Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Chemical Talk

The more we learn about the harm being done by "chemicals" the more we want to run in the opposite direction. Cancer from this, infertility from that, can't we just buy "chemical free" products and get on with it? Or get rid of chemicals all together? Not so much.

Just like there's been a bad habit of "green washing", or over publicizing the words organic, natural, safe, green, etc as marketing terms with no factual basis (or verified ingredients), there's also a bad habit of brands publicizing their products as "chemical free". Which might actually be something to be wary about. Have I confused you?

What to know

If you made it through chemistry class at least half awake, you'll know that most things are chemical by make up. I'm comprised of chemicals, and while I'm no chemist, I believe water is a also a chemical (hydrogen + oxygen). Lemon juice, also a chemical. Either of them toxic? Not particularly. You get what I'm saying.

Why Not "Chemical Free" 

When companies publicize "chemical free" they make it really hard for cosmetic, beauty, skin, hair care and cleaning lines to actually produce and market safe yet effective products. By them using the promotion of "chemical free", which is just that - promotion, their marketing scheme is false and simply sets out to say "our product is better/safer than the other". Some may have honest intentions and mean that their products do not contain toxins or synthetics, but it still skews the perception of the public and detracts from the truth of the matter. Chemicals can be created by nature or in a lab, what we need is to educate ourselves on which ones have the potential to be harmful, not run from chemicals all together. 

What to avoid

As I mentioned above, toxins and synthetics are a good start. Anything with any factual basis to cause an alarming result or harmful health repercussion. Your products are absorbed into your system, so making sure they don't contain the wrong items will keep you safer for longer. A few of the big guns to always SAY NO to are:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) & Phthalates - These additives are commonly used in plastics to make them more flexible. Think shampoo bottles, water bottles, even children's bottles and drinking containers. They're even hiding in food and formula cans and on shopping receipts. Major endocrine disrupters that mimic hormones and can cause disruptive reproductive issues.
  • Formaldehyde - Yes, the same stuff that embalmed that poor frog for science class can also be found in cleaning supplies, furniture, beauty items (esp. nail polish) and even some brands of baby wipes. Known cancer causing agent with extra respiratory problems. 
  • Flame Retardants (PBDEs) - Funny enough these aren't actually known to be any safer in regards to preventing fire, and they're chock full of nasty stuff that can affect hearing, learning, memory, motor skills, damage the reproductive system and cause cancer. Check furniture, bedding, pillows, mattresses, carpet and even children's clothing.
  • "Fragrance/Parfum" - This can be code for any mixture or variety of chemicals which the company does not have to further disclose. Even when used as an additive fragrant component it can still trigger allergies, asthma and has links to neurotoxicity and cancer. 
  • Lead - We all know about lead paint in older homes, which has since been banned, but did you know this toxin could be hiding in your lipstick? It's also found lurking in jewelry and some imported toys. This chemical can cause delayed development and severe nervous system damage.
  • Oxybenzone - Say it with me "Titanium Dioxide and Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, that's all I'll use as an SPF." All of the others, including Oxy, are synthetic chemicals that are linked to low birth weight, hormone disruption, cell damage and allergic reactions.
  • Parabens - This one seems to target both male and female reproductive systems and can be found in MANY cosmetic products. Also attributed to endocrine disruption.
  • Sodium Laureth Suflate (SLS, SLES) - I used to think this was only harmful because it faded my hair color, but the cancer causing agent is far more scary. It's actually used as industrial degreaser, and also used as the foaming agent in shampoos, facial cleansers and even bubble baths. Also look for other ingredients with an -eth.
The Beautycounter Never List is a handy resource to carry with you to cross check products, you can find all 1,500 of the ingredients they've banned on the site. Or check out the below resources.

Environmental Working Group

Skin Deep, Think Dirty & CosDNA 

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