For many, a commitment to health sounds more like a commitment to a life of paranoia and deprivation. The most common argument I hear is that it isn’t “healthy” to spend a life in fear of every product that is out there. For those with a busy lifestyle, it sure may seem overwhelming to think of adding more things to watch out for on top of our existing concerns. While I understand this perspective, I am writing this article to make it simpler for you. Remove the words paranoia, deprivation and concern from your vocabulary, and replace them with “Being Informed”.
Being informed will simply allow you to make more intelligent and conscious choices for yourself, your family, and the planet as a whole. You might lose a couple of seconds of your life while looking for detrimental chemicals on product labels, but is that any match for the healthier years you’ll add to your life, the illnesses you’ll avoid, and the example you will be in support of a more sustainable world?
The truth is, many of the ingredients in personal care and beauty products aren’t so pretty. U.S. researchers have found that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in cosmetic and personal care products are hazardous industrial chemicals. This means that 10,500 industrial chemicals are used as cosmetic ingredients, many of which are carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers (chemicals that keep concrete soft), degreasers (used to get grime off auto parts) and surfactants (they reduce surface tension in water, like in paint and inks). And these go on our skin and into the environment…
Did you know that everyday chemical exposure is among the leading causes of the most common cases of chronic disease in America?
HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS TO AVOID IN COSMETIC AND PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS:
Used in makeup, moisturizers, shampoos etc. May interfere with hormone function. Associated with breast cancer. Look out for ingredients with “pararaben” in their name (methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, ethylparaben). Widely used even though they are known to be toxic.
Why Used?: Parabens are the most widely used preservative in cosmetics. They are also used as fragrance ingredients, but consumers won’t find that listed on the label. Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets, so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients. An estimated 75 to 90 per cent of cosmetics contain parabens.
Why Harmful?: Parabens easily penetrate the skin and are suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption). Parabens can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. In one study, parabens were detected in human breast cancer tissues, raising questions about a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions. In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage.
Parabens occur naturally at low levels in certain foods, such as barley, strawberries, currents, vanilla, carrots and onions, although a synthetic preparation derived from petrochemicals is used in cosmetics. Parabens in foods are metabolized when eaten, making them less strongly estrogenic. In contrast, when applied to the skin and absorbed into the body, parabens in cosmetics bypass the metabolic process and enter the blood stream and body organs intact. It has been estimated that women are exposed to 50 mg per day of parabens from cosmetics. More research is needed concerning the resulting levels of parabens in people. Studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did find four different parabens in human urine samples, indicating exposure despite the very low levels in products.
Regulatory Status: There are no restrictions on the use of parabens in cosmetics in Canada. International regulations are stronger. The European Union restricts the concentration of parabens in cosmetics.
Related Ingredients: Methylparaben, butylparaben and propylparaben are some of the most common parabens in cosmetics. Other chemicals in this class generally have “paraben” in their names (e.g., isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, etc.).
2. DEA, cocamide DEA and lauramide DEA (Related chemicals: MEA and TEA)
In creamy and foaming products such as moisturizer, shampoo. Can react to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
Why Used?: DEA (diethanolamine) and DEA compounds are used to make cosmetics creamy or sudsy. DEA also acts as a pH adjuster, counteracting the acidity of other ingredients. DEA is mainly found in moisturizers and sunscreens, while cocamide and lauramide DEA are found in soaps, cleansers, and shampoos. Industrial applications of DEA include its use in oil refineries to “scrub” hydrogen sulphide from process gas emissions.
Health and Environmental Hazards: DEA and its compounds cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation. In laboratory experiments, exposure to high doses of these chemicals has been shown to cause liver cancers and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid. The European Union classifies DEA as harmful on the basis of danger of serious damage to health from prolonged exposure. DEA compounds can also react with nitrites in cosmetics to form nitrosamines, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies as a possible human carcinogen. Nitrites are sometimes added to products as anti-corrosive agents or can be present as contaminants. The degradation of some chemicals used as preservatives in cosmetics can release nitrites when the product is exposed to air.
The Danish Environmental Protection Agency classifies cocamide DEA as hazardous to the environment because of its acute toxicity to aquatic organisms and potential for bioaccumulation.
Regulatory Status: The use of DEA compounds in cosmetics is unrestricted in Canada, although Health Canada has categorized them as “moderate human health priorities.” They have been flagged for future assessment under the government’s Chemicals Management Plan. Nitrosamines are prohibited on Health Canada’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist. However, when these chemicals are present in a product as contaminants (i.e., unintentional ingredients), the Hotlist restriction does not apply.
International regulations are stronger. The European Union Cosmetics Directive restricts the concentration and use of cocamide and lauramide DEA in cosmetics, and limits the maximum nitrosamine concentration in products containing these ingredients. vii
Related Ingredients: MEA (monoethanolamide) and TEA (triethanolamine) are related chemicals. Like DEA, they can react with other chemicals in cosmetics to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.
Credit: Collective Evolution