| The Main Chemicals to Avoid
Found in bath and shower products, anti-ageing facial
and body products, they are used as pH regulators and
exfoliants. Names to watch out for: alpha-hydroxy acids
or fruit acids, including glycolic, lactic and citric
acid. They can cause adverse skin reactions and can
penetrate the skin. They may also increase sensitivity
to sunlight, thus increasing photo-ageing and the risk
of sun-related skin cancers.
A widely used preservative that can cause contact dermatitis
and releases formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.
Can cause nitrosamine contamination, which has been
determined to form cancer in laboratory animals.
Found in toiletries such as moisturisers and deodorants,
as well as foods like pie fillings, beer and jam, parabens
are used as inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend
shelf life of products. Names to watch out for: Alkyl
parachydroxy benzoates - butyl/methyl/ethyl/propyl/isobutyl
paraben. They cause a variety of allergic reactions
and skin rashes. Studies have shown that they are weakly
estrogenic and can be absorbed by the body through the
skin. In a study into breast cancer at Reading University,
parabens were found in 18 out of 20 tumours. The effect
of daily low level exposure to parabens in a number
of different products needs to be further investigated.
For now, parabens are widely used even though they are
known to be toxic.
DEA, MEA & TEA
Often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming
agents, they can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation
and dryness of hair and skin. DEA, TEA and MEA are ammonia
compounds (also known as 'amines') and can cause cancer-causing
nitrosamines when they come into contact with nitrates.
Toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of
time. These chemicals are already restricted due to
known carcinogenic effects. Dr. Samuel Epstein (Professor
of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois)
says that repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents
resulted in a major increase in the incidence of liver
and kidney cancer.
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate (or Sulfate)
A cheap, harsh detergent used in shampoos, bath and
shower products, and toothpastes for its cleansing and
foam-building properties. Often derived from petroleum,
it is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics
with the description "comes from coconuts".
It causes headaches, eye irritation, scalp surf similar
to dandruff, skin rashes and other allergic reactions.
It may damage the liver, lungs or immune system, and
some evidence suggest reproductive effects. When combined
with other chemicals, SLES and ALES can create nitrosamines,
a potent class of carcinogens.
Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative
is unbelievably cheap and thus used in many personal
care products for its emollient properties. It can ironically
lead to dryness and chapping, and it coats the skin
like plastic, clogging the pores. It also interferes
with the skin's ability to eliminate toxins, promoting
acne and other disorders, and slows down skin function
and cell development, resulting in premature aging.
Any mineral oil derivative can be contaminated with
cancer causing PAH's (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons).
Baby oil is 100% mineral oil - a by-product of petroleum.
These are toxic gender bending chemicals used as a
plasticizer in food wraps and many pliable plastics
and containers. They are also used in floor polishes,
window cleaners, perfumes, hairsprays, moisturisers
and some cosmetics - including nail varnishes from where
it is readily absorbed into the system. Watch out for
any names ending in phthalate, sometimes shortened to
DBP, DEHP, BBP and BzBP. All 289 people in a recent
test for body load of chemicals tested positive for
phthalates. Phthalates are implicated in low sperm counts
and also causing sexual abnormalities and deformities.
They are linked to premature breast development in young
girls and interference with reproductive development
in male foetuses. The US have even banned them from
children's toys because of fears about future fertility.
Some phthalates act as hormone disruptors. There is
growing evidence that they are linked to allergic diseases
like asthma. In depth articles about phthalates can
be found at www.health-report.co.uk
Found in shampoos, sun lotion, body lotion, make-up
and colour cosmetics, ideally it is a vegetable glycerine
mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural.
Usually, however, it is a synthetic petrochemical mix
used as a a humectant, to maintain moisture. Names to
watch out for: propan-1,2-diol; PG. It has been known
to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. When
you see PEG (polyethylene glyciol) or PGG (polypropylene
glycol) on labels, beware - these are related synthetics.
Propylene glycol (PG) penetrates the skin and can weaken
protein and cellular structure. Commonly used to make
extracts from herbs. PG is strong enough to remove barnacles
from boats! Because PG penetrates the skin so quickly,
the EPA warns against skin contact to prevent consequences
such as brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities. Nevertheless,
there isn't even a warning label on products such as
stick deodorants, where the concentration is greater
than in most industrial applications! It can cause contact
dermatitis and is linked to depression of the Central
A Petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, styling
aids andother cosmetics. It can be considered toxic,
since inhaled particles can damage the lungs of sensitive
An ammonium compound used in hair conditioners and
creams. Developed by the fabric industry as a fabric
softener, it is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair
conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which
are beneficial to the hair. Causes allergic reactions.
Used to make cosmetics 'pretty', synthetic colours,
along with synthetic hair dyes, should be avoided at
all costs. They will be labelled FD & C or D &
C, followed by a colour and a number - e.g. FD &
C Red NO.6/D&C Green NO.6. Many synthetic colours
can be carcinogenic. If a cosmetic contains them, don't
use it. FD & C Synthetic colours are made from coal
tar, and contain heavy metal salts that deposit toxins
onto the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation.
Animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic.
Fragrance or Parfum on a label can indicate the presence
of up to four thousand separate ingredients, many of
which are toxic or carcinogenic. Ninety five percent
of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds
derived from petroleum, and only a fraction of the thousands
of chemicals used in fragrances have been safely tested
by the industry. Some are capable of triggering breathing
difficulties, allergic reactions and multiple chemical
sensitivities. Symptoms reported to the USA FDA include
headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration,
violent coughing and vomiting, and skin irritation.
Clinical observation proves fragrances can affect the
central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity,
and irritability. Our advice is: don't buy a cosmetic
that has the word 'fragrance' or 'parfum' on the label!
Formaldehyde is commonly found in glues, modern furniture
finishes, synthetic furnishings, bedding, pesticides,
household cleaning products and cosmetics, including
nail polishes and removers, mascara, anti-ageing creams
and deodorants. Side-effects range from mild irritations
to potential risks of reproductive problems, neurotoxicity
and cancer. New homes and cars are particularly dangerous
as new synthetic surfaces, glues and appliances continually
give off gases and fumes. New homes should be well ventilated
and aired before moving in. Use natural surfaces and
finishes to reduce the incidence of initial contamination
and the risk of poisoning.
A useful site to consult is The Women's Environmental
Network at www.wen.org.uk