* In this third edition of LABEL SAVVY!, we expose some of the most common toxic chemicals found in everyday bodycare and cosmetics products, while offering ways to seek out and identify truly natural, non-toxic alternatives (including D.I.Y.)!
Serving Up a Weekly Helping of
Sustainable & Organic Gardening, Food, Health, and Community
by Adam Brockman & Aireen Joven, December 2007, #39
THIS WEEK’S DISH -
LABEL SAVVY! – Bodycare…or Bodyscare? Identify Toxic Ingredients & Natural Alternatives!
COLLECTING INGREDIENTS. The plant ingredients to be made into an herbal body salve were placed in a basket as we harvested them around the farm. Pictured are plantain, calendula, and yarrow. Because the ingredients were harvested fresh and prepared right away, the potency and quality of the salve we made was very good. Stored in a refrigerator when not being used, the salve kept for several months. Wisconsin, 2006
ALLERGIES, CANCER, AUTO-IMMUNE DISEASES. What part could our shampoo, lotion, soap, cologne, perfume, cosmetics, and even baby wipes have to do with these health issues for which millions seek treatment? For our third edition of the ongoing LABEL SAVVY! series, we provide some possible answers to this question by exposing the often toxic chemicals found in most bodycare and cosmetic products on the market. The good news: with a little bit of searching and a whole lot of LABEL SAVVY!, you’ll be able to seek out healthier, non-toxic alternatives in no time!
But first, a trivia question: Can you guess the human body’s largest organ? If you answered “our skin,” you’re right! Stretch out flat the average person’s skin, and it would cover over 2 square yards. Not only does our skin comprise almost the entire outer covering of our bodies, it is highly absorbent, sort of like a sponge. Nearly every substance that comes into contact with our skin is, to a greater or lesser degree, absorbed into our bloodstream.
Think about that. Every time you put moisturizer on your face, shampoo on your scalp, or soap on your hands, the ingredients in that product are being soaked up by your skin and could be deposited into your blood. True, the amounts involved may be minute, but how many times a week do you wash your hands, moisturize your face, shampoo your hair, or apply makeup? These minute amounts add up, especially if your bodycare and hygiene products contain toxic chemicals.
You may be appalled to learn that most bodycare and cosmetic products contain toxic, even carcinogenic, chemical compounds. Consider, however, that the cosmetics industry is largely self-regulated. According to The Cancer Prevention Coalition (www.preventcancer.com), companies aren’t required to conduct pre-market safety testing for cosmetics. 884 of the chemicals used in bodycare products have been reported to the government as toxic substances, yet the FDA has committed no resources for assessing the safety of these chemicals, many of which are known to cause genetic damage, biological mutations, hormone disruption, and cancer.
THE NO-FLY LIST OF BODYCARE PRODUCTS
Next time you reach for your favorite bodycare or cosmetic product, turn it over and read the label. Products that claim to be “natural”, and even products with the word “organic” in their name can and often do contain harmful ingredients. If you find one or more of the following ingredients listed, we ask that you please consider switching brands:
PARABENS: A common preservative in bodycare and cosmetics, parabens can come in many forms: methyl, proply, butyl, ethyl, etc. Parabens are derivatives of petroleum, and are known endocrine disruptors. They can manipulate estrogen levels in males and females, possibly increasing the risk of breast and testicular cancer. You can find parabens (i.e. petroleum derivatives) in shampoo, toothpaste, lotion, other body(s)care products, and even food.
In 2004, The Ribbon, a newsletter of the Cornell University Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors (BCERF) published an article “Five Types of Parabens Detected Intact in Human Breast Tumors” by Suzanne M. Snedeker, Ph.D.
FRAGRANCE: Unlike pure essential oils, fragrance is made up of nearly 100% toxic, synthetic substances. 95% of the chemicals in fragrance are derived from petroleum, and many of these chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens. These chemicals can enter the bloodstream through the skin or inhalation. Nearly all commonly sold perfumes, shampoos, soaps, lotions, and general cosmetics contain fragrance. Even household air fresheners such as Glade contain fragrance. It is used to both make the product smell “good” and mask the smell of the other chemicals that make up the product. Cosmetic companies do not have to disclose which chemicals they use in their “fragrance,” citing trade secrets, and can list any number or combination of harmful chemicals simply as “fragrance“, “parfum,” or “scent” on the ingredient label. Some fragrances contain phthalates, another hormone disruptor linked to breast cancer. Others contain chemicals like musk ambrette and AETT, two known neurotoxins.
