It is estimated that in the United States nearly 80,000 chemicals are in use and that only approximately 200 have been thoroughly evaluated for safety. Scary, right? What’s even more concerning is that many chemicals have only been evaluated for their health effects on men, not women. Women’s unique bodies interact differently than men’s, especially those of children and women of reproductive age. Worrisome statistics indeed, but the future is bright thanks to Woman’s Voices for the Earth, a Savvy Founding Nonprofit Partner and a powerhouse moving the women-led charge to eliminate toxic chemicals from the products we use every day.
Women’s voices for the Earth has spent the last twenty years harnessing the influence and buying power of women to get major corporations to change. They are a network of tens of thousands of women demanding that corporations disclose the ingredients in their products, giving consumers the information they need about what’s in the products we use every day and working to enact legislation to protect us. (Yes, you are now one of them!)
Women have a lot of influence. We are responsible for 85% of decisions regarding products brought into households. Statistics also show that we do most of the cleaning around the house, giving us particular influence over the cleaning product industry. And we account for virtually 100% of feminine product sales. Enough said.
When asked what she thought was the most pressing issue to tackle, WVE Executive Director, Erin Switalski pinpointed the fragrance industry;
“The fragrance of a product can be made up of hundreds of ingredients, some of which are carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. Yet most companies don’t disclose what these are. There is a dangerous precedent of allowing fragrance ingredients to be kept as trade secrets. And it’s the industry itself who decides what is or isn’t safe to put in a fragrance. This simply has to change. We need disclosure and we need to know the ingredients are safe.”
Some of the chemicals in fragrances may be harmful and potential health impacts run the gamut from eye and skin irritation to hormone imbalances and increased risk of breast cancer.
The Sweet Smell of Change
Just this year, Proctor & Gamble took a step forward in ingredient disclosure. While P&G has had a list of fragrance ingredients that may be used in its products since 2012, it did not have a list of ingredients it would not use until now. Like the 2012 list of chemicals, the new list of 140 fragrance ingredients is not product specific, meaning a consumer cannot know exactly what chemicals are in a specific product. But this new list provides important insight into what P&G products are free of, for example, we now know that the company will not use phthalates.
The list of chemicals the company will not use in its fragrances includes 37 chemicals that were on the 2012 list of chemicals the company would use. The elimination of these chemicals presumably means that some products had to be reformulated.
This new list from P&G is definitely a step in the right direction. It shows that the company recognizes that customers want more information regarding the ingredients in the products they bring into their homes. The consumer demand for safer ingredients is making companies think about the ingredients they currently put in their products and showing that there can be rewards in the marketplace by reformulating products with safer ingredients. P&G is one of the largest manufacturers of cleaning and personal care products and their increased ingredient disclosure has the potential to move other companies in the industry towards increased disclosure as well. It also sends the message that quality products can be made from safer ingredients.
However, the new list is not perfect. Some potentially harmful ingredients remain and the list is still not product specific, definitely a win for consumers and the cause of ingredient disclosure, but there is still a long way to go.
Did You Know This Has Been Happening?
Transparency as a Basic Right
As recently as 2007, cleaning companies disclosed a minimal amount of the ingredients in their products. Women’s Voices for the Earth launched a national campaign demanding ingredient transparency. Today, virtually all cleaning product companies are disclosing all of their ingredients on their websites. Fragrance is the notable exception, although a handful of companies are disclosing this as well. Says Erin Switalski, Executive Director of Women’s Voices for the Earth; “This has been great not only for the sake of disclosure, but we have seen that disclosure has resulted in safer ingredients used.” A case in point: as a result of this campaign, S.C. Johnson, the maker of many popular products such as Pledge, Windex and Glade has removed phthalates, chemicals linked to cancer and endocrine disruption, from all of their products. They also began disclosing all of the ingredients in their products on their website.
But it doesn’t stop there; in 2013 Women’s Voices for the Earth successfully pressured Proctor & Gamble into removing known carcinogen 1,4 Dioxane from their laundry detergents, one of their most well-known detergents being Tide. Proctor & Gamble products account for 70% of laundry detergents sold in the United States. An impressive achievement indeed that becomes more impressive when you realize that they did it in less than a year.
Standing Up for Salons:
Women are the primary consumers of salon services and the salon workers who administer these service are at particular risk from the chemicals in salon products. Salon workers are at greater risk for variety of health issues, including asthma, skin conditions, cancer and depression. There is a huge lack of regulation and labeling in this industry, leaving salon workers as well as consumers unaware of the toxic ingredients that lurk in the products they work with use and every day. Women’s Voices for the Earth has tackled this previously invisible issue head on. They have published two eye opening reports, Glossed Over and Beauty and Its Beast. They have also collaborated with partner organizations to bring a coalition of salon workers to Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers.
Detox the Box!
More recently, Women’s Voices for the Earth got personal by taking on the issue of the safety of feminine care products. There is a lack of research on these products and an even bigger lack of ingredient disclosure. Products testing done by Women’s Voices for the Earth revealed that Always ® pads contain chemicals that are linked to cancer as well as reproductive and developmental harm.
Women’s Voices for the Earth is fighting back by launching their Detox the Box campaign to push Always ® and Tampax ® to remove toxic chemicals from their products. Sign the petition and learn how to reduce your exposure to harmful ingredients in feminine products here. There’s good news: there has already been a win on this front. Thanks to pressure from WVE, Kimberly Clark (makers of U by Kotex ®) and Proctor & Gamble (makers of Always ® and Tampax ®) have begun to disclose information about the ingredients in their pads and tampons, but we still need them to remove potentially harmful chemicals.
Super Women Like You
Are you inspired by Women’s Voices for the Earth and want to get involved? A great place to start is by signing up for their email list. You’ll receive a monthly newsletter than includes their Tip of the Month as well as Action Alerts, like the call to sign the petition to Always ® and Tampax ®.
Want to start detoxing your home and body with the help of WVE? Read their 10 Steps to Avoid Toxic Chemicals. Erin Switalski recommends tackling one or two things on the list and when you’re comfortable with them, adding a couple more.
With Women’s Voices for the Earth at our side we can all take simple steps to collectively harness our power as women to demand corporate transparency and robust legislation to ensure safer products.
This month the Savvy Women's Alliances is exploring tips, stories and ideas on how you can impact your health and home by becoming Savvy about the Fragrance Revolution . Are you ready for another spritz?