We spoke to BC professor Dr. Laura Hake about the ugly secrets of the beauty industry

Ever think about what’s in that shampoo you use after a good plex workout?

Do you ever think about what’s in the shampoo that you lather onto your head after a good plex workout? Or what about the under-eye concealer you use to hide the minimal hours of sleep you got after a late night in O’Neill? We’re too busy writing those papers we forgot about and trying to make it look like we’ve done even some of our class reading to consider the ingredients in cosmetics. But, we should take the time to consider one mascara over another, not just for looks, but for the sake of our health.

Studies show that women typically use 12 personal care items daily that contain 168 distinct ingredients, and eight billion cosmetic products are sold each year in the United States. However, it’s not the amount bought and used that’s important, but rather the high likelihood that these products contain hazardous chemicals.

The European Union has been on their game when it comes to the beauty industry. They’ve strictly regulated their cosmetics and banned 1400 ingredients to date. The US, on the other hand, has sat back idly, seemingly satisfied with the mere 11 ingredients they banned eight decades ago.

Dr. Laura Hake, a biology professor at BC, has done extensive research on toxins’ effect on people and is a passionate educator on the topic of safe, healthy product use.

She explained the disconnect between the government and scientists that leads to some problems with mislabeling items. The government often downplays the severity of what scientists say when they simplify scientific terms for the public. As a result, the labels we see on products today, like “natural” and “organic,” have little to no medical meaning, according to dermatologists. “Organic” products can have as little as 10 percent of organic ingredients.

Dr. Hake sadly said that we can’t just go into a grocery store and trust what we see. “It’s hard to make that realization,” she said.

Congress gave the FDA the authority to regulate cosmetics and cosmetic labeling. However, the FDA doesn’t have the authority to mandate that companies test cosmetic products for safety. So, companies are rarely required to justify their marketing claims, giving companies free reign to say what they believe will sell.

Misleading advertising means we need to do our own research to stay safe. Although the list of dangerous ingredients is long, there are a few frequent offenders to look out for. Parabens (shown on labels with the prefixes: methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl-) are most often found in shampoo, face wash, body wash, body lotion and foundation, and have the potential to alter crucial hormone systems in women.

Fragrance is maybe the scariest of all. It is in almost all personal care items, and the federal law protects fragrance formulas from being divulged to the public, so the ingredient listed simply as “fragrance” can consist of a combination of 3,000 or more chemicals.

Dr. Hake suggests we make note of the products we use every day and download the Environmental Working Group’s app, EWG. On the app, you can scan your personal care products and see on a scale of 1-10 how harmful the product is for you. Dr. Hake stresses that everybody can do something about this problem — learn about your products, make adjustments for a safer life and educate others.

“Try replacing just one harmful item you have per month,” she says.

Boston College