Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reminder: ingredients to avoid

It can be absolutely mind-numbing to make intelligent and safe choices about ingredients in the products that we use.  Sure, there are some obvious things to avoid...but then there are some sneaky ones, ones that "sound" safe, and ones that can be fine for some and dangerous for others.  I'm not going into any great detail...but I would like to simply provide a "reminder" list (I have to do this for myself periodically) at the beginning of the year.  Until EWG finally makes an app, we'll just have to be content with research.  But, I must admit, it can be very time-consuming to head out to the store, look at the backs of dozens of products, make a list of possibilities, go home, research, cross most of the items off of the list, and start at square one.  Or, better yet, buy a product you think might work, only to find out that no matter how great the ingredients are, how kind the company is to people, animals, and the planet, or how eco-friendly the packaging, it just plain doesn't work for you.

I've done hour upon hour of research, and I still haven't found perfection.  When it comes to my governing principles for purchases (buy as local as possible, buy organic/natural when I can, buy cruelty-free, etc.), I have whittled it down to these ingredients to absolutely say NO to.  I'm not going to go into great detail about why these ingredients are bad, as I've done that before in previous blogs.  This is just a concise refresher:

Parabens - chemical preservative, possible ties to breast cancer

Phthalates - group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics more flexible, may cause hormone disruptions

PABA (aminobenzoic acid) - used as a UV filter, can cause allergies

Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea — These are the most commonly used preservatives after the parabens

Petrolatum/petroleum/mineral oil - increase possibility of sun damage

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - a synthetic substance used in shampoos for its detergent and foam-building abilities...can cause eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, and allergic reactions

Stearalkonium Chloride - a chemical used in hair conditioners and creams, may cause allergic reactions

Synthetic Colors - labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6. Synthetic colors are believed to be cancer-causing agents.

Synthetic Fragrances - can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are, since on the label it will simply say "Fragrance." Some of the problems caused by these chemicals are headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation by a cosmetic that has the word "Fragrance" on the ingredients label.

Triethanolamine - often used in cosmetics to adjust the pH, and used with many fatty acids to convert acid to salt (stearate), which then becomes the base for a cleanser. TEA causes allergic reactions including eye problems, dryness of hair and skin, and could be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.

Propylene Glycol - can cause liver/kidney damage, created as an industrial anti-freeze - used in brake fluid

Titanium Dioxide - carcinogen (often used in sunscreens)

Aluminum - often used in deodorants, carcinogen

Cocamidylpropyl Betaine - chemical surfactant used to make products foam up, tied to dozens of allergies

Of course, there are probably many others to watch out for.  Ultimately, if I don't have a list handy, I choose products with ingredients I can pronounce and with which I am familiar.  If it sounds sketchy, I avoid it.  I look for cruelty-free, fair-trade, organic, and chemical/synthetic-free.  I, personally, prefer to have my products smell good, so going the fragrance-free route, even though it is probably better for me, isn't my first choice.  I just try to avoid synthetic fragrance/color.  It's also a must that the product be made in the U.S. (or Canada), the closer to home the better.  I pretty much research to death every product I use until I find the right one that hits as many criteria as possible.  I have been known to sit down with a product and input every ingredient into a search.  It is cheaper to do this before buying the I have gone to great lengths to visit local stores, write down available products that look promising, and then come home to research...for hours.  Then I purchase.  And often, I am let down and have to continue my search (even in "natural" and "organic" stores).  Just because it says natural or organic...doesn't mean it's safe or good for you.  I've found plenty of items at our local "natural grocery stores" that have several of the above ingredients.  It especially annoys me when the product is covered in green leaves, says "organic", and "natural" and calls itself healthy...and the first few ingredients are crap, with a few organic/natural ingredients mixed in toward the bottom of the list.

It really shouldn't be this hard for consumers to select healthy products that work.

But, until companies become more customer/health/ecology-centered, I figure it is my consumer responsibility to make sure they aren't hiding anything.

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