In an age where consumers are becoming increasingly more cognizant of what they put in their bodies, it’s important to have reliable, unbiased standards for product safety. For some, commonly used certifications like “FDA approved” and “USDA certified” are no longer enough. Increasingly concerned with chemical exposure, there has been a steady rise in movements aimed to detoxify everyday life.
We have had the pleasure of working with many detox campaigns in 2016, such as Keep A Breast’s Non Toxic Revolution, Green America, Women’s Voices for the Earth, MADE SAFE™, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
The diversity of initiatives mirrors the broadness of this issue. Though amidst all these campaigns, one organization stood out to us in particular for their big-picture thinking. They are the only human-health centered nonprofit regulating products across all consumer categories, from laundry detergent to lubricants. Would you recognize their seal? (You’ll want to after this interview). One of the most comprehensive certifications out there, Made Safe’s ingenuity and vision has certainly changed the way we shop. Read on as they answer our biggest questions about what it means to certify safety, and how they do it.
Q: Made Safe defines itself as the ‘leading human health standard in the country’, what makes Made Safe different from other regulatory certifications? Essentially, why should consumers prioritize your approval seal when they’re making a purchase and not that of another agency?
A: Good question! MADE SAFE is revolutionary in a lot of ways. To start, we’re the first nontoxic certification that applies widely to consumer products, so that people can find our seal on everything from baby bottles and bedding to cleaners, personal care and sexual health. We’ve never had a signal like this before for people to shop safer across store aisles! Second, our process sets us apart. The MADE SAFE™ (Made With Safe Ingredients) approach presumes ingredients are guilty until proven innocent. We screen out known toxicants and don’t permit known behavioral toxins, carcinogens, developmental toxins, endocrine disruptors, fire retardants, GMOs, heavy metals, neurotoxins, pesticides, reproductive toxins, toxic solvents or harmful VOCs in products. Where most standards stop here, we then go beyond “red lists” and known toxicants to attempt to close data gaps by scientifically screening ingredients that have little to no publicly available data: we evaluate ingredients for concern for bioaccumulation, persistence, and general and aquatic toxicity. We believe that the more certifications on the market the better in the sense that a rising tide lifts all boats. In other words, the more signals there are for people to shop according to their values, the better. For people who are looking to protect their health and their family’s health, the MADE SAFE seal is a good choice to shop by.
Q: What inspired you to create the Made Safe seal and how do you keep it relevant in an age where “green-washing” is so prevalent in the corporate world? Where does Made Safe get it’s funding?
A: We started MADE SAFE because the truth about the products for sale in this country, the toxic chemicals in them, and the impact of those items on our health is horrifying. It’s perfectly legal for chemicals linked to cancer, fertility problems, developmental harm, learning disabilities and other serious diseases to be used in things we use every day. But the problem is that with scant legislation and little to no regulation around chemicals in commerce, many products that we use every day contain toxic chemicals that can seriously harm our health and the health of our families.
Add on top of that the rampant green-washing in the marketplace, where shoppers are confused by meaningless claims like “eco”, “green”, and “natural”, and it’s almost impossible for people to figure out what’s safe and what’s not. In that sense, MADE SAFE actually combats greenwashing. MADE SAFE aims to fundamentally change the status quo. We do this by making it easy for people to find safe products, giving companies a road map to make safe products and differentiate them, and making it easy for retailers to stock the safe products their customers want. MADE SAFE is a nonprofit, and so we’re funded by grants and donations, as well as membership fees from participating companies. But the bottom line is that we can’t do this critical work without support—and if people like what we’re doing to revolutionize product safety, we ask that they make a donation!
Q: How does Made Safe determine which ingredients are safe for use and which aren’t? There is a lot of ongoing science regarding commonly used chemicals (such as parabens) so where do you draw the line between dangerous and suspected as dangerous? How do you stay informed?
