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 and www.wwf.org.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 Nervous System.
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 people.
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. Toxic.
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