[Pharmwaste] Personal care products might contain harmful chemicals
dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Tue Dec 16 16:20:17 EST 2008
Personal care products might contain harmful chemicals
By Edward M. Eveld
Posted: 12/15/2008 06:42:24 PM EST
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Now we're really getting personal.
We're focused on your private place -- the bathroom.
That's generally where you use all that soap, body wash, shampoo and
And deodorant, perfume, shaving cream, lip balm, lipstick, mascara, eye
shadow, hair gel, mousse, hairspray, anti-aging serum ...
It all gets applied to your body, including all the chemicals within.
Diane MacEachern, author of "Big Green Purse," suggests a fun little
exercise: Gather all those products in one place and take a count. You
won't be alone if the number hits 12 or 15.
"People are amazed," she says. "Someone has convinced us we need to use
all these products every day."
Eco-groups and environmental researchers have raised alarms about the
cumulative health effects of many of the compounds found in
personal-care products. While many industry experts say the products are
safe, some scientists and others outside the industry disagree.
The health questions boil down to two. What happens to the body after
the skin absorbs certain compounds day after day, year after year? What
happens to the environment as chemicals from these products are washed
down the drain?
Leslie Stullken of Fairway, Kan., had an "aha" moment about two years
ago. As a food coach, she helps people prepare meals with local,
seasonal and organic food.
She often tells them that "what you eat becomes a chemical message to
In other words, if it's not a nutrient, it might be a toxin.
"I realized, so what am I doing to my skin?" she says.
Stullken performed her own product count and quickly tallied a dozen
items she uses every day. As her existing supplies were depleted, she
began switching to products with natural ingredients. The Zum brand from
Indigo Wild is among her favorites.
"I can pronounce the ingredients," Stullken says. "I feel safe and
clean. And it's the sense that I don't have to worry about what's in
For Laurie Hughes of Kansas City, Mo., a painful skin condition called
"inverse psoriasis" prompted her to question the body products she used.
Hughes underwent a series of steroid treatments to control the
psoriasis. Then she began researching manufacturers of natural products.
She even attended National Psoriasis Foundation conferences.
Besides avoiding preservatives and other chemicals in personal-care
products, she also has cut back. Doing her makeup now means mascara and
lipstick. That's all.
"I think it just looks fine, unless someone tells me different," Hughes
says. "And the thing you find out after a while is how much better you
In her book, published this year, MacEachern says women spend 85 cents
of every dollar in the marketplace and are predisposed to protect the
environment and health. That puts them in a strong position to force the
greening of products, she argues. And in the personal-care category,
they're the target audience.
"The way we spend our money is our first line of defense," she says.
"American women have more economic clout than the GDP of China. It's
Emily Main of National Geographic's Green Guide says many consumers
aren't aware that the Food and Drug Administration doesn't review the
safety of cosmetics and other skin and beauty products. And that many
chemicals restricted or prohibited by the European Union aren't
restricted in the United States.
A group called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel (www.cir-safety.org)
evaluates safety, but critics point out that it's funded by the
personal-care product industry.
Even so, Main says, consumers seem to be more concerned about broader
health effects -- that leftover chemicals from soaps, cosmetics and
other products are sullying the environment and threatening wildlife and
the water supplies.
"I think that's where people really start to pay attention," she says.
So how to assess the risk to us and to the environment?
MacEachern prefers the "precautionary principle." It calls for action
against health and environmental risks even if cause-and-effect hasn't
been firmly established. And it demands that the industry bear the
burden of proving its products safe.
"You don't wait till your child gets hit by a car to tell him to look
both ways before crossing the street," MacEachern says.
What to watch out for The dirty dozen. At least that's what the National
Geographic Green Guide authors call the 12 chemical ingredients to avoid
in cosmetics and other personal-care products.
Antibacterials: Overuse might be contributing to increasingly resistant
bacteria, and they contaminate the environment. Triclosan is the agent
used in many soaps.
Coal tar: Possible carcinogen in dandruff shampoos and anti-itch creams.
Dyes with a coal tar base are used in toothpaste (FD&C Blue 1) and
mouthwash (FD&C Green 3).
DEA: Stands for diethanolamine and is used in shampoos to increase
lather. Can affect hormones and cell functioning and development.
1,4-Dioxane: May show up as a contaminant in personal care items,
including shampoo and body wash; in products that contain sodium laureth
sulfate; and ingredients expressed as "PEG," "-xynol," "ceteareth," and
Formaldehyde: Found in such products as baby bath soap, nail polish and
hair dyes as a contaminant or break-down product of diazolidinyl urea,
imidazolidinyl urea, bronopol and quaternium compounds. Formaldehyde is
a probable human carcinogen and can have other toxic effects.
Fragrance and phthalates: The term "fragrance" can be hiding suspect
substances called phthalates, which may affect hormones and cause
reproductive and developmental harm.
Lead and mercury: Lead can show up in products that have hydrated
silica, such as in toothpaste. Mercury, found in the preservative
thimerosal, is in some mascaras.
Nanoparticles: Tiny particles of such things as zinc oxide and titanium
oxide in cosmetics and sunscreens could cause cell damage, but they're
tough to track. Some manufacturers now advertise products that are free
of nanoparticle-size ingredients.
Parabens: Common preservatives in toiletries, parabens grew
controversial due to their weak estrogenic effects in some animals
studies. Check for methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl- and isobutylparaben.
Petroleum distillates: Check for the terms "petroleum" and "liquid
paraffin" in such products as mascara and foot-odor powder. The European
Union restricts or prohibits petroleum distillates as possible human
PPD: P-Phenylenediamine can be found in hair dyes and may cause
irritation and damage to the nervous system and lungs. Hydroquinone: Can
be found in skin creams and under-eye treatments. Limited evidence links
it to cancer in laboratory animals.
Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email: dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address: www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail: P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218 (NEW!)
Location: 629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219
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