Gardeners are ecologically conscious – we are met with ethical choices in a more up front way on a weekly basis – home compost versus peat, no dig or manual methods versus chemical weed control, beneficial insects and biological control verses chemical pest control, the GM debate, air quality, etc.
We inhabit a natural world even if we attempt to manicure it and bend it to the constraints of garden design and personal preference – we are still in sympatico or at least in participation with nature. Many of us would reach for a comfrey feed or a garlic spray quicker than a store bought chemical. We do it for the benefit of the garden and the health of the planet.
Yet do we so readily think of our own personal health and the health of the planet when we pick up toiletries and cosmetics that we apply to our own bodies – containing chemicals that are released into the water course down the shower drain.
I have written a book (https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Holistic-Gardener-Beauty-Treatments-Garden-Fiann-Nuallain/1781173516 ) all about how you can make natural beauty products and personal hygiene options from the plants you grow in your garden and some items from your fridge or kitchen cupboard. The aim is to make one chemical less choices when it comes to daily life. But the research under taken for that book really shocked me – as what I learned was how bad those nasties really are.
Below is a list of just some of the chemicals that find their way into your grooming regime. Read the labels on your proprietary brands and if you recognised any of the following, you might want to think twice about sticking with the product. You don’t have to buy my book or make your own you can make healthier choices by picking eco brands and alternatives.
Acetone naturally occurs in plants and trees, in volcanic gases and even within the human body as a by-product of the breakdown of fat but industrially manufactured acetone found in cosmetics is a solvent also utilized to dissolve plastics, thin printing ink, as paint remover. It is a contact irritant upon skin, harmful to eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Long-term or persistent exposure can shorten the menstrual cycle in women and cause damage to kidneys.
Alcohol is utilized in some natural beauty products to extract phytochemicals or store them in tincture form while in commercial beauty products it is used to thin ‘thick product’ and also to help other ingredients transition the skin barrier. The natural remedy alcohol is generally a natural grain alcohol (vodka etc.) while commercial alcohols tend to be esters and/or chemically enhanced – often derivatives of propane and petrochemicals; note those listed as isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol. In general commercial chemical alcohols are drying on skin and thinning/eroding of skins natural barrier and regeneration mechanisms.
Artificial colours often listed as e-numbers, feature in soaps, shampoos, bath products, styling gels, shave gels, toothpastes, body lotions, face creams, skin toners, face masks and so on. Some colours are derivatives of coal tar and can contain heavy metal salts (including trace arsenic and lead), others are synthesized by chemicals that can thin skin and block pores.
Benzyl-dimethylstearyl-ammonium-chloride features in lipstick, hair colorants, body lotions, shampoos and conditioners – as well as some contraceptive formulations. Its industrial application is to boost the efficacy of detergents and industrial cleaners. A skin and eye irritant associated with occupational dermatitis.
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) is a toluene-based cosmetic preservative populating shaving gels and many male products. Toluene is a toxic chemical linked to eye and lung irritation, hormone disruption and carcinogenic implications.
Butylene glycol is utilized as a solvent and viscosity-decreasing agent to thin product for easier application. Found in concealer, foundation, moisturizers, sunscreens, eye creams and mascaras. When absorbed through skin or ingested it metabolizes into “gamma-hydroxybutryic acid,” a depressant that slows down the activity of brain and central nervous system.
Carbamic acid- see Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate.
Carbomer is a chemical or class of chemicals made from acrylic acid or petroleum oil – found in sunscreen, moistures, shampoos and styling gel – it’s a plastic with all the endocrine altering implications of plastics.
Coal tar a by-product of bituminous coal, it features in make-up and hair care products (dyes and anti-dandruff) but also as a treatment for seborrhoea and psoriasis. Within the beauty industry it is considered a ‘safe and effective’ cosmetic biocide. Coal tar is linked on the lower end of the ill-health spectrum to phototoxicity, dermatitis and folliculitis but as a ‘product’ of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – a set of persistent organic pollutants – there are associated fears and potential risks of its mutagenic potential and the carcinogenic implications upon liver, skin and lungs.
Cocamidopropylbetaine features in body washes, liquid soaps, bath products, shampoos, toothpastes, contact lens solutions, makeup removers and skin care products – it is a synthetic detergent that can lead to sensitization and hypersensitisation. It was named allergen of the year in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
Diazolidinyl urea is a cosmetics and toiletries preservative. It releases formaldehyde within product and can increase skin sensitivity. Allergies and contact dermatitis are potential outcomes of exposure.
