From toothpaste to shampoo, to all-purpose cleaner and dish soap, cleaning and personal care products are essentials that we use every day. Whether we choose a product based on the price or the brand, we often don’t realize that the ingredients in these products can contain harmful ingredients not indicated on the labeling.
Findings from focus groups conducted by Environics Research on behalf of Environmental Defence show that long-term health impacts are not at the top of consumers’ minds when choosing which cleaning or personal care products to buy. That’s not because people don’t care about the chemicals that they’re exposed to, but because interviewed Canadians trust that the products found on store shelves are tested and proven to be safe by government agencies and industry. Sadly though, under current regulations Canadian manufacturers don’t need to prove that chemicals are safe before they’re added to products. (Listen to Executive Director Tim Gray on Radio Canada International speak about this issue).
Cleaning products such as window, counter and toilet bowl cleaners are not required to have a full ingredient list. Although an ingredient list is required on cosmetics and personal care products, it is often incomplete. What many people don’t know is that in order to get that citrus-y or fresh scent found in our deodorants, cleansers and moisturizers, manufacturers are only required to mention “parfum” or “fragrance” on the label without listing the actual chemicals. This is due to an outdated legal exemption that deems scents a “trade secret”.
It’s on you to look it up to see what you’re ingesting or putting on your skin…but we’re not scientists. Within reason, they should be putting warnings on stuff.
Why Canada needs to strengthen its product labelling rules
Warning labels have been used for decades as a useful tool to inform consumers of potential health risks associated with using a certain product. Mandatory warning labels on tobacco products have helped reduce smoking rates around the world by informing the public about the dangers of smoking.
Another example comes from Proposition 65 in California which requires manufacturers to put warning labels on their products if they contain specific chemicals of concern, such as BPA. To avoid warning labels, manufacturers are reformulating their products to remove harmful chemicals.
Policies in the European Union require the use of graphic health warning labels on cleaning products to caution consumers of possible skin irritation, chronic health hazards and if a product may be toxic to aquatic life.
Canada needs to step up and do the same. That’s why we are calling on the federal government to update its labelling rules and make full ingredient disclosure and easy-to-understand warning labels a reality.
What you can do?
1. Make your voice heard and tell the Canadian government to strengthen Canada’s toxics regulations.
2. When you shop for cleaning or personal care products, always check the ingredient list (if provided) for harmful ingredients – especially those listed in our Toxic Ten Pocket Guide.
3. Go the extra step and look for eco-certified alternatives that use plant-based ingredients instead of harmful chemicals.
For the Silo, Sarah Jamal Program Coordinator-Toxics via environmentaldefence.ca