A: Great question. With more than 80,000 chemicals in use, it’s clear that any standard that’s attempting to screen them across product categories needs to be dynamic and take into account existing science and new developments. And that’s the beauty of our Toxicant Database. The database is a cornerstone of the MADE SAFE process. It began with a compilation of known toxic offenders linked to human health and environmental harm listed by scientific organizations and government agencies from around the world. But it goes beyond that. When we screen ingredients in a product, we work with a chemist using the latest science and predictive modeling to look at each and every ingredient for bioaccumulation, persistence, and general and aquatic toxicity. This 360 approach allows us to consider human health, environmental, and ecosystem health when evaluating components of products. And every ingredient we screen goes into our Toxicant Database, so that it’s continually growing and gets smarter with each product we look at. In cases where we can’t obtain enough data to determine that an ingredient won’t cause harm to human health, we follow the Precautionary Principle and don’t allow it in certified products.
Q: A lot of lubricants and sex toys go unregulated due to the social stigma surrounding their nature. Many intimate products are actually classified as novelty items and sold without any testing at all. Why do you feel it is important for Made Safe to work with a variety of companies such as ourselves?
A: It’s crazy that intimate products are so unregulated, because they come into contact with some of the most absorptive skin on our bodies. If there are any products that shouldn’t contain toxic chemicals, it’s these! MADE SAFE works with all kinds of companies – from companies making sexual health products like Good Clean Love and personal care like Alaffia, to Pura Stainless (reusable bottles) and Naturepedic (mattresses and bedding) because the issue of harmful chemicals in products isn’t isolated to a single category. They’re all around us, and if we’re going to make real change, we can’t just ignore certain categories because people don’t want to talk about them.
The fact that people can find MADE SAFE on products all over the store means that they recognize it from product to product, and it spurs that light bulb moment when they see it on an item they might never have considered contains toxic chemicals—like sex products. And from there we can start to bring awareness to the issue of harmful chemicals in those categories that have been taboo to talk about, like sexual health and feminine care. It gives people an entry point to think about it, and also influences their decision-making. Guaranteed that if I see a lube on the shelf with the Made Safe seal I’m going to reach for it before one that doesn’t.
Q: Made Safe really values ingredient transparency and offers non-disclosing brands assistance with transitioning to 100% transparency- what does this process look like? What would you tell businesses that are hesitant about revealing their ingredients?
A: Yes, we really do value full transparency! We believe shoppers have a right to know everything that’s in a product, and that all of these items should be listed on the label, or on websites, so that consumers can make healthy choices. Of course, brands currently undergoing certification are under contract to fully disclose all ingredients to us as part of our screening process. However, our goal is to move brands toward 100% ingredient transparency on labels and websites so that everyone who uses certified products has access to ingredient information.
Right now some brands may not even know what’s in their fragrances because the fragrance house that formulates it keeps it a secret from them, and we’ll help them navigate that to push to get the information they need for full transparency. Ultimately it’s a win-win, because research shows that ingredient information is increasingly important to shoppers and fosters consumer trust in brands. The bottom line is that we stand behind full disclosure because we know that companies making products from safe ingredients have nothing to hide.
Q: How many businesses and brands are currently certified Made Safe? How has this number grown since the nonprofit began?
A: We’ve currently certified about 400 products across categories, and we’re working with about 40 brands – some behind the scenes that might not show up on our website yet because they’re in the certification process, so keep checking back to www.madesafe.org for updates. Given that we only launched 8 months ago in March, this is pretty amazing! And we have new brands coming to us every day inquiring about how to participate. We launched with about a dozen brands in different categories, and we’re so proud that Good Clean Love was one of them! We admire Good Clean Love for always walking the talk, and for being part of our vision for a future where the very idea that we allowed toxic chemicals in things we used every day seems like a bad dream.
Q: Finally, where do you see the Made Safe seal going in the coming years? Do you plan on widening your services in testing, reaching more brands? What kind of expansion do you envisage for the Made Safe seal?
A: We see MADE SAFE becoming the go-to for safer shopping across the country, the way that certified organic is the go-to for safer food. With our seal, we aim to make safe products the norm no matter your location or income level, “democratizing” healthy products.
Eventually, we envision expanding to all consumer product categories, so that one day you’ll see MADE SAFE cars driving down the road, and MADE SAFE cell phones in people’s hands. In the short-term though, we’re focusing on expanding certified products in the household, body care, and baby categories, where there’s a high demand and urgency from people for figuring out what’s actually safe to use. By shopping MADE SAFE, we can harness our collective purchasing power to support better products and move the market toward safer, healthier, and more sustainable options. We will reward companies making purer products and ultimately, we will eliminate toxic chemicals altogether.