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FDA Testing on Chemical Ingredients: Are we safe?

are chemical ingredients safe?We’ve covered potentially toxic personal care ingredients to avoid in the past here at FeelGood Style, but a question that often comes up is why should people be concerned? After all, doesn’t the FDA test chemical ingredients and safeguard citizens when those chemicals turn out to not be safe?

There are a number of reasons to be concerned.

First, in the U.S., only the chemicals that are suspected to be hazardous are tested and regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). According to Daniel Goleman (bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence), “informed estimates put the number of manmade chemical compounds as high as 104,000. Of these, 10,000 are used yearly in volumes greater than ten tons. Only a fraction of these everyday chemicals have ever been tested for toxicity in adults, let alone on fetuses or infants….studies [suggest] that virtually everyone alive on this planet harbors a stew of toxic substances [in their body].”

Deanna Duke, author of The Non-Toxic Avenger, writes, “the FDA neither tests the products that are on the market nor even requires manufacturers to supply safety information. They can’t force a recall of a product and they really don’t provide much in the way of protection in the first place…..Products get tested by the manufacturer and the FDA, in turn, relies on that data. But the companies are genearlly testing for an immediate physical reaction to a product or ingredient rather than long-term health consequences of daily exposure to small amounts of one of the thousands of chemicals that go into their products.” Duke points out that 79% of kids with ADHD showed marked improvement when artificial color and artificial flavor were removed from their diets. Those chemicals are approved by the FDA.

But second, and perhaps the biggest cause for concern is that science, in this case toxicology, works only if variables are isolated for study (otherwise, you wouldn’t know what causes what). So toxicologists study chemicals one at a time, for a very brief period of time to assess their toxicity. But in the real world, we’re exposed to hundreds if not thousands of chemicals every day, for our entire lives. There’s no way to understand how these chemicals interact and combine, nor how they affect our health over the long term.

Goleman describes the situation as one in which we’re continually forced to fight off low levels of toxins. It may suppress our immune system. It may cause inflammation which can manifest itself in any number of ways. It may cause migraines. That’s the thing–you’d never know. One by one, chemical ingredients may be safe, but together, in small but continuous intermixing doses?

So we recommend that you simply reduce your overall load. As Dr. Bronner’s says, “enjoy 2 cosmetics”.  Familiarizing yourself with ingredient listings and following manufacturers of safe nontoxic products is another healthy choice.  Take a look at our list of Ingredients to Avoid for more in-depth information.

Chemical photo from Shutterstock

Written by Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride.

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