Most of us wake up every morning and start the day by showering, washing our hair, shaving, putting on lotion, deodorant, or cosmetics. Are you even aware that this mundane routine may very well expose your body to a whole list of toxic chemicals that are linked to environmental and health problems such as cancer, reproductive disorders, asthma, allergies, and various skin conditions?
Recently published research shows that paraben esters (commonly found in personal care products) were present in 99 percent of breast cancer tissues sampled, at concentrations up to one million times higher than the estrogen levels naturally found in human breast tissue. Parabens are chemicals with estrogen-like properties, and estrogen is one of the hormones involved in the development of breast cancer.
Anything you eat, inhale, or spread on your skin is absorbed into your body. You may already be very health conscious by choosing grass-fed meats and organic fruits and vegetables, but have you ever checked the ingredients of your personal care products to see what they are and if they are safe? You may ask: Doesn’t the government do this? The answer is: Kind of, but not really!
To make matters worse, most products are labeled to sell, rather than to provide accurate information. Words like “natural”, “gentle”, or “hypoallergenic” do not have official definitions, which means manufacturers can use them to mean anything they want and not get into trouble with the regulatory agencies.
Poorly Regulated Industry… Caveat Emptor
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not “approve” ingredients of personal care products the way they do with drugs.
- Of the approximately 85,000 synthetic chemicals registered in the U.S., only 7% have been fully tested for their health effects.
- With the exception of a handful of extremely toxic chemicals, U.S. manufacturers can put almost anything in their products with no testing, no monitoring of health effects to see if the ingredients are harmful, and no labeling requirements.
- The cosmetics industry polices the safety of its own products and is not required to list all ingredients. The marketing labels on the package seldom tell the whole story.
- Consumers are left to fend for themselves, therefore, you need to be knowledgeable so that you know how to choose the safest personal care products for yourself and your family.
Personal Care Products
Over 80% of the ingredients in personal care products are synthetic. It is estimated that the average consumer, including teens, uses 15-30 personal care products a day, which amounts to exposure to 100-200 chemicals!
There is a vast number of personal care products that you may use every day. They include:
- Eye makeup
- Facial makeup
- Perfumes and fragrances
Personal hygiene products:
- Shampoos and conditioners
- Hair dyes and hair treatment products
- Bath gels and soaps
- Lotions, moisturizers, and body powders
- Deodorants and antiperspirants
- Sunscreen and suntan products
- Shaving products
- Toothpastes and mouthwashes
- Nail products
- Female hygiene products
- Baby products
Major Health Threats
When the Environmental Working Group evaluated the ingredients in 7,500 personal care products for safety, they found that nearly 70% of the products contain ingredients that may cause asthma, allergies, skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne as well as some other serious health problems.
Impact On Breast Cancer
Experts in the field found that breast tissue may be the most sensitive to adverse health effects from chronic, low-dose exposure of hormone-mimicking chemicals. Breast cancer takes many years to develop, often up to 30 years or more. Many changes have to occur before a normal cell becomes a cancerous cell that divides out of control.
Environmental chemicals can mimic the effects of hormones on growth factors or affect cell division. More than half of all breast tumors depend on estrogen for growth. Scientists believe that chemicals that mimic the effect of estrogen may play a huge role in supporting the growth of estrogen-dependent breast tumors.
Impact On Children And Adolescence
Due to prenatal and childhood exposures to environmental estrogens, American girls are now entering puberty earlier than a generation ago. In the old days, most girls had their first periods between ages 12 and 13. Now, more and more girls are beginning to menstruate at age 10 or earlier. Evidence indicates that the younger girls are when they enter puberty, the greater their risk of breast and other cancers later in life.
Impact On Male Reproductive Health
Scientists find that men are also experiencing a disturbing increase in health problems of the reproductive system. Data shows a dramatic decline, over 50%, of average sperm density in the U.S. and Western Europe between 1938 and 1990. Research suggests that environmental estrogens may be contributing to declining sperm counts by disrupting the normal function of the hormone system that governs reproduction.
Scientists worry about the increase in genital abnormalities in male infants and the rise in testicular cancer in young men. Moreover, after the age of 40-45, excess estrogen in men may lead to increased risks of both prostate enlargement and prostate cancer.
Chemicals To Avoid
The following is an overview of the most toxic chemicals in personal care products:
- Found in most underarm deodorants and antiperspirants.
- Daily use may raise a woman’s risk for breast cancer over time, given the armpit’s proximity to sensitive breast tissue.
Benzophenones and other UV Screens
- These are chemical sunscreens that filter out ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun.
- Found in sunscreens, shampoos and conditioners, body lotions, lipstick, eye makeup, and hand sanitizers.
- Known to disrupt endocrine activities.
- Safer alternatives are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
- Other names to avoid – benzophenone, homosalate, octyl methoxycinnamate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, and oxybenzone.
