Mercury, formaldehyde, long chain parabens, and PFAS aren’t chemicals you’d expect to come in contact with every day. Especially direct contact. Chemicals like these, after all, are strong enough to embalm a body.

But what if I told you certain brands of make-up, face wash, personal care products, and cosmetics are indeed made with toxic chemicals like these. Yes, federal safety rules are in place to govern such chemicals in personal care products. Yet as mind boggling as it seems, the rules haven’t been updated in 80 years!

It’s a bizarre dynamic, and to help dissect it, my colleague and fellow Encamper Julie Ragains joined in on this particular EHS Moment discussion. Julie is a Solutions Engineer at Encamp, and we did a short Q&A to get her perspective.

I’ve summarized her thoughts here, although you can catch our full discussion in our EHS Moment video. 

Q: You have a passion for seeking out natural and organic personal care products and cosmetics. Why is the topic important to you? 

A: I started doing research and found that many of the ingredients in the products I use were endocrine disrupting chemicals and highly toxic. I’ve always cared about the ingredients in my food, and decided I needed to take the same approach to the personal care products I use in my everyday life as well. 

Q: What now? Are states and governments making any progress in what chemicals can and can’t be used in cosmetics? 

A: As you mentioned, the regulations governing this industry haven’t changed in 80 years. At a federal level, the Personal Care Products Safety Act has been introduced to protect consumer health and strengthen the FDA’s efforts to regulate ingredients in personal care products. And at the state level, California recently signed a bill that will ban the use of 24 toxic chemicals in personal care products. This is huge! 

Q: What else have you learned from your research? 

A: What stood out most to me is how aggressively these dangerous products are marketed to Black women and how much the problem disproportionately affects them. Black women who dye their hair using these kinds of products, for instance, are 60% more likely to develop breast cancer. This statistic is incredibly alarming. (Actor and comedian Chris Rock made a documentary in 2009 on this very topic. Ironically, the documentary is titled Good Hair.) 

Q: What natural and organic brands are you using? 

A: FoxBrim Naturals is an awesome, affordable skincare product available on Amazon. Nubian Heritage is another one — the best lotion ever with some amazing scents! — which I get at my grocery store. Still another super affordable skincare option is Cocokind, whose products have five ingredients or less. And Honest Beauty cosmetics, which were founded by Jessica Alba, can be found at Target or online. These products work just as well as traditional makeup without all the junk.

Thankfully, other major personal care brands are making similar progress on their own. Covergirl, for example, recently came out with a line of Clean Fresh cosmetics that are free of parabens, formaldehydes, sulfates, talc, etc. It’s really good to see a brand that’s so accessible take this step.

As we see more awareness around this issue, I’d expect to see industry take the lead on this. The consumer wants what the consumer wants! They just don’t want their personal care products to be full of toxic chemicals.