It has taken decades, but it’s finally fashionable to be ‘clean and green’. Though some personal care and cosmetic companies’ efforts are half-hearted, the industry has made strides in pursuing efforts that support sustainable beauty, and rightly so!
A 2007 study conducted by the Environmental Working Group found a ton of potentially harmful chemicals present in a number of personal-care products and their packaging. And since the skin is the largest organ of the body – porous and absorbent - it’s important to be very careful about what we put on our body. We wouldn’t want junk ingredients making their way into our body and into our blood streams.
Dr Paula Baillie-Hamilton, author of Toxic Overload and supporter of the campaign group Chemical Safe Skincare, believes that absorbing chemicals through our skin is more dangerous than swallowing them. "At least if you ingest chemicals through your mouth, your digestive system can do something towards dealing with them," she says. "If they go through your skin they hit your blood stream immediately and are then transported to vital organs such as kidney and liver, where they may be stored for many years."
In an ideal world, we’re able to spot-check and be thorough about every little thing we take in or slather onto our bodies. Although this may not be the case, exerting a conscious effort into researching about the products you purchase will do wonders for you. To all the Sheroes out there who could use a few tips, here are some of the best steps to take:
Scrutinize before you slather
Be an eager ingredient reader; make it your business to know what these chemicals are. Ecosalon.com lists these typically toxic skin and hair care chemicals to toss:
Coal Tar: This carcinogen is used to treat the symptoms of (not cure) eczema, psoriasis and other skin disorders and can be found in anti-itch creams and scalp treatments.
Diethanolamine (DEA): In 1979, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the cosmetic industry to ban NDEA from their products, but in 1992, 8 out of 12 FDA-tested products still had NDEA. Since we can’t tell for sure which products have NDEA, steer clear of all DEA to be safe.
Formaldehyde: Alarmingly common from shampoo to lipstick, formaldehyde, can inflame your eyes, nose and throat, dry out and irritate your skin and even trigger asthma and cancer. Its use in cosmetics is banned in Japan and Sweden, but not locally, where trace amounts of it keep products bacteria-free.
Fragrance: Cosmetic firms take advantage of an FDA loophole to hide chemicals like phthalates under the classification “fragrance.” Voted Allergen of the Year in 2007 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society, its composition is not typically divulged in product labels, concealing its formula’s real content.
Hydroquinone: This whitening ingredient is a suspected carcinogen and is forbidden in Japan, the European Union, and Australia. It’s very unsafe as it is usually paired with mercury, causing acute liver and kidney damage.
Parabens: While a direct link remains unproven, parabens have been associated with breast cancer. Concerns about these endocrine disruptors and how they eerily mimic estrogen have led the pursuit for substitutes.
Phenylenediamine (PPD): Used in hair dyes and mascara, U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studies show an elevated occurrence of cancer among hairdressers, since they have the greatest contact with PPD. Although the chemical is not approved for products that touch the skin, PPD ends up on your forehead, eyelids and ears.
Phthalates: These hormone-disruptors make lotions feel smooth and velvety and make plastics bendy. Some have notorious carcinogens common in nail polish and can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): Prevalent in personal care products, SLS and SLES are skin irritants that can enter the skin and pile up in the heart, brain and liver, causing skin damage, permanent eye damage in kids and liver toxicity. SLES remains in the body and contains low levels of a known carcinogen.
Toluene: Found in nail polish and hair dye, toluene makes nail polish smooth and makes it dry quicker. But it is toxic; inhalation can lead to birth defects, miscarriage and even death.
Triclosan: Used in toothpastes, soaps, home cleaning products, hand sanitizers and body washes, antibacterial agent and pesticide triclosan is a suspected carcinogen. In severe cases, it can trigger coma.
Triethanolamine (TEA): Used to balance PH and is a usual ingredient in “mild” cosmetic products, TEA is ironically a known allergen and eye irritant. Regular use of TEA accumulates in the body and can be deadly.
So what can you do?
Limit your exposure by using as many certified organic products as you can. Not all of them will be as effective as your old products, but the costs outweigh the benefits.
Research and know the ingredients. Don’t be blinded by the brand or the marketing. Something touted ‘natural,’ aluminum- and paraben-free can still contain triclosan and propylene glycol, which can lead to brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities.
Go as clean and unprocessed as you can. The science of beauty will continue to evolve. Exercise your right to choose. Make it your business to learn about what you consume as you groom.
Choose to live well today and look good longer.
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