Coal tar dyes (p-phenylenediamine) and synthetic colors (FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number)
- May be found in dark-colored hair dyes, dandruff shampoos, and psoriasis creams.
- Potential to cause skin irritation and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.
- These amines or ammonia compounds can form harmful nitrosamines.
- Used as foaming agents, synthetic stabilizers, and to adjust pH of cosmetics.
- May cause allergic reactions, eye irritation, and dryness of hair and skin.
- A known carcinogen that causes cancer and irritates the skin. When inhaled, formaldehyde can bring on respiratory ailments, such as asthma.
- Found in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gels, and hair straightening products.
- Be aware that many products claim to be “formaldehyde free” by using the chemical methylene glycol. This is misleading as this chemical is basically formaldehyde mixed with water.
- Certain preservatives used in personal care products release formaldehyde when they begin to break down. These preservatives are found in a great number of products including everything from body wash, to baby soap, to baby wipes. DMDM hydantoin; urea; quaternium-15; 2 bromo-2 nitropane-1,3 diol; 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3 dioxane; and methenamine are a few of the most prevalent formaldehyde releasing products.
- May be a contaminant in some lipsticks, nail colors, sunscreens, foundations, and whitening toothpaste.
- Toxic to the brain and is linked to learning, language, and behavioral problems.
- Also linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility in men and women, and delays in puberty onset in girls.
- Most commonly used preservatives made from petroleum-based chemicals.
- Found in hair care, skin care, and shaving products.
- Estrogenic. Build up in the body and concentrate in fat tissue.
- May alter hormone levels, increase risks for hormone-related cancers, impair fertility, and alter the development of a fetus or young child.
- Other names to avoid – butyl paraben, ethyl paraben, isobutyl paraben, methyl paraben, and propyl paraben.
- Petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, wave sets, and other cosmetics.
- Toxic. May damage lungs if inhaled.
Petrolatum (petroleum jelly), mineral oil, and paraffin
- These petroleum-based ingredients are often used in hair products for shine and in lip products for moisture.
- May clog pores.
- Can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.
- Man-made petroleum based chemicals.
- Commonly found in cosmetics like nail polishes and perfumes.
- May be listed as “fragrance” on the label.
- Phthalates disrupt endocrine functions and are linked to early puberty in girls.
- Derived from animal placentas and are used in hair care products, facial moisturizers, and astringents.
- Contain estrogen that may disrupt the hormonal system.
- A synthetic petrochemical mix that is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene dioxide, which are carcinogenic.
- Used in many hair products, facial moisturizers and cleaners, body wash, and sunscreens.
- Known to cause allergic reactions and disrupt endocrine functions.
- Other related names include polyethylene glycol (PEG), propane-1,2-diol, 2-hydroxypropanol, polysorbate 60 or 80, polyoxyethylene, and oxynol.
Sodium lauryl (or laureth) sulfate
- Used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, conditioners, cleansers, soaps, bubble bath, facial creams, and lotions.
- Frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with parenthetic explanation “comes from coconut”.
- Can form toxic nitrosamines when processed with ethylene oxide and may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen.
- Causes eye and skin irritations and disrupts the body’s hormonal functions.
- Avoid related chemicals with ceteareth, myreth, oleth, or any other -eth in the names.
- Developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, it is used in many hair conditioning formulas.
- Toxic and may cause allergic reactions.
- Commonly found in baby powder, cosmetic powders, feminine hygiene sprays, and sanitary napkins (particularly the scented or deodorant type).
- May contain boric acid which can irritate the lungs, skin, and eyes and affect the gastrointestinal tract.
- May be contaminated with asbestos fibers, a known carcinogen that causes cancer.
- This antibacterial agent is commonly used in antibacterial soaps, cosmetics, deodorants, and toothpastes.
- Does not break down in the environment and contributes to antibiotic resistance.
- Accumulates in fatty tissues. Known to disrupt thyroid function and reproductive hormones.
- Second most commonly used preservatives in a variety of cosmetics.
- Have the potential to release formaldehyde and are a primary cause of contact dermatitis.
- Also known as diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, methenamine, quarternium-15, or sodium hydroxymethyl-glycinate.
Choosing Your Personal Care Products Smartly
- For example, you can look up Johnson’s baby shampoo which is supposed to be a mild shampoo. It has a rating of 4 and is considered a moderate hazard. It says use of the shampoo is linked to allergies and immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, and organ system toxicity. It also lists the health concerns of each ingredient.
- The website organizes personal care products into categories – sun, makeup, skin care, hair, eye care, nails, fragrance, babies & moms, oral care, and men’s. Under each category, it lists many products that have been given low hazard ratings of 0-2. It even tells you where to purchase it. Many products also have user comments included.
- To sum up, it is best to use fewer products with synthetic chemicals. Become an expert in reading labels. Choose products using natural ingredients that are free from parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfates, petrolatum, mineral oil, fragrance, and artificial colors.