Created: Monday, November 12, 2007

Household toxins

Since World War II that there has been a dramatic increase in the development and manufacture of dangerous chemical toxins, which were initially produced for use in warfare. After the war, domestic uses were found for surplus stocks in the improvement of household cleaning and personal care products, laundry detergents and other everyday items including synthetic drugs. This move ensured the future of this industry and guaranteed huge profits, increasing from £1 billion per year in 1940 to £400 billion in the 1980s.9 It is little known that washing the dishes or polishing furniture using conventional cleaners could jeopardize your health.

Dr Samuel Epstein, co-author of The Safe Shoppers Bible says, “Since 1965 more than 4 million distinct chemical compounds have been reported in the scientific literature; of these, 70,000 are in commercial production and have been completely untested or inadequately tested, which raises questions about their safety.”10

Many people examine the labels on their food, but how many of us are wise enough to check the labels on our personal care toxic toiletries  products? The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that 884 chemicals used in personal care products and cosmetics are known to be toxic.13 In fact, many of the ingredients used in personal care products are the very same harsh chemical toxins used in Industry.

Sodium laurel sulphate and similarly, sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) are common detergents that are used in most shampoos, bubble baths, shower gels and other cleansers. SLS is also used to clean garage floors and to degrease engines. Dr K. Green has researched into the use of SLS, and found alarming results: the eyes readily absorb SLS, destroying delicate tissues there. This uptake is also greater in younger mammals.14 In short, it permanently impairs the normal functioning of eyes. Is it any wonder that so many children wear spectacles these days? In addition to these findings, theAmerican Journal of Toxicologyhas found that SLS irritates skin tissue, corrodes hair follicles, and impairs the ability to grow hair. It also enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, lungs and brain.15 Many sufferers of scalp complaints have eased their conditions simply by using a SLS-free shampoo.

Toxic Toiletries

Another such chemical is propylene glycol. Its industrial use is as anti-freeze, but it is also included in hair conditioners, deodorants, cosmetics, body lotions, skin creams and toothpaste. Increasingly, it is being added to human and pet foods because it acts as a humectant, helping to retain moisture. When used in skin creams it glides on smoothly, drawing moisture to the outer layers of the skin, giving the appearance of moisturising the skin. Material safety data sheets, which give handling instructions for hazardous chemicals, state that propylene glycol is implicated in contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities; it also causes eye irritation, skin irritation, nausea and headaches. The American Academy of Dermatologists showed that propylene glycol was a primary irritant to the skin even in low concentrations.16

These two ingredients I have dealt with in detail because they are in the majority of personal care products. They are even used in ‘hypoallergenic’ products and baby products that are considered to be safe and gentle, yet still contain these harsh toxins.

Often so-called natural products contain SLS and propylene glycol. Adding essential oils and natural herbs to these harmful chemicals destroys any therapeutic properties from the natural ingredients.

Possibly the most dangerous chemicals to be included in personal care products are the ammonia derivatives which are known to have hormone disrupting effects. This includes diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA) and monoethanolamine (MEA). These chemicals are used to thicken and cleanse and are added to soaps, bubble baths and facial cleansers. They are not carcinogenic in themselves; however, when combined with products containing nitrates, a common preservative, a dangerous chemical reaction takes place leading to the formation of nitrosamines. Most nitrosamines are carcinogenic. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US recognized this threat; in the 1970s it urged the industry to remove these products from its cosmetics, however a FDA report in the late 1980s found that 37 per cent of products tested still contained nitrosamines.17 Dr Epstein recommends we boycott products containing diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA)

Industrial alcohol is a major ingredient in mouthwash. The National Cancer Institute of America has found that mouthwashes with an alcohol content of 25% or higher have been implicated in mouth, tongue and throat cancers. The alcohol acts as a solvent in the mouth, making the skin tissues more vulnerable to carcinogens. Also, men had a 60% higher risk and women a 90% higher risk of these cancers compared to those not using mouthwash.18 Aluminium is a metal that is widely used in antiperspirants, processed foods, soft drink cans, foil and cookware. Dr Daniel Perl, Director of Neuropathology at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York recommends we avoid the use of aerosol antiperspirants. He has found that aluminium in aerosol form may be more readily absorbed into the brain through the nasal passages. Studies show that regular use of these products can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 3 times.19

As stated by Dr Samuel Epstein, the use of these harsh chemicals would not be such a problem if the skin did not readily absorb them. Some chemicals can penetrate the skin in significant amounts, especially when left on the skin. A recent case that made headline news found traces of 350 man-made chemicals, including residues from personal care products, in human breast milk

Long term effects

The reality of modern living is that many of us are suffering from the adverse effects of a highly chemicalized lifestyle. Some of these poisons affect delicate organs and glands, whilst others are stored in the fatty tissues of the body. As more poisonous chemicals are absorbed, sensitivities increase in their severity, resulting in often chronic debilitating diseases.

Symptoms often include headaches, nausea, fatigue, depressed immune responses and joint pain, to the more severe, such as increases in birth defects and problems, attention deficit disorder (ADD), emphysema, asthma, skin complaints, cancers and multiple sclerosis. As Dr Epstein sums up, the problem is that the process is so gradual that the cause is not established.20

The Future

This article has been written to increase awareness of what may be compared to the next tobacco scandal, in which the hazards of tobacco smoking were known 20 years prior to being made public. In twenty years time it may be too late for many of us, when celebrities begin advertising products without these harmful chemicals.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from this chemical invasion?

I do not believe that it is possible to be 100% chemical free and live in the modern world. We can however take responsibility for our health by following the advice of experts and eat as much organic food where possible, preferably freshly cooked. We can also begin to read food and product labels, avoiding those that contain harmful ingredients and instead using safer and ecological alternatives to conventional household and personal products