The beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that, until now, has had little other than ‘cruelty to animals’ to worry about as a minor obstacle to their marketing campaigns. The safety of beauty products has largely been taken for granted – who would wittingly poison their customers? Take a look at the ingredients of your shampoos, conditioners, moisturisers, hair gels, lipsticks, mascaras and perfumes, and choose True or False for the following to find out just how safe your products really are:
1. my shampoo & body wash contain sodium lauryl sulphate
2. one or more of the hair products I use contain a combination of: sodium lauryl sulfate and TEA (triethanolamine, DEA (diethanolamine), or MEA (monoethanolamine)
3. methylparaben appears on a label
4. dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, or diethylhexyl phthalate, or DEHP appear on a label
If one or more of the above is True, then the ‘safety’ of your products is questionable. All of the above chemicals have been linked to health problems and some or all of them are banned in certain countries... [See top 4 chemicals to avoid below]
The low-down on what you put on your face and body:
• many beauty products are not well regulated
• health and beauty products top advertising breaches (they don’t do what they claim they do)
• many use varying mixtures of synthetically produced chemicals
• many of these synthetic chemicals have not been approved by regulation authorities, but find their way into products and onto shelves through loopholes in regulations
• as much as a third of personal care products contain at least 1 chemical linked to cancer
• mineral oil and petroleum are the basic ingredients in many cosmetic products – these have their origins in fossil fuels
Warning: In SA the beauty market is further complicated by little regulation in the organic and natural sector. Some products claim to be either natural or organic when they are anything but – take a baby ‘organic’ range, recently available on our shelves, as a prime example! “Organic 100% active ingredients” reads a loud label that misleads you into believing that the product is organic, when it is most definitely not.
Organic products should be certified, but if they are not, another good way to assess their validity is to look out for a list of natural ingredients. True organic personal care products do not contain preservatives – so there should be absolutely no sign of methyl or propylparabens.
It’s up to you – learn to read the label (see top 4 chemicals to avoid below), and be careful of products claiming that they’re organic when they are not!
The green alternatives
Sunscreen is something South African’s cannot be without but one that is a highly contentious issue. Research is suggesting that some of the chemicals involved in sunscreens are oestrogen mimics (they disturb your hormonal balance) [the ecologist]and many of the chemicals are potentially irritating to the skin. The higher an SPF the more chemicals are involved in its production, and sunscreen encourages a false sense of security – we think we can stay out in the sun longer than is either smart or safe.
Try these organic options:
• Dr Hauschka
• Green People, imported by Strawberry International
However, The Victorian Garden, who make a local range of organic skin care products, advocate that even Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide - used in organic and natural sunscreens - have been found to generate free radicals when exposed to sunlight.
It’s all a question of balance – stay out of the sun as much as possible, cover up when in the sun – the average T-shirt has an SPF of 7 and according to an Australian study, 85% of fabrics have an SPF of 20 or more - and use organic or natural sunscreen properly but as infrequently as possible.
Body lotions, face creams, make-up
As we’ve already outlined above, the biggest issue with the incredible range of lotions, potions, gels and pastes is the unregulated chemicals that make up their composition. It is medically recognised that the body absorbs a lot of what goes on our skin. A sobering thought: the average adult uses 9 personal care products exposing them to 126 chemicals. Look out for chemicals that are harmful to you (see top 4 chemicals to avoid below) or, rather than scrutinising every label, go for organic or natural alternatives.
Deodorants and toothpastes
Household essentials – we can’t do without them. But we can question what goes into them. Did you know that most commonly used antiperspirants contain aluminium – toxic to the nervous system and a cause of irritation? Consider that antiperspirants block pores and stop the body regulating its temperature naturally. toothpaste contains parabens, titanium dioxide (for whitening) and high levels of fluoride – there is growing concern about the level of fluoride we consume from a combination of our drinking water and toothpaste - the government has questionable plans for water fluoridation that appear to be on hold at the moment [greening it up]
We are told that fluoride helps fight tooth decay, but high doses can be poisonous. It is mandatory for toothpastes in the USA to carry a poison warning (since 1997), if they contain fluoride.
Hair might be dead (it contains no living tissue), but it’s as absorbent as the skin, and the number of chemicals we put on our heads in the name of beauty is particularly scary – shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, gel, serums, wax, hair dyes etc. The hair colour ingredient Toluene-2.5 Diamine (TDA) is known to be highly toxic. Not only is it dangerous for your health, but it’s harmful to the environment, as is coal tar, which is sometimes also used in anti-dandruff shampoos and preparations. There are natural hair colours using vegetable-based ingredients such as henna, walnut and chamomile extracts.
Shampoos and conditioners use petroleum products, whilst hairsprays and gels use formaldehyde, phthalates and synthetic fragrances – time to start reading the label!
Try these green alternatives:
• Camphill Village
• Rosa Organics
• Dr Hauschka
• The Victorian Garden
• Nature Fresh
Or other organic and natural beauty products in your area.
And order online:
• Choose health
• Organics Online
• Faithful to Nature
Top 4 chemicals to avoid and why:
Sodium laureth sulphate - banned in Europe and Central America
• It’s used because it makes things foam
• It’s found in toothpaste, shampoo, body and shower gels etc
• It’s a suspected carcinogen linked to kidney and liver damage, nervous system disruption, eczema and dermatitis
Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl & ethyl) – banned in Japan and Sweden and under review in the UK
• It’s used as a preservative or germicide
• It’s found in conditioners, hair gels, nail creams, foundations, mascara, facial masks, skin creams, deodorants, sunscreen and hair colouring
• It’s a hormone disrupter – mimics natural estrogens that lead to cancer; linked to breast cancer, skin rashes
Formaldehyde family Diazolidinyl urea, 3-diol Imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Quaternium-15, Nitorpropane-1, Formalin, Methanal, Methyl aldehyde, Methylene oxide etc. banned in Europe
• It’s used because it’s a disinfectant, fungicide, germicide, defoamer and preservative
• It’s found in shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid hand wash, skin lotions, bubble bath, hair care products, antiperspirants, nail polishes, talcs, mouthwash etc
• It can cause allergic reactions, dermatitis, headaches; it irritates mucous membranes, is linked to joint and chest pain, fatigue, dizziness and immune dysfunction
Phthalates – banned in Europe
• It’s used because it makes plastic soft
• It’s found in nail polish, hair-straighteners and sprays, body lotions and deodorants
• It’s a carcinogen linked to birth defects, lowered sperm counts, damage to reproductive organs, lung, liver and kidney cancer
Drop Dead Gorgeous: Protecting Yourself From the Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics by Kim Erickson & Dr Samuel S Epstein
If you enjoyed reading this green guide, then you’ll enjoy:
• green your baby
• green your cleaning
• eating & shopping organic in Jo’burg
• eating & shopping organic in Cape Town