Beauty and Brains: What’s in Your Products

Education, Empowerment, and Awareness are the words which propel us at willa. One of our core goals is to address the growing need of young people to develop an understanding of what they are putting on their skin and in their bodies. Most of us like to assume that the products on the shelves of our favorite drugstore are safe- we tend to leave the job of worrying about their ingredients to the FDA. In reality, this is not the case— most chemicals entering the marketplace go virtually unregulated, meaning little screening is done in determining what chemicals are truly safe. Here’s a direct quote from the FDA’s website: “Cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products. …” LIKE WHAT. SERIOUSLY?! The issue here is a lack of information and regulation. The results we do have are lacking and pretty inconclusive overall, which is why up until recently, there has been little awareness and understanding of what ingredients are in our products. Some of these chemicals we’re talking about here are called endocrine disruptors, or phthalates, which have been found everywhere-  from pesticides and plastics to your run of the mill shampoos, makeup, and skincare products, to even cash register receipts. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals which act like sex hormones and confuse the body.

I know the last thing you want to see are graphs which probably look they were taken from one of your school textbooks (the horror!) but it’s pretty interesting to know what exactly is goin’ on here…


As mentioned in a recent NYT article, many of these toxic and unregulated chemicals have been linked to  breast and prostate cancer, genital deformities, obesity, diabetes and infertility. SO not ok. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics extended on this idea in a recent report, focusing on the threat these chemicals pose to human reproduction. Exposure during pregnancy has a ton of long term health-related ramifications… these guys stated that virtually every pregnant woman in the USA has at least 43 different chemical contaminants in her body. The National Cancer Institute stated that  “to a disturbing extent babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’” This idea worries me. Of course, remaining vigilant and cautious about what you put on your skin and in your body is always important, but especially right now. There are certain stages of human development, such as during pregnancy and adolescence (so for many of you, that’s now), where we are much more susceptible to the potential health impacts of these chemicals. Because of our vulnerability during these “critical” and “sensitive” periods, it is important that we start taking action now.

The EU has been killing it when it comes to ensuring that products in their markets are safe. Their REACH program (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) requires manufacturers to submit a full set of toxicity data to the European Chemical Agency before a product can be approved. This aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental and human health protection through preventative decision-making and earlier identification of harmful substances. They place priority in taking action protecting consumers when there is  substantial evidence suggesting a chemical is potentially dangerous. The US government requires muuuch much more information and proof before any regulatory action takes place. Unlike in the EU, we place more of a responsibility on the industry, not the government, to provide protective safety info on certain chemicals.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t live in a country such as one in the EU, which takes these measures in ensuring the safety of the products on their markets. So it’s up to us. We can’t wait around for legislators to lobby new bills, but need to take charge of instigating change and protecting our bodies.The key is being aware and knowing what is in your products, which all starts with having the information (which I hoped this little post has helped with, but make sure to check out some of the links below). The Environmental Working Group has an awesome and really helpful database which has more than 79,000 personal care products ranked by level of hazard (we’re on there too, check it out). Despite all this, there are still thousands of chemicals in our products which still go unregulated and are not properly assessed.

Right now, it seems as if everywhere we look there are ads promoting “volumizing”, “plumping” and “24 hour” products, which are easily accessible and promise to give us our desired look. Often, most of these products contain toxic chemicals which have slipped their way through the loose regulation of the FDA and landed in our local drugstore, or makeup department. I know the health risks that some of these chemicals pose seem really long term, and too far off to be applicable to your life, but it is so important to protect your body now for the future.