Posts Tagged Body Wash

Toxic Products in a Toxic Society

In the past six months I have become much more conscious of the body products that I use. I have made an effort to reduce any harmful products (like Herbal Essences shampoo) and buy ones that have fewer ingredients or are homemade. However, I was still surprised by how many products I use, even if they are “natural.” Most definitely, the number of products I use, the hygienic ones aside (arguably), is a reflection on my class status and location in the Western world. In our toxicology study, I really want to discover the “risk” of using “natural” products, if there is any at all. At this moment in my life, I feel really good about the beauty products I am using on my body, especially the ones that are homemade. Are these at all less toxic or unhealthy than chemistry-lab-designed, factory-produced products? For me, that is the scariest and most important question. Is there any way to escape the unhealthy system? And even if I refuse to use mass-produced beauty products, can I reject the expectations of culture and ‘neglect’ my ‘beauty’ maintenance?

Below is a log of my “Body Work” over three days in a typical school week.

Day Product Type Product Product Name
Wednesday Beauty Facewash Legends of Africa Organic Kenyan Soap
Wednesday Beauty Facewash Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar
Wednesday Beauty Moisturizer Desert Essence Facial Moisturizer
Wednesday Beauty Moisturizer
Wednesday Hygiene Toothpaste Tom’s Natural Whole Care Peppermint
Wednesday Hygiene Toothpaste
Wednesday Hygiene Contact lense Optifree Replenish
Wednesday Hygiene Contact Lense
Wednesday Hygiene Deoderant Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil
Wednesday Hygiene Deoderant
Wednesday Beauty Eyeliner Origins “Mushroom” eye pencil
Wednesday Beauty Mascara Origins Fringe Benefits
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Wednesday Hygiene Floss Picks Stim-U-Dent Plaque Removers
Wednesday Hygiene Body Wash Nature’s Gate Pomegranete Body Wash
Thursday Beauty Facewash “Legends of Africa”
Thursday Beauty Facewash “Legends of Africa”
Thursday Beauty Moisturizer Desert Essence Facial Moisturizer
Thursday Beauty Moisturizer
Thursday Hygiene Toothpaste Tom’s Natural Whole Care Peppermint
Thursday Hygiene Toothpaste
Thursday Hygiene Contact lense Optifree Replenish
Thursday Hygiene Contact Lense
Thursday Hygiene Deoderant Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil
Thursday Hygiene Deoderant
Thursday Beauty Eyeliner Origins “Mushroom” eye pencil
Thursday Beauty Mascara Origins Fringe Benefits
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap Unnamed bar. Not sure.
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Thursday Beauty Lip Balm Burt’s Bees
Friday Beauty Facewash “Legends of Africa”
Beauty Moisturizer Desert Essence Facial Moisturizer
Hygiene Toothpaste Tom’s Natural Whole Care Peppermint
Hygiene Contact lense Optifree Replenish
Hygiene Deoderant Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil
Beauty Eyeliner Origins “Mushroom” eye pencil
Beauty Mascara Origins Fringe Benefits
Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.

During our three-day observation period, I used Nature’s Gate Pomegranate Sunflower Velvet Moisture Body Wash only once. I bought this product in Whole Foods, thinking that as long as I bought the product at such a store, it must be somewhat earth and body friendly. Unfortunately, it is only partly earth and body friendly and otherwise pretty harmful. The packaging focuses on the natural botanicals included in the product while also outlining the different ingredients not included in the body wash, such as paraben and sulfate. Yet the product is still harmful for the environment, consumer, and producer.

The Nature’s Gate website provides interesting information about the production of their product, whose “Certified Organic botanicals are farmed without the use of synthetic or inorganic chemicals, utilizing methods that naturally enhance soil structure, conserve water and mitigate climate change. Nature’s Gate sources Organic ingredients from Bayliss Ranch, a nearby organic farm in Biggs, California, minimizing the distance for transportation and the associated energy usage and emissions. The farm’s water supply is derived from rain and runoff of the adjacent Sierra Nevada snow pack.” It seems as though this company understands the importance of protecting soil and water and conserving resources. But I found further information that tells a different story.

What did the founders really have in mind when they founded their company?

I used Cosmetics Database (CD) to find information about the toxicological impact of using this particular body wash over the long term. According to CD, ingredients in this product are linked to allergies/immunotoxicity and other concerns such as “neurotoxicity, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), and irritation of the skin, eyes, or lungs. The fragrance of this product is what is most frightening to me. It ranks an 8 and could possibly be linked to neurotoxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity and other miscellaneous problems. The issue with discerning the toxicity of the fragrance is that this ingredient is not fully labeled. Its possible effects are unknown. The packaging of the product lists pomegranate and sunflower as the fragrance. Is it possible that these ingredients could have no toxic effect on humans or the earth?

