01Jul Why Natural and Organic Toiletries and Cleaning products
High street skincare and household cleaning products invariably contain synthetic chemicals which can cause allergic reactions or ill health. Since scientists now suggest that up to 60% of what we apply to our skin can be absorbed into our bodies, and that some compounds are very difficult to break down and excrete, there is increasing concern about these substances.
Mainstream products are often not as 'natural' as their marketing claims. They may not even be as effective as they sound. Standard 'anti-ageing' creams could actually have the opposite effect, as various man made compounds can irritate and dry out the skin, exacerbating wrinkles and speeding the effects of ageing. In fact, chemical components in any traditional skin care product can aggravate sensitive skin, acne, eczema, rosacea and so on. Genuinely natural products are ideal for sensitive skin and any skin condition.
Long Term Effects
But far more worrying than any cosmetic considerations or short term affects (of which there are many), research is beginning to link some widespread chemicals with serious long term endocrine and hormone disruption, as well as chronic diseases like cancer. Scientists at Reading University have, for example, recently discovered that there might be a link between paraben preservatives in deodorants, and breast cancer.
In an average day we are apparently exposed to over 1000 chemicals. Perfumes (or 'parfum' added to most toiletries and cleaners) are amongst the worst offenders. They are made up of dozens of different chemicals containing solvents like those found in glue, and benzene derivatives, many of which are known toxins, capable of causing cancer, birth defects, and central nervous system disorders (including depression and seizures). Fragrances are absorbed through the skin, and then accumulate in fatty tissues or become toxic to the liver and kidneys - with children being particularly vulnerable because their skin is so much thinner.
As long ago as 1986, the US National Academy of Sciences identified fragrance ingredients as neurotoxic chemicals that needed thorough investigation to determine any potential harm to health. These chemicals were associated with insecticides, heavy metals, solvents and food additives as probable primary causes of disease. Many body care products are heavily perfumed, and at least one study has linked heavy perfume exposure during pregnancy with learning disabilities and behaviour disorders in children.
Enough scientific evidence has now emerged to cause legitimate concern. More research is clearly required, but government and industry are slow to demand or fund investigations while synthetic chemicals provide such cheap manufacturing solutions.
Health and Environmental Benefits
Furthermore, apart from the benefits to human health, truly natural products are also good for the environment. They are produced using methods that respect sustainable manufacturing practices, are never tested on animals, and are ultimately biodegradable. Natural and organic products provide the desired effects without the potential threats to our health and the environment.
There is a rising demand for products that are based on milder, natural and organic ingredients such as plant extracts, and vegetable and essential oils, rather than chemicals and synthetic compounds. However, with an absence of official regulations and research about these ingredients, it is difficult for people to distinguish between legitimate natural products and conventional high street ones. 'Natural' and 'organic' labels can be misleading because pseudo-natural and organic products may also contain chemicals with a known risk to health.
However, people can now find natural alternatives for every beauty and household cleaning product they have ever used.
Check the Labels
Firstly, we can all scrutinize labels. The main ingredients to avoid are artificial preservatives (like Parabens, Diazolidinyl Urea or Imidazolidinyl Urea), DEA or TEA (emulsifiers and foaming agents), Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate (detergent), Petrolatum or petroleum-derived substances (emollients), Propylene Glycol (humectant), Stearalkonium Chloride (emollient), GM ingredients, artificial colours, and synthetic fragrances.
Online stores like The Natural Shop are dedicated entirely to the purest products, and provide a lot of useful up to date information at the same time.
Julie Gibson B.A., M.Sc