Cosmetics: The Dirty Dozen

According to the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), the ingredients found in cosmetics are not "pretty." In fact, the DSF states that U.S. researchers from the Environmental Working Group have reported that 1 in 8 of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, which include carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, powerful degreasers used to clean industrial machinery and surfactants.

The DSF surveyed Canadians to find out how many of the Dirty Dozen (list below) were in their cosmetics, and unfortunately, 80% of all products contained at least 1 toxic ingredient.

As you can well imagine, after reading through the list, I headed to the bathroom. I know that my husband and I have the metabolic rate, body weight and immune system to handle a greater toxic load than our children, but I shudder to think what these chemicals could do to my three- and eight-year-old.

I took the list, which, yes, is pretty daunting, and pulled back the shower curtain. BTW, if you're going to do this, I suggest you bring a magnifying glass or yer bifocals. The print is indeed small.

I have gone through the ingredients of the above three products in my bathroom. Check in tomorrow to hear about my hair-raising finds.

Here's what to look for when you go shopping:

The Dirty Dozen

1. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). They serve as preservatives in make-up and moisturizers. They are also suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer.

2. Coal tar dyes: Look for p-phenylenediamine hair dyes and in other products colours listed as "CI" followed by five digits.Possible carcinogen and may contain heavy metals that are toxic to your brain.

3. DEA (diethanolamine):  This is used in creamy moisturizers and sunscreens. Cocamide and lauramide DEA are found in sudsy products, such as shampoos, cleansers and soaps. Also be on the lookout for MEA (monoethanolamide) and TEA (triethanolamine). Like DEA, MEA and TEA can combine with other chemicals to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.

4. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP): The plasticizer used in some nail care products. Suspected endocrine disruptor and a reproductive toxicant. Another phthalate (pronounced tha-late) to look out for is DEP or diethyl phthalate.

5. Formaldehyde releasing-preservatives: Arm your decoder for this list! Keep your eye out for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quaternium-15, which release small amounts of formaldehyde, a carcinogen. This is found mainly in cosmetics.

6. Parabens: Again, this is used as a preservative in a variety of cosmetics, and it may interfere with male reproduction functions.

7. Parfum: This is also known as fragrance, which cosmetic manufacturers are not compelled to disclose the ingredients of, as they constitute a trade secret. Parfum is found in a wide variety of cosmetics, including those marketed as unscented. Parfum can trigger both allergies and asthma. Some types have been linked to cancer and neurotoxicity.

8. PEGs (related compound-polyethylene glycols): Petroleum-based compounds widely used in cream bases of cosmetics. Depending on the manufacturing process, this compound may be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen that is also persistent. In other words, it doesn't break down once it washes down the drain. Keep an eye out for the "eth" as in polyethylene glycol.

9. Petrolatum: Also known as mineral oil jelly, petrolatum is used as a barrier to lock moisture into skin. It may also be used in hair care products to make your locks shine. Petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies suggest that exposure to PAHs over extended periods may cause cancer. The European Union has classified PAH a carcinogen.

10. Siloxanes (cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), cyclopentasiloxane (D5), cyclohexasiloxane (D6) and cyclomethicone (D4 + D5 + D6)): Look for ingredients ending in "siloxane." These silocone compounds are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. They are used in deodorant creams, moisturizers and facial treatments. Environment Canada has found D4 and D5 to be toxic, persistent and to bioaccumulate in aquatic organisms. The European Union has classified D4  as an endocrine disruptor. D5 has been found to cause uterine tumours and compromise immune and reproductive systems.

11. Sodium laureth sulfate: This is found in bubble bath, shampoos and cleansers. It may also be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane (a possible carcinogen). Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a related agent that is a known skin, eye and respiratory tract irritant. Also be on the look out for other ethoxylates, or the chemical names with "eth" in them, as in sodium laureth sulfate.

12. Triclosan: This is an anti-bacterial agent that can be found in everything from hand sanitizers to furniture fabric and facial tissues. Triclosan enters through the skin and is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Because triclosan is persistent, it does not biodegrade, and in nature it may also react to create dioxins, which are highly toxic. Another concern of the extensive use of Triclosan in consumer products is that it may result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Source: the David Suzuki Foundation.

Too Much for You to Remember?

If you think that this list is too much to remember then here are some tips and tools that the DSF recommends when shoppping for cosmetics:

1. Purchase products with fewer ingredients. Buy shampoos with only 12 instead of 25 ingredients.
2. Only purchase products with ingredients that you can pronounce.
3. Download the DSF's wallet-sized dirty dozen list that you can refer back to.
4. Consult the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety data base if you want to investigate a particular product before buying. Keep in mind that the ingredients may differ in Canada, as the EWG is a U.S. organization.


christy ann conlin | November 3, 2010 at 7:55 PM

I find this really horrifying, that these kinds of chemicals are in products sold to an largely unsuspecting public. I don't understand "acceptable amounts" of poison. Do depressing but so good to know there are alternatives. thanks for posting this and creating awareness!

Heather | November 3, 2010 at 11:22 PM

I agree. I don't feel safe with any amounts. It makes me think of the BPA scare when they discovered that trace amounts of endocrine disruptors actually wrought more havoc than high amounts. Not only that, it's the mix of all those chemicals together. They don't test chemicals in contact with other chemicals.

The DSF's Backgrounder gives really good information on Health Canada's stance on these chemicals. Thanks for your comment. Heather

John-WArd Leighton | November 4, 2010 at 11:22 AM

Just checked the ingredients in my hand soap, my Noxzema and my tooth paste, yikes! These are the only personal cleaning things I use, the bloody tooth paste says do not swallow and the face cream warns you about getting it in your eyes, my shaving lotion and deodorant are both mildly toxic, chemical time bombs in your medicine cabinet.
Have gone back over the last ten years of obits of friends and family and have discovered that the life ending disease in he majority has been cancer and diabetes and the complications there of. The world is indeed a dangerous place.

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