After a long day at the hot beach it can feel like heaven to take a shower to get rid of all the sand and sticky sea water. While rinsing you may or may not notice a sign that warns of no shampoo or body wash in the showers which might seem strange seeing as you’re using, well…a shower. It can be tempting to ignore this sign but I’ll explain why you shouldn’t.
About 8 million people a year visit Pinellas County parks with direct access to the beach, many of them using the shower facilities. The showers provided by the county drain directly into the ocean. Unlike the wastewater that drains from your shower at home it is never processed through a water facility.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines cosmetics as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance” [FD&C Act, sec. 201(i)].
Except for color additives, companies are not required to have their cosmetic products tested by the FDA or to have their in-house tests reviewed by the agency before putting them on the shelves. This includes products that have prolonged contact with skin such as shampoos and body washes. The FDA considers it the company’s responsibility to put out a safe product and uses the honor system while trusting the corporations to keep consumer safety as a priority when formulating their products.
So here are three ingredients that you may want to look for in your personal care products:
Triclosan is often found in toothpaste, shampoos, and body washes. It’s antibacterial and antifungal, it has also been found in human breastmilk and fish that are commonly eaten by humans.
There hasn’t been enough research done yet but so far in animal studies some thyroid levels were lowered and bacteria possibly became less affected over time. Two studies still in progress are looking at how UV rays affect Triclosan interactions.
This year the government banned Triclosan from soaps and body washes. Manufacturers have a year to pull the product off the shelves, but you might want to see if products you currently use contain this compound.
Even though this chemical is now banned from skin products, there is one company that convinced the FDA to allow it in your toothpaste. Triclosan is still included it as an active ingredient in Colgate Total.
Phthalates can be found in soaps and shampoos (in addition to a longlist of everyday products), usually in the form of diethyl phthalate (often listed as “DEP”). DEP is mainly used to make those great smells coming from your lotions and shampoos last longer. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) does not required products to list individual fragrance ingredients, where phthalates like to hide, so you will often just see the word “fragrance” listed as an ingredient. If a product is intended for professional use only no ingredient list is needed at all (salon).
In one study, infant urine showed phthalate levels directly related to their use of baby products (shampoos, lotions, powders) containing the chemical. In 1985 and 2002 the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel concluded investigations with no significant risks found to human health. Other studies found that phthalates lead to increased chances of children developing asthma when exposed at a young age and lower intelligence quotient (IQ) and motor skills with prenatal exposure.
Parabens are frequently used in cosmetic products as a preservative to lengthen the product’s shelf life. These preservatives have been found to increase chances of developing breast cancer. Parabens are also endocrine inhibitors which means they can disrupt your endocrine system. This may affect growth, hormones, sleep, and mood.
More independent research is definitely needed to determine the effect of these ingredients on environmental and human health. In the meantime, take a few extra moments next time you’re shopping to read the ingredients list. Keep in mind the wastewater you create has a long journey after you’re done with it. The products that you use can be carried into our oceans and rivers, and what happens from there is still unclear.
Blog post written by Samantha Olsen, intern under Lara Milligan, Natural Resources Agent.
“Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant Phthalate Exposure,” ￼S. Sathyanarayana, Pediatrics, 2008, vol. 121, pp. 260-268).S. Sathyanarayana, Pediatrics, 2008, vol. 121, pp. 260-268).