Body Care Aware Project – Cancer Resource Center

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Tompkins Weekly – June 8, 2010
By Sharon Kaplan

People have enough choices to make these days. Why should they have to think about which body care products to use and which to avoid? It’s not that hard to choose healthier products once you learn a few basics. Like buying products where the ingredients list is understandable and not just a long list of chemical names. The more ingredients you can identify as “plant-based” as opposed to “chemically-produced”, the safer the product. Avoid products with ingredients such as “fragrance”, “sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates”, and those ending in “paraben”. Read those labels! The Cosmetic Safety Database at the website is a great place to find out the safety of your products. Simply type in the name and it will tell you how your product rates on a scale of 1-10 as well as which ingredients are more harmful than others.

Another great way to avoid chemicals is to make your own body care products. You can often find the basic ingredients in your kitchen! For example, a simple sugar scrub can be made with organic sugar, a few drops of liquid soap, and a little bit of essential oil (adds scent to your scrub). This makes a wonderful exfoliating scrub for a fraction of the cost of store-bought ones, and has no chemicals. Also, you get to choose the scent you like by using essential oils—these come from plants as opposed to fragrances or fragrance oils which come from the chemistry lab!

The information above is part of an hour-long presentation given to middle school, high school and college students in Tompkins County as part of the Body Care Aware Project of the Cancer Resource Center. In 2009, my interns and I served 850 community members through presentations to health classes and display tables at local events.

Overall, the kids ask very good questions during our presentation. Mostly, they want to know if their products will cause cancer. This sparks some interesting conversation! We talk about the chemicals used in body care products, what these particular chemicals do to the body, their link to cancer and other serious disease, what function they serve in the product, and action steps to help change the policies on what can and cannot be used in products in the United States. We also talk about the European Union and other countries which take a “precautionary approach” toward chemical usage. We always leave them with several suggestions for decreasing their exposure to harmful chemicals via body care products as well as information on how to research their products at home. The sugar scrub activity is always a huge hit and serves as a great teaching tool. The students experience the self-sufficiency of making their own product, reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, remove the secondary effect of washing these chemicals into the watershed, and save money.

For more information about the Body Care Aware Project, please contact Sharon Kaplan at 277-0960 or

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