Toxic Toiletries?

How toxic are your toiletries – nature’s gift or chemicals from hell?

Find out how organic skin care can save you from some of life’s little irritations!

Have you ever looked at the ingredients list of your favourite hair and body products and actually researched what those un-pronounceable names are? If you are curious about the effects of what you are covering yourself in day after day you may wish to read on.  However, you could be in for a shock….

Do you or your family experience any of the following:  dry skin, sensitive skin, sensitive eyes, brittle hair, itchy scalp, hair loss, dry mouth, receding or irritated gums, cracked or stressed skin, dermatitis, recurring rashes or other irritations? Would you consider that there might be a possibility your body is reacting to your hair and skincare products? If you are open to this consideration then you may already be using organic skin care and organic hair care products and have noticed the difference.  If you are unsure that there might be a link then read on.

Firstly a little bit of information about the skin – we all have it and we all know its primary function is to hold us together and keep the rain out! The skin is the largest organ in the body and forms a protective barrier to keep out harmful pollutants. The skin needs to breathe and be nourished and properly hydrated to be able to do its job properly. Using products that continuously attack the integrity of the skin cells results in the essential functions being compromised. As the protective layers are destroyed the structure starts to break down we start to encounter dry, flaky and sensitive skin etc.The same is also applicable to the hair – it needs to be nourished to stay strong and healthy and if the protective membranes are absent we get hair breakage, itchy scalp etc.

Below is a list of ingredients commonly found in hair and body products – you know, the ones that foam up nicely or smell heavenly. What you may want to bear in mind as you review the list is whether the foam and smell are worth the harm they might be doing to you:

 Sodium Laureth/Laurel Sulphate (SLS)

A strong detergent which is found in 90% of shampoos, conditioners, body washes, skin creams and toothpastes.  SLS is also found in industrial cleaners.  When combined with other ingredients it can form nitrosamines which may be carcinogenic.

SLS easily penetrates the skin and can travel in the bloodstream to the heart, lungs and liver, brain and eyes.  It can be retained in tissues for a long time and could cause the following:  Cancer, endocrine (hormone) disruption, hair loss, increased skin sensitivity, dry skin, mouth ulceration and eye damage. 

Alcohol, or Isopropyl

A poisonous solvent and denaturant (alters the structure of other chemicals) found in hair colour rinses, body rubs, hand lotions, aftershave lotions and fragrances.

Alcohol/isopropyl can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, flushing and depression.  It dries skin and hair and creates cracks and fissures in the skin which encourage bacterial growth.

Cocamide Mea

This ingredient is added to make shampoo lather to a level that would be otherwise be impossible.  Cocamide Mea has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. 
It contains momoethanolamine which, when mixed with SLS produces the carcinogen nitrosamine.

Parfum, fragrance

This is an important part of creating the �natural’, �botanical’ or �fresh’ smell in products but there is nothing natural, botanical or fresh about them!  95% of the estimated 5,000 fragrance ingredients on the market are laboratory created, many from petroleum products.  They may also contain artificial musks which can disrupt hormones and are toxic to the liver.

Petroleum based ingredients can cause cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions as well as headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin irritation, respiratory problems, mood swings, depression and vomiting.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol is a solvent used to hold moisture in shampoos and give products that silky feel.

It is a petrochemical which is also used as a major ingredient in brake fluid and antifreeze.  Worryingly it can also be found in products such as baby lotion and mascara.

Propylene Glycol has been acknowledged as a neurotoxin and shown to cause dermatitis, liver abnormalities and kidney damage in animal studies.  It may also be a skin irritant.

Methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl parabens

These are preservatives used to extend the shelf life of products and inhibit microbial growth.  They are highly toxic and can cause dermatitis, rashes and other allergic reactions.

So – does that gorgeously fragranced, richly lathering bottle of your favourite shampoo or body wash still seem so appealing???

Below is a extract from an article which appears on the Daily Mail website:

 Is your bubble bath safe? Bath foam that triggers headaches. Shampoo full of cancer-causing chemicals. And shower gel that attacks your skin. As experts warn of the chemicals in our toiletries, we reveal the health hazards in your bathroom cabinet.

Pat Thomas makes sense of the often impenetrable labels, and reveals the ingredients’ potentially devastating effects on our health.

Bath products use the same chemicals as household detergents

Bath products

These days, most of us don’t use soap in the shower or bath. Instead, we lather up with bath foams, shower gels, facial washes and scrubs, all of which rely on complex detergents � often the same ones used in heavy industry � to wash away simple dirt.

The difference between soap and detergent is like the difference between cotton and nylon. Soap and cotton are produced from natural products by relatively small modification.

Detergents and nylon are produced entirely in a chemical factory. There is no difference between the detergents in your household cleaning products and those you use in your bath. It is simply a matter of concentration.

Bubble baths, which are highly fragranced, have the greatest potential to cause skin irritation, allergic skin reactions and headaches. In the U.S., they carry a health warning alerting users to the possibility of skin irritation and urinary tract infections.

Body washes essentially contain the same basic ingredients as bubble bath. Soaking in any bath product will prolong its contact with your skin, increasing the risk that chemicals will be absorbed. Both bubble baths and shower gels have the potential to penetrate the skin and lungs.

Your bubble bath is likely to contain potentially irritating detergents like sodium laureth sulphate and cocami-dopropyl betaine (the latter is also a penetration enhancer, allowing other chemicals to be more easily absorbed); preservatives such as tetrasodium EDTA, a potential irritant; and methylchloroisothiazolinone (both potential mutagens � substances that speed up gene mutation).

If it contains cocamide EDTA (or similar compounds ending with DEA, TEA or MEA) along with formaldehyde-forming substances such as bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, diazo-lidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea and quaternium-15, it is likely to contain cancer-causing nitrosamines. Studies show up to 93 per cent of toiletries and cosmetics contain these compounds.


Cheap or expensive, modern shampoos are usually a mixture of the same handful of detergents. The choice of detergents used is usually as much to do with the final look of the product as it is with its effectiveness.

Unfortunately, rather like bubble bath, some of the common ingredients in shampoos can break down into formaldehyde during storage.

When formaldehyde-forming agents mix with some of the other emulsifying ingredients commonly found in shampoos, such as diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA) and monoethanolamine (MEA), they can form carcinogenic n-nitrosodi-ethanolamine, or NDELA.

This is particularly problematic in shampoos because we use them so frequently and in such great quantities.


The problems of dental decay and gum disease are very real and affect more than just the mouth. Gum disease is strongly linked to other conditions such as heart disease. Indeed, your risk of developing heart disease is higher if you have poor oral health than if you smoke and have high cholesterol.

Poor oral health also raises your risk of stroke, osteoporosis, respiratory diseases and diabetes. Several of the ‘active’ ingredients in toothpaste are worrying. Widely used industrial-strength detergent sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is a suspected gastrointestinal or liver poison.

There is also concern that by stripping away the protective mucous membrane of the mouth, SLS could increase the incidence of mouth ulcers, and may be involved in an increased risk of oral cancer.


Antiperspirants and deodorants typically contain moisturisers, solvents and preservatives (such as parabens, which can cause skin irritation and can be a source of weak oestrogens, which may have a detrimental effect in the long-term).

Researchers at the University of Reading recently found traces of parabens in every single tumour sample taken from a small group of women with breast cancer.

The aluminium content of antiperspirants is also a major concern. No one knows exactly how aluminium compounds work to reduce underarm wetness. What is known, however, is that aluminium is absorbed through the skin.

The recently acknowledged link between Alzheimer’s disease and aluminium has raised a furious debate over the safety of putting aluminium compounds into deodorants.

Another concern is the potential link between aluminium and breast cancer. A study looking at the incidence of breast cancer among 400 American women suggests that a combination of underarm shaving and deodorant use may allow chemicals to seep into breast tissue.

In the study, women who shaved three times a week and applied deodorant at least twice a week were almost 15 years younger when diagnosed with cancer than women who did neither.

 ~ extract from the Daily Mail, 5 Sept 2006


Doesn’t make for very pleasant reading does it?  So how can you and your family protect yourselves from these chemicals without sacrificing the enjoyment of personal grooming?
This will benefit the environment as well given the continuous water shortages we keep having – avoid taking baths so that you are not allowing the toxins to soak through your skin.  Better still use soaps that are vegetable oil and glycerine based instead of bubble bath.

If you must use products containing these ingredients then use less.  They will still lather up even if you use half the amount with a little more water.  Look at the labels before you restock and try to choose the ones with fewest chemically sounding ingredients. Avoid getting these products into your eyes and keep them in contact with your body for the shortest time possible.  Rinse them off well.  Better still (and easier!) choose organic products with natural fragrances and no nasty irritants and enjoy the bathing process in safety. 

Avoid aerosol antiperspirants which just surround you in a cloud of toxic chemicals.  If you must use an antiperspirant use a roll on version instead and don’t apply to freshly shaved skin as this may increase the rate of absorption into the body.  Better still, bin the antiperspirant altogether (after all there is a reason we perspire and that is to eliminate toxins from the body – so why suppress these toxins we already have and add even more?) and opt for natural crystal deodorants which come in a roll on or spray variety. These work in harmony with your body to neutralise the odour rather than blocking the body’s natural process.
Take the time to seek out the alternatives that are available which have been created to work in harmony with your body and not strip away the protective barriers that are there for a reason.  We only get one body in this life so it makes sense to invest the time and effort into looking after it in the best way possible.
By reducing our exposure to these chemicals that we are willingly (and in most cases unknowingly) covering ourselves in every single day, we can start to give our bodies the chance to fight back and return to a less toxic way of life.
Also be aware of what you are putting into your body as it is too easy today to rely on heavily processed foods which contain little or no nutritional value – try and select fresh organic foods as much as possible, prepare meals from fresh ingredients and take a good quality supplement to help keep your friendly bacteria topped up. 
And of course drink water.  We all know we should drink plenty of water every day but many don’t appreciate why this is so important.  Well, consider this….
Our bodies are approximately 50-70% water (yes, incredible isn’t it?) but on a daily basis we lose a percentage of that every day through perspiring, urinating, being ill, etc.  If that water isn’t replaced then we become dehydrated.  When you feel thirsty you may actually be in the early stages of dehydration. 
By topping up those water levels continuously through the day you can take great steps towards reducing and eliminating things such as headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, sluggish digestion, dry and flaky skin.
So, a few things to think about.  What it basically boils down to is this – how we treat our bodies will directly influence how well our bodies treat us.  Look after your body and protect it from things you know to be harmful.

What doctors don’t tell you Vol.10
The Ecologist October 2003 & March 2005
The Daily Mail online September 2006

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