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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.