Live Well
March 2013

Are Your Cosmetics Safe?

I have three teenage daughters who have just discovered makeup and other beauty products. While it is already daunting to help them navigate school, technology, nutrition, I am now faced with another dilemma – the use of cosmetics and personal care products. This is not something I ever expected to be faced with. I assumed, naively, that on some level, cosmetics companies would be looking out for the health of their consumers. Most cosmetics and personal care products contain a host of chemicals and toxic contaminants that can cause allergies, affect the endocrine (hormone) or nervous system, and/or cause cancer. Cosmetics companies are not even required to test the safety of their products or ingredients before they are used. And, while I am against animal testing, it would be nice to know that these products were tested on something or someone before being sold to people everywhere. For more information on this, check out Mark Bittman’s article in the New York Times, The Cosmetics Wars, from 2/05/2013.

The problem when it comes to teens is that they use a lot more products than adults do. According to a report published by the Environmental Working Group, teen girls use a total of about 17 personal care products, compared to 12 for the average adult (The Environmental Working Group has a cosmetics database that you can check out for information of specific products. Learn more  In addition, teenagers tend to use a larger amount of the products than their adult counterparts. Indeed, as I see with my own children, the smellier or the brighter the product, the more appealing it is. Nail polish, for instance, contains formaldehyde, and hair dyes and lipsticks can contain lead. Adolescence is a period of significant growth and development and exposure to toxic contaminants, hormone disruptors and other chemicals can significantly affect the reproductive, endocrine, and immune systems. Some research has indicated that these endocrine disruptors can cause early development in adolescent girls.

According to the Environmental Working Group Shopper’s Guide to Safe Cosmetics, here are some of the chemicals to look out for are:

  • DMDM hydantoin & Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Fragrances and dyes
  • Parables or anything containing “-paraben”
  • Anything containing “peg” or “-eth”
  • Methylchloroisothiazolionone & Methylisothiazolinone
  • Sodium lauryl or Lauren sulfate
  • Triclosan and triclocarban
  • Triethanolamine (TEA)
  • Phthalates

I realize that I need to be as vigilant with the products my children use on their bodies as what they put in their bodies. I choose products that don’t contain any of the aforementioned ingredients and try to stick with things that are as “unprocessed” or “unrefined” as possible. Like food, the fewer ingredients in a product, the better, and it is crucial to read the ingredient labels. The Environmental Working Group has a cosmetics database that you can check out for information of specific products. Learn more.

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Thomas Jefferson’s Créme Brûlée

I am always interested in culinary traditions and exploring how cuisines and food traditions travelled from one part of the world to another. For instance, when Persian forces ruled Northern India, they brought with them the cuisine of Persia and thereby influenced Northern Indian cuisine. So, I was fascinated by the book Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brûlée by Thomas J. Craughwell. The book asserts that Thomas Jefferson and his slave, James Hemings, brought French cuisine to the United States. Thomas Jefferson promised James Hemings his freedom if he could master the art of French cooking and teach the skill to his successor at Jefferson’s home, Monticello.

As Craughwell writes, “It is the rare ambassador, consul, or commerce commissioner who does not travel overseas and return home with some remembrance of services abroad. Still, Jefferson was no souvenir hunter. America was young, raw, and unsophisticated. Whatever was best in Europe, he wanted for his own nation — and that included foodstuffs, recipes, and kitchen utensils. Together with James Hemings, his trusted slave, Jefferson set out to transform America’s palate.” (p.16) And, according to Craughwell, that is how the French classics like macaroni and cheese, fried potatoes (french fries), and créme brûlèe came to be introduced to America in the eighteenth century.

For a comprehensive review of the book, check out the article The Sage of Monticello published in the Wall Street Journal.