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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid

Many of us out there are working hard to improve the quality of our life. We are trying to educate ourselves about health, wellness and the environment. We are trying to eat better, live healthier, and be more aware of our impact on the enviroment. But one area we often overlook-- the personal care products we use on our skin.

Our skin is the largest organ of our body and our first line of defense. Just as we have learned to read labels to find out what ingredients we are ingesting with our food that are helpful and which should be avoided, we must also be as diligent with label reading of our body care products. Why? Because, all that glitters is not gold! Toxic ingredients found in our personal care products, which are applied to the skin, do make their way into our bodies. Once inside, the party begins.

Read below about some of the common not-so-good for you ingredients that we are bringing into our body system, and what effect they may have on us. Maybe the next time we pick up a bottle of shampoo, lotion, cream, or cosmetic, we may decide to check out the label before buying.

Coal tar is used to treat eczema, psoriasis and other skin disorders and can be found in anti-itch creams and scalp treatments. It’s also a known carcinogen.

A lathering agent in soaps and shampoos, DEA isn’t carcinogenic by itself, but can react with other chemicals in products to create a carcinogen readily absorbed into the skin. Look for DEA in many forms, such as Cocamide DEA, Oleamide DEA and Lauramide DEA.

A frighteningly common ingredient in a variety of beauty products. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Causes allergic, irritant and contact dermatitis, headaches and chronic fatigue. The vapour is extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat (mucous membranes).

More and more products are being specifically labeled “paraben free.” This is because parabens, in their many forms (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben) have been linked to breast cancer. The FDA claims that parabens aren’t dangerous at very low levels, but when you consider that 25,000 different cosmetics and skincare products contain these chemicals, it’s feasible to build up quite an exposure in a lifetime.

An ingredient used in hair dyes (including eyelash dye), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has run studies that show a higher incidence of cancer among hairdressers and cosmetologists; they have the highest PPD exposure. Although PPD is not approved for products that come in contact with the skin, hair dye usually gets on your forehead or ears for up to 30 minutes. Why take the risk?

The subject of much controversy because of hormone-disrupting phthalates being found in plastic baby bottles and teethers, let’s not forget that they’re a common ingredient in cosmetics, too.

A foaming agent in soaps and shampoos, SLS and SLES are skin irritants and can enter the heart, brain and liver through the skin and accumulate in these organs.

Found in nail polish and hair dye, this is a nasty one. Toluene is toxic to the nervous system, and breathing it in can cause dizziness and headaches. High exposures can lead to birth defects and miscarriage, so watch out if you work in a nail salon. Use toluene-free brands of nail polish instead.

Because of an FDA loophole, cosmetic companies can hide a whole slew of chemicals, many of which are phthalates, under the label “fragrance". The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are, since on the label it will simply read “fragrance.” Some problems caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyper-pigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation, etc. Chose products that are fragrance free.

TEA is used to balance PH and is a common ingredient in “gentle” cosmetic products, but unfortunately it’s been known to cause allergic reactions, is an eye irritant and can cause dry hair and skin. With consistent use, TEA is absorbed into the body and accumulates, where it can become toxic.

A skin-bleaching ingredient, hydroquinone is banned in Japan, the European Union, and Australia, but it’s still in use in the United States and other countries worldwide. Hydroquinone is found not only in Asian and African skin-lightening products, but in creams to lighten age-spots as well. There’s some evidence that hydroquinone is a carcinogen, and is linked to ochnronosis, a condition in which grayish brown spots and bumps occur on the skin.

These are widely used preservatives. The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains a good antifungal agent, and they must be combined with other preservatives. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic.

Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics. It has no nutrient value for the skin and can interfere with the body’s own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dryness and chapping. It often creates the very conditions it claims to alleviate. Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is unbelievably cheap.

Is a colorless, nearly odorless, syrupy liquid that is derived from natural gas. It is used in dozens of products that you commonly use around your house. Some websites and natural product promoters argue that PG is a nasty, carcinogenic chemical that has been wrongly green lighted by the FDA. The FDA, and others, say that their claims are completely unfounded - that PG is completely safe when used properly. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. When you see PEG (polyethylene glycol) or PPG (polypropylene glycol) on labels, beware, these are related synthetics.

A petroleum-derived chemical used in hair sprays, styling aids and other cosmetics. It can be considered toxic, since inhaled particles can damage the lungs of sensitive persons.

Developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, SKC is a quaternary ammonium compound used in hair conditioners and creams to add shine and improve managability. It is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbs, which are beneficial to the hair. SKC is highly toxic and causes allergic reactions.

Used to make cosmetics attractive to buyers, synthetic colors, along with synthetic hair dyes, should be avoided at all costs. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6. Many synthetic colors can be carcinogenic.

Toxic Cosmetic Ingredient List
Toxic Ingredients in Cosmetics

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