How To Clean Up Your Personal Care Product Routine From An MD

Functional Medicine Doctor By Amy Myers, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor
Amy Myers, M.D. is a renowned leader in functional medicine living in Austin, Texas. She is a New York Times best-selling author of both The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection, and received her doctorate in medicine from the LSU Health Sciences Center.
Woman wiping her face during a waterless beauty routine

Image by Bisual Studio / Stocksy

Whether you are a man, woman, or child, it is likely that you use some form of personal care products daily. From the moment you stumble out of bed, the routine begins: You brush your teeth with toothpaste; cleanse your skin with soap or shower gel; wash your face with face wash; suds your scalp with shampoo and conditioner; use shaving cream and aftershave; apply lotion, deodorant, perfume or cologne, sunscreen; and maybe you add makeup into the mix. Stop for a moment and think about how many personal care or cosmetic products you use in a day. How many did you come up with—two, five, 10, or 15?

According to the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average American uses approximately 10 to 15 personal care products with a total of 126 ingredients daily. This figure doesn't even take into account reapplications of products throughout the day. We brush our teeth at least two times a day. We wash our hands multiple times a day. We reapply sunscreen every few hours that we are in the sun. We may even shower more than once per day. When you do the math, it's incredible to consider the number of items that we slather across our skin. However, the number of products used isn't the issue; rather, it's the ingredients in those products that cause concern.

Ingredients by the numbers.

An average of seven new industrial chemicals get approval by the U.S. government daily, and 80% of these are approved in three weeks or less with little or no safety testing. Many of these industrial chemicals are the basic ingredients in our cosmetics and personal care products. Currently, the government does not regulate the safety of these cosmetic and personal care products. Instead, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an industry-appointed and funded panel, reviews the safety of cosmetic ingredients. According to EWG, there are approximately 10,500 ingredients used in cosmetics in our country, and in its 30-year history, the CIR has screened only 11% of those ingredients. This means that nearly 90% of cosmetics ingredients are left, unreviewed and untested for safety.

The cosmetic industry argues that it's OK to put these untested and potentially dangerous ingredients into products because only tiny amounts are used in each product, and therefore they are not harmful. However, if each of us is using 10 or more products a day, and you add to that several applications a day and multiply that over a lifetime, then these chemicals do add up. This is why "clean" cosmetics have become a growing concern for many.

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The problem with labels.

And what's even worse is the number of loopholes that the cosmetic industry has in place to make it difficult for even the most educated consumer to read and understand its labels. For example, the industry is not required to use the FDA's ingredient name convention guidelines. Therefore, one ingredient can be spelled and labeled many ways in different products. Any product with the word "fragrance" could have virtually anything in it and need not be disclosed to the consumer because the chemicals that go into making a fragrance are considered "trade secrets." In one study by the EWG, phthalates were found in 75% of all products yet was not listed on the label but rather hidden in the word "fragrance."

What you can do:

  • Avoid any products that contain these ingredients: parabens, phthalates, sodium laurel sulfate, propylene glycol, DEA, diazolidinyl urea, butyl acetate, butylated hydroxytoluene, ethyl acetate, toluene, triethanolamine, petrolatum, and "fragrance." These are often called the Dirty Dozen.
  • Replacing old products: If you can purge the products, throw away everything in your bathroom, kitchen, etc., that contains the ingredients listed above and replace them with cleaner alternatives. If the idea of tossing everything is too overwhelming or cost-prohibitive, set a goal of replacing one item per week or month until you have replaced everything.
  • When purchasing "natural" or "organic," make sure it's been vetted: The U.S. government does not regulate the words "natural" or "organic." To carry USDA Organic Seal of Approval, at least 95% of the ingredients must be organic.
  • Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG): The group's website, www.ewg.org, has a comprehensive cosmetics database called its "Skin Deep Report," which ranks products on a 0-to-10 scale of toxicity.

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