The products in your bathroom are much more dangerous than you may think. In fact, there could be a potentially lethal cocktail of ingredients lurking inside…
You would hardly expect that what you put on your body to cleanse, hydrate and rejuvenate your skin might actually be causing serious damage to your health. However, what most people don’t know is that a high proportion of personal care and cosmetic products available today are based on ingredients that can be toxic to the body.
According to world-renowned toxicologist and author, Dr Samuel Epstein M.D., it is this avoidable and unknowing exposure to mainstream carcinogenic petrochemicals, such as in cosmetics and toiletries, which is largely responsible for the escalating incidences of cancer over recent decades.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (USA) has discovered 884 toxic chemicals in common personal care products. The Investigative Branch of Congress (USA) has isolated 125 known cancer-causing agents in personal care products, and many more suspected of causing birth defects. We use all the same products here in Australia.
Conservative estimates show we put three personal care products on infants and children every day, men use ten and women use on average six cosmetics and thirteen personal care products every day. Some products, like hand soaps, are used several times a day. Assuming the mainstream products most people use contain only two carcinogens that could amount to over forty avoidable carcinogenic exposures every day! That is, every day for a lifetime.
Here is a guide to some of the most dangerous commonly used chemicals you may find in the products you have at home:
- Mineral oil — Manufactured from crude oil, it is a mixture of liquid hydrocarbons separated from petroleum. It clogs and dehydrates the skin and is often a carrier of carcinogenic impurities. Found in body lotions and is the base for sorbolene products.
- Talc — Linked to ovarian cancer and urinary tract disorders as well as respiratory distress in infants.
- Aluminium — Found in the majority of deodorants. Results of WHO studies link regular use of aluminium based deodorants to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Fluoride — While studies have shown that fluoride does seem to strengthen teeth up to the age of twelve, other research has linked chemical fluoride to cancer and brain degeneration. In 1994, Dr Peter Rock of Birmingham University warned ‘even a pea-sized quantity of fluoride toothpaste might be too toxic for young children’. (Gotzsche)
- Propylene Glycol — A moisture-carrying vehicle or humectant, it is found in most shampoos, conditioners and body lotions. Sounds harmless enough but it is actually the major ingredient in industrial anti-freeze, brake and hydraulic fluids and floor wax. Linked to skin irritation, gastro-intestinal disturbances, nausea, headaches and vomiting, overexposure to propylene glycol can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage. These warnings are clearly stated on the Material Safety Data Sheet for this compound, so why aren’t there any warnings on our personal ‘care’ products?
- Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES) — Found in virtually every shampoo, toothpaste, body wash and bubble bath product available today. Even though SLS is a synthetic chemical derived from the humble coconut, it is one of the most harmful chemicals present in bathroom products.
As a caustic detergent, SLS and SLES are used in the most powerful engine degreasers and concrete floor cleaners. They are skin irritants and can cause a dry, itchy scalp and dandruff as well as corrosion of hair follicles leading to hair loss. Not what you want in a shampoo! SLS is also routinely used in clinical testing to deliberately irritate the skin so the effects of other substances can be tested.
SLS shows a long-term retention in tissues. It penetrates and is stored in the brain, liver and heart. ‘It is a well-known mutagen which means it damages the genetic information in cells of the body. The membranes of the cells in a poisoned organ begin to degenerate, and cause the mutation of newly generated cells.’ (Australian Health Alert)
Through the same process, SLS can cause damage to the immune system, in effect disabling the body’s ability to heal itself. The eyes are particularly vulnerable, especially the developing eyes of children. Maybe you’ve seen these warnings — ‘Keep out of reach of children. If eye contact occurs, rinse well with fresh water without delay. Seek medical attention if required.’ We would have all experienced getting shampoo in our eyes whilst washing our hair — ouch!
Kenneth Green, PhD Sc. of the Medical College of Georgia (USA), explains — ‘Research has found that SLS, apart from the instantaneous discomfort, retards the healing process in the sight organs by five times longer than normal, prohibits eye tissue growth, causes cataracts and leads to eventual blindness’. All of this can result from indirect contact, such as absorption through the scalp.
Only a minority of people will have an immediate reaction to a product because they are chemically sensitive. The remaining 85% of the population would have no idea that maybe the toxins in the bathroom are the reason behind some of their mysterious symptoms of ill health. The adverse effects of toxins are compounded over decades, confusing hormone receptors and slowly altering cell structure. Headaches, urinary tract infections, nausea, vomiting and rashes are all possible and likely reactions to chemicals, but most people are not aware of their effects until they have manifested as a serious disease such as cancer. Awareness and elimination of these dangerous chemicals in our homes is essential for our health and wellbeing.
Australian Health Publications, Australian Health Alert 2000, 1999
Epstein, Samuel S. MD. Unreasonable Risk: How to Avoid Toxic Ingredients in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products, Environmental Toxicology, Chicago, 2002
Gotzsche, Anne-Lise. The Poison Smile, UK Guardian, 19 October 1995
Hill, Amelia. Make-Up Holds Hidden Danger of Cancer The Observer, 7 April 2002 (www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,680266,00.html)
Material Safety Data Sheets from www.msds.com.au and other online resources
This article first appeared in byronchild/Kindred magazine, March 04 issue, and has been reprinted here with permission.