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GREEN-UP YOUR MAKEUP: Is it even possible?By Contributing Editor Andrea Fox
Read more about how you can green your health and beauty routine with Grow and Make's Healthy Beauty Guide.
For a wealth of green living tips, tutorials, and articles, click The Green Home Guide at Grow and Make. Discover more article, videos and insights on on healthy beauty in our Healthy Beauty Guide
Cosmetics and personal care products (PCPs) contain numerous chemical constituents that cause adverse health reactions and disease — even cancer — and can disrupt human reproductive systems. These negative ingredients also compromise water quality because they are difficult to remove and often survive sewage and drinking water treatment.
Thus, many opt for natural or organic products. However, a little careful label reading and some research reveals that it is quite difficult to eliminate all suspect chemicals, and what may seem worry-free is not. For example, an organically-certified body wash on my shelf turned out to contain diazolidinyl urea — a preservative which The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization body located in Lyon, France, classified as a "known human carcinogen."
Diazolidinyl urea also releases formaldehyde, a "probable" carcinogen as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. What's more is I realize that my single-ingredient facial toner is 100 percent natural, but it's not organic, which means the plants grown for production could be doused with pesticides.
What is one to do? Swear off all vanity in the name of green? I don't think Ms. Green Quick Fixes can do it either!
Weighing Health and Beauty Priorities
Those of us green-minded and beauty-conscious could start making homemade natural cosmetics each week in our kitchens. This may be a solution, or partial solution, for some.
The process requires learning about, procuring, and preparing herbs, fruits, flowers, essential oils, and other ingredients for creams, lotions, shampoos, infusions, ointments, decoctions, rinses and more. Some basic equipment dedicated to the effort, recipes, and containers are also needed. I understand the process can be very fulfilling.
However, most will look to the marketplace because making homemade beauty products may be intimidating or too time-consuming.
The bottom line, however, is that if you embark on a mission to understand what's really in your current products, as I have done, you can make informed choices.
The following Green Quick Fixes will help you learn about challenges to the beauty industry and negative ingredients in commercial products. Part II of Green-up Your Makeup addresses regulation, labeling, and offers alternative resources.
Challenge to Industry
The cosmetics and PCPs industry faces many challenges in going green because for products to offer some shelf life, hold consistency in packaging, and work and cost how consumers expect and demand, manufacturers add plastics, parabens, and other complex inorganic chemicals.
Put simply, there may never be a hair dye, ultra long-wearing lipstick, or chip-proof polish that is going to be 100 percent natural, 100 percent organic, and free of all potentially dangerous chemicals. Consumers may always have to make occasional choices that pit vanity against health and environmental priorities.
That said, some companies may be well meaning and are trying to make their products the best they can be, at the same time as being the least harmful to consumers and the Earth as they can be. Some may call their labeling practices "greenwashing" — marketing to appear environmentally astute or protective of public health in some way when there are serious challenges to the reality of the claim.
Many established companies or brands that have been marketing their products as botanically-based happen to be far ahead (though not without flaws) of their peers in this 21st-century cosmetics evolution.
And that's what it is — an evolution. As scientists do more testing on cosmetics and personal care products for adverse public health and environmental effects, and governmental regulatory bodies scramble to keep up, the cosmetics and PCPs companies must be just as enthusiastic to rise to the top.
Unfortunately, industry and scientists argue over "safe levels," leaving government in the middle and the consumer in the lurch.
Toxic Ingredients to Look For
There are several groups and types of chemical ingredients to look out for in cosmetics and PCPs. Some are:
Though toxic, they are widely used to extend product shelf-life and inhibit bacterial growth. They are absorbed through the skin easily, which may be as invasive as swallowing a substance. There is evidence that parabens mimic estrogen, and threats include cancer.
They are petroleum and hydrocarbon-based chemicals which include ammonium compounds, FD &C and D&C dyes, ethylenes, polyesters, polypropylenes, and thousands more. They pervade our society — food and all kinds of products — and are refined all over the world. They are suspected to cause neurological and other problems as a result of topical application. Certain types, like petrolatum, can irritate skin and cause dermatological reactions.
Sodium Laurel Sulfates (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are two extremely pervasive petrochemicals found in innumerable PCPs, like shampoos. They are extremely irritating when they come into contact with nitrogen, and they are considered mutagens.
They have been used in hundreds of vinyl and household products for decades. Phthalates are solubulizers, plasticizers, or denaturants in cosmetics and PCPs. They are endocrine disruptors.
Diazolidinyl Urea or Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (also listed as 3-diol diazolidinyl urea, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, bronopol, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Germall II, Germall 115, formaldehyde.)
Used as preservatives, these carcinogens release formaldehyde (another carcinogen). They have been linked to immune dysfunction and other ailments.
Diethanolamine (DEA) Triethanolamine (TEA)
When these preservatives come in contact with nitrates they form nitrosamines, which are dangerous free radicals.
It's in expensive department store lipsticks, drugstore brand "kohl" eyeliners, eye shadows, lip liners, sunscreen, anti-aging creams, and more. Lead is a poison.
A blanket term for what can be composed of hundreds of chemicals. Read Green-Up Your Makeup II: Consumers Lead the Charge for more information!
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