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We read cleaning and cosmetic labels so you don't have to. But you might really want to.

What you don't know might, at the very least, make you itchy.

We read cleaning and cosmetic labels so you don't have to. But you might really want to.
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Seventh Generation

Skin is pretty incredible.

It's the largest organ of the human body and one of the first lines of defense for keeping pollutants and irritants from making us sick.

We put a lot of stuff on our skin, one of our favorite and most common being makeup. Thankfully, we usually can find out pretty easily what's in it, if we have sensitivities to certain ingredients or there are ones we want to avoid.


But we don't always know what's in another item that our skin comes in frequent contact with: cleaning products. What gives?

Starting with the passing of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, government regulators have approved almost everything for sale in American drugstores.

The act requires cosmetic companies to put their full ingredient lists directly on their products so purchasers know exactly what they're buying. It's the same deal for drug companies and food manufacturers.

Taking care of it isn't just necessary, it can also be pretty fun. Is there anything more satisfying than a peel-off face mask?

But it's a bit strange that the same kind of regulation doesn't happen for household cleaners, which often come into contact with our skin too.

What's so different about the product that washes your body and the one that washes your clothes? Only one of them is required to tell you its ingredients.

Not-so-fun fact: This body wash is not gluten-free. Better fact: Aveeno is legally required to share that information. Image by Heather Libby/Upworthy.

Both of these products are going to touch your body either on a washcloth in the shower or in residue adhering to your clean clothes.

But unlike body wash, detergents don't have to share anything about what's in their product — even if it contains known irritants.

See the "CAUTION: MAY IRRITATE EYES" on the laundry detergent label? Current regulations do not require companies to share what that chemical additive actually is — just that it might cause harm. That doesn't mean that cleaning products are unsafe or that cosmetics are, but it does mean that you can't really avoid certain ingredients in cleaning products if you want to because you have no way of knowing if they're there.

One of these products lists an "active ingredient." Is it also the one that may irritate your eyes? We don't know.

Image by Heather Libby/Upworthy.

Unless you're super serious about only using rubber gloves when you wash dishes, your hands are probably coming in contact with dish soap almost every day.

This dish soap isn't totally secretive about what its ingredients are. It does note that it contains 0.5% salicylic acid (better known as the stuff you put on zits to dry them out) as an "active ingredient." It also notes that the product itself might irritate eyes if it comes in contact with them. Both of those are good things to know, but they also raise some questions. Is the 0.5% salicylic acid the ingredient that may irritate eyes? If it isn't, we're interested in finding out what the other ingredients in this soap might be.

Both of these products are required to post ingredient lists. Why? Because they're classified as "drugs."

Image by Heather Libby/Upworthy.

This is one of the rare times when cleaners and cosmetics overlap. The Food and Drug Administration classifies sunscreen and hand sanitizers as "drugs" because they are "articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease." Under that classification, they have to share a detailed ingredient list on their packaging.

But did you note the one area on the hand sanitizer label that's still pretty vague? Hint: It's "fragrance."

Current regulations don't require companies to say what's in their scented products, so there's still a chance an allergen or a chemical you'd prefer not to have on your person might sneak in the ingredient list.

I know what you're thinking: "All these labels are too confusing! I'm going to move to the woods, give up bathing and cleaning, and become Sasquatch!"

A bit overdramatic, but I get it.

"Laters, soap!"

Makeup and cleaners play a big part in keeping us — and our homes — fresh and happy. But not knowing what's in cleaners can be frustrating, especially if you or someone you love has allergies or sensitivities.

Some consumers and companies are advocating for manufacturers to have to disclose all their ingredients on the labels, but the product makers say that's proprietary information and it could hurt their business to share it.

We can understand both sides of the argument; for now, the best bet for consumers who want to be in the know is to look for companies that voluntarily disclose their ingredients or to call the manufacturer and ask them questions directly.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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