Diethanolamine (DEA) is often part of the processing if not a direct additive to commercial soaps and shampoos. It is also a feature of industrial cleaners, pesticide sprays and other and agricultural chemicals and also in the rubber processing industry. There is currently no scientific study available on human long-term exposure to diethanolamine but there is some certainty about prenatal exposure having a detrimental effect on brain development in lab mice and other animal testing suggests reproductive (notably testicular degeneration and reduced sperm motility), developmental and blood abnormalities upon ingestion and exposure.
Esters are compounds formed from an alcohol and an organic acid. In terms of the really scary ones, see parabens.
Ethyl alcohol naturally occurs in wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages but commercial/industrial grade is first denatured then combined with toxic additives such as methanol (formulated form the combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen), benzene (a known carcinogen) and paraffin (a petrochemical by-product). It can also be metabolized to acetone in the human body.
Ethylene glycol is used to make antifreeze, hydraulic brake fluids, solvents, plastics. Derived from ethylene oxide a prime ingredient used in pesticides and insecticides.
Formaldehyde features in some cosmetics (particularly nail polish and polish remover) and hair straightening products as well as in plastics, building materials, carpet manufacturing, paints, industrial adhesives and pesticides. It is utilized as an embalming fluid in mortuaries and a disinfectant and preservative in medical laboratories. Prolonged exposure can stimulate asthmatic like symptoms and increase cancer risks.
Fragrance is not always floral or fruit based in extraction whatever about floral or fruity in perception and in the case of beauty products (shampoo, face washes, moisturizers etc) it tends to be a chemical composition often featuring hydroxyisohexyl-3-cyclohexene, carboxaldehydeorisoeugenol etc. The issues with artificial fragrances include skin irritation, headaches, and respiratory agitation to long-term implications of lung problems, hypersensitivity and dermatitis.
Glycol, glycol alcohol and Glycol ethers prominent in perfume and aftershave also feature in a whole array of beauty, grooming and cosmetic products and in industrial solvents and household cleaning products especially oven cleaners were it is valued as one of the most powerful grease-cutting chemicals. Acute or short-term exposure to glycol ethers can results in fatigue, stupor, headache, shortness of breath to pulmonary oedema, skin irritations and irritation of eyes, nose, and throat. Prolonged or chronic exposure can result in neurological changes and physical tremor as well as blood effects such as anaemia.
Hydroquinone is used in hair products and concealer as a colouring agent and fragrance, it is potentially carcinogenic with long term exposure and skin sensitizing in the shorter term.
Imidazolidinyl is a cosmetics and body care products preservative. It releases formaldehyde within product and can increase skin sensitivity and lead to allergic reactions including contact dermatitis.
Iodopropynyl-butylcarbamate(IPBC) is a water-soluble preservative utilized in some face creams and body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, shaving creams and also in foundations, concealers, bronzers, eye shadows, mascaras, makeup removers, hair dyes and lip balms. IPBC is a suspected teratogen, which means that it can increase the risk of birth defects and lower fertility. In large doses and over prolonged exposure it is considered a gastrointestinal and liver toxin. In smaller does it can be a dermal allergen. Sometimes listed as carbamic acid
Isopentane is a beauty product solvent linked to dry skin and contact dermatitis as well as nose and throat irritation.
Isopropyl is a chemically manufactured alcohol produced by a process of combining water and propene by-products of oil refining via hydration reactions or alternately by hydrogenating acetone. Utilized industrially as a solvent, windscreen de-icer and fuel additive. It is also utilized in the production of explosives and herbicides. Considered a skin irritant and poison – Isopropyl alcohol is a known central nervous system depressant. Isopropyl alcohol is oxidized in the body and eventually forms acetone in the liver. See also Alcohol & Acetone
Lanolin found in lipsticks, hair product and many skin creams it often features in so called natural beauty recipes – It is obtained from sheep’s wool but can cause contact dermatitis and skin sensitizing. Poisonous if swallowed.
Lead acetate in hair products and some cosmetics. It is lead – do I need to say more – in case I do – lead is toxic, carcinogenic, and damaging to the nervous system.
MEA (monoethanolamine) features in shaving products and bathroom items that foam. Linked with hormone disruption and the formation of cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines
Mineral oil is obtained from petroleum by-products and thus can cause allergies and skin irritations in some sensitive people but even with non-sensitive people there is propensity to block pores and thus inhibit the natural elimination of skin and body toxins. The term ‘mineral oil’ may mean the presence of butylene glycol, propylene glycol, paraffin or even Isopropyl alcohol.
Nitrogens as Nitrosamines are the carcinogenic compounds created by the reaction of two or more nitrogen containing substances. If there is more than one ‘–amine’ suffix on the list – then its likely reaction has taken place.
Palmitic acid is utilized in many beauty products as an emulsifier— it has been linked with contact dermatitis.
