In the past I never looked at labels on shower gel, hair conditioner or liquid soap. But one day I read that the cosmetic industry uses parabens as a disinfectant in many body care products including cosmetics. That’s when I found out about my major supply of hair care products contained various parabens, like methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben or heptylparaben.
Hair care and body care products
Officially, toxicity tests have shown that these substances are safe on the short term. What this means is that in short term experiments (usually up to 90 days) rats did not die from exposure to them. But long-term studies to see whether they would die from cancer have never been done. However, long-term exposure can lead to skin rashes in sensitive individuals (contact dermatitis, rosacea). This is still fairly harmless. Much more concerning are the effects of long-term exposure, which is what happens when we apply these chemicals to our skin every day. It has been shown that breast cancer specimens (what the surgeon cuts out during surgery) contain parabens, which can be measured in the lab. Further experiments have shown that parabens have estrogen-like hormone activity in animals and humans. They belong into the group of “xenoestrogens”. What this means is that they act like weak estrogens, and this can be cancer causing. In women estrogens are in balance with progesterone, but when parabens or other xenoestrogens are introduced, the estrogens get the upper hand, which can cause breast cancer and uterine cancer. In men where traces of estrogen and progesterone are also present, balanced with the more dominant testosterone, this hormone balance gets disturbed by parabens, and prostate cancer can develop. Why don’t we hear about this more often? Because it is a slow process that may take 20 to 30 years. By that time nobody thinks that breast cancer or prostate cancer could be the result of long-term exposure to parabens. For years the cosmetic industry argued that parabens would be just applied to the skin, not taken internally and for this reason they should be safe. The problem in this sentence is the word “should”. Parabens are absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream directly exerting the xenoestrogenic effect. Some parabens occur naturally in very small amounts such as in barley, strawberries, currants, vanilla, carrots, and onions, but they are absorbed by the gut and get destroyed by the liver in the so-called “first pass effect”. I went to the health food store and studied labels. I was able to get clean products (shampoo, conditioner, body wash), which do not contain parabens.
This is a topic, which may get your dentist annoyed. Here are the ingredients to watch for:
1. What most people expect to be in a toothpaste is fluoride. The dentist was told by the representative of the toothpaste company that fluoride would make the enamel of teeth more resistant against tooth decay. This is passed on to the consumer. What is not passed on to you is that fact of fluoride toxicity, which occurs when fluoride gets absorbed into the body. This is called “skeletal fluorosis”. Stomach and bowel irritation including irritable bowel syndrome and joint pains are part of this syndrome. In growing children the enamel of teeth can get discolored, the bone of adults can get brittle causing wrist fractures. Fluoride displaces magnesium on a cellular level and this causes metabolic problems in the kidneys and brain as many enzymatic reaction need magnesium as a co-factor. The thyroid can also become hypothyroid, particularly, if iodine was low to start with (fluoride can replace iodine in the body). If you feel you need to brush your teeth once per day with a fluoridated toothpaste, use regular, non-fluoridated toothpaste in between. You can also protect your body by taking iodine capsules twice per day to saturate your system with healthy iodine, which makes you more resistant to bromide, chlorine and fluoride toxicity.
2. Another ingredient on the label is often Sodium lauryl sulfate: this chemical is used to improve the texture of the toothpaste and make it foam up when you brush your teeth. The side effects are irritation of the mucous membranes, may cause canker sores, redness and irritation of the skin around the mouth. It is interesting to note that it also causes fish to die when the wastewater enters the ocean or water streams.
3. Triclosan: This substance has antibacterial and antifungal properties and as such lends itself to prolong the shelf life of bodycare products (see this review). It is frequently used in deodorants,toothpaste and mouth washes. It is being investigated for safety by the FDA because it is an endocrine disruptor in animals and in humans, can cause hay fever, antibiotic resistance and can combine with chlorine from chlorinated water to cause release of chloroform, which is a known cancer causing substance. Many manufacturers have voluntarily abandoned the use of it.
4. Saccharin and aspartame: These artificial sweeteners are often used in toothpaste to add sweetness. Although originally thought to cause bladder cancer, saccharine has been cleared of this around 2000 when it was shown that although causing bladder cancer in rats, it was safe in humans. Diabetics have used saccharine safely for over 50 years. Aspartame, however, is more problematical: there was an intensive investigation by the FDA whether or not aspartame would cause cancer in humans. As this review shows there were methodological flaws in some of the cancer studies so that the FDA finally decided to keep the previous recommendations that is was safe to use in diet drinks etc. the same. Other researchers disagreed and came to the conclusion that there were interest groups that interfered with the science of investigating safety of aspartame. Aspartame belongs into the group of excitotoxins, substances that can excite the brain and can also cause an existing cancer to metastasize. At this point in time it is much safer to cut out all aspartame from your diet including your toothpaste.
