To some people this may seem like an unusual question to ask. But I think it is one of the most pertinent questions a person can ask today. Let’s dig into some reasons why you may want to consider this question. To other people, the answer may be either an obvious answer of “of course”, or alternately, “of course not, that is why we have government regulation.” If only the answer to this question were so simple.
More specifically, I am posing the question as it relates to companies who provide products that can affect your health, such as personal care or body care products. (Nutrition related products would also fall into this category, but I will leave that topic for another day.) The reason this question even needs to be raised is because if one applies a critical eye to the ingredients being used in many products today, such as we do in our part 1 and part 2 articles, it becomes clear that either 1. many companies are ignorant and are not competent enough to formulate products that are actually safe, or 2. they are dishonest and really don’t care if their products are safe, as long as they still sell. In reality, it is likely that there is some of both going on. Contributing to this problem is the fact that some consumers simply don’t care about the long term effects of dangerous chemicals in the products they use, as long as there is short term perceived benefit.
With the increased prevalence of contract production facilities that can provide “off the shelf” formulas, anyone can start their own personal care product company, regardless of whether they have any competence in chemistry or biology. After all, it is all about the marketing right? Well, no. If a company is poisoning its customers unintentionally and consumers figure that out, they will likely become disgusted with that business, and its business model will implode. Alternately, if it is a company that just doesn’t care and poisons their customers knowingly, and their customers figure it out, that is just asking for class action lawsuits, plus the previously mentioned business implosion.
It is tremendously unfortunate that most contract production facilities have accepted for use various chemicals as common industry practice. A significant portion of these chemicals have certainly been shown to be harmful to human health. This just baffles me since it seems like at least some producers’ personnel would have the critical thinking about formulations and toxicology that someone might say “hey, should we really be using some of these ingredients?” But apparently that is the rare exception rather than the norm. It seems personnel are told that you must add x to a formulation to stabilize it, and they just accept it as fact, without questioning the long term health consequences of using x. Or if staff members with a conscience do raise such questions, they are often dismissed.
In my professional observation the biggest culprit seems to be that personal care product companies hire exclusively chemists to formulate their products. Unfortunately, these chemists have basically no knowledge or education about biology, human physiology, health, or toxicology. It is a fact that there is not a single university in the US that requires chemistry major students to also take biology or toxicology courses so that they understand the consequences and implications of the chemical products they produce. It seems it is most often this complete lack of knowledge that leads to unintentional poisoning of customers with harmful chemical ingredients.
In either case, incompetence or corruption, it strikes me that many, and I mean MANY companies are completely violating and taking advantage of the trust that their customers have regarding the safety of such products. The evidence shows that they most certainly are not safe. The way to tell is simply turn around any given product and read the ingredients label. Does it list all the ingredients? Do you know what they all are? Do you know if they are safe? Most people don’t have advanced degrees in organic chemistry and toxicology to be able to discern the gobbledygook or many personal care product ingredient labels. With that said, it may be that some percentage of customers just don’t care. Maybe looking good at the expense of one’s health is a trade off that many people would be willing to make. But it seems to me that most people are completely unaware that is the choice they are making. People are trusting that personal care product producers have consumers’ best interest in mind, when this seems rarely to be the case.
I believe that part of that blind spot stems from the fact that average consumers believe that the FDA and other regulatory agencies are “protecting” them; that the FDA (or other agencies) would not let harmful products on the market. This is an unsuspecting view, and the evidence shows that it is also false. There are many examples of the corruption and/or incompetence at the FDA. One example is the FDA’s approval of the drug fen-phen, despite the fact that the FDA had evidence and knew that fenfluramine (one of the ingredients) caused heart valve damage before they granted approval. This lead to the death of many people, and resulted in class-action lawsuits. The FDA claims it was a cover up by the manufacturer, but other evidence points to the FDA looking the other way. Another example of FDA malfeasance is their approval of the use of formaldehyde releasing chemicals in personal care products. If you are not aware, formaldehyde has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) later went on to classify formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen. Yet the FDA has done exactly nothing to stop the use of such chemicals in personal care products, nor even to warn the public about the risks. Why? There is too much industry money at stake.
If I were inclined to self-torture I could write an entire book about the numerous documented examples of FDA incompetence or corruption. In lieu of that, Marie-Monique Robin, in her book Our Daily Poison: From Pesticides to Packaging, How Chemicals Have Contaminated the Food Chain and Are Making Us Sick, documents some of these examples. (This is a vitally important book, and I will be publishing a book review in the future.) As someone who has dealt with the FDA A LOT, because I have worked in pharmaceutical research and development, pharmaceutical toxicology testing, biotechnology, health care, and the personal care industry, I can tell you three things unequivocally about the FDA: 1. there is a significant amount of incompetence within that agency, 2. there is certainly corruption within that agency, and 3. that agency primarily looks out for themselves, which means they primarily look after industry, not public health. They merely pay lip service to public health to the degree they have to convince the public that they are actually doing the job they are supposed to, when they actually are not, or not to the degree they should be (or claim to be).
To anyone not familiar with these industries, these may seem like wild accusations, but to those of us in any of the industries mentioned above, they are known as accepted facts. (If the two evidentiary examples provided above are not sufficient to be convincing, I encourage the reader to do their own homework on the topic.) However in the case of the personal care product industry, there is actually very little regulation in place for the FDA to enforce. This puts the burden of responsibility on industry and consumers to ensure that products are actually safe. And to my observation, it appears that both industry and the public have been failing at this task; although things have been starting to improve in recent years, thanks to consumers becoming more informed and conscientious. However, industry is still producing products that contain ingredients that are not safe, for various reasons mentioned above. Meanwhile, most consumers are not really sure what to look for. Third party organizations such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and the Non-GMO Project have stepped in to try to help, but those are the exception rather than the norm.
So where does that leave us? That leaves consumers in a situation where they either need to research ingredients themselves, which is often time consuming, challenging, and sometimes painful. Or alternately, find producers who you believe you can trust.
One of our goals and guiding principles – in fact one of the foundational reasons we started this company, was to provide products that were safe, to become a brand that people could trust, and to NEVER violate that trust. Not only do we strive to produce effective and quality products, but to provide transparency, integrity, and trustworthiness to our customers. And in todays marketplace of over-hyped garbage products and marketing deceit, that is a unique concept indeed.
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