Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Top Ten Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid

Here's what to look out for, and steer clear of, on ingredients lists in the personal care product aisles.

1. Aluminum Starch/ Octenylsuccinate: Linked to cancer and developmental/reproductive harm.

2. Antibacterials/ antimicrobials such as Triclosan, which promote the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

3. Coal tar colors: Includes FD&C and D & C colors, especially blue 1 and green 3. Cancer links.

4. Ethoxylated Chemicals (the “PEGs” and “Eths”s): These sudsing/moisturizing agents are made by adding ethylene oxide to fatty acids so they’ll become more water soluble. This process can create carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane. Watch out for PEG-80 sorbitan laurate, PEG-6 methyl ether, Polyethylene glycol, PEG-20, Sodium laureth sulfate,Ceteareth-20 and -30, and many more substances with “PEG”- and “eth” in their names.

5. Formaldehyde: While it won't show up on ingredients lists, this known human carcinogen can be present as a contaminant in nearly all types of personal care products. Look for its contaminated "cousins": diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, and quaternium .

6. Fragrance: Synthetic fragrance using phthalates, isoeugenol, cinnamal, and BHT--a fragrance used to mask fragrance--is linked to cancer and developmental/ reproductive harm, allergies.

7. Heavy Metals: Lead and mercury in lip and eye makeups can cause nervous system and brain damage.

8. Nano particles: Still new on the block, but research indicates they may pose possible brain damage, cancer risks.

9. Synthetic Preservatives: Methylparaben and other parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors and stimulate growth of breast cancer cells in the lab.

10. Silica: A risk mostly when used in powders that can be easily inhaled. Mica and talc, also used in powders, are low-risk, although talc can be contaminated with fibers similar to cancer-causing asbestos.

The list was compiled using Environmental Working Group's awesome Skin Deep Database .

Monday, October 12, 2009

Must-avoid cosmetic and plastic chemicals for women's and our children's health

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I might have made a more mindful--and healthier--cosmetic choice. But no. I rushed out and bought enough Clinique stuff to score their promo bagful of free essentials. If only they were free of toxic chemicals! First shock: The cute apple-printed cosmetics clutch is made of polyester, derived from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. Worse, there's yet another plastic pouch inside, made of PVC, the most toxic and least recyclable plastic. Colored bright green, it's got the new-shower-curtain smell of phthalates , chemicals that have been tied to reproductive malformations, obesity and asthma in humans.

But here's some good news: On September 29, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced she's seeking stricter regulation of chemical compounds, and targeted six culprits as top priorities for investigation, including phthalates and BPA (Bisphenol-A), another plastics chemical. A new study, published October 6 in Environmental Health Perspectives online, concludes that mothers' exposures to BPA while pregnant may cause behavioral problems in their daughters; in addition to the growing evidence of nervous system harm, BPA has stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells in the lab tests. How are we exposed to BPA? Through polycarbonate plastic drink bottles, baby bottles, and can linings. For more info and safer products, click here and here. Oh, and here--see the comments regarding Sigg's previous denial that its aluminum bottle linings had BPA. GreenerPenny readers are healthy skeptics.

Oh, and never microwave in any plastic! Use these glass or ceramic dishes instead.
More good news: The list of ingredients in my Clinique booty does not include "fragrance," which, as every good cosmetics sleuth knows by now, is basically code for synthetic scents containing phthalates.

Bad news: Clinique's lovely classic Dramatically Different Moisture Lotion contains parabens, some must-avoid chemicals which have also been found to cause the growth of breast cancer cells in vitro. Would that it were truly so different! Many, many popular moisturizers and other personal care products, including some so-called "natural" brands, use parabens. For healthier choices, see my list of paraben- and phthalate-free cosmetics.

Awareness and early detection are crucial, but October should also be Breast Cancer Prevention month. For 20 breast cancer risk factors to avoid, and why, see this excellent article by Dr. Janet Gray of the Breast Cancer Fund.

For helping to inform our choices, kudos to California, where, since June, cosmetic companies have been required to disclose which of their ingredients are suspected or known carcinogens.
For more info on breaking environmental health news and what we can do to protect ourselves and our families, please subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter by clicking on the link at GreenerPenny.com or send an email to me with "subscribe" in the subject line at GreenerPenny@gmail.com.