green your personal care

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Submitted by sproutingforth on Fri, 2007-08-10 13:37.

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 care
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

Top read:
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

Scientific proof

It is shoking to see what we put into and onto our bodies. I would like to know were I can find scientific studies supporting the facts you state in this piece.

will you wait until it's conclusive?

It is outrageous, isn’t it.

It took years before ‘conclusive’ evidence led to the tobacco industry being sued by several US states claiming that tobacco causes cancer and that the industry deliberately understated the significance of their findings, contributing to the illness and death of many citizens in those states.

There have been a lot of studies with regards to the chemicals contained in the beauty industry and many of these have proven to some degree that ingredients, such as those mentioned above, can harm both you and the planet. The biggest issue is that the cosmetic industry remains unregulated and the FDA are finding new ingredients on a regular basis that are proven irritants, toxic or potentially carcinogenic.

Have a look at these websites:

Skin deep is a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products from the Environmental Working Group, a team of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers who expose threats to your health and the environment. You can search a product, ingredient or company in their easy-to-use database – it’s great to use. Click here to see the feedback it gave on Triethanolamine, regarded as a high hazard.

Cosmetics cop - is a cosmetic ingredient dictionary, which gives you the low down on just about any ingredient you can think of. For example, it has this to say on parabens:

    “Group of preservatives, including butylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben, that are the most widely used group of preservatives in cosmetics. It is estimated that more than 90% of all cosmetic products contain some form of paraben. Parabens are believed to cause less irritation than some preservatives. There is research showing that in animal models (and in vitro) parabens can have weak estrogenic activity. Whether that poses any health risk for humans who are using cosmetics is unknown. The technical findings of the study, which involved both oral administration and injection into rat skin, did show evidence of a weak estrogen effect on cells in a way that could be problematic for binding to receptor sites that may cause proliferation of MCF-7 breast cancer cells. The study concluded that “future work will need to address the extent to which parabens can accumulate in hormonally sensitive tissues and also the extent to which their weak oestrogenic activity can add to the more general environmental oestrogen problem” (Source: Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, January 2002, pages 49–60).”

Health Canada provides a list of prohibited and restricted cosmetic ingredients, regarded as an ingredient ‘hotlist’ – you can download their March 2007 cosmetic ingredient ‘hotlist’ that includes coal tar dye, still used in hair dyes, Talc (yes, powder readily available on the shelves should carry a cautionary statement to ‘keep out of children’s read’ as inhalation can cause breathing problems).

Cosmetic ingredient review - publishes alerts - read these on Dibutyl Phthalate, Diethyl Phthalate, Dimethyl Phthalate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.

You’ll begin to realise that our green your personal care, above, only touches on an industry that has us duped. And the frightening aspect isn’t so much the use of the chemicals, but the cumulative effect, because we use so many different products, and the chemical soup that we wash down the drain every time we shower or clean ourselves.

Chemicals in products

It is genuinly scary how much unnecessary chemicals are in the poducts we use day to day. Even things as simple as shower gel are full of things that aren't needed to make the product effective (unnatural colouring, foaming agents, etc).

Skincare Products

I personally use products by Gaia Organics, and have had extremely satisfactory results from use.

All ingredients are of a high quality and extensive research is done on all products.

Gaia Organics is situated on a farm in the Knysna District where I believe they grow their ingredients personally.

If you want to read more about Gaia, go to


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