we put on our bodies every day. A lot, as it turns out. As EWG and partner organizations like the Breast Cancer Fund and Women's Voices for the Earth began researching chemicals in commonly used cosmetics, they found phthalates, formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane (a carcinogen), and even lead in everyday products like lipstick, nail polish, deodorant, and shampoo. Many more ingredients hadn't been tested for safety -- ever. "Reading labels is important," says Stacy Malkan, one of the original co-founders of the cosmetics campaign and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, "but there are even more dangerous ingredients that aren't listed on the label. And it doesn't have to be this way."


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