Bath and Bodycare: Ingredients We Avoid
***Updated added 11/28/2008 on Sodium Laureth Sulfate
***Update added 4/3/2008 on Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate
There are about a dozen or so ingredients that are commonly used in bath and body products, including products that are labeled natural, organic or environmentally friendly, that are generally recognized as toxic either to humans or the environment. Green and Greener strives to not sell any products that contain these ingredients. This is why we often don’t carry the full-lines of some of our suppliers products because some of the products still contain 1 or 2 ingredients that we avoid.
The great thing about all the companies we work with is that they are always actively reformulating to provide the best, most gentle, most green products possible. Because of this, we anticipate being able to offer a fuller array of bath/body products in the near future.
Know that when you are buying from G&G you are buying from a company that is constantly keeping up with the latest information on products and ingredients that contribute to living a greener life. The information below is intended to inform about how G&G chooses its products only, any purchasing decisions you make should be based on your own thorough research.
On to the ingredients…
1. Parabens – Parabens seem to be the most commonly used preservatives in the cosmetic, bath and bodycare industry. Parabens are “estrogenic” (meaning they mimic estrogen hormones) and can be absorbed through the skin. These chemicals may be linked to breast cancer, can be skin and eye irritants, and are derived from petrochemicals. Preservatives extend the shelf-life of products and also inhibit microbial growth in the them. “Microbes in my shampoo?” Unfortunately, pretty much anywhere there is water, there are microbes…it’s just a fact, and water is usually a major ingredient in bath/body products especially lotions, shampoos and liquid soaps. Read your labels. Also known as: methyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben, isobutyl paraben and ethyl paraben. G&G companies keep their products fresh and paraben-free using essential oils, non-paraben preservatives (like citrus seed extract) or colored containers (amber or cobalt blue containers help decrease sunlight and therefore slow microbe growth.) Best rule of thumb is to try and keep water out of your G&G bath products and make sure your hands are clean, or maybe even use a utentsil instead of your fingers to keep your products sterile. If you want to keep your products super-fresh treat them the way you’d treat sour cream or yogurt (only put a clean spoon in and keep them in the fridge.) I personally don’t refrigerate most of the products I use because I buy small sizes and use them quickly, but in the summertime I like to refrigerate the “Sunshine Spray” for a refreshing facial mist.
AMMONIA BASED CHEMICALS
2. Diethanolamine (DEA), Monoethanolamine (MEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) – DEA, MEA and TEA are added to products to adjust pH balance and as a foaming agent (shampoos especially.) They are severely restricted in Europe because of their known carcinogenic properties. These three chemicals are ammonia compounds (yes, ammonia!) and form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates (which apparently happens often.)
3. Formaldehyde – Can you believe formaldehyde is used in products for human? Widely used as a preservative (remember the frog in biology class?) it is a known skin irritant and has been listed as “possibly carcinogenic.” It is a component of the ingredients labeled Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea and is just behind parabens in terms of their popularity as a preservative. Incidentally, “urea” is the main nitrogen compound of urine…that’s right…URINE! Most urea comes from labs, not animals, but the main component of urea is ammonia which is a common household cleaning chemical that is restricted for use in cosmetics because of ammonia’s known irritant properties.
PETROLEUM (OIL) BASED CHEMICALS
4. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate or Amonyl Lauryl/Laureth Sulfates — Often derived from petroleum, but may be derived from vegetable substances, this cheap detergent is what makes liquid soaps super foamy. The basic problem is that it is too super-concentrated and processed to be good for you or the planet. It is literally the same ingredient used for degreasing automobile engines so why would you want it on your skin? Can cause symptoms from mild skin reactions to dandruff to full on allergic reactions in some and it also doesn’t biodegrade as quickly as pure Castile soap (which we carry and which biodegrades pretty much instantly) or soaps made with Coco Betaine (biodegrades in a week) For more info on this read the fullest description I’ve ever read on the subject.
***Update 4/3/2008: There is a single product that both Sean and I love, and have never been able to find a substitute for, that has reopened the question of the safety of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in hygiene products: ECO-DENT. After lengthy correspondence with ECO-DENT it became very clear to me that the main point with ALL chemicals is one of concentration and the fact that SLS is way down on their list of ingredients means it has been sufficiently diluted to the point where it is probably safe for most people. As I mention above, the main two issues with SLS are 1) skin irritation (usually caused by extremely high concentrations of the chemical) and 2) biodegradability (again, dilution is key here.) Because ECO-DENT’s formulation has a highly-diluted (maybe I should say “dispersed” since it has no liquid) and because you use so very little of the product in practice (far less than with traditional tooth pastes) that it is something we are comfortable using in our own home. One last point, SLS can be made from many different bases, but you should definitely avoid ones made from petroleum mostly because it is a non-renewable resource. I have not learned about any substantive differences of SLS derived from petroleum vs. coconut vs. anything else.
