Walk into any drugstore, and you will be dazzled by the sparkling rows of hair care products, cosmetics, perfumes, soaps, lotions and other body care products that create a visual plethora of hip graphics and flawless faces, all of which are marketed to you, the consumer.
Those gorgeous models and shiny tresses are meant to entice you into buying the product to re-make you into that wondrous big brand image.
But in all the flotsam and jetsam of labels and ingredients, what exactly are you buying?
You might be surprised. Turn that jazzy packaging over, and read the ingredient list. Did you find a lot of long, confusing words describing stuff you've never heard of? And do you have any idea what that stuff is, or does?
In the long range, what you DO NOT put on your body may be the most important factor of all.
Here's a brief list of ingredients that are extremely common in many Big Brand body care products.
sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)
Sulfates act as a foaming and emulsifying agent, meaning a detergent that's sudsy and lifts grease. Estimates say about 90% of shampoos and body washes on the market contain SLS or SLES. Sulfates are synthetic ingredients based on sulfur, which is derived from petrolatum, or other sources, and lauryl alcohol, which is obtained by the reduction of fatty acids of coconut oil. To make sulfates lauryl alcohol is reacted with manufactured sulfuric acid. Health Canada assesses these ingredients as safe when used properly, however SLS can be harsh and possibly irritate the skin and scalp causing redness, dryness, and itching, or aggravate pre-existing skin conditions (ever washed your hair and then found the hairline itchy? Could be SLS.) SLES is milder. Both sulfates are considered biodegradable and low toxicity, but can dry out hair, induce brittleness, and fade colour.
methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben
The most widely used preservatives, they've been around for 70 years, mainly because they are cheap and effective. Parabens inhibit growth of fungus and bacteria in your personal care products like shampoos, fragrances, foundations, mascara and lotions. Although parabens occur naturally in certain foods, personal care products contain the synthetic preparation derived from petrochemicals. They are readily absorbed by the skin.
Parabens are suspected of being endocrine disruptors, and can mimic estrogen, the female sex hormone, and have been detected in breast cancer tissues. They are also thought to interfere with male reproductive function.
Methylparaben on the skin reacts with UVB, leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage.
Health Canada has evaluated parabens as safe at current exposure levels. However, researchers think that cumulative effects must be looked at as opposed to individual product exposure.
dibutyl phthalate (DBP) diethyl phthalate (DEP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP) and di-isononyl phthalate (DINP)
Phthalates are man-made chemical substances derived from petroleum. Invented in the 1920s, they are found in dozens of everyday products. They make plastic more flexible, and also more durable, so this chemical is often found in nail polish to make it resistant to chipping.
Phthalates are considered most hazardous to males, reducing testosterone while in the womb and impacting sexual development, sex drive and fertility. Research is also looking at phthalates effects on ovarian function, early development in girls, attention disorders, diabetes and asthma.
Studies show that most people have these chemicals in their bodies. Although phthalates leave our bodies within hours due to the nature of how they are metabolized, research shows that people are being constantly exposed and have it in their systems almost continuously.
Health Canada has restrictions on phthalates being used in child-care and toy products.
Widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers PEGs are petroleum-based compounds. PEGs are also commonly used as cosmetic cream bases and in pharmaceuticals as laxatives.
There are some concerns that PEGs may be contaminated with carcinogens like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. If used on broken or damaged skin, they can cause irritation and systemic toxicity.
Health Canada and Environment Canada concluded that the chemical did not meet the legal definition of "toxic" because estimated exposure levels were considered to be lower than those that might constitute a danger to human health.
DEA is a chemical that is used as a wetting agent in shampoos, lotions, creams and other cosmetics, and is used to make products creamy or sudsy.
DEA and its compounds can cause skin and eye irritation. DEA by itself is not considered harmful but while sitting on store shelves or in a medicine cabinet, DEA can react with other ingredients in the cosmetic formula to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is readily absorbed through the skin and has been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers.
The talc in talcum powder comes from the crushing, drying and milling of mined talc rocks and contains minerals such as magnesium and silicon. Used in many baby products because of its absorbent qualities, but also in cosmetics like blush and face powder, talc is used as a filler in many high end "mineral" make-ups that actually contain only a small percentage of pure minerals. Although talc nowadays contains no asbestos, it still has minute fibres that take years to break down. It can be possibly inhaled.
An anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and preservative agent found in many consumer products, including soaps, detergents, anti-perspirants, hand-sanitizers, toothpastes, toys, etc. Triclosan is suspected of interfering with hormone function. It can be absorbed by the body, and in a study done by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, was detected in the urine of nearly 75% of people tested.
It can also be irritating to the skin and eyes, and is suspected of contributing to allergic reactions including contact dermatitis, food allergies, and allergic sensitization. Triclosan is very toxic to aquatic organisms, doesn't degrade easily, and is bioaccumulative.
Health Canada limits the concentration of triclosan in personal hygiene and cosmetic products, but because Triclosan does not degrade readily, exposure can be accumulative.
Triclosan has been flagged by Environment Canada for further assessment.
Products tested on animals are not considered cruelty free, since these tests are often painful and cause the suffering and death of millions of animals every year. Choose Cruelty Free products when purchasing personal care items.
Sources: David Suzuki Foundation www.davidsuzuki.org; Best Health Magazine www.besthealthmag.ca; makeuptalk.com; cosmeticsinfo.org; preventcancer.com, wikipedia.org