When my children were born, I really started thinking about food ingredients and what was going into their little bodies. It was then that I decided that, despite the additional cost and possible inconvenience, I would commit to feeding my family organically grown food as much as I possibly could. I think that most people in the Western World are familiar with the idea that eating food as close to its original form, grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is a good idea for overall health and well-being. What I have recently begun to realize is that the same care that I have been taking in deciding what goes into our bodies can and should be applied to deciding what goes ON our bodies.
Why choose organic personal care items? Consider that the skin is the largest organ of the body. Its functions include protection, both as a physical barrier and in the immune system response. Another important function of the skin is absorption. Just as topical skin preparations of some common medications are designed to deliver those medications to the bloodstream, the liver and, eventually, every cell of the body, so are the personal care products – shampoos, creams, conditioners, etc—that we apply to our bodies absorbed and delivered to the cells. So, every cell in our bodies gets a dose of hairspray or lip balm or body cream every time we use it.
Then there is the issue of what happens to these products once they are washed happily down the drain. Every time you take a shower, wash your laundry or throw away a paper towel that has been soaked in cleaning solution, you are contributing an array of ingredients to the ecosystem we know as Planet Earth. You have not seen the last of that shampoo once it circles the drain. It shows back up again in the soil and water, and ultimately in the food we all consume (organically farmed or not) later. If this is not a good enough reason to care about what products we use in our homes, I don’t know what is.
Reading labels attached to personal care items is honestly just as important as reading food labels. And although we have food labeling that is much easier to read and understand, personal care item labels can present a problem. Many harmless or even beneficial ingredients are listed under their scientific names and are virtually indistinguishable to the average reader from the names of potentially toxic chemicals. To you and me, the chemical names often read like a foreign language.
Now I know what you are thinking. “One more thing for me to worry about! Thanks a lot!” But hang on. It isn’t really as difficult to make healthy choices in personal care items as it may seem.
If you are trying to avoid exposure to chemicals that may be potentially damaging to your health, I suggest a two-pronged approach. The first is becoming familiar with some of the chemicals used in health and beauty products that are known to be detrimental to the body.
Believe it or not, even though we have a Food and Drug Administration that is charged with the task of protecting us from harmful substances, the truth is that personal care and environmental products are not subject to the same kind of regulation as food. (And we all know what a great job the FDA does in protecting us from harmful food additives, anyway… but that’s another post!)
Many of the ingredients found in most conventional (non-organic), mass-produced personal care products have been banned in other countries because they are associated with health problems such as allergies, cancer, infertility, birth defects and learning disabilities. Clearly, nobody is protecting us from these ingredients, so it is up to us to arm ourselves with information and make choices we can feel good about.
If you decide that you would like to know more about what is going onto and into your body, the following list may prove helpful to you. Once you become familiar with these common chemical names and what they are known to do to the body, you can become a label-reading Ninja and quickly decide what products you do or don’t want to expose yourself and your family to.
Here’s a list of a dozen common ingredients in personal care products and why you should try to avoid them. “Knowledge is power!”, so consider yourself empowered!
Benzoyl peroxide is commonly found in over-the-counter anti-acne preparations. The MSDS states that this chemical is a “possible tumor promoter”. This means that in humans and other mammals, this product causes DNA mutation, which is what leads to cancerous cells. It is also an eye, skin and respiratory tract irritant.
DEA, MEA and TEA are known skin and eye irritants. They are added to products to make them produce more foam.
Dioxin is a chemical found in anything containing triclosan, emulsifiers, PEG’s and ethoxylated cleansers like Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which you will find listed on the label. Dioxin is associated with cancer, immune system problems and nervous system disorders.
DMDM Hydantoin and Urea are preservatives that, once metabolized by the liver, release Formaldehyde. Yes, Formaldehyde. Do I really need to tell you that Formaldehyde is not something you want in your body?
FD&C Color and Pigments are synthetic coloring agents made from coal tar. They contain heavy metal salts. Animal studies have shown that almost all of these are carcinogenic.
Parabens, including Methyl, Ethyl, Butyl and Propyl are used as preservatives and will not always show up on labels. These are used in deodorants and have been found in breast cancer tumors. In men, they are associated with sterility. They may also contribute to early puberty in girls.
PEGs are found in just about every personal care item manufactured conventionally (non-organically) and release high levels of dioxin in the body. These are found in most baby care creams and washes.
Phthlatates are associated with damage to the liver and kidneys. They are also associated with birth defects , decreased sperm counts and early breast development in girls. They will not be listed on the label, but they are in many products.
Propylene and Butylene Glycol are actually petroleum-based plastics. The FDA requires that those disposing of these chemicals wear protective equipment. This is intended to protect the worker from several different cancers. Yet it’s apparently fine if you apply it to your own skin via shampoo.
Sodium Lauryls Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are pretty much in any mass-produced personal care item that creates a foam. Exposure is linked to eye damage, depression, labored breathing, diarrhea and skin irritation.
Triclosan is a synthetic antibacterial agent. It is registered with the EPA as a pesticide. It is suspected of causing cancer in humans.
So, all you have to do is familiarize yourself with this list and read those tiny-print ingredient labels every time you purchase a new personal care item. Easy peesy lemon squeezy, right? Well, don’t panic. I have yet to tell you about the second prong in my two-pronged approach. Are you ready? (It’s going to be way easier than pronouncing all those chemicals I listed, I swear.)
Okay, my second prong in the two-pronged approach is simply this:
Buy products with ingredients you would eat. Buy products that contain ingredients you would not mind finding in your garden soil. Buy products that you would not feel bad about adding to the water supply.
It’s a simple, but very effective method of getting what you want and none of what you don’t. And it does not require that you do any memorizing of chemical names. Because as a busy mother myself, I know that adding one more task to my shopping trip is not something I want to do. And as a busy Mom, next to taking the best care of my family as I can, I am primarily all about making things simple. I strongly prefer the second approach, and I think you will too.
By, Heather Nugent
RN & Midwife Assistant
Dunkirk, NY Due to the complex roles that both the writer and audience have http://homeworkhelper.net to play, the.