Friday, 19 August 2011

Parabens and Phthalates: Beauty at a price

Hello everyone!  I hope you've had a wonderful week!  This was definitely an 'off' week for me.  I find that my eating patterns and motivation levels fluctuate throughout the month -- the last 2 weeks I ate absolutely no sugar or junk food, and had no cravings, and this week....that's all I seem to want.  Blarg!  This is a pretty major PMS symptom of mine that I'm trying to regulate, along with my hormones.  Let's just say that I didn't "just say no" this week to pizza Wednesday, or bagel Friday.

I don't want to scare away any men readers with all this PMS and hormone stuff.  The toxic elements in our world don't just adversely affect a woman's hormones.  Not by a long shot.  All human beings have many different hormones in their bodies, which regulate our function, though most of us know nothing about our hormones.  All men have some female hormones, and all women have some male hormones.  The hormone levels of all human beings are affected by foods we eat, our stress levels, and the xenoestrogens in our environment.  I delved into that a little bit in my Plastic Freedom post.

Detoxifying our home and environment as much as possible is a universal concern for men and women.  And so the next big area of my life I have undertaken a detox in is BEAUTY and personal hygiene.  I've been hooked on beauty products for as long as I can remember, as I'm sure many of you have.  Many of us gals just end up accumulating a lot of products for hair, face, and body over time.  But this is not exclusively female behaviour ;)

There are some evils lurking in our bathroom cupboards and shower, and you really should get to know them.

EVIL #1: Parabens

I know you've heard of them.  I had heard the word before too, but I really didn't look into it very much until recently, when it occurred to me that my hormones were messed up.  My research brought me to parabens.  Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in personal care products.  They stop fungus, bacteria and other creepie crawlies from growing in our creams, shampoos, soaps, and makeup.  You can find these preservatives listed on your products as methyparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and isobutylparaben, and if you take a look around your bathroom (or in Shopper's Drug Mart), you'll probably find them in almost everything.  Parabens have been widely used for about 70 years.

Researchers are now questioning the safety of parabens.  They wonder if the rising incidence of breast cancer is linked in part to the fact that parabens, which mimic estrogen in the body, have been found in breast cancer tumours and can be isolated from other body tissues.  They wonder if declining sperm counts and increasing rates of male breast cancer and testicular cancer are related to the fact that parabens can be absorbed into our skin, potentially disrupting our endocrine systems.

A very important study conducted in 2004 by Philippa Darbe, a senior lecturer in oncology and researcher in biomolecular sciences at the University of Reading, in England, detected parabens in 18 out of 20 samples of tissue from breast cancer biopsies.  While this is not conclusive proof that parabens cause cancer, they were easily detected in these cancer cells.  No study was done on non-cancerous tissue to compare the findings.  More research is needed.  The potentially frightening thing is that we use underarm deodorant containing parabens in very close proximity to our breasts, on a daily basis.

Even if there were no direct link to parabens and breast cancer, parabens do mimic estrogen in the body, causing estrogen dominance in some.  Estrogen dominance encourages the development of breast cancer and also stimulates breast tissue that can trigger fibrocystic breast disease.  Estrogen dominance in men can cause such problems as infertility, erectile dysfunction, enlarged prostate, and certain types of cancer.  That right there, is all I need.  Parabens are not good for the human body.

EVIL #2: Phthalates

You many not know much about them, but like parabens, they are insidious in our environments.  One billion tons of phthalates are produced worldwide each year. Phthalates, also called plasticizers, are used in a variety of common consumer products: they soften vinyl plastics that are common in toys, are responsible for the smell of new vinyl shower curtains and are a frequent component of fragrances used in air fresheners, detergents, cleaning products and more. They show up in cosmetics to hold color and scents, and have also been found in nail polish and treatments.

Most personal care products that contain phthalates don't list them on the label.  A significant loophole in the law allows phthalates (and other chemicals) to be added to fragrances without disclosure to consumers. Because fragrance occurs in nearly every conceivable product, including lotions, soaps, cleansers and hair care products, phthalates are common.

