Your hair looks glossy, feels clean, and smells like a mountain breeze. What could possibly be wrong?
What if the next time you used your “herbal” shampoo, you read a warning label on the bottle that revealed some of the ingredients are commonly used as industrial solvents linked to cataracts, cancer, and even blindness? Would you still use it?
What does your label say? Go grab a bottle from your bathroom and see if any of these potentially hazardous ingredients are listed: DEA, TEA, Sodium lauryl sulfate, Sodium laureth sulfate, or Propylene glycol.
Every one of those ingredients has been linked to potential harm — as either being carcinogenic (causes cancer), a neurotoxin (brain damage), or having the potential to cause birth defects.
Are you sure you want to put that on your skin? Or even worse, your child’s skin?
Who’s Watching Out for You?
In reality, no one is.
The beauty and personal hygiene aisle is one of the least regulated sections of your grocery store. The average woman in the US uses 12 personal products a day. The average man uses six. The problem is fewer than twenty percent of all chemicals in cosmetics and hygiene products have been tested for human safety.
In other words, your bathroom is a minefield of toxins and you get to play the guinea pig.
If you think the FDA has your back, think again. Since 1938, they’ve banned only eight out of 12,000 chemicals used in products. Eight.
Shampoos, soaps and cosmetics regularly include chemicals known to be carcinogenic, neurotoxic, or to be reproductively toxic. Chemicals proven to affect brain development in animals. Worse yet, the FDA doesn’t even require that all of the ingredients be listed on the label.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health analyzed 2,983 chemicals used in personal care products. Here’s their final tally:
- 884 of the chemicals were toxic
- 778 caused acute toxicity
- 376 caused skin and eye irritation
- 314 caused biological mutation
- 218 caused reproductive complications
- 148 caused cancerous tumors
Among these, DEA and SLS are two of the most widely cited offenders you should be on the lookout for.
One of the most common toxic compounds found in personal care products is DEA (diethanolomine). DEA is used extensively in hundreds of soaps, detergents and shampoos. You probably have DEA in your bathroom right now and don’t even know it. It could even be in your baby’s shampoo.
So what’s the big deal about DEA? The industry claims it has only a very low toxicity rating.
Well, according to a 1995 study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, DEA does have low acute toxicity. But it also found that DEA cannot be easily excreted from the body. It builds up in fatty tissues of the liver, brain, kidneys, and spleen through repeated oral and dermal (skin) exposure.
As your body repeatedly gets exposed to this toxin, significant cumulative toxicity develops in your tissues which can lead to tissue and nerve damage and even premature death.
Fifteen years later you can still find DEA in consumer products all over the grocery and department store shelves. Buyer beware.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS)
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), and its cousin Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), are detergents used to dissolve oil and grease and provide suds. The primary difference between your shampoo and a product used to degrease the engine in your car is how much SLS is used.
Tests reported by the American College of Toxicology nearly three decades ago still hold true today. Those tests found acute skin irritation with concentrations of 0.5% to 10% SLS. Concentrations above 10% were found to be highly irritating and above 20% were considered dangerous, causing skin corrosion and severe irritation.
In fact, SLS is the universal standard chemical used to irritate skin in clinical testing. SLS has showed penetration into the eyes, as well as systemic tissues (brain, heart, liver, etc.)
While manufacturers are beginning to reduce the amount of this chemical used in their products due to consumer outcry, you’re still better off eliminating products using it altogether.
It Adds Up
Here’s the deal. Unless you have an allergic reaction, using a toxic shampoo probably won’t hurt you the first time you use it. Or the second time, or third. You may not have any noticeable effects the first hundred times you lather up with it.
The problem is, we don’t know how long it takes to do lasting damage. It’s the long term, gradual effects linked to these chemical ingredients we’re exposed to again and again through multiple hygiene and cosmetic products that increases our risk.
The lead in your lipstick may not hurt you tomorrow, but it adds yet another drop of poison to your body. The formaldehyde from your soap, the pesticides and neurotoxins from your shampoo, and all the the products you use on a daily basis all add up. Once the damage is done, it may be too late to reverse it.
Become a Label Detective
On cosmetic and hygiene products, words like “herbal,” “natural,” and even “organic” have no legal definition. That means anyone can put anything in a bottle and call it natural.
So what should you do to protect yourself? Become a label detective! Avoid products with chemicals that you know are unsafe, and even those with chemicals you’re not yet sure about. Do your own research or ask a trusted friend who does their own.
Here are a few other ways you can protect yourself:
- Try your own home-brewed shampoo and conditioner using baking soda and vinegar. To create your own mixture, add one tablespoon of baking soda to one cup warm water. Shake well. Wet hair and comb mixture through. Use about a tablespoon of vinegar in 2 cups of water for a finishing rinse.
- Look for products with no artificial fragrance — it can take hundreds of chemicals to make one artificial fragrance.
- Use fewer products. Do you really need to use 15 products a day? Save time, money and your health by cutting back on the number of products used on your skin and hair.
Environmental Working Group: Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Bouillon, C. “Shampoos and hair conditioners.” Clinics in Dermatology, 1988; 6(3): 83-92.
Conry, T. Consumer’s Guide to Cosmetics. Garden City, NY: Ancor Press / Doubleday, 1980, p. 74.
Final report on the safety assessment of sodium lauryl sulfate. Journal of the American College of Toxicology; 1983; 2(7).
Sixth Annual Report on Carcinogens, 1991. Summary. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC, 1991, pp. 192-195.
Written By: Updated: August 16,2010