On my quest to rid my diet of chemicals, I began questioning the safety of my shampoo, soaps and lotions. Browsing through a few labels on the products in the bathroom, my stomach turned a bit at the thought of all the stuff I was slathering on my skin on a regular basis. But how harmful are products when used topically?
There is great debate about what percentage of substances your skin will absorb. With the use of transdermal patches for medication, cosmetic manufacturers boasting about deeper penetrating wrinkle fighters, and hair products using nano-technology there’s no question in my mind that at least some of the ingredients in the products I’m using are breaking the skin barrier and entering into my blood stream. A study done by the Environmental Working Group shows the presence of phthalates, triclosans, parabens, and musks in the urine and blood samples taken from 20 females ages 14-19.
So what are these chemicals?
Phthalates are used in a wide array of products but I’m focusing on their impact on cosmetics and body care products and according to The Environmental and Health Working Group in 2002 phthalates were found in 72% of beauty products. Dibutyl phthalate (butyl ester), diethyl phthalate, and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) are 3 of the more commonly used phthalates in cosmetics. Phthalates are sometimes vaguely listed as “fragrance” or “plasticizer” on labels. Phthalates in cosmetics are used to aid penetration, binding, and flexibility. They’re used in hairsprays, gels, and nail polish to make the product “stick” and perfumes so the scent lingers.
The health effects of most of the chemicals listed on this page are under an enormous amount of scrutiny. Some agencies claim they’re harmless while others are pushing for bans. It’s also important to remember that much of the cosmetic industry is unregulated.
Dibutyl phthalate and diethylhexyl phthalate have been banned in Europe. In studies in animals phthalates have harmful effects on the reproductive system, cause birth defects, and cause lung, liver and kidney damage. In humans, it’s suggested that in addition to the effects on animals, phthalates cause developmental disorders in children with exposure as a fetus.
Triclosan is an anti-microbial ingredient in a variety of every day products. It’s used in deodorant, toothpaste, cosmetics and obviously soap. It penetrates our skin and builds up in our bodies according to the Environmental Working Group.
In rat studies, Triclosan wreaks havoc on the endocrine system effecting thyroid function, and it also interacts with hormone receptors. Look for it with names like 2,4-dichlorophenol (2,4-DCP) and 2,4,6-trichlorophenol (2,4,6 TCP).
Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics to reduce microbial growth and lengthen the shelf life of products. A few of the more common parabens are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. You will find at least one paraben in the majority of shampoos, lotions, soaps, cosmetics…the list goes on.
The danger is this: parabens are xenoestrogens, which are estrogen-like chemicals our bodies can’t distinguish from the natural estrogen our bodies produce.
These xenoestrogens are linked to a long list of side effects. Since estrogen plays such a large role in neural development, the concern is that these xenoestrogens will manipulate development and cause long lasting effects. The effects shown in animal studies are behavioral, reproductive and immune abnormalities. These studies also showed that while exposure to an adult may have little effect, even minimal exposure to an embryo can have lifelong effects.
Musks are artificial fragrance chemicals. Nitro- and polycyclic musk are common names. The potential risks of musks are not unlike those of the other chemicals listed here.
For all of the chemical groups listed on this page, animal studies showing the negative health effects are abundant. Finding human studies is an issue though.
Nevertheless, the results of the animal studies are eye opening. There may come a time when all of these chemicals are banned from the shelves of the supermarket. Or we may find out that we were being paranoid.
I can rest easier at night with one less thing to worry about by eliminating the possibly harmful crap in my bathroom and replacing it with chemical free alternatives. Just some food for thought.
If you’re worried about chemicals in products, I’m surprised you’re not exploring making your own products or finding alternatives. You don’t need all these expensive products. You can make your own lotions, deodorants, and shampoos. A box of baking soda will last a long time and is really inexpensive compared to a bottle of shampoo. You can also make your own cleaning supplies like laundry soap. It may take some time to make, but it saves you money and you can control what goes in your products.