As a woman and a mother, it's important to me to set an example of wellness and health for my two young girls; that's why I've fought so hard to empower consumers with the knowledge to make smart choices, especially when it comes to personal care products.
I know there's a lot of information to take in, so to make things easier, here are the top three ingredients I think you should start avoiding right now:
Parabens are a group of chemicals that are associated with a wide range of health risks, including skin irritation, reproductive health issues and cancer. Some of them, known as "longer-chained parabens," can mimic estrogen, disrupting the hormone system. They are added to a wide range of cosmetic products as a preservative, so look out for "parabens" on labels of everything from moisturizers to toothpastes.
Phthalates turn up in everything from nail polish to fragrances to plastics. They, too, can disrupt the hormone system. They also increase the risk of birth defects affecting the reproductive system and can damage sperm cells. Look for phthalates on product labels and avoid anything with the generic term "fragrance," a catchall word for various combinations of chemicals that potentially include phthalates.
Microbeads are tiny plastic particles added to face washes and body scrubs to exfoliate skin. The problem is that these minuscule bits of plastic are designed to simply wash down the drain, and they don't break down in the environment. They've been found in alarming quantities throughout the Great Lakes. They also act as tiny sponges for other toxic substances, so when fish or other wildlife ingest them the animals are exposed to toxic phthalates, PCBs and other chemicals. Some states and companies are taking action to ban these troublesome particles, but you should still watch out for them: Look for "polyethylene" on ingredient labels.
We're all busy, and it can be hard to find the time to research every product you buy and educate yourself on the thousands of chemicals we're exposed to every single day. But by taking small steps, like eliminating parabens, phthalates and microbeads in your cosmetics, you can help create a healthier future for yourself and your loved ones.
To learn more about cosmetics safety, check out my video course, or learn how your favorite products score on EWG's Skin Deep® database.
Heather White is a conservation policy and green living expert. She is the CEO and founder of OneGreenThing.org and the author of One Green Thing: Discover Your Hidden Power to Help Save the Planet.
Heather’s former role as the leader of the nonprofit Yellowstone Forever was to connect people to Yellowstone National Park through outstanding environmental educational programs and provide millions of dollars in philanthropic support to the park. Previously, Heather was the executive director of Environmental Working Group (EWG), director of education advocacy for National Wildlife Federation, and counsel to U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, and an associate in a large law firm. Heather received her bachelor's degree in environmental science from the University of Virginia and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tennessee College of Law. She's a frequent spokesperson in the national media and has been a featured expert on environmental law and policy on Dr. OZ, MSNBC, PBS, CBS and in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Guardian, and USA Today. She lives in Bozeman, Montana.