Even if a product is labeled “unscented” or “fragrance free”, it can still contain masking fragrances which are used to cover up the smell of other chemical ingredients. Read the label carefully. Other fragrance ingredients may be listed separately as the following: methylene chloride, toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, ethanol, benzyl chloride, and methyl isobutyl ketone.
FORMALDEHYDE: Another known carcinogen, the following cosmetic ingredients contain formaldehyde: DMDM hydantoin, quaternium 15, diazolidinyl urea, and imidazolinyl urea.
TALC: Found in eye shadow, powdered blush, and face powder, cosmetic talc is carcinogenic and should be avoided.
ARTIFICIAL COLORS: “FD&C” Red, Yellow and so on are coal tar derivatives, and are carcinogenic. Lead acetate and ammonia compounds are found in hair dyes and other cosmetics, and are toxic and possibly carcinogenic. Titanium dioxide, iron oxide, and mica are synthetic coloring agents found in many different makeups, including “natural” cosmetics. All are listed as being of low toxicity, but titanium dioxide has tested positive as a cancer and reproductive toxicity hazard, and iron oxide and mica are bio-accumalitive, meaning they can build up in the body. If you find products with these latter ingredients, particularly in makeup, consider using them sparingly or not at all.
OTHER CANCER RISKS: Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) can form carcinogens in products containing nitrite preservatives. Bronopol (2-bromo-2nitropropane- 1,3-diol) can break down into formaldehyde and cause the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines. It is used frequently by Chanel, the Body Shop, and many top baby care brands. 1,4 – dioxane is a highly volatile chemical found in such common bodycare ingredients as sodium laureth sulfate, polysorbates, and ethoxylated alcohols. It can enter the body through the skin or inhalation.
ALUMINUM COMPOUNDS: Found in deodorants, lotions, and many other brand-name bodycare products, the toxicity level of cosmetic aluminum compounds ranges, according to the Cosmetic Safety Database (www.cosmeticsdatabase.com), from moderate to serious. Products containing aluminum in any form are best avoided.
DIOXIN AND SYNTHETIC TAMPONS: Detected in the synthetic fibers of tampons, dioxin has been linked to toxic shock syndrome in women. A lingering toxin best known for its use in the war defoliant Agent Orange, exposure to dioxin may play a role in cancer, endometriosis, immune-system suppression, hormone abnormalities, and infertility. We urge you to research this further if you feel compelled, and to switch to the natural alternatives for yourself and/or share this with the women and girls in your life.
Many tampons are made out of the synthetic material rayon, which contains petroleum derivatives (see parabens above). Many pads and tampons are also bleached using chlorine, which was used as a chemical weapon in World War I. Seek out companies that make dioxin-free feminine care alternatives made from natural, organic materials, such as Natracare (www.natracare.com) and Seventh Generation (www.seventhgeneration.com). Another option is to use washable, organic cotton/flannel pads that can be purchased in many styles or hand-made. This category alone deserves an entire article in a future Hot Potato.
ANIMAL TESTING LABELS: Labels that say “cruelty-free” and “no animal testing” may only mean that the product itself was not tested on animals. However, the individual ingredients could have been animal tested. The only way to be sure is to call and ask the company, or better yet, buy only products that contain non-toxic ingredients. Non-toxic, food-based cosmetic ingredients like coconut oil and shea butter generally do not require toxicity testing because…they’re food!
THE TROUBLE WITH TOOTHPASTE: Most toothpastes contain fluoride, which in it’s natural state is a beneficial mineral. However, the form found in toothpaste and our water supply is sodium fluoride, a by-product of aluminum processing which is toxic to humans and has actually been linked to increased incidences of tooth decay, osteoporosis, and cancer. Additionally, most name-brand toothpastes contain artificial coloring, foaming agents and petroleum-based preservatives.
