We take a closer look at what’s inside the average cosmetics bag and give you some advice on what ingredients to avoid (and why) when buying new products
10 The Green Parent Natural Beauty Guide 2011
The majority of modern cosmetics are complex mixtures of industrially produced synthetic chemicals. Individually these cosmetic products contain very small amounts of chemical ingredients – it is the cumulative and combined effect of applying these ingredients in the many everyday products which comprise our daily routine that gives cause for concern. Some commonly used chemicals can trigger allergic reactions or chemical sensitivity. Some are suspected hormone disruptors, and may affect immune and nervous systems; others have been linked to rising levels of birth defects, male infertility and early onset of puberty in girls. There is increasing evidence that we are all victims of a great big con: the very products the glossy ads suggest will make us look younger, healthier and fitter, and be sexually and socially more successful, may contain ingredients that impair fertility, increase the effects of ageing, disrupt hormones and are linked to cancer, allergies or other health problems. We shouldn’t have to stop using cosmetics and toiletries, but we should have the assurance that the products we buy are safe, both for ourselves, our families, the planet and its other inhabitants.
Synthetic chemicals commonly used in standard beauty products pollute both the environment and our bodies – they have been detected in human body fluids and body fat. We wash large quantities down the drain every day which can then come back to haunt us in our water supply and accumulate in our seas and rivers. Some 5% of triclosan (an antibacterial agent) entering a wastewater treatment plant escapes degradation and is discharged straight back into our environment. Some ingredients, such as talc and titanium dioxide, have been linked to environmental damage where they are mined. Use of risky chemicals in cosmetics cannot be seen in isolation, similar chemicals are in a host of other industrially-produced everyday items and are building up in and damaging the environment. The ‘cocktail effect’ of all these chemicals in combination is not fully understood and current regulations, based on outdated tests on individual substances, are inadequate to control them.
There is hope A growing number of companies recognise the concerns and are producing cosmetics that contain few or no synthetic ingredients. In fact, the products that feature in The Green Parent Natural Beauty Awards do so because they are free from the synthetic chemicals that we need to steer clear of for our health, the health of our planet and future generations. You can become an informed beauty consumer by reading this guide and following the ‘what you can do’ suggestions on the back page.
WHAT TO AVOID PARABENS It is estimated that around 99% of beauty products contain synthetic preservatives called parabens (e.g. methyl-, propyl- and butyl- paraben). These compounds are often found in shampoos, make-up, lotions and deodorants. As well as causing skin irritation, rashes, dermatitis, and allergic reactions, parabens mimic the female hormone oestrogen. New research undertaken by the University of Reading found high concentrations of parabens in 18 out of 20 breast tumours. >
ON THE LABEL Labels can be a minefield unless you know what you are looking for. Much of the terminology we are all familiar with, thanks to its regular use by the cosmetics industry, can be misleading. Some terms sound scientific or official, but may not actually mean as much as we might think. For instance: hypoallergenic - the manufacturer feels the product is less likely to cause an allergic reaction, but they are not required to substantiate these claims; unscented - implies the product has no noticable odour, however fragrance may still have been added to the product to mask the odour of the other ingredients; organic – can be used even if as little as one percent of the content is of organic origin; look for the Soil Association (SA) or other organic certification logo. The SA logo is only granted to a product if 95% of its content (excluding water) is from organic sources; natural – a meaningless word that can be applied to ingredients derived from petrol as much as from plants. The best way to avoid being misled by marketing jargon is to familiarize yourself with any specific ingredients to watch out for, use the ingredients list on the label, and see through the jargon altogether.
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