What’s dirty in personal care products?

08 April, 2019

Over 100 chemicals can enter your body just from personal care products

This is part two of a blog on concerning ingredients that may be present in personal care products (such as shampoos, lotions) and other products we use every day in our homes. These are supposed to make us feel good or make our lives easier.  However, many of the ingredients used in these products are not regulated in the U.S. and may actually be bad for us. This is because these compounds can enter our bloodstream through the skin, ingestion or inhalation.

According to EWG, the average American woman uses 9 personal care products a day, which accounts for an average of 126 different chemical substances that end up on our body’s every day.  That is too many for us to address in this blog post. Instead, we have approached are going to approach this topic by discussing groups of compounds, by following as the David Suzuki Foundation addresses them. This watch group tracks chemicals used in consumer beauty products and has narrowed down the list of ingredients down to twelve chemical substances or chemical groups, known as the aka their “Dirty Dozen”. Part one of our blog series focused on the first six chemical substances or chemical groups and this blog address the other six.

Foaming agents, and contaminants in PEG and petroleum jelly

Diethanolamine (DEA) and DEA-related ingredients.  These compounds are foaming agents and thickeners.  Their role is to make moisturizers creamy and soaps and shampoos thick and sudsy.  They also adjust the pH of the product which counteracts the acidity of other ingredients.  In addition to their use in cosmetics, they are used in oil refineries to scrub the residue of gas emissions from their processors.  Information from the EPA shows that there is limited information is available on the health effects of diethanolamine.  However, acute (short term) inhalation exposure to diethanolamine in humans may result in irritation of the nose and throat, and dermal exposure may irritate the skin.  

Polyethylene glycols (PEG) compounds.  PEGs are typically used as the base for cosmetic creams because they have thickening and moisture-carrying properties. They can also be used as a laxative because they increase the amount of water in the intestinal tract, which stimulates bowel movements.  Some PEGs may contain ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen, and disruptor to the nervous system, and 1,4-dioxane, which the California EPA has listed for developmental toxicity.

Petrolatum.  Petrolatum is another name for petroleum jelly, a product made from solid mineral waxes and liquid mineral oils.  Petroleum jelly is used to lock moisture into your skin and to make your hair shine.  Some petroleum jelly, depending on the way it is manufactured, may be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of chemicals that the National Toxicology Program (NTP) considers as a class to contain reasonably anticipated carcinogens. In fact, the European Union won’t allow petrolatum to be used in cosmetics unless the manufacturer can provide a full account of the manufacturing process and assure regulators that it does not contain PAHs. Unfortunately, the U.S. regulations are not as stringent as the E.U, therefore here no such rule exists.

Siloxanes, SLS, formaldehyde

Siloxanes.  These are silicone-based lubricating compounds used to make products slide more easily across the skin (deodorant), increase absorption into the skin (moisturizers) and dry more quickly  (hair products). They are also found in medical implants, windshield coatings, lubricants, and. There are two types of siloxanes that may be hazardous: cyclotetrasiloxane (D4) and cyclopetrasiloxane (D5).  The European Union has classified D4 as an endocrine disruptor, based on evidence that it interferes with human hormone function. D5 can also influence neurotransmitters in the nervous system. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has announced that D4 and D5 will be prohibited in cosmetics intended to be washed off after use, effective in January 2020. These chemicals have been found in air at alarming levels.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS or SLES).  SLS is a detergent and a foaming agent. It makes products such as soaps and shampoo bubble and foam and is therefore commonly found in numerous beauty products including shampoos, facial cleansers, shower gels as well as household cleaning products like dish soap.  SLS is an irritant and experiments have shown that it causes eye and skin irritation on animals and humans Depending on how it is manufactured, SLS can contain ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, discussed in more detail under the PEG section.   

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.  Formaldehyde-based preservatives are used in a wide range of cosmetics as well as adhesives in flooring, plastics, and even toilet bowl cleaners. Resins made with formaldehyde can also be applied to cotton pants and sheets to make them smooth and wrinkle-free. Formaldehyde can be released into the air in a process called “off-gassing.” Formaldehyde gas can then be inhaled, irritating the mouth, nose, and lungs or absorbed through the skin. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and in our opinion, it has no place in a product placed near your nose, mouth or skin.

Why Isn’t Someone Regulating This?!

The cosmetics and beauty care industries are not well regulated in the U.S. To protect your health, look for products with ingredients that do not appear on the dirty dozen list above. There are also some excellent apps and online resources that can guide you in your purchasing decisions. These include: EWG Skin Deep database, Think Dirty, Detox Me and GoodGuide that can help you buy better products.

Author Serena Pozza Materials Health Geek