DO SOME RESEARCH AND PROTECT THE PLANET TOO
The Cosmetic Safety Database (www.cosmeticsdatabase.com) lists toxicity and testing information for just about every ingredient found in bodycare products. Every major brand containing each particular ingredient is also listed. We would like to emphasize also that many, perhaps all, of these synthetic ingredients go through a manufacturing process that is often harmful to the environment. “The production of bleached rayon is part of the chlorine industry,” writes Chicago-based Lee Reilly in Vegetarian Times, “which regularly introduces dioxin and other dangerous organochlorines into the environment, according to both the International Joint Commission, a U.S. and Canadian environmental advisory agency, and Greenpeace. For some women, this may be reason enough to shop for [feminine products] alternatives.”
WHY ARE TOXIC INGREDIENTS IN YOUR BODYCARE PRODUCTS?
The bottom line: these toxic chemical ingredients, like hydrogenated oils or artificial sweeteners in food, are cheap and abundant for cosmetics companies. As an example, natural essential oils of jasmine and tuberose can run more than $40,000 a pound, while synthetic, often carcinogenic ingredients run less than $10 a pound. This means cheaper cosmetics for you – but again, as with trans fats or aspartame, there is a hidden price tag. What you are not paying for in dollars, you are paying for with your health, and potentially your children’s’ health. While unknowing consumers pay the ultimate price, the cosmetics industry continues to rake in an average of $30 billion a year in the U.S. alone.
IN THE KITCHEN. A group of us pitched in to make the herbal body salve while looking up the healing properties of each ingredient. The ingredients were plantain, calendula, yarrow, comfrey root, burdock root, beeswax from a local farm, and olive oil. The salve, which would normally fetch for a high price in a store, turned out to be very soothing and effective for problem skin areas. Wisconsin, 2006.
NATURAL, NON-TOXIC ALTERNATIVES TO THE RESCUE!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: So where do you go to find non-toxic, truly natural bodycare and cosmetics? Fortunately, there are a growing number of options, but an open mind, sense of adventure, and a little bit of LABEL SAVVY! will be your best friends. Most major grocery stores carry primarily toxic bodycare products. Walgreens? CVS? Forget about it! Try Whole Foods, where most of the products are of less-than-average toxicity, and a select few are the diamonds of bodycare – completely non-toxic. The Vitamin Shoppe also carries some slightly less-toxic and non-toxic brands, and their prices tend to be better than Whole Foods. Trader Joes’ only non-toxic option, as far as we can tell, is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, which is a favorite and has a few dozen different purposes. Try your local health food store, where you will at least be able to find less-toxic options. Finally, there are always great deals online if you’re willing to search them out, and we’ve provided a few websites below to make your search easier.
There are essentially two things to look for when searching out truly natural, non-toxic bodycare and cosmetics:
1) TRANSPARENCY: Full disclosure of ingredients, purposes behind specific ingredients, and company practices are rare and usually signs of a quality product. If the product claims to be “natural”, are the reasons why clearly spelled out on the ingredient label? How much of the label is hype and advertisement, and how much is hard information?
2) EASILY IDENTIFIABLE AND ORGANIC FOOD, FLOWER, AND PLANT INGREDIENTS: The highest quality cosmetics are, believe it or not, entirely food and plant-based. This may sound strange, but consider again how absorbent your skin is. Why would you want to put anything onto your body that you could not safely put into your mouth? For this reason, it’s important to seek out bodycare companies that source organic food ingredients. Also, look for products with natural preservatives like vitamin E, grapefruit seed extract, and citric acid.
Below, we’ve listed just some of the bodycare and cosmetic companies out there that are making truly natural, non-toxic products. Many of the best companies are small, regional, and online businesses, some of whom are owned by mothers who began their business for the health of their own chemically sensitive children. If one of your favorites is not on our short list, please leave a comment on our blog or let us know!
AUBREY ORGANICS (aubrey-organics.com): Based in Tampa, Florida, Aubrey’s makes shampoos, conditioners, lotions, moisturizers, makeup remover, hair dyes, a baby care line, and even one of the few non-toxic deodorants! Amazingly, Aubrey even makes a line of totally non-toxic cosmetics, which includes eye shadow, lipstick, and a face powder that boasts only 5 lovely ingredients: Silk Powder, Cinnamon Powder, Aloe Vera, Henna, and Natural Flower Oil. Their cosmetics get rave reviews online.
