With 84,000 chemicals listed as being legally safe to use in food, drugs and cosmetics – yet most of them are seen as questionable – it’s hard to imagine what they are used for and how they came to being considered acceptable in the first place? When you realise most of these ingredients are described as having health concerns for example they are carcinogenic, skin sensitive or endocrine disrupting, it its even more disturbing to imagine how they get to stay on the market.
Understanding labels on your personal care products, cosmetics and packaged foods seems like you need a science and chemistry degree. And you are not wrong. It is one of the most confusing and sometimes scary challenges you may actually be faced with.
Think about how many times you have picked up a bottle or jar to read the ingredients label only to realize you have no idea what some of them actually are, let alone how to pronounce them? Have you ever questioned why they are even in there? What’s their point?
One of the most common answers questioning safety is, ‘They wouldn’t put it in there, if is wasn’t safe!’ How lovely it would be to believe that was true. Trusting everything you read, or believing manufacturers will put health before filling their pockets sadly is not a reality in the food, beauty and cosmetic industries.
I have a simple strategy when it comes to choosing products I buy. When I pick up any product I instantly turn to the ingredients label, not the nutritional label, not the marketing material but the ingredients. It only takes me a couple of seconds to determine if it is something I will buy or not. There are a number of things I look for.
With food if I see numbers – especially things like 951 (aspartame) or 621 (MSG) – or words like flavor, colour or preservative it instantly goes back on the shelf. End of story. Non-negotiable. Not bought.
Just to show you how much the context of our food is changing, in the 1960’s there were approximately 500 known food additives . Today there are over 4,500. According to Dr Sarah Lantz – author of Chemical Free Kids – the average person in the USA, UK and Australia consume on average four kilograms of chemicals a year in the form of additives and preservatives. This does not include the pesticide residues in food before processing, nor does it include the leaching of plasticisers (phthalates) into food from plastic tin-can linings and packaging.
When it comes to personal care products it is actually worse. The governing legislation is very unregulated. According to the Environmental Working Group – www.ewg.org personal care products are manufactured with 10,500 unique chemical ingredients, some of which, as mentioned above are known or suspected carcinogens, toxic to the reproductive system or known to disrupt the endocrine system. Though some companies make products that would be safe to eat, others choose to use dangerous ingredients like coal tar and formaldehyde, both human carcinogens and lead acetate a developmental toxin.
When I pick up a personal care or cosmetic product, again I look at what exactly is in it. To make it easy here are some of the things I look out for as to whether or not I will purchase it.
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