5. FD&C blue dye No. 2. This blue food coloring agent has been around as food additive since 1906. It was FDA approved back then. However, because of renewed health concerns this food coloring was re-reviewed. According to this reference the time exposure in animal experiments was not long enough (page 13 to 19 of this link), but serious complications such as significant brain tumors in rats and borderline higher frequency of bladder tumors and breast cancer were noted. The FDA elected to keep it listed as a safe food coloring agent. Hyperactivity in children is another observation that is of concern to parents. It simply is not worth to use blue, number 2 in toothpaste. Read your labels and leave it out!
With the baby boomers turning grey as they get older, there is an interest in hair coloring. But of course people of any age group may like to change hair color and experiment! Study labels of different products. You will notice in quite a few of them the familiar parabens as a disinfectant. Other toxins are ammonia, benzene, PPD (p-Phenylenediamine), toluene, coal tar. You find details of these ingredients and their side effects in this link (note a lot have been shown to be cancer producing). The bottom line is: avoid cancer-producing chemicals like the ones just listed. Instead buy your permanent herbal hair color in the health food store or health food section.
Women probably apply too many creams and lotions on their skin. Cleansers, moisturizers, foundation, powder, eye shadow, lip stick, eye shadow, eye liner, nail polish are all substances that will be in part absorbed by your system. The body has to be detoxified in the liver, and the kidneys remove the metabolic end products in the urine. As many of the chemical ingredients in these cosmetics are cancer-producing substances, it is no wonder that the liver, the kidneys and the bladder are the target organs. Read more about the dirty dozen, the chemicals in cosmetics, in this link. Phthalates in the form of diethyl phthalate and dibutyl phthalate are commonly found in cosmetics and personal care products. They help nail polish to last longer and are industrial solvents.
In 2010 this Mexican study showed malformations in rodents after exposure of the mother to phthalates. Asthmatic children were also found in another study to have absorbed higher levels of phthalates than children that had no asthma. As a result phthalates have been illegal in many European countries, but not yet in Canada and the US. What should you do about this? For wrinkles use a product that consists of hyaluronic acid. (I found “Pure Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum” from Complementary Prescriptions (Carson City, NV) and Yu InfiniSerum, a cream manufactured by Nutrazyne Research LLC, Highland, UT). Between both of those non-toxic skin applications you likely will not need any other cosmetics on your skin. If you feel you do, insist on natural ingredients that do not irritate your skin. Do you really need a lipstick? If you do, do not take one that contains lead or other cancer producing metals as was discussed recently on the news.
Many people feel they have “bad breath” and they need a mouthwash. This is good marketing for companies that produce mouthwash. However, the truth is you need to have your gums looked at, brush your teeth regularly and floss your teeth. If you are constipated, increase your fiber intake and consider colonics. If you still think you have bad breath, use a natural mint product (read the ingredients). Why do I not like mouthwashes? They kill your mouth bacteria that are naturally there; this can disbalance the rest of your gut bacteria as you swallow part of the mouth flora when you eat or drink fluids. If you still want to use a mouthwash, use one without alcohol and without any carcinogens or parabens. Also read this 2009 news item. It is as valid as it was then.
Here is an article that points out the danger of antiperspirants and breast cancer. The lesson to be learnt from this is that the propellants of sprays can be deadly when overused. So, use deodorants that are sticks to put or roll on. Next there is the aluminum content, which needs to be “0”. Aluminum is one of the substances responsible for Alzheimer’s disease when exposure to it occurs over longer periods of time. Parabens are often smuggled in as antifungals/antibacterials. They are hormone disruptors and xenoestrogens causing breast and prostate cancer. So, no propellants, not parabens, no aluminum! Triclosan is another substance that is added to the ingredients. As discussed before it is already is being recognized as hazardous! To choose the right deodorant it is important to read labels carefully, so you can make informed choices. Look for “aluminum free deodorant”. Next make sure that none of the bad chemicals described above are in the ingredient list. Read this info to educate yourself. Your best bet to find the right product is to go to the health food store or health food section of a store, as they usually carry a selection of natural, non-toxic products.
We owe it to our bodies to protect them from the chemicals that manufacturers produce with no concern about their customers’ health. You may ask yourself why cosmetics, toothpaste or other personal care products are even manufactured with cancer producing substances in them! It is up to the consumer to make the right choices and we do have many health-oriented choices available to us now. My hope is that through education we will influence the market to become more health-oriented.
Last edited June 1, 2013