***Update on 11/28/2008: Some of you have come in to the store asking about the lawsuit brought by Dr. Bronner’s against Whole Foods, Seventh Generation and Alba Botanicals. First of all, we don’t carry any of the products that were of concern because we carry no products with Sodium LaurETH Sulfate. The issue is that in converting Sodium LaurYL Sulfate into Sodium LaurETH Sulfate a toxic cancer-causing byproduct called Dioxins are created. To read the full article about this, visit the Whole Life Times article here. Rest assured that we are staying on top of this type of information and are committed to providing the best products available. Thanks!
5. Petroleum Jelly (aka: Petrolatum) —Although Doris Day apparently swore by the stuff, petroleum jelly is not something you should knowingly put on your face. It is used in many cosmetics (especially lip stick) as a base ingredient or as a “moisturizer” however its moisture is temporary and can even interfere with the body’s ability to create it’s own moisture (think about how pore-blocking it must be!) Also, it is made from a non-renewable resource (oil) that is quickly running out. Petroleum often shows up in cosmetics in other ways too (see ingredient #4.) Why is it such a popular ingredient? Because we have been in an era of cheap and plentiful oil and they needed to find a use for all the by-products of oil manufacturing.
6. PVP/VA Copolymer —This ingredient is found mostly in hairsprays and for those who are chemically sensitive, it can damage their lungs. From G&G’s point of view, the most troubling thing about this chemical is that it is derived from petroleum a non-renewable and caustic base ingredient.
7. Stearalkonium Chloride — Is part of a group of chemicals called cationic surfactants and are often used in hair conditioners and creams. This ingredient was originally developed for fabric use for their softening and anti-static properties. Why are they used in bath/body products? Because they are cheap. however, they are known irritants for which natural alternatives readily exist. Other related chemicals include: Benzalkonium chloride, Cetrimonium chloride and Cetalkonium chloride.
8. Synthetic/Coal-Tar Colors — Many of these coloring agents are known carcinogens, and since the only purpose of these ingredients is to make products artificially colored, and they provide know actual BENEFIT to you or your skin, why use them? Personally, G&G believes that good design means only using as many ingredients as necessary in order to make a product function correctly. Synthetic colors are definitely superfluous. Some of our products are naturally colored with grapeseed which also acts as a natural preservative. Voila…pretty color AND the ingredient serves a purpose: GOOD DESIGN!
9. Phthalates and synthetic fragrances — Phthalates are often a component of synthetic fragrances and are a family of chemicals that have been found to produce cancer and birth defects in lab animals and mimic the female hormone oestrogen. The word “fragrance” on a label can also hide a number of other chemicals, often petroleum-based, since fragrances are considered proprietary and companies do not need to disclose what is actually in them. In our mind, that just allows too much room for bad stuff, so avoid anything with the word “fragrance.”
10. Chemical Antibacterials – Chemically derived antibacterials encourage the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. G&G only carries products that contain natural antibacterials such as lavender, eucalyptus and lemon oils or citrus seed extracts.
11. Glycol Ethers – A widely used industrial solvent, glycol ethers are found in paints, degreasers, dry cleaning fluids, brake fluids and then of course perfurmes and cosmetics. This chemical is rapidly absorbed by the body when it comes into contact with skin and overexposure can cause anemia and be hazardous to the reproductive system. May be listed on labels as EGPE, EGME, EGEE, DEGBE, PGME, DPGME where the “G” and the “E” stand for “glycol ether.”
12. Phenylenediamine (PPD) – Found in many dark hair dyes, PPD is linked with skin irritations, and respiratory disorders and its use has been restricted in Europe. Also used for temporary tattoos. One other thing to keep in mind. Most, if not all, of the ingredients above have proprietary “brand name” versions with names that are totally unrelated to the actual chemical ingredients used. Because of this, it can be difficult to know when a brand name ingredient has one of the chemicals above. Our personal rule of thumb is to avoid products with brand name ingredients, because just like “fragrance” it can hold a host of chemicals we don’t want to use. Brand name ingredients can usually be identified on a label as the ingredient that starts with a capital letter (like a Name) and have a R-ball (R with a circle around it) after them identifying it as a proprietary trademark registered ingredient. The same can be send for ingredient labels that use abbreviations or acronyms instead of the full ingredient name.
13. Chemical Sunscreens – Anything besides Titanium Oxide and Zinc Oxide listed in the ACTIVE INGREDIENTS section of a sunscreen is a chemical. These chemicals are carcinogenic (cancer causing) and are killing the coral reefs. These include: Octylcrylene, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Oxybenzone, Homosalate, 4-MBC, Mexoryl SX and XL, Tinosorb S and M, Uvinul T 150, Uvinul A Plus.
Some others would include Propylene Glycol and Grapeseed Extract in this list. I have yet to see conclusive evidence against either of these two ingredients.
Disclaimer: G&G does everything possible to make sure that none of these ingredients are in our bath/body products. At this time we do not do our own chemical testing and therefore we rely on the information provided to us by our vendors and their labels. No warranties or guarantees are expressed or implied by this blog posting.
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