An introduction to the evils that lurk in your bathroom
Submitted to Natural Matters by http://www.purely-natural.net/
If you’ve come to this website you are probably already aware that some of your favourite beauty products could prove hazardous to your health, or that of the environment. Perhaps you already use natural or organic products as a matter of principle.
But you may not be entirely sure why particular products are particularly risky or which chemicals are to blame. There is a bewildering amount of information available about the potentially harmful effects of some of the chemicals and ingredients in health and beauty products.
Below is a quick guide to help you navigate through some of the most common, followed by links for further information. Arsenic - the Consumer Agency and ombudsman in Finland detected very small amounts of the deadly chemical in 49 samples of eyeshadow, and in 2001, a team at Dartmouth Medical School in the US found chronic exposure to very low levels of arsenic can cause hormone disruption. [Guardian] Nonylphenol: used in various personal care products such as hair care products and dyes, this was part of a voluntary ban negotiated between green groups and manufacturers in 2004.
Parabens, which by some estimates are found in 99% of all leave-on cosmetics and 77% of rinse-off cosmetics including moisturisers, body sprays, cleansers, hair removal creams and some deodorants, are skin and eye irritants and can cause allergic reactions. They have also been found to mimic the female hormone oestrogen, leading some scientists to hypothesise a link between parabens and breast cancer. Research carried out at the University of Reading in 2004 that parabens were present in 18 out of 20 breast cancer tissue samples – although it is important to note that the study did not prove that parabens actually cause cancer. (see http://www.breastcancer.org/research_deodorant.html)
‘Parfum’: among 10 ingredients WEN found listed in lip gloss, this is apparently a catch-all term for hundreds of chemicals, 24 of which have been identified as a common cause of allergies by the European Union's Scientific Committee on Cosmetics And Non-Food Products. Despite this, specific chemicals in parfum do not have to be labelled, so there is no way of telling which might be in your make-up, according to the Guardian (see “Chemistry Lesson” by Ian Sample and Sally Kinnes, 08/05/04.)
Phthalates: used in fragrances, hairspray and nail polish, along with non-cosmetic products such as cling film, plastic bags and children’s toys. Animal studies have shown that these chemicals can damage the liver, the kidneys, the lungs and the reproductive system. In 2005 new studies in the US found that some harm the development of unborn baby boys.(http://www.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/0,11381,1493570,00.html). The European Parliament has banned the use of the phthalates DEHP and DBP in cosmetics. (http://www.nottoopretty.org)
Propylene glycol: Found in soap, blushers and make-up remover, this is a mild irritant which in large quantities has been shown to depress the central nervous system. It is also used in anti-freeze. Sodium laureth sulphate: A frequent ingredient in shower gels and shampoos (as well as some industrial cleaners), it can irritate the skin and eyes even at low concentrations.
Women's Environmental Network (WEN) found one brand of foundation contained five different parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). According to the Journal Of The American College Of Toxicology, in some cosmetics 'that irritant property is attenuated'. Safe when used in products that are rinsed thoroughly from the skin, the journal said 'in products intended for prolonged contact with skin, concentrations should not exceed 1%'. However rumours that it causes cancer have been debunked by authorities such as the American Cancer Society and the Environmental Working Group . See:
Toluene – found in nail varnish and easily absorbed through the nail. The US Protection Agency's Office of Pollution and Prevention Toxins says it is safe to use but that breathing large quantities can affect the kidneys, liver and heart.
Links http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep The Guardian, 08/05/04 “Chemistry Lesson” by Ian Sample and Sally Kinnes. http://www.envirohealthaction.org/toxics/phthalates/
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