‘Ingredients in fragrances are the most frequent cause of allergies and have been found to cause one third of all cosmetic allergies.’
PHTHALATES A group of chemicals used as solvents and fixatives, phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are found in hair spray, deodorant, nail polish and perfume. Commercially they are used as softeners in PVC. Phthalates can damage the liver, the kidneys, the lungs and the reproductive system. The Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) states: “Chemicals that cause birth defects do not belong in products marketed for personal or household use. While the levels of phthalates in some individual products were low, people are being exposed to phthalates from many different products each day.”
FORMALDEHYDE Most of us think of embalming fluid when we hear the word formaldehyde but this toxic chemical pops up in aqueous cosmetic formulations such as shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid hand wash and bubble bath, including products aimed at babies and children. Frequent use can cause dryness, cracking, dermatitis, itching and blisters.
12 The Green Parent Natural Beauty Guide 2011
FRAGRANCE OR ‘PARFUM’ The amount of fragrance chemicals used each year is enormous – nearly 1 million kilograms of benzyl acetate, a synthetic ‘floral’ fragrance ingredient, are used in the US each year. This innocent-sounding ingredient can contain literally thousands of chemicals, many toxic or carcinogenic. Synthetic scents, typically made up of chemicals derived from petroleum, can cause headaches, dizziness, allergic reactions, coughing, vomiting and skin irritation. Of the thousands of chemicals used in fragrance, only a few have been safety tested. Ingredients in fragrances are the most frequent cause of allergies from cosmetics, and have been found to cause one third of all cosmetic allergies. Children in particular tend to be more sensitive to fragrances, and can develop allergic reactions easily. Data from Sweden shows that perfume is the most common contact allergen in men, possibly caused by shaving, and damaging the skin, increasing the chances of absorbing the fragrance chemicals and thus developing an allergy.
SODIUM LAUREL SULPHATE (SLS) Research suggests that 90% of beauty products, ranging from shampoo to toothpaste, use a detergent called sodium dodecylsulfate (SDS), also know as sodium laurel sulphate (SLS), sodium lauryl sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) as a foaming agent. A solution of just 2% SLS can increase skin thickness, cause irritation, inflammation, and increase other forms of immune activity in the skin. Some shampoos contain more than 50% SLS. Other research suggests that SLS and SLES may cause potentially carcinogenic nitrates and dioxins to form in shampoos and cleansers by reacting with other commonly used chemical ingredients.
TRICLOSAN Used in products such as toothpaste, soaps and body washes, as well as many household cleaning products, Tricolsan boasts antimicrobial properties. The human body is a home for many different bacteria, many of which are beneficial. Triclosan cannot target specific bacteria and so will kill all that it comes across, beneficial or not. Researchers from Tufts University in Boston have said that “triclosan is capable of forcing the emergence of ‘superbugs’ that it cannot kill. Using triclosan daily in the home, in products ranging from children’s soaps to toothpaste to ‘germ-free’ cutting boards, may be unwise”. Environmentally, triclosan is also a problem, and can be converted to dioxin (linked to cancer) when exposed to sunlight in water. Consequently it is classified as “toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment”.
PROPYLENE GLYCOL Commonly used in anti-freeze and brake fluid, propylene glycol finds its way into many moisturisers and hand and body lotions as an emulsifier and solvent. As your bottle of anti-freeze will tell you, this chemical is acknowledged as a neurotoxin and is readily absorbed through the skin. It has been linked to contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities. It also inhibits skin cell growth, damaging cell membranes and causing rashes, dry skin and surface damage to the skin.
DEA (DIETHANOLAMINE), MEA (MONOETHANOLAMINE) & TEA (TRIETHANOLAMINE) These hormone-disrupting chemicals can form cancer-causing nitrates. Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois, reports that repeated applications of DEAbased detergents result in increases in liver cancer and kidney cancer.
AHAs Alpha-hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are found in many cosmetics used as exfoliants, moisturisers and emollients. Originally used as ‘cosmetic peels’, examples include glycolic acid, citric acid, lactic acid and ‘triple fruit acids’. Because they effectively remove the outer layer of skin, they have become increasingly popular and have often been lauded for their ‘anti-aging’ effects. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that approximately 10,000 reports of adverse reactions have been received by the manufacturers. AHAs are extensively absorbed into and through human skin. Also, because of their relatively recent appearance on the cosmetics market, there is little data yet on their possible long-term health effects. •