THE BLOG
05/27/2011 08:13 EDT | Updated 07/27/2011 05:12 EDT

The Poison Isn't in the Dose

Of the 126 different chemicals spritzed and slathered onto that same average Canadian woman every day, only 11 to 15 per cent have been tested for human safety.

What did you put on your body today?

I know we've just met, so I'm sorry if this seems too personal, but I'd like you to cast your mind back to the first thirty minutes of your day. Not the part where you swatted at the snooze button or grumbled at the coffee maker. The part where you got cleaned up and ready to head out to... wherever you're reading this.

I don't even know you but I'm going to make a bet that your morning ablutions involved more than ten personal care products.

Not a fashionista, you say? A good ole' fashioned guy, perhaps? Doesn't matter. Male or female, stylish or plain Jane, I'm guessing you still used most of the following: soap, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, moisturizer, toothpaste, floss (okay, only on a good day), deodorant, mascara, blush, lip gloss, and possibly even perfume.

We're so accustomed to our longstanding routines, we don't stop to count how many products we put on each day. But the average woman uses twelve.

Now squint in your mind's eye to envision the small print on the reverse of any of those product packages. It's ridiculously hard to read, and most of the ingredients are unintelligible; multi-syllabic mysteries to all but the chemistry students among us.

I'm no chemistry major, but I can tell you a little bit about what's written on the back of your products. As of 2006, the Canadian government required cosmetics companies to list all ingredients on product packaging. What they do not require is for those ingredients to be tested for human safety.

That's right, of the 126 different chemicals spritzed and slathered onto that same average woman every day, only 11 to 15 per cent have been tested for human safety. There are between 85 000 and 100 000 chemicals in the North American marketplace, and 85 per cent of them have no safety data for human use.

Still feeling squeaky clean?

The companies that manufacture these bodycare products will make the "Poison is in the Dose" claim, which is to say, "Sure, there's formaldehyde in that baby shampoo/oxybenzone in that sunscreen/lead in that lipstick, but just a teensy amount. Not enough to hurt anybody."

But here's the thing: if I had asked you last May about what you put on your body the first thirty minutes of today, you would have likely answered the same way. If I had asked you ten years ago, or if I were to ask ten years from now? Same answer.

So while the daily dose may be tiny -- "within safe limits" even -- the cumulative dose is staggering. It's called the chemical body burden, the amount of toxic ingredients absorbed by our bodies over time. And the health impacts of that long-term build up are just starting to show. Cancer, infertility, learning disabilities and allergy rates are at an unprecedented high.

So no, the lead in your lipstick won't kill you by sundown. Nor will the coal tar in your baby's bubble bath mean he won't wake up tomorrow.

As for what effects these hazardous, untested petrochemicals have on us over the long term? It's anybody's guess.