Article by Michael V Brooking and Naheed Zaman

Positive Health Magazine

Toxic Toiletries
 Many people examine the labels on their food, but how many of us are wise enough to check the labels on our personal care products? The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that 884 chemicals used in personal care products and cosmetics are known to be toxic.13 In fact, many of the ingredients used in personal care products are the very same harsh chemical toxins used in Industry.

Sodium laurel sulphate and similarly, sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) are common detergents that are used in most shampoos, bubble baths, shower gels and other cleansers. SLS is also used to clean garage floors and to degrease engines. Dr K. Green has researched into the use of SLS, and found alarming results: the eyes readily absorb SLS, destroying delicate tissues there. This uptake is also greater in younger mammals.14 In short, it permanently impairs the normal functioning of eyes. Is it any wonder that so many children wear spectacles these days? In addition to these findings, the American Journal of Toxicology has found that SLS irritates skin tissue, corrodes hair follicles, and impairs the ability to grow hair. It also enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, lungs and brain.15 Many sufferers of scalp complaints have eased their conditions simply by using a SLS-free shampoo.

Another such chemical is propylene glycol. Its industrial use is as anti-freeze, but it is also included in hair conditioners, deodorants, cosmetics, body lotions, skin creams and toothpaste. Increasingly, it is being added to human and pet foods because it acts as a humectant, helping to retain moisture. When used in skin creams it glides on smoothly, drawing moisture to the outer layers of the skin, giving the appearance of moisturising the skin. Material safety data sheets, which give handling instructions for hazardous chemicals, state that propylene glycol is implicated in contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities; it also causes eye irritation, skin irritation, nausea and headaches. The American Academy of Dermatologists showed that propylene glycol was a primary irritant to the skin even in low concentrations.16

These two ingredients I have dealt with in detail because they are in the majority of personal care products. They are even used in ‘hypoallergenic’ products and baby products that are considered to be safe and gentle, yet still contain these harsh toxins.

Often so-called natural products contain SLS and propylene glycol. Adding essential oils and natural herbs to these harmful chemicals destroys any therapeutic properties from the natural ingredients.

Possibly the most dangerous chemicals to be included in personal care products are the ammonia derivatives which are known to have hormone disrupting effects. This includes diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA) and monoethanolamine (MEA).

These chemicals are used to thicken and cleanse and are added to soaps, bubble baths and facial cleansers. They are not carcinogenic in themselves; however, when combined with products containing nitrates, a common preservative, a dangerous chemical reaction takes place leading to the formation of nitrosamines. Most nitrosamines are carcinogenic. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US recognized this threat; in the 1970s it urged the industry to remove these products from its cosmetics, however a FDA report in the late 1980s found that 37 per cent of products tested still contained nitrosamines.17 Dr Epstein recommends we boycott products containing DEA and TEA.

Industrial alcohol is a major ingredient in mouthwash. The National Cancer Institute of America has found that mouthwashes with an alcohol content of 25% or higher have been implicated in mouth, tongue and throat cancers. The alcohol acts as a solvent in the mouth, making the skin tissues more vulnerable to carcinogens. Also, men had a 60% higher risk and women a 90% higher risk of these cancers compared to those not using mouthwash.18 Aluminium is a metal that is widely used in antiperspirants, processed foods, soft drink cans, foil and cookware. Dr Daniel Perl, Director of Neuropathology at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York recommends we avoid the use of aerosol antiperspirants. He has found that aluminium in aerosol form may be more readily absorbed into the brain through the nasal passages. Studies show that regular use of these products can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 3 times.19

As stated by Dr Epstein, the use of these harsh chemicals would not be such a problem if the skin did not readily absorb them. Some chemicals can penetrate the skin in significant amounts, especially when left on the skin. A recent case that made headline news found traces of 350 man-made chemicals, including residues from personal care products, in human breast milk.

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13. Steinman D and Epstein S. The Safe Shoppers Bible. Macmillan ISBN 002682685. 1995.

14. Green, K. Detergent Penetration into Young and Adult Eyes. Dept of Ophthalmology. Medical College of GA.

15. Brant et al. The final report on the safety assessment of TEA, DEA, MEA. Journal of the American College of Toxicology 2(7):183-235.1983.

16. Joseph M et al. Propylene Glycol Dermatitis. Journal Of The American Academy of Dermatology 24:90-95. 1991

17. FDA, Division of Colours and Cosmetics. Progress Report on the analysis of cosmetic products and raw materials for nitrosamines.1 March 1988. Washington DC.GPO. 1988

18. Blot WJ et al. Oral Cancer and Mouthwash. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 70. 1983.

19. Graves et al. The Association between aluminium containing products and Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 43(1): 35-44. 1990