Here's what to look for in order to identify phthalates in your beauty products and elsewhere:
  • DBP (di-n-butyl pthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels, and hand lotions.
  • DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices. 
  • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car products and personal care products. 
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics (as well as rocket propellant).

Also look for the term "fragrance," which I mentioned above, and is used to denote a combination of compounds, possibly including phthatates.

Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system. Several phthalate compounds have caused reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer.  Phthalates can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled.

A 2003 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that five percent of women between age 20 and 40 had up to 45 times more phthalates in their bodies than researchers initially hypothesized. CDC found phthalates in virtually every person tested, but the largest concentrations -- 20 times higher than the rest of the population -- were found in women of child-bearing age. Meanwhile, another study, led by Dr. Shanna Swan of the University of Missouri, identified developmental abnormalities in male infants correlating to high phthalate levels in their mothers’ bodies.

Phthalates are found in most PVC products including vinyl upholstery, tablecloths, shower curtains, raincoats, and soft-squeeze children's toys.  In the U.S. and Canada, DEHP is no longer used to manufacture children's products intended for the mouth, such as pacifiers, but it may still be found in larger toys, especially those made in other countries.  Don't forget, lots of medical supplies contain PVC and phthalates: blood transfusion bags, tubing, and surgical gloves all contain DEHP.

I would like to refer all the ladies to this page for some further information on phthalates and nail polish:

What We Can Do?

We're just consumers, right?  Well, that makes us very powerful, actually.  We choose to educate ourselves, and then we choose how to spend our money. Here is a super handy website to check on the safety of your beauty products:  I'm always checking products in this database, and you'd be really surprised to see that products you thought were good, aren't good at all.

Use your knowledge, and a bit of your spending money, to replace your beauty products.  What you might find, as I did, is that as you purge your cabinet you will see so much crap in there that you haven't even touched (thank god, actually), and that you can very easily do without.

What you might find when you replace your key products, is that you actually need way less in your beauty regime than you thought.  I got rid of tons of products, and I replaced them with much less.  Less consumerism, less wasting your money, and less clutter in your home.  It's pretty empowering.

Now here's what I did:



Earth Science Olive & Avocado Deep Conditioning Mask (for hair),
Almost Natural Polish Remover, Hopscotch Kids nail polish, Green Beaver
Sunscreen, Green Beaver Natural Deodorant, Giovanni Vitapro Fusion
Leave-In Hair Treatment, JASON Healthy Mouth toothpaste,
Kiss My Face shampoo and conditioner, Sanctum Men's Shave Gel (it's Jer's)

I'm pretty sure I missed a number of products for the before shot.  Also not pictured is the makeup I bought.  I am using mascara and eyeshadow from Pure Anada (  The mascara was $9.99 and the eyeshadow was about $6.00 each at the Big Carrot.  Really comparable in price to any drugstore brand of makeup.  I have yet to replace my liquid foundation or eyeliner, partly because I haven't found any at a really reasonable price - I've noticed that a lot of natural foundation and eye liner cost upwards of $40.00 - but I'm sure I will find some.  For now, I'm living without it just fine :)

Some of these products may not be totally perfect, but I'm still learning, and I was definitely very new to all this when I was buying them.  I feel much better for now, and know there is room for improvement.  Next on my list is replacing all of my cleaning products with safe, natural ones.

I really encourage you to look in your bathroom, read ingredients on your products, and give some thought to these issues.  Use up what you have left, or don't.  Take a trip to a health store like The Big Carrot, Whole Foods, Noah's, and plenty of smaller stores like Qi Natural Foods.  Another resource I've come to love is where you can order lots of different products and get free shipping in Canada.  Check out the 'Green and Natural' category!  Use the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database when researching different products.

We all have the power to change what we put on our skin, in our hair, and on our toenails and fingernails.  The science is complicated, but the bottom line is not: these chemicals are harmful to us.  I'm not willing to pay such a high price for beauty anymore.

If you've made it to this point, thanks for hanging in there on a Friday night to read about such heavy stuff.  Now go have a great night! :)


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