“It’s amazing how quickly things can turn around when you remove toxic people from your life.” — Robert Tew
While you can’t choose the people around you, you can choose the people you have around, and the same can be said about the elimination of the toxins so prevalent in our lives and homes that I wrote about last month. Toxins and harmful chemicals are everywhere these days, and being aware of these invasive and harmful elements is an important part of achieving the wellness we seek. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is continuously evaluating the impact of these chemicals and toxins on human health. In their 2010 Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Chemicals, they found 212 chemicals that can negatively impact your health. This list is continuously growing. But until these are actively governed and their elimination regulated, we need to be the CEOs of our own lives.
These are not substances we only need to worry about as adults with a plethora of personal care products. We begin absorbing these concerning ingredients before we are even born. A study on newborn babies conducted by the Environmental Working Group, found “an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage.”
Previous indications that a baby’s umbilical cord protects it from these harmful toxins is therefore not true. Of the 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. This is the human “body burden” — the pollution in people that permeates everyone in the world, including babies in the womb.
And from then on they continue to accumulate in our bodies. It is therefore imperative that we do our best to avoid as many of these as we can. That means learning to read labels, and being aware of the toxins and chemicals in play, so that we can make healthier decisions.
Let’s start with the 12 ingredients hanging around your home somewhere that have been aptly termed the “The Dirty Dozen”.
The Dirty Dozen
1. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
These two synthetic antioxidants, BHA and BHT are found in lipsticks and moisturizers, among other types of cosmetics, and are classified as possible carcinogens. They are potentially allergic, particularly on the skin. Long-term exposure to these ingredients has been linked to liver, thyroid, and kidney problems.
The European Commission on Endocrine Disruptors lists BHA as a Category 1 priority substance, citing evidence that it interferes with hormone function in mice and rats. Neither BHA nor BHT are restricted in the United States. However, California, the most progressive state in this regard, includes BHA on its list of chemicals that must be listed on product ingredient labels as potentially cancer-causing.
2. Coal Tar Dyes
These are very popular in the cosmetic industry, most notably for providing long lasting colour. Derived from petroleum and composed of many different chemicals, coal tar dyes are recognized as a human carcinogen and have been linked to brain damage. On ingredients lists, these will show up as “P-phenylenediamine” or “CI” followed by a number. P-phenylenediamine is a coal tar dye found in hair dyes, while CI (or Colour Index) numbers are used to identify coal tar dyes in a variety of pigmented cosmetics like lipstick.
While research has linked coal tar dyes to tumours in laboratory mice, and other researchers may have found a connection between long-term use of hair dyes and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the FDA is awaiting more research. The European Union, by comparison, has taken a precautionary approach and classifies coal tar dyes as moderately toxic to humans.
3. Diethanolamine (DEA), cocamide DEA, and lauramide DEA
DEA helps make cosmetic products creamy or sudsy. It’s the extra kick given to products like facial cleansers, shampoos, soaps and moisturizers. In the short term, DEA can cause moderate skin and eye irritation, while higher dosed and sustained exposure has been linked to liver, skin, and thyroid cancers.
There are no restrictions on the use of DEA in the United States, but the EU does not allow its use in cosmetics, citing the risk of long-term exposure.
4. DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate)
Dibutyl phthalate is a plasticiser with multiple uses. It is commonly used to prevent nail polish from chipping, to keep PVC flexible, and as a solvent for dyes and fragrances. Consistent use of DBP has been linked to hormonal disruptions and developmental defects in foetuses, as well as liver and kidney failure. It has also been found to absorb through the skin and “enhance the capacity of other chemicals to cause mutations.”
There’s still a lot of research to be done, so the U.S. hasn’t put any restrictions on DBP; the EU, though, does not allow it in cosmetic products.
5. Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives
Formaldehyde is a colourless, flammable gas at room temperature and has a strong odour. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause adverse health effects. It has a lot of uses in personal care, cleaning products, and industrial construction. It is found as a preservative in cosmetics. When personal care products or cosmetics are said to contain formaldehyde, what they usually contain are actually formaldehyde-releasers. Because it’s unclear whether these are harmful; the FDA doesn’t restrict the use of them yet in cosmetics or personal care products. They prefer to require disclosure on ingredient labels instead.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) however, limits the amount of formaldehyde in some construction materials because on its own, formaldehyde is a carcinogen and is toxic to humans if ingested. On the other hand, the EU has strongly restricted the use of formaldehyde in industrial and consumer products since 2014, citing its carcinogenic risk.
Look for ingredients like DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate. These are preservatives used to increase the shelf life of a variety of cosmetics and they work by continuously releasing small amounts of formaldehyde – itself a known human carcinogen.
Parabens are an extremely popular preservative. If you drink fruit juices or use cosmetics or fragrances, you have probably consumed parabens. An estimated 75-90% of cosmetics contain parabens, making them the most widely used preservative in makeup and skincare products. Activists are concerned about the widespread use of parabens, especially as they are absorbed easily through the skin, the body’s largest organ.
Some research has shown that parabens can mimic oestrogens, the female sex hormone. By mimicking our hormones, these xenoestrogens cause chaos in our bodies and are labelled as endocrine disruptors. Our hormones are responsible for many important functions: our reproductive system, our sleep patterns, our metabolism. They therefore affect our weight management, how we adapt to stress and anxiety and our emotions.
For a human, hormones are extremely complex system to manage. As a result, 80% of women suffer from hormonal imbalances in their lifetime. Hormones work like putting a “key” in a lock of the “receptors”. Trying keys that your body does not recognise is almost futile – you will ultimately be unlocking doors you don’t necessarily want opened. The ideal is to find the right key which opens up the right door, and all its optimal benefits…
Most concerning however, is that although these xenoestrogens look like hormones, behave like hormones, they are essentially the “wrong keys”, sometimes opening the wrong doors and at best blocking the locks or receptors from finding and fitting the “right key”. Alarmingly, our body also cannot get rid of them and they get stored in our fat cells, contributing to further weight gain. Once more, exposure to endocrine disruptors can have lifelong effects which can even have consequences for future generations. A build-up of xenoestrogens have been indicated in many conditions including: breast, prostate and testicular cancer, obesity, infertility, endometriosis, early onset puberty, miscarriages and diabetes.
Parabens have been linked to hormonal disruptions, breast cancer, increased skin aging, and DNA damage.
7. Fragrance (or Parfum)
Lots of products use the catch-all term fragrance for the proprietary mix of chemicals that make up their signature scents. It is in fact, perfectly legal for the U.S. cosmetics industry to put chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects into their cosmetics, and not even list them on the labels if they are a component of fragrance, due to the fact that fragrance is trade mark protected.
About 3,000 different ingredients are used in fragrances, though these will show up as one word on ingredient lists – “fragrance” or “parfum”. Used in almost every conceivable personal care product, these smell-enhancing substances are some of the most threatening to our health and wellbeing. Many unlisted ingredients in fragrances have been linked to health problems like asthma, allergies, and even cancer. For those with known, or unknown, chemical sensitivities, these unlisted ingredients can trigger allergic reactions, or cause asthma .
Unfortunately, it is hard to know whether a specific fragrance contains potentially unsafe ingredients because it’s usually listed as the umbrella term “fragrance” on their ingredient list, which is afforded the unfortunate trade mark protection.
Good for business, but not for the consumer. Due to the high likelihood that it contains any number of toxic and endocrine disrupting chemicals, it is best to avoid fragrance altogether. Fragrance free, is also a bit of a misnomer, as the chemicals within products typically have an odour that needs masking. So “fragrance free” is also a chemical compound, just one you can’t smell. Replace instead with products that are transparent about how they are fragranced, with essential oils for example, and don’t use the catch all term “fragrance”.
8. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Compounds
These compounds are commonly found in cream-based cosmetics – and laxatives. They are used as thickeners, solvents and moisture-carriers. These compounds are petroleum compounds, made from ethylene glycol (ethane-1,2-diol), the main ingredient in anti-freeze, whose primary role is to deliver moisture. Depending on how they are manufactured, these ingredients can get contaminated with carcinogenic substances like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Even when not contaminated, PEG compounds have been shown to cause skin irritation.
Although the toxicity of PEG is considered to be low, the questions one should be asking is: “do I want to put a substance on my skin or ingest it into my gut, when this same product is found in anti-freeze?”
9. Petrolatum (Petroleum Jelly, a.k.a Vaseline)
Petrolatum is a petroleum jelly that is used in hair products to add shine and in lip balms, lip sticks, and moisturizers as a moisture barrier. There is a strong risk that these products are contaminated with PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). The EU classifies Petroleum as a known carcinogen, and only allows the inclusion when the full refining history thereof can show it was not produced from a carcinogen. There are no such restriction in the USA or South Africa. The risk of long term exposure is cancer, depending on the chemicals present, the duration and application thereof. Skin irritation and allergies are possible side effects for smaller doses.
If you like dry underarms, or a smooth makeup base, you’ve probably used products containing siloxane. Two siloxanes in particular, cyclotetrasiloxane (D4) and cylcopentasiloxane (D5), have been studied by researchers in Canada, Denmark and the EU extensively for their potential to impair fertility and cause hormonal disruptions.
Environment Canada concluded that both D4 and D5 may build up in fish or other aquatic organisms but did not pose a threat to human health. The European study reached a similar conclusion. These chemicals have therefore been rated as “high concern” but are of low risk to human health.
If you are still concerned and would rather be safe than sorry, look for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone”, which are most commonly found in hair products and deodorants.
11. SLS (Sodium Laureth/Laurel Sulphate)
This is an incredibly pervasive chemical ingredient. It is in so many everyday products: basically anything that foams. And we have been primed to believe that anything that doesn’t foam, doesn’t work. Sodium laureth sulphate (or sodium laurel sulphate) is a common foaming agent used in dish soaps, cleansers, shampoos and foaming beauty products. Like polyethylene glycol (PEG, #8 above), many commercial varieties are contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane – known carcinogens. Fortunately that’s very unlikely to happen, so the Environmental Working Group rates the overall hazard of sodium laureth sulphate as “low”, depending on how and where it is applied.
Triclosan is found in antibacterial cosmetics like hand sanitizers, soaps, deodorants, dish washing soaps, deodorants and cleansers. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of several different types of bacterial and fungal species. Research has suggested that the widespread use of biocidal agents like triclosan can potentially increase the global spread of antibiotic resistance, and result in the destruction of the skin microbiome, a vital element of our wellbeing.
In the short term, this ingredient is said to cause skin and eye irritations in the short run, and conditions like antibiotic resistance and hormonal disruptions with sustained use. It unfortunately also is difficult to eliminate from the environment after use, we’ve finished using it, killing helpful algae and even accumulating in the bodies of other organisms.
In 2016, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the incorporation of triclosan and 18 other antimicrobial chemicals from household soap products and the next year prevented companies from using triclosan in over-the-counter health care antiseptic products without premarket review. Triclosan is also banned in personal care products in the EU.
A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation found that roughly 80% of cosmetic products owned by surveyed individuals contained at least one of the ingredients on this “dirty dozen” list. It might seem overwhelming to try to have all your cosmetics be part of the clean 20%, but luckily there are now tools, like Think Dirty and Skin Deep, for checking ingredients, and a growing number of non-toxic beauty brands created with informed shoppers in mind.
What you put on your skin, your body’s largest organ, plays a monumentally important role in your health. Constant application of substances that act as endocrine disruptors or require your body to work harder to be well, makes it so much harder to live above the wellness line.
Become the CEO of your family’s life and take control of what goes into your bodies.
If you would like more advice or help with a moving towards a toxin free lifestyle, please contact me on email@example.com.
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