Parabens (notably Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben and parahydroxybenzoate) feature in an array of cosmetic and toiletry products as a shelf life extender, from moisturizers, lipstick, foundation, and concealer to makeup removers, deodorants, shaving foam, toothpaste and shampoo. The problem with parabens is their xenoestrogenic effect – meaning that they are shaped quite like estrogen and once absorbed into the body they end up filling up receptors located in your cells normally reserved for real estrogen – the consequence being that other neurotransmitters and glands mistakenly start relaying messages and making adjustments based on the presence of what they assume is real estrogen. I admit I am not a clinician but I would say that all of that is not a great thing to happen in terms of male fertility and sperm count and not ideal at all for female hormonal disruptions and the implication to breast and ovarian cancer. Many modern foodstuffs also utilize parabens to extend shelf life. So in terms of limiting the ubiquitous – a homemade shaving oil or natural moisturizer may be a good start.
Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is present in many commercial hair dyes; linked to allergic reactions and over prolonged exposure to sustained skin irritation including dermatitis and hypersensitivity. PPD sensitizing can impact upon the effect of some diabetic and blood pressure medications (particularly sulfonamides and hydrochlorothiazides).
Paraffin or paraffin oil is a coal oil – as petroleum based product it is used as fuel or fuel component, as a solvent for greases and also in insecticides.
Phthalates are considered “obesogens” – they disrupt the normal hormonal activities of the body, disrupt the endocrine system and trick the body into fat storage. Any chemical that disrupts the endocrine system will impair immune function and many are on the radar for birth deformities and cancer formation. Phthalates feature in perfumes, nail polish and hair spray but also in body washes, soaps, shampoo and even moisturizers.
Polyvinyl-pyrrolidone Copolymer (PVP) features in the production of cosmetics such as foundation, lipsticks etc. Allergies and dermatitis are potential side effects.
Propylene glycol an emulsifying agent in skin creams and body lotions, is a petrochemicals – often utilized to smoothen the skin but smoothening can be actually be thinning of skin and thus speed up the process and visible side effects of skin ageing. It can cause contact dermatitis long term and short-term surface irritations.
Polytetrafluoroethylene can be found in some shave gels – often simply as “PTFE”. It is the chemical agent used to make Teflon and other non-stick cookware – which have been linked with osteoarthritis, early-onset menopause and breast cancer.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is quite pervasive across the range of beauty products and toiletries on the shelf today. A foaming agent most prominent in soaps, shampoos and body washes but also moisturizers, face cleansers, shaving creams and commercial post-shave balms. It can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and over longer term exposure it can produce a drying effect on skin and pathway other skin irritations – I worry because it increases the permeability of the skin and thus our susceptibility to other harmful agents in the same product or the one to follow it.
Sodium polyacrylate is a synthetic polymer from the crude oil industry, found in face masks, moisturizer, hand cream and sunscreen as well as eye shadow and other cosmetics. The issue beyond petroleum product is that it can become contaminated with toxins during its processing and interact with other chemicals within conventional beauty regimes.
Sulphates/ Sulfates are potential triggers of dry skin and other irritations including dermatitis. Product sulphates may also impair hair growth. They often appear in product and ingredient list in the form of sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or ammonium lauryl sulfate.
Synthetic colours are chemical in nature and as such may cause skin allergies and irritation.
Tetrasodium EDTA (ethylenediaminetetra acetic acid) is a product preservative made from formaldehyde, ethylenediamine and sodium cyanide. Face creams, body moisturizers, shaving products, bath products, soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners and hair dyes, etc. It thins the skins barrier, can dry skin and is an eye irritant. Also listed as or a compound of Edetate sodium, Tetrasodium edetate, tetrasodium salt and TEA-EDTA
Triethanolamine (TEA) is a feature of products that foam – from shaving gels to hair products. It also features in some cosmetics to balance chemical pH of the product. It can strip natural oils from skin and hair and trigger allergic reactions in some. A recognized eye irritant, it is considered a chemical with potential in hormone disruption. It can interact with other chemical ingredients with product or subsequent products boosting their harmful potential – it is associated with the formation of cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines.
Urea is sourced from ‘mammalian urine’ – yes that’s wee that’s not your own. Used as a penetration enhancer for product it can cause reaction in sensitive skin and sensitize other types
Vinyl acetate in mascara and eyeliner and also nail varnish is like all plastic – potential trouble with estrogen receptors and disrupting too of DNA.
Xylene is a central nervous system depressant available in nail varnish and nail varnish remover.
You know the joke – it’s one thing to be drop dead gorgeous it’s another thing to drop dead gorgeous – dont be it!