OK, let’s get started with the super basics. Here are some words that come up a lot in this class, and that you have probably heard or read and wondered - what is THAT?! Well, here you go!
PARABENS are chemical compounds mainly used in products as an effective preservative. However, as effective as they might for preserving cosmetics and hygiene products, they are estrogen mimickers that can bind to the cellular structure and have been identified in numerous cancerous tumors, especially breast tumors. Parabens have been banned in the European Union due to safety, and in Scandinavian countries in products for children. You CAN find products without parabens...chose those!
How to find them: Listed as the suffix “paraben”, for example, methylparaben.
PHTHALATES are used in personal care products to keep things soft, flexible, and to add fragrance. It is one of many reasons that artificial fragrances should be avoided! Researchers have linked phthalates to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. Many countries have banned phthalates (The EU, Canada, Japan, South Korea and China) due to health concerns. Phthalates are a little trickier to avoid, because they are everywhere. Control what you can!
How to find them: most commonly listed as fragrance or parfum. Why it is SO important to avoid artificial fragrances! Also - anything in a package that “smells like chemicals” is likely filled with phthalates. Look for “no artificial fragrance” at a minimum, but preferentially the product should state where the fragrance comes from (for example, “vanilla bean”).
ARTIFICIAL COLORS are made from petroleum. Yep - seriously. The kind in your shampoo AND the kind in your food. How to identify them in your products: petrolatum, PEG, paraffin, mineral oil, DEA, toluene. Why avoid petroleum products for you skin? They are considered carcinogenic, and are also thought to be endocrine disruptors as well. Stay calm - keep reading:)
How to find them: listed as “Blue #1, Yellow #6” and similar, as well as the ingredients listed above. Look for “no artificial colors” as a preference. Many things can be colored naturally with fruit or vegetable dye. These types of dyes (for example, beet powder to make something pink/red) are not a cause for concern.
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS (triclosan, parabens, BPA) are chemicals that alter our normal hormone function. This happens with products you use on your skin, plastic toys in your child’s bath, and touching receipts from most major department stores. Hard stuff to avoid! So let’s get out as much as we can. Major concerns - cancer of various types, thyroid dysfunction, obesity, and early puberty for children, particularly girls. Stuff you don’t want! More info from EWG.
How to find them: read your labels carefully! Avoid parabens, BPA, triclosan and chlorhexidine in your products. Avoid plastics as much as possible. We know this is hard!
Go to Environmental Working Group's Database and type in your shampoo and/or conditioner. What kind of score does your product get? 1-2 is low hazard, 3-6 is moderate, and 7-10 is high. Products are scored by their ingredients for the following concerns: overall hazard, cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity, and use restrictions. It will break the product down into the specific ingredients and give you detailed information about what you are using.