Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What's in your beauty products?

Looooong story ahead.

In 2004, I spent some time in Alaska, going to college at UAA studying archaeology. An Irish person such as myself does not have the skin meant for arctic weather, because my skin changed for the worse: my hands were itchy, and my skin cracked and bled. My hands looked so bad that I was wearing cloth mittens everywhere, even indoors. I was suffering and it sucked. I actually thought I had some kind of flesh-eating bacteria. A visit to the dermatologist allowed a diagnosis: eczema, but she just prescribed corticosteroids and sent me on my (unmerry) way (thanks, doctor whomever, for prescribing Prednisone, as that stuff IS POISON). Ahem, anyway. The air is very dry in Alaska, and the prescribed Prednisone, as well as skin lotions, wasn't helping, either.

When I returned home to Oregon, my eczema greatly regressed but it was still bothersome from time to time. I then visited an excellent dermatologist and this doctor helped me understand eczema (and my many allergies). Through my own research and managing the eczema, I came to the understanding that while I always had slight eczema  I have very sensitive skin, and that most soap products bother me.  Any soap product with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate notably causes my eczema to flare up with a vengeance. Therefore, my shampoos and soaps are, of course, free of sulfates. I can't do the dishes without rubber gloves, as dish-washing liquid is murder on my hands. My SLS-free soaps are purchased from soapmakers, and from Trader Joe's.

My experiences eventually led me to the million-dollar question: what's with all the "questionable ingredients" in consumer products, anyway? What's with the labels that scream "Sulfate free" and "Free of parabens" and "Phosphate-free"? A visit to the Environmental Working Group website yields answers to what these ingredients are and informs you of what's in your own products.

Some of the basics:

Sulfates (i.e., the above mentioned Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) are found in just about every cleaner, from garage-floor cleaners to shampoos to soaps to toothpaste. (Yes, you read that correctly: stuff that is used to clean garage floors is also put into your toothpaste and shampoo.) This is the stuff that creates lather in a soap, and as a surfactant, it's good at removing oils from your hair and body. It is also known to be a skin irritant, especially for those who have sensitive skin and eczema. According to Bonnie Rochman's Time  Health article Ingredient Anxiety, another concern regarding Sulfates is that "some of these foaming agents are skin irritants; others combine with petrochemicals to form 1,4-dioxane, which is a probable human carcinogen."

Parabens are found in many beauty products, including cosmetics, deodorants, shampoos, and hair products, and is used as a preservative and anti-fungal agent. Have a look at the label on the back of a hair product, perhaps one that you own and use. Do you see "methyparaben", perhaps? The problem with parabens is that they mimic estrogen; lab tests have indicated endocrine-disrupting compounds. According to the Environmental Working Group, parabens "were found in breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied." Scary.

Phthalates are found in a variety of products, including fragrances, cosmetics such as eyeshadow, liquid soaps, nail polish, shower curtains, and more. The Environmental Working Group website states, "Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system" by affecting sperm counts and reproductive systems in male animals, and studies indicate (U.S. Center for Disease Control’s 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals) it is also linked to liver cancer. Also frightening is that most personal care products don't list phthalates on labels, according to The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Other nasty ingredients include but isn't limited to Bisphenol A (BPA),  DMDM hydantoin, Phosphates, and 1,4-dioxane.

Consumers are unknowingly spending money (sometimes, a lot of money) on products containing these harsh ingredients.

Due to my own need for soaps without SLS, I've decided to jump on the soap-making bandwagon. I'll be updating subsequent blog posts with my soap-making experiences. Eventually, the soaps that I'll make (and those that turn out decently enough) will be available for sale through my Etsy page. W00t.

For more information, please see:

Ingredient Anxiety written by Bonnie Rochman
The Environmental Working Group
The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics

All natural soooooap: including Triforce soap! W00t!

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