Dangerously Beautiful

LocalMotionGreen at the Ecology Center is presenting a series of informational workshops to Beaumont Hospital’s Breast Cancer Education & Support Program, Sharing and Caring.  LocalMotionGreen’s Melissa Sargent, discusses cosmetics with Lorelei DiGuglielmo, Sharing and Caring’s coordinator.

1. Lorelei DiGuglielmo: I have always watched what foods I eat. I stay away from red meat, and stick to organic veggies. Lately, I have been reading about all the parabens/phthalates in my personal products. I have become very concerned with all the chemicals in my makeup and hair/skin care products. What exactly should I be avoiding? 

LMG: You are right that parabens and phthalates are a cause for concern. They are both linked to cancer. Parabens are common preservatives that can act like estrogen in the body, especially when applied directly to the skin (and thus going directly into the bloodstream).  Phthalates—among their many uses—serve as fixatives in fragrances and prevent chipping in nail polish. There is well-established research on dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and its ability to cause birth defects in lab animals. DEHP (another phthalate) is a probable human carcinogen, as determined by the U.S. EPA.  Both of these two phthalates are banned in European cosmetics.

Avoid products listing “paraben” with one of a variety of prefixes (such as methyl, propyl, or butyl) as an ingredient.  Avoid products with “fragrance” on the ingredient list, unless the label states that the fragrance is plant-based or derived from essential oils.  You will find these terms (paraben and fragrance) on lotion, shampoo, make up, deodorant, etc.  Look for DBP-free nail polish; it’s surprisingly common.

Another ingredient to avoid is Triclosan.  Triclosan is the common active ingredient for “anti-bacterial” products, such as toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, acne treatments, soap, and face or body washes. This, too, is linked to cancer and hormone disruption.  Instead wash hands well with plain soap and water. This removes germs and sends them down the drain, instead of killing them with hazardous chemicals. Try tea tree oil for acne, baking soda for deodorant, and other less harsh remedies for staying clean and fresh.

LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center has two consumer guides for personal care products: Top 5 Cosmetic Chemicals to Avoid and Bath & Body Shopper’s Guide. Click on the links to print them as they are handy to have in the store.

2. L.D.: I am on a tight budget and can’t afford to shop at specialty shops. Where do I go to find these products that are more main stream?

LMG: It’s so much easier than it was 10 or 15 years ago.  Burt’s Bees is everywhere, even at DSW.  CVS carries Burt’s Bees, as well as Organic Wear, Juice Organics, and others.  We’ve been to Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, Meijer, and Walgreens and have found natural options.  You can also go to local health food stores and vitamin shops.  Sometimes the products are actually less expensive at the health food or vitamin stores.  Shop around, including on the web.

Or, if you are feeling crafty, some products can be made at home without too much expense (or expertise)! Annie Berthold Bond, as well as other authors, offer numerous recipes for skin and body care. With permission, we have posted some of Annie Bond’s recipes, such as Peaches and Cream Mask, Calendula Skin Healer, Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream, even a hair conditioner and hair spray. Home-made products can be some of the most indulgent and satisfying to use. More recipes from Annie Bond and others are at Green Chi Cafe and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

3. L.D.: What about my perfume? I love perfume!!!! Do I have to stop using that too?  

LMG: Yes and No. You do need to stop poisoning yourself and all those around you by avoiding the synthetic fragrances in the majority of perfumes and colognes. It’s like walking around in a cloud of chemicals all day long. Besides hormone-disrupting phthalates, synthetic fragrances may contain respiratory irritants and neurotoxins.

But, that doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying scents. Natural perfume/ cologne can be made or bought that contains essential oils, which are derived from plants, most commonly the leaves and flowers. You can dab a few drops of lavender, orange, rose, or other skin-safe essential oil just as you would perfume. There are many books and websites about blending essential oils to create unique scents. Companies, such as Aubrey’s Organics and Pacifica, offer fragrances using only essential oils and carrier oils or water—and they are less expensive than your average perfume. You can also discover aromatherapy, which is the therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being. Instead of your perfume potentially causing adverse health effects, it can be used to improve your mood or energize or relax your body.

4. L.D.: It seems like everything I use, has some type of chemical I should be avoiding! Where do I begin? I can’t afford to just throw out all of my makeup, shampoo, conditioners etc.

LMG: It’s up to you whether you want to start completely fresh or simply use up what products you have and try something new when your old bottle runs out. Most people take the gradual approach. Of course, I would start with some of the more harmful products first, such as synthetic perfume or nail polish with the toxic trio (DBP, toluene, formaldehyde). 

Also think about who is using the products.  Take a close look at the products being used by children and adolescents in the house. Liquid hand soap is likely a product that needs to be replaced often and is used by everyone. Find one that doesn’t contain Triclosan (antibacterial active ingredient), parabens, or synthetic fragrance. Look for products with fewer ingredients and simpler ingredients. Look for ingredient names that you can pronounce.

5. L.D.: Can you recommend any websites, reading material so I can learn more about this topic?

Environmental Working Group’s Skindeep Database: Look up brands, products, or ingredients for simplified hazard ratings based on toxicity and regulatory databases.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Learn about the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2013 and other efforts to safeguard the public from dangerous chemicals in personal care products.

Women’s Voices for the Earth: Read Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health and other reports revealing common household hazards.

LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center: Stay connected with us and find out about upcoming events and the latest healthy living news.

Article: Cosmetic Reform Proposed; But Will it Pass?: Safe Cosmetics Act summary.


Not Just a Pretty Face by Stacey Malkan

Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold Bond 

If you or a loved one is a breast cancer survivor and would like to attend a Sharing & Caring meeting, please contact Lorelei DiGuglielmo at 248-551-8585.  Melissa Sargent will present “Dangerously Beautiful” on Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 7 pm. 

This article also appears in the “Ask the Expert” column of Sharing and Caring’s  Autumn 2013 newsletter, Sharing with Friends.

Published on September 17, 2013