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Everyday Chemical Burdens

Have you ever read the ingredients in your shampoo, mascara or shaving cream? How many ingredients do you recognize? Would you ever eat those products? I recently started learning about natural and homemade health and beauty products while reading the book "There's Lead in Your Lipstick" by Gillian Deacon. Deacon, a cancer survivor, discusses the chemical burden of commercial health and beauty products and proposes that the chemical constituents of these products can adversely affect our health (i.e. cancer). 

The skin is your largest organ. It weighs about 8 pounds and covers 22 sq feet on your body. It protects you from sunlight, chemicals, pathogens and temperature extreme while connecting you to the environment as well through an intricate network of nerves. Knowing the importance of your skin, how does it sound to lather it up in the soothing aromas and moisturizing power of Formaldehyde, Lead, Phthalates, Sodium lauryl Sulfate and Triclosan? These chemicals are either known or suspected carcinogens, hormone disruptors, or irritants to allergies and asthma. They are COMMONLY found in your favorite face wash, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, hand soap deodorant, just take a look yourself! If you wouldn’t eat any of those ingredients for nourishment, why would you lather it on your largest organ for nourishment?  

I'll be the first to admit how ignorant I was about the chemical burden. I was equally shocked to learn the lack of government regulation in the health and beauty industry. I was wrongly under the impression that the ingredients in our “essential” everyday products are regulated by the federal government. As it turns out, there is a system of "anti-regulation" in place that covertly approves more than 2500 new chemicals to the market every year in the U.S. (1500 new chemicals in Canada annually). The U.S Food and Drug Administration website states..."the [U.S. FDA] does not have the authority to require companies to safety test personal care products before they go on the market and cannot recall defective or possibly harmful cosmetics"..."Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA pre-market approval authority, with the exception of color additives."...This means, the chemicals in your lotion, shampoo or hand soap are only regulated after the product is sold and consumers complain about adverse side effects. Furthermore, safety concerns are addressed through the Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program in which companies voluntarily report adverse health reactions to the FDA for investigation. (Referenced from "There's Lead in Your Lipstick")

The average women applies 127 different chemicals to her skin every morning. If it isn’t harmful enough to put one of these ingredients on to absorb into body, can you imagine what a concoction of 127 might be doing to you? This isn't just a problem for women either. Men are equally at risk for suffering the chemical burden of mainstream personal care products. Check out the back of your Old Spice deodorant or Axe aerosol can. What's in that shaving cream, face wash, and bar of soap you use everyday? Or how about your toothpaste?

The following is a list of commonly used chemicals to avoid:

Coal Tar  and Coal Tar Dyes (Look for P-Phenyl- Enediamine) – Commonly used in hair dyes. Look for colors labeled as “C.I.” followed by five digits. Coal tar is a known carcinogenic. Coal tar dyes may be contaminated with heavy metals that can cause brain damage.

Triclosan – Anti-bacterial/fungal agent used in toothpaste, soaps, deodorant, hand sanitizer, laundry detergent, facial tissues, and other products advertised as anti-bacterial. It is a speculated endocrine disruptor (interferes with hormone function) and bioaccumulative meaning it doesn’t easily degrade, building up in the environment posing a threat to aquatic life. In the EU it is considered a skin and eye irritant and very toxic to aquatic organisms. Triclosan may also contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria and was originally approved for use as a pesticide.

Paraben – Associated with breast cancer and potential hormone disrupter. Used in lotions, moisturizer and makeup etc.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – Used in foaming/bubbly products like shampoos, facial cleansers, bubble bath, and shower gels. Can be contaminated with 1-4 dioxane (potential carcinogen) and ethelene oxane (known carcinogen).  SLS is a skin, eye and respiratory tract irritant and toxic to aquatic organisms.

Fragrance/Perfume (parfum) – Used in MANY products even those labeled as “unscented”. Fragrances are mixtures of chemicals that can irritate allergies and asthma. Some are linked to neurotoxicity and cancer and are harmful to the environment.

Formaldehyde – Common in moisturizers, hair products, lotions etc. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

Petrolatum – Petroleum product that can be contaminated with cancer causing chemicals. Found in makeup, hair and skin products.

DEA, MEA and TEA: Used in moisturizer, lotion, shampoo and other creamy/foaming products. Able to react with nitrosamines, a cancer-causing chemical.  Harmful to the environment.

Pthalates – Used to make plastics more flexible. Used in soaps, cosmetics, shampoo, body washes. Possible hormone disrupter.

A great way to avoid products with these toxins and pollutants is to switch to natural, homemade alternatives.

Au Natural Alternatives:

Honey - Raw unpasteurized honey has enzymes that make it excellent to use as a natural care product. Use is as a face mask or as a moisturizing face wash.

Avocado- The fat in Avocado is highly moisturizing. Try it as an avocado hair mask or mix it up with oats and honey for a moisturizing and exfoliating face mask.

Jojoba oil – Similar composition to the sebum produced by our skin glands. Excellent as a base oil for homemade beauty products.

Coconut oil – Amazing moisturizing power (among many other benefits). It is naturally anti-bacterial/fungal/viral, it can be used as a hair mask, face lotion, a base in homemade deodorant, the list goes on.

Baking Soda- Dissolve in water and use for shampoo! Follow by an apple cider vinegar conditioning rinse to give your hair natural shine. If you go “no-poo”, there will be an awkward transitional period where your pores over produce oil as it adjusts to a gentler shampooing regimen that maintains your hairs natural oils. Baking soda is also an awesome deodorizer in homemade deodorant.

I made the cold-turkey switch after reading Gillian Deacons book. If you aren't into making your own products, there are awesome environmental and health conscious brands that make clean beauty and personal care products. Either homemade or store-bought, the alternative products are just as effective if not better (and cheaper)  than their conventional counterparts but without the chemical burden. 

Making a few simple changes can reduce your chemical burden, save you money and protect the environment. What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body!



“There’s Lead in your lipstick” by Gilian Deacon


Margot is a graduate of Cornell University with a B.S. in Biology. She is interested in pursuing graduate school for Public Health and Nutrition.

The views expressed here are independent and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or directors of EAF


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