DR. BRONNER’S (www.drbronner.com): Our heroes! Leading the fight to preserve organic standards in bodycare while treating their workers better than any other company we’ve ever seen, Bronner’s makes the best soap out there in terms of quality and value. It’s comprised of 95% organic ingredients and fair-trade hemp, coconut, and other vegetable oils. A 16 oz. bottle can cost between six and eight dollars and last you several months, depending on how much you dilute it with water and how many different ways you use it (you can use it to clean just about anything). Based in Escondido, California with a Milwaukee, Wisconsin connection, Dr. Bronners also makes lotion, body balm, and lip balm under their Sun Dog label.
TRILLIUM ORGANICS (trilliumorganics.com): Handmade in Door County, Wisconsin, Trillium is one of our new favorites! They make excellent, almost 100% organic exfoliating body polishes, face polishes, body oils, body butters, soaps, and shea butter for lips and skin. Their products are available locally at Evanston’s Healthy Green Goods as well as through their website.
NATRACARE (www.natracare.com): A UK-based company, Natracare are makers of organic, dioxin-free, GMO-free natural tampons, pads, and other feminine products. From their website: “Natracare pads are made from totally chlorine-free, natural cellulose materials derived from ecologically – managed forests and are over 95% biodegradable and compostable. Natracare is first to use the new biodegradable Bioplastics that are made from starch and hypoallergenic natural and effective sugar-based absorbents, to replace commonly used, petroleum-derived synthetic materials.”
WELEDA (usa.weleda.com): Begun in Arlesheim, Switzerland with help from Dutch medical doctor Ita Wegman and Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, many Weleda products are available in natural foods stores here in the U.S. We have special ordered the children’s toothpaste at Whole Foods before. They make a line of products for babies as well as oral care, facial care, body oils, and other items for adults.
SUKI (www.sukipure.com): We have not yet tried Suki bodycare products, but they are members of Co-op America and use mostly pure, organic ingredients and essential oils. Based in Northhampton, Massachusetts, Suki’s website also offers a handy list of ingredients to avoid (more extensive then ours), and an interesting criticism of the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” database that, according to Suki, misleadingly informs consumers about bodycare products, for example, in not differentiating between organic and non-organic ingredients. What a huge difference to leave out!
MIESSENCE (www.miessenceproducts.com): We have not yet personally tried Miessense bodycare and cosmetics products, based in Australia, but they are one cosmetic company that uses mostly pure, organic ingredients. Remember to read those labels though!
MORE COSMETICS – check out www.holisticbeauty.net and www.allnaturalcosmetics.com: a couple resources for several different non-toxic cosmetics companies and a wide selection of products. Again, read closely: some “natural” cosmetics still contain the no-fly ingredients listed above. Another good place to search is on Co-op America’s Green Pages (coopamerica.org).
WHEN IN DOUBT (OR DEBT)…MAKE YOUR OWN!
We’ve recently started experimenting with making our own exfoliating “body polish” for use in the bath and shower. Inspired by Trillium’s Body Polish, Adam purchased a jar of hand-harvested sea salt for around three dollars and began blending in organic olive oil and Trillium’s organic body oil to the desired consistency, creating small batches “on demand”. While we’re still in the experimental phase, making our own bodycare has been fun and easy, and we’ve saved money in the process! A lot of the potentially toxic ingredients in products are used as preservatives. You can make your own bodycare potions and lotions as you go, free from harmful ingredients, and you have total control over what your skin is “eating”. For more great DIY bodycare ideas, the book Better Basics For The Home by Annie Berthold-Bond is filled with useful recipes. Visit betterbasics.com for a database of free bodycare and home cleaning recipes.
Until next week, The Hot Potato is in your hands. Pass it on!
1. BBC Science & Nature Fact Files, www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/factfiles/skin/skin.shtml
2. Steinman, David & Epstein, Samuel S., M.D.. The Safe Shoppers Bible. Wiley Publishing, 1995.
3. Redemske, Sandra & Young, Joyce R., M.D.. Fragrance: A Growing Health and Environmental Hazard, Redemske Design, 2006.
4. Dadd, Debra Lynn. Home Safe Home, Tarcher, 1997.
5. Natural Health and Longevity Resource Center, “Scientific Facts on the Biological Effects of Fluoride”, www.all-natural.com/fleffect.html
6. The Cosmetic Safety Database, www.cosmeticsdatabase.com
7. Phillabauem, Lacey. “Organic Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” www.organicconsumers.org
8. Reilly, Lee. “The trouble with tampons – risk of dioxin found in tampons,” Vegetarian Times, July 1996.