CD also recorded a possibility of occupational hazards in relation to handling the sodium hydroxide in this product. I found this quite ironic as the product’s website claims to be “animal cruelty free.” But what about the human animals who manufacture and use this product!

According to, Nature’s Gate body wash ranked an 8.0 out of 10 for human health impacts and a 6.0 out of 10 for “Company” which entails a 6.4 for Environmental Impact (air pollution, ecosystems, global warming, and toxic waste), a 5.2 for Environmental Management, and a 5.2 for Resource Management (energy, materials, and water). The ranking for human health impacts is pretty good, but the “Company” rating is not as good as the Nature’s Gate website might lead one to believe. Based on these ratings and the product website, I would suggest that this company is using some environmentally healthy practices but still has places in which to improve.

The majority of ingredients aside from the fragrance listed a four or lower on the Cosmetics Database scale, meaning their toxic impact is smaller. For me personally, I would argue that the level of personal risk is small, considering my exposure to this product is minimal. I use it twice each week at the most. What is frightening is that this company did not full label the fragrance used in the product. Here it would be most useful if there were stricter laws on labeling, so that consumers can know exactly what is in the product, even if it is unpronounceable or recognizable to the eye of a non-scientist. Of course, using products whose ingredients are readable and understandable is recommended over a manufactured product.

The Nature’s Gate website displays for the consumer ways to care for the earth’s resources. It also shows the company’s involvement in a clean water campaign. Unfortunately, although the corporation lists various ways in which it is concerned about the environment (using recycled and recyclable materials, conserving resources, utilizing local sources), Nature’s Gate still seems to be more concerned with using “natural botanicals” to sell a product. Their focus is not having a minimal environmental impact. Their concern is selling Velvet Moisture Pomegranate Sunflower Body Wash to the uninformed consumer. The website also focuses on the importance of caring for one’s body, while emphasizing the importance of sustainability. What would our society and our earth look like if we understood that really caring for ourselves meant refusing to manufacture or consume toxic products? If sustainability meant more than recycling or conserving, but also sustaining lives, whether they are of the consumer or producer?

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A Toxic Day In the Life

Over the course of a day, we use many products that we don’t give two seconds worth of thought. Nor do we ever think about what is in them, where they come from and who they are affecting. But after taking a closer look at my own daily habits, I was not only confronted by some of the poor choices I have been making, but was also horrified when I looked into what chemicals I was exposing my self to, and subsequently, the environment and countless others as well. After slightly less than a week of documenting my beauty and hygiene product use, I was forced to think about my consumer habits, as well as my long term health in terms of my purchases.

I have always been aware of the products I was using, but I never realized how superficial that knowledge was until I started keeping tabs on what I used and how often in a condensed time period. Although I think the brands and specific products themselves could be improved and replaced with local, natural, healthier ones, I feel that I don’t use superfluous amounts of anything. That is something that I was generally satisfied with. I may shower everyday, but I usually only use a very small amount of shampoo/ conditioner/ body wash because most are very condensed. I also only use very little makeup and lotion. However, the quality and type of the products I was using was what bothered me the most and I am now planning on investigating local, more natural products that would be healthier for me and the environment. I do worry that I am at risk from the chemicals in these products for how long I’ve been using them. But since there is nothing to be done about that now, I can only work on making better choices for the future. Comparing to others my age in America, using Dickinson as a sample, I probably fall somewhere in the middle between those like the Tree Kids who are very conscious about their choices and others who may care more about their physical appearance and use a larger amount of products. But compared to the rest of the world, I probably use much more than average, given my socio-economic background. This leads me to think about who my use and disposal of these products is affecting. I started wondering where the waste and pollution from the water and trash goes after it leaves my immediate environment. The people it affects are probably those not using products such as these and that is extremely environmentally unjust. This was a very interesting experience and has caused some serious self-reflection. I have slowly been making changes to what I have been putting in and on my body and I feel like this is a good next step.

The product I chose for my toxicology research was my Soft Soap Coconut Body Scrub. I chose to focus on the 3 worst ingredients and what their long term, short term, body, occupational and environmental health effects were. As a whole product it ranked a 6 on the hazard scale set up by the comprehensive Cosmetics Database. This rating system “adds up the hazards of all ingredients, and is scaled higher if the product has penetration enhancers or other ingredients that increase skin absorption…[and] now accounts for more safety references and we show it on a 0-10 scale (with no decimals, 10 corresponding to highest concern).” It is said as a whole product to cause allergies and immunotoxicity and, over a long period of time to a lower degree, has neurotoxins, and causes organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), enhanced skin absorption, contamination concerns, occupational hazards, biochemical or cellular level changes. These effects are considered when combining all of the ingredients together at the recommended exposure rates for the consumer:

The first ingredient I looked at was DMDM Hydantoin, which scored a 7-9 on the hazard scale. It causes allergies/immunotoxicity, irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs) and organ system toxicity. DMDM hydantoin is an antimicrobial formaldehyde releaser preservative. In the U.S., about 20% of cosmetics and personal care products contain a formaldehyde-releaser and the allergy from frequency of contact to these ingredients is much higher among Americans compared to in Europe. But the main concern was the inclusion of Formaldehyde in this ingredient, which scored a 10 out of 10 on the hazard scale.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic impurity released by cosmetic preservatives, including DMDM hydantoin, among many other compounds. The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC) classified formaldehyde as ‘carcinogenic to humans,’ and the U.S. National Toxicology Program classified it as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,’ based on evidence in human studies, as well as evidence in animals. “Even the industry-funded Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel recommends that cosmetic products not contain more than 0.2% formaldehyde, and does not consider formaldehyde to be safe in aerosol products (CIR 2006). However, as it stands in the U.S. there are no restrictions on the levels of formaldehyde allowed in any body care products, no requirement to test products made with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives for levels of formaldehyde, and certainly no obligation to inform consumers that the products they use each day are likely to contain a cancer-causing chemical that does not appear on the list of ingredients.” Don’t I feel safe and informed.

Another ingredient I investigated was fragrance, which is a undisclosed mixture of many scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance diffuser such as diethyl phthalate. It is known to be a neurotoxin, and cause allergies/immunotoxicity over a short period of time. It has also been associated with dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. While this ingredient does not seem to be as bad as the other, it still scored a 8 on the hazard scale and is found in most hair and body products.

The final ingredient in the Soft Soap body wash I explored was Cocamidopropyl Betaine. It is a antistatic agent; hair conditioning agent; skin-conditioning agent; cleansing agent surfactant; a foam booster, and a viscosity increasing agent. It has been associated with skin irritation and allergy reactions that could be due to the ingredient itself or to impurities present in it, such as 3-dimethylaminopropylamine; it is also listed as being an “ecotoxic“. While I am not sure as to the specifics of this particular claim or what it entails, the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List states it as a suspected environmental toxin. It also has 2 main compounds in the ingredient itself that are also toxic: 3-dimethylaminopropylamine and Nitrosamines. Among other things they are responsible for occupational hazards, such as allergies, immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, endocrine disruption, and biochemical and cellular level changes for the workers exposed to them.

After some research, I discovered that SoftSoap is a branch of the Colgate-Palmolive Co. They have two factories near to where I live: one in New York City, and another in Morristown, NJ. And while I do not know the specifics of how these are affecting the communities surrounding them, I can only speculate as to the effect they are having on their workers. Most of the chemicals listed under the cosmetics database were listed as slight occupational hazards, meaning that it was recommended to them that workers only be exposed to the chemicals in small doses. However, this is per product; each individual worker is exposed to a small amount of each chemical for each product for a short time. Yet most likely, each worker is exposed to that product hundreds of times a day, six days a week for 40 or 50 years. That means that most of the effects that these chemicals have on the body for large doses over an extended period of time is affecting these people, which is socially and environmentally unjust.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the horrific discoveries that are made when you investigate your daily product usage. But it’s also not that difficult to do something about it. While I feel it would be beneficial and wonderful to overhaul the whole system and create a society focused on health and community rather than personal possession and consumerism, this type of offensive approach is not very realistic. I feel that the first step is on a personal level. Making changes in your own life, especially if tons of people do it, is a good way to get attention and a good way to make healthier choices for yourself. By switching to homemade concoctions of locally and organically grown products is not only more affordable and a healthier practice for your body, it is also useful in letting the corporations know that they can not and will not continue to promote dangerous consumerism. On another level, we need rising bright minds that are heading into the workforce to be aware of these issues, to be educated and pissed. By putting more environmental, health and social justice minded people into positions of power and authority into corporations and the government, we can start making policy changes for the consumer, the workers and the surrounding communities and ecosystems. And finally, activist groups and small grass roots movements need to start speaking to their representatives, and reaching out to the government. While small movements aren’t a cure-all, they are not a bad start. And if the government is being pressured enough by the people and then changes to support it, policy and lifestyle changes will be much more successful.

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