To Your Health
October, 2008 (Vol. 02, Issue 10)
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Shop Smart

Here are a few key ingredients that are best to avoid when shopping for cosmetics and personal care products:

Preservatives: They are added to kill bacteria and other organisms from contaminating the product and to give it a longer shelf life. However, many preservatives are irritants and cause contact dermatitis. Some even release formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing chemical. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives includeDMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol).

Other preservatives that are also best avoided: Benzethonium chloride, BHA, BHT, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, phenoxyethanol and methylisothiazolinone.

Endocrine disruptors: Parabens, in addition to being preservatives, are xenoestrogens or endocrine disrupters. They disturb the hormone balance in your body. They are also skin sensitizers and have the potential to cause allergic reactions. They have been found in breast cancer tumors, but it is not known if they cause breast cancer. The most common parabens used in cosmetics and personal care products include butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.

Fragrances: A single fragrance can be made of as many as 600 different ingredients. None of these ingredients is required to be listed on the label. Some of the chemicals used in fragrances are hazardous. A number of them may even cause cancer. Even products listed as "fragrance-free" actually may have fragrance added to mask offensive odors.

1,4-dioxane: Thisis a cancer-causing contaminant found in many ingredients commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products. It will never be listed on the label because manufacturers are not required to disclose contaminants. Ingredients that may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane include polysorbates, polyoxyethylene, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, any chemical with "PEG" in the name, and anything ending in -eth, such as sodium laureth sulfate.

Artificial colors: Most artificial colors are derived from coal tar, which is known to cause cancer. Generally, artificial colors are designated either as FD&C, D&C or as a color with a number after it, such as FD&C Red No. 40, D&C Green No. 5 or Yellow No. 6.

Talc: Talc may contain cancer-causing contaminants. It's a common ingredient in makeup and baby powder. Products containing talc should never be used on the genital area or on infants and children.

Antibacterial agents: We have become overly obsessed with killing germs in the name of preventing illness. Antibacterial soaps are not only unnecessary, but also harmful. Triclosan, the most commonly used antibacterial agent, is classified as a drug by the FDA and as a pesticide by the EPA.

It's not an antibiotic, but studies show that triclosan acts like an antibiotic in the way it kills bacteria and may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It's also found in a wide variety of other products, including deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, creams, toothpastes, mouthwashes, detergents, dish soaps and laundry soaps. Triclosan is getting into our bodies at toxic levels. It's stored in body fat, has been found in mother's breast milk, in urine samples of children and cord blood of newborns.