By now most of us are well aware that there are synthetic chemicals in just about everything we use – even food. We know about parabens and petroleum-based products, and dyes. What we don’t look at it who is impacted the most by these products. Even once we remove the so-called ‘bad’ stuff from them, there are still hundreds, thousands, of unaccounted for chemicals we slather, smooth, rub in, rinse off, lather, and scrub onto our bodies. While the market is changing (and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing), women often use considerably more products than men. I did a totally unscientific survey of what products a woman might use in a month versus what a man might use. And here are my totally unofficial results:
Now, of course I recognize that I am basing this survey on certain preconceptions about each person: I am assuming that the woman wears a full face of makeup, that she gets her hair and nails done, that she waxes/shaves, and that she, in general, fits into the advertising image of what a woman is. I assume something similar for a man: that he does not get his hair done, that he does not wear make up, that he does shave but doesn’t wax, and that he, for all intents and purposes, fits into the metrosexual but still masculine ideal of manliness that most advertising and media suggest is the right way to be.
According to these standards a woman might use over 50 different personal products in a month where a man might use 10 – 15. This means that women might be exposed to 50 times more chemicals (assuming each product has the same number of chemicals and that no one is using all-natural or organic anything) than a man.
Many of these products’ chemicals are in amounts small enough to be considered safe. But a small amount here and a small amount there can add up to a lot. It’s like saving money – $5 here, $10 there over the course of 5 years and you’ve got yourself a trip to Brazil – except these results are hardly so appealing. And if these products are used together? There are so many different types of chemicals that not all of them can be or have been tested for interactions. The synergistic impact of these trace amounts of chemicals is unknown. While it’s unlikely that your face will blow up when you top your face lotion with foundation, small traces of chemicals which have a negative interaction used over a long period of time will probably have some effect. I imagine increased levels of cancer, endocrine or thyroid disruption, or shifts in hormone levels.
Since women have a tendency to use more products than men because our worth in society is generally based on our looks while a man’s worth is based on his abilities, it is reasonable to assume that these negative consequences will overwhelmingly impact women. Now, add all these products to all the other chemicals we surround ourselves with on a daily basis – fabric softener, dryer sheets, furniture (did you know some furniture uses an anti-inflammatory which is a neurotoxin?), cleaning products, pesticides, air freshener, and all manner of other things. Not to mention all the chemicals we ingest through our food, things that do not – could not – exist in nature.
History tells us – wait, what am I saying? – Look around. Issues that mainly impact women are rarely dealt with in a way that benefits them – if they are dealt with at all. The stereotype of women as hysterical whistle-blowers means that the problems of women are easily pushed aside. Of course, women’s issues can only be ignored once women are in an uproar – and at least then some people will listen.
But we have no uproar. We have a few people encouraging us to use natural or organic makeup but most of us don’t because it’s too expensive. We have health advisories every once in a while telling us about some new horrific impact of a chemical that’s been used in EVERYTHING for the past 10 years – but it’s ok because now some products don’t use it – the ones that advertise that they don’t use it can now charge more because their product is ‘healthier’ – but that’s a whole post in and of itself. There are innumerable chemicals like this, chemicals which have been banned for use in other parts of the world but are still A-Okay by American standards because they are cheap, easy, and make lots of money.
I suppose I could encourage you to speak with your money – only buy the healthy stuff – but what good is that? Only a small portion of our society can afford that. $50 for organic concealer is groceries for a week. It’s unreasonable to ask us to pay more for our health.
But where is our outrage? Our government should be protecting us – not shrugging and reiterating their corporate motto Buyer Beware. Corporate responsibility and consumer protections are where our government’s loyalties should lie. But they will never do that, they will never know that we care unless we say something. Protest, make youtube videos about it, write in big chalk letters in front of your favorite corporate enemy THIS WILL NOT STAND.