The hidden chemicals lurking in your toiletries

It was my birthday recently – and before you rush to FB to give a belated greeting, I only mention it because I got two gifts that I’m sure I will never use.

Bottles of body care and beauty productsThat may sound ungrateful, but in this ever-more heavily polluted and chemically laden environment we live in, I am an avid label reader.

My daughter says that I am a real pain to shop with – especially for food and household products – but having had hormone-receptive breast cancer and done a lot of research, I am always looking to see just what is going into and onto my body.

So what caught my attention on this occasion? Would you believe an expensive bottle of body wash?

At first glance, it seems to be the perfect gift. Everyone uses body wash, don’t they? Exfoliating, cleansing and moisturising is going to keep me healthy, isn’t it?

However, amongst the list of ingredients – at positions four and five out of 22 respectively – are Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLS).

Both of these chemicals have foaming properties and are known as surfactants. In other words, they reduce surface tension in water. Put into soaps, body washes, toothpastes, shampoos etc, they break up the natural oils found in our skin and hair, so it seems easier for us to get ourselves clean.

However, they are also known skin irritants.

One of the reasons I only ever use SLS-free washing up liquid is to avoid seeing large dry, sore patches on my husband’s hands.

In industry, SLS is used in products such as garage floor cleaners, engine degreasers and car wash soaps.

And guess what? SLS is actually used in clinical testing to irritate animal/human skin so that new creams to treat dryness and inflammation can be developed.

The scary bit is SLS is also in ‘no tears’ baby shampoos. The journal of the American College of Toxicology reports that it can penetrate and be retained in the eye, brain, heart and liver, with potentially harmful long-term effects.

I always ensure I buy toothpaste that has zero SLS content and only natural ingredients. No sodium fluoride either. After all, if sodium fluoride is one of the main components in rat poison, would I really want to put it in my mouth?

Sodium fluoride can be found in anaesthetic, hypnotic and psychiatric drugs. In fact, fluorides have been used throughout history to alter the behaviour of human beings.

Fluoride compounds were added to the drinking water of prisoners to keep them quiet and to hamper non-compliance with authority.

Interestingly, the toothpaste sample my dentist gave me recently was labelled as ‘not for children under 12 years of age.’ Not only did it contain sodium fluoride and SLS, but also triclosan.

Linked to hormone disruption, triclosan is an antimicrobial agent found in soaps, detergents, toothpaste and tooth whitening products, antiperspirants/deodorants, shaving products, creams and colour cosmetics.

Toiletries in the fridge?

hidden chemicalsEver wondered how our cosmetics last so long? Well, here’s a lovely list of ingredients: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben, frequently found on thousands of personal care products.

All preservatives. After all, who would put cosmetics in the fridge and trek up and down from bathroom to kitchen every morning and evening?

Seriously though, these preservatives are a problem. They have been linked to breast cancers, declining sperm counts and increasing rates of male breast cancer/ testicular cancer.  But the reason parabens are so widely used is that they are cheap and effective.

There are various herbs and spices that have preserving qualities, such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, goldenseal root, grapefruit seed extract or lavender oil in various combinations, but they don’t last as long as parabens.

Unfortunately, the European Commission has allowed parabens as safe for use as cosmetic preservatives.

So cheap and easy it is then.

What’s in your sunscreen?

The recent rise in skin cancer has led to research which has found that many sunscreens contain chemicals that are estrogenic, disrupt our hormone systems and can actually help develop cancer: the link is principally between sunscreen and breast cancer.

Octyl-methoxycinnamate, which is estrogenic and has thyroid hormone-disrupting effects, is found in over 800 sunscreens. Homosalate, a hormone-disrupting UVB blocker, is an ingredient in over 400 sunscreens.

What should we use instead? How about timed exposure and coconut oil which has a natural SPF of 4?

Another problem is that all this ‘sun scaremongering’ has led to deficiencies in vitamin D. Factor in (sorry!) the knowledge that many of our cosmetics now contain an SPF rating and we are just not absorbing enough sunlight. Hello, rickets?

Smelling sweet?

Sanitary towels and tampons“Fragrance” is a disarming little word  on my list as well. It hides a multitude of chemicals, including hormone-disrupting phthalates. Choose a product that discloses every ingredient.

The opposite of fragrance is ‘odour neutraliser’, a phrase that is used to make products more appealing. Tampons and pads with odour neutralisers and other artificial fragrances are nothing short of a chemical soup laced with artificial colours, polyester, adhesives, polyethylene (PET), polypropylene, and propylene glycol (PEG).

Try burning a sanitary towel: the black smoke it gives off is an indicator that it probably contains dioxins, synthetic fibres and petrochemical additives.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that the average sanitary towel contains the equivalent of four plastic bags – but nicely bleached with chlorine and prettily packaged, who would know?

And the other present I won’t use? A fancy diffuser full of ‘fragrance’. I’ll just open my windows instead.

Find out more…

Jacqueline Seddon

About Jacqueline Seddon

I was born in Oxford, have lived in 36 houses (not all in the UK) and I suppose you could say I’ve learned a lot in the university of life - although Janey Lee Grace once told me that that was not a very original thing to say. Now I’m settled in Nottingham – until the next move? - where I work as a therapist. See my website for more details about what I do.