In a world where cosmetic and personal care products are somewhat loosely regulated, consumers have long been at risk of unwittingly polluting their bodies with a long list of chemical ingredients.
Courtesy of Stuart Miles/www.freedigitalphotos.net
But the tide is clearly turning with a growing consumer trend towards natural and organic, and manufacturers are responding, making it easier to choose the right skincare products. There are however, still a multitude of potentially harmful chemicals used by many manufacturers in commonly used cosmetics and body care products. And with up to 60% of topical applications penetrating the skin, it is worth knowing what you're essentially absorbing into your body. Here is a list of some of the most commonly used offenders - take a personal inventory of your current products and cross check it with the list to discover if you've been unknowingly polluting your body and putting your health at risk.
Talc Has long been used in makeup and powders including baby powder, despite containing asbestos - the majority of talc powders do not not contain any asbestos today but have still been linked to ovarian and testicular cancer when applied to the genital area. Rather than forego the delicious feeling of body powder after your bath or shower, there are now talc free options on the market, my favourite being Miessence's Luxurious Body Powder which is certified organic.
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate & Laureth Sulphate A popular foaming agent used in shampoos, soaps and cleansers, this is a highly toxic chemical which has been linked to allergies and reproductive issues for both males and females. Avoid products containing these chemicals which may be labelled as SLS or SLES.
Parabens A family of chemical preservatives which are cheap to manufacture used in just about every personal care product imaginable. Linked to allergies and cancer it was banned by the European Union in 2003, and although it's dangers are now widely accepted, other countries have thus far failed to followed suit in banning the chemicals. A number of products will now advertise as 'paraben free' but check labels carefully - the most commonly used parabens are methyl, ethyl, propyl, isopropyl, benzyl, butyl and isobutyl.
Petrochemicals Reported to be carcinogenic they hinder the skin's natural ability to breathe and excrete toxins. Check labels and avoid mineral oil, petrolatum, paraffin, dipropylene, glycol, butylene, glycol, disodium EDTA, tetrasodium EDTA, trisodium EDTA, and polybutene. Australian scientists are reportedly working on alternatives to petrochemicals but unless manufacturers are forced to use them they may not be taken up as petrochemicals are so cheap to manufacture.
Triclosan & Triclocarban Synthetic petrochemical antibacterial agents used in handsoaps, shampoo and toothpaste. With links to cancer, infertility and developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD in children, a major concern is its reported contribution to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Avoid anything labelled 'antibacterial' or 'antimicrobial'. And check your household cleaning products for these ingredients, as once washed down the drain they travel to our waterways and pollute the environment.
Phthalates Also banned by the European Union in 2003 this group of chemical preservatives easily penetrates the skin. They are used in many personal care products to make fragrances last longer and to lubricate the other ingredients. Often listed on labels as 'fragrance', these chemicals disrupt endocrine activity and have been linked to birth defects, asthma, allergies, autism, ADHD and reproductive system disorders, particularly in males.
Propylene Glycol (PG) & Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Linked to liver, kidney and brain damage/abnormalities, these chemicals are highly toxic and used in cosmetics, toothpaste, deodorant and creams. Both dissolve grease and enhance penetration of other ingredients - PEG is used in oven cleaners, and used on the skin it removes natural and protective oils. PG is an active ingredient in Anti-Freeze, paint, and brake fluid - it is known as a strong skin irritant and is linked to dermatitis, inhibited skin cell growth and cell membrane damage.
Courtesy of Stuart Miles/www.freedigitalphotos.net
Nitro Musks A group of synthetic chemicals used as fragrance in multiple personal care products. Ingestion occurs through the skin and German researchers have revealed it can pass from mother to baby in breast milk. Linked to cancer, some countries are taking measures to reduce exposure. Manufacturers such as The Body Shop have moved away from nitro musks and replaced them with macrocylclic musks - reportedly less harmful but little research has been undertaken to verify this; additionally they are more expensive to manufacture which will certainly deter many manufacturers. To be safe, check labels and avoid anything that is listed simply as 'fragrance' or 'parfum'.
Monoethanolamine (MEA), Diethanolamine (DEA) & Triethanolamine (TEA) Ammonia compounds used as emulsifiers or foaming agents in shampoos, body washes, soaps, bubble bath, facial cleansers and many cosmetics. Listed by the World Health Organisation as an unclassified carcinogen, DEA can be found in a number of pesticides. Linked to cancer, devlelopmental abnormalities and hormone disruption, both chemicals are best avoided. Check labels for ingredients containing any form of MEA, TEA or DEA.
Courtesy of krazytwacy/www.sxc.hu
Coal Tar Most synthetic colors are derived from coal tar which is a known human carcinogen and allergy inducer. Coal tar is also used to soften the skin, and control itching and scaling. If your shampoo is bright blue, chances are it contains synthetic coloring and is best avoided. Check labels for FD&C or D&C followed by a color and number e.g. FD&C Red No.3.
So check your labels and if in doubt go to your phone or computer and Google it. A great place to start is the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database where you can search thousands of ingredients and discover which products contain them. The process of checking your current products and replacing them can be overwhelming, so take it one product at a time and consider it part of the process of taking control of your own health and wellbeing.
If you have any other tips or information that our readers will find useful please leave a message in the comments section.