Did you know that on a daily basis an average consumer may use as many as two different personal care products that, when combined, could contain as many as 200 chemical compounds? (1) Or were you aware that one out of every ten ingredients used in cosmetic and personal care products shows evidence of reproductive toxicity in laboratory studies? What is more, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even revealed that toxic chemicals in household cleaners are three times more likely to cause cancer than outdoor air! (1)
With so many “natural” and “eco-friendly” alternatives on the market, one would assume it would be easy to dodge harmful chemicals from entering your body, right? Sadly, this is not the case. As more and more companies come out with new personal care and food products, more eco-experts are finding them to be green-washed and full of harmful chemicals.
Purchasing a product with an “eco-friendly” or “organic” label is not enough anymore. Consumers have to understand the labels on their products; making sure they have a certified label (i.e. compostable, biodegradable, organic) and that they themselves have a better understanding of the harmful/toxic chemicals in their everyday products.
In a recent article on green-washing by Eco-Savy, a website devoted helping consumers navigate through today’s eco-marketplace and achieve everlasting health through choosing “greener” and more “eco-friendly” products, it was reported that in a private study by TerraChoice, 95.5% of consumer products which claim to be green are still guilty of at least one of the sins of green-washing. (4) Eco-savy, also explains how green washing is on the rise and that there has been a 73% increase in green products since 2009.
Many people don’t think twice about what makes their Kraft Dinner “yellow,” their soap “antibacterial,” or their shampoo lather on so nicely? The truth is there are thousands of shockingly harmful chemicals in our everyday products that we need to be more aware of as consumers. In fact, 89% of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been screened for safety.
Below is a list of the most common everyday controversial chemicals that you should watch out for on your next trip to the store:
- PEG (polyethylene glycol): Often contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane, which is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA. (5) Found in shampoos and conditioners. Since 1988, California has forced any product that contains 1,4-Dioxane to carry a warning label that reads: “This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and/or other reproductive harm” (1)
- Ethyl Acetate: May cause damage to the liver and kidneys, headaches and dehydration of the skin. Found in aftershave and shaving cream. (1)
- Triclosan: (5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)phenol) is used as a material preservative and as an antimicrobial ingredient in a variety of consumer products (soaps) to stop the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew and to deodorize.” – Environment Canada. This antibacterial chemical is a suspected thyroid disruptor and may contribute to antibiotic resistance. It is also highly toxic to aquatic life according to Environment Canada. (2)
- Sodium Laureth Sulphate: Foaming agent found in soaps, shampoo’s and conditioner’s that is often contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-Dioxane. Sodium laureth sulphate used to get a lot of bad press too, but it is mostly just an irritant.
- Phthlalates: You won’t spot these on most ingredient lists since they’re hidden behind the word “fragrance”, but you can and should look for the phrase “phthalate-free”. Dibutyl phthalate(DEP) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) are two of the phthalates that have been banned from toys but are still found in some cosmetics. (4) DEHP (di-2-ethyl-hexyl-phthalate) is now prohibited by the Cosmetics Ingredient Hotlist and has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. New research even shows that exposure to phthalates has been linked to disorders such as reduced semen quality (5), reduced angogenital distance (6) as well as testicular cancer (7).
- Benzyl acetate: linked to pancreatic cancer (may be absorbed through the skin). Found in aftersave and shaving cream.
- Parabens (often listed as–methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isopropylparaben, benzylparaben, propylparaben). There is at least one paraben ingredient in approximately 90% of cosmetic and personal care products. It is an estrogen-mimicking family of preservatives found in everything from mouthwash, to shampoo to mascara. There is a raised concern about this chemical ever since a recent study was published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology parabens were found to be present in human breast tumors!!! (8) Denmark became the first EU country to take the precautionary approach and ban propyl-and butylparabens from body care products for kids under the age of three. Learn more –click here
- Tartrazine (Yellow Dye No.5): In thousands and THOUSANDS of your food products (i.e. Kraft Dinner, jarred pickles, mustard, gummy bears, popcorn, or drink Mountain Dew). It gives your food or drink that consistent color that kept you coming back for more. Scientists have found that tartrazine not only reduces the cells in our bodies which combat multi-cellular parasites and infections in vertebrates, but has been found to reduce the amount of antioxidants (cancer fighting cells) in Chinese hamster ovary cells. Scientists even saying that “Tartrazine food coloring can even be regarded as toxic.” (9)
- Bisphenol-A: Found in canned food linings and water bottles. New research suggests Bisphenol-A could have adverse, long term effects on human health (even unborn fetuses) by increasing the risk of OBESITY. What’s even scarier is that toxicologist found small doses of bisphenol-A (up to 1000 times below the ACCEPTABLE DAILY INTAKE) were more detrimental to one’s body in terms of pre-disposing obesity when compared to large doses. (10)
(1) Baillie-Hamilton, P. Toxic Overload. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated. (2005)
(2) Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number. Health Canada & Environment Canada. Available: 3380-34-5http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=6EF68BEC-1
(3) Terrachoice. Online: http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/findings/greenwashing-report-2010/index.html. Accessed: January,2013.
(4) Vasil, A. (2012) Ecoholic Body: Your Ultimate Earth-Friendly Guide to Living Healthy & Looking Good. Vintage Canadian Edition.
(5) Duty SM. (2005). Phthalate exposure and reproductive hormones in adult men Hum. Reprod. 20(3): 604-610. first published online December 9, 2004 doi:10.1093/humrep/deh656.
(6) Swan SH et. al. Decrease in anogenital distance among male infants with prenatal phthalate exposure. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2005 Aug; 113(8):1056-61.
(7) Castaño-Vinyals, G., et. al. (2012) Anogenital distance and the risk of prostate cancer. BJU International.
(8) Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller, WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope G. 2004. Concentrations of Parabens in human Breast Tumours. J. Appl. Toxicol. 24, 5-13.
(9) Demirkol, O., Zhang, X., Ercal, N. (2012) Oxidative effects of Tartrazine (CAS No. 1934-21-0) and New Coccin (CAS No. 2611-82-7) azo dyes on CHO cells. Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety. 7: 229-236.
(10) Welshons WV, et al. Large effects from small exposures. I. Mechanisms for endocrine-disrupting chemicals with estrogenic activity. Environ Health Perspect. 1118994–1006. (2003) http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.5494.
Disclaimer: This article contains the opinions and ideas of its author. It is intended to provide helpful and informative material on the subjects addressed in the article. It should be read with the understanding that the author is not engaged in rendering medical, health or any other kind of personal professional services.