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   Canadian law now requires that ingredients be listed on the labels of all cosmetic products. Changing labels on any product costs money, and I imagine there was a lot of kicking and screaming from the manufacturers when they had to comply, but this is a big step forward, one that brings Canada into line with US and European producers. It has only happened because of pressure from consumers like you and me.

   So we should now be able to tell at a glance what is in our cosmetics. However, this being said, how many of us understand what we are reading? A big percentage of the ingredients are going to be chemicals with incomprehensible names, so the next step is to find out what they are and what they may do to you.

   I have a personal 'Hit List' of potentially unpleasant ingredients that people should be aware of when using health and beauty products. It is by no means a complete list of possible nasties, but these are some of the common ones (in alphabetical order).

  • ALUMINUM: An ingredient in many antiperspirants and some hand creams, as well as some antacids. It has been linked to Alzheimer's disease. To quote Dr. McDougall of the McDougall Wellness centre, "When diseased tissue taken fron Alzheimer's patients is examined, small bunches of material called senile plaques are scattered throughout the tissue...analysis reveals the presence of the metal aluminum at the centre of each plaque...it is therefore a prime suspect as the initial cause of the disease. Some scientists are particularly worried about inhaled aluminum, because autopsy studies have shown a high proportion of senile plaques in the olfactory lobes of the brain. Spray antiperspirants would be a likely cause for this concern".
  • DEA (diethanolomine), MEA (monoethanolomine) and TEA (triethanolomine): these are humectants and emulsifiers often used in cosmetics and shampoos. Look for them in anything that cleans, foams or bubbles. They may contain nitrosomes or may form them on contact with the skin - nitrosomes are potential carcinogens. They can be hormone disruptors or be allergenic, irritating or toxic.
  • FORