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Common chemicals in personal care products

Chemicals in Toiletries

  1. Sodium Laureth and Lauryl Sulphate
  2. Ethyl Alcohol
  3. Parabens
  4. Synthetic Colours
  5. Synthetic Fragrances

Sodium Laureth and Lauryl Sulphate (SLES and SLS)

Found in most shampoos, toothpastes and foaming products. SLS is a harsh detergent and engine degreaser.  The Material Safety Data Sheet states health hazards being inhalation, skin and eye contact and ingestion and tests on lab animals indicate material may cause mutagenic effects. Foresight, in their booklet Watch It! states that it is a harsh eye irritant which can cause permanent damage; causes skin flaking and mouth ulceration and can form into nitrosamines which are known carcinogens. 

Alternatives:  Look for organic toiletries that use gentle vegetable based foaming agents such as Decyl glucoside from corn and Cocamidopropyl betaine from coconut. 

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Ethyl Alcohol

Ethyl alcohol is used primarily to enhance the ability of the substance to penetrate the skin.

From the USA Material Safet y Data Sheet “Repeated, prolonged skin contact can cause drying and cracking of the skin and possible dermatitis. Medical conditions generally aggravated by exposure: skin, eyes, liver, respiratory system, central nervous system.”  Europe Material Safety Data Sheet quotes ethanol/ethyl alcohol as being “irritating to skin.. irritating to eyes… intoxicating if ingested”.

Click here  to read an article on Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity.

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Although there are some natural sources of parabens, those used commercially in cosmetics, toiletries, toothpastes and some food products are made synthetically. Parabens are used as a preservative in many cosmetics, toiletries and even some food products. They are used for their antibacterial and antifungal properties. Four main parabens are used – methyl, ethyl, propyl and butylparabens.

There is a certain amount of controversy over whether they are harmful or not. Some women with breast cancer have been found to have extremely low concentrations of parabens in their tumours.  Parabens have also been found to “slightly” mimic oestrogens which could be of concern with both breast and prostate cancers. To read a research study on parabens please click here.

The controversy is not new. We have chosen only to offer products that do not contain parabens.

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Synthetic Colours

Synthetic colourings are present in many toiletries and cosmetics. Synthetic colourings have been used since early times and were first produced as a by product of coal production, hence their name “coal-tar colours”. They are derived primarily from petroleum and can contain heavy metals. They can make their way into the body via the skin. Many have now been banned by the FDA. If a product does contain synthetic colouring it will say so on the ingredients label: FD&C or D&C followed by a number. Animal studies have shown many synthetic colours to be carcinogenic (Debra Lynn Dadd).

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Synthetic Fragrances

Synthetic fragrance is present in most toiletries unless you specifically choose organic products that are either unperfumed or that use organic essential oils to give them a gentle fragrance. “Fragrances on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients. Most or all of them are synthetic. Symptoms reported to the FDA have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. Clinical observation by medical doctors has shown that exposure to fragrances can effect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioural changes” (from Home Safe Home by Debra Lynn Dadd).

From our own experience and our experience with chemically sensitive customers, fragrances are certainly one of the triggers for chemical sensitivity and can cause a lot of problems. Many people who use fragranced products all the time are completely unaware of their pungent smell and their effect on others who are more sensitive. 

Click here to view our range of safe and gentle toiletries

Information included in this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for consultation with a medical practitioner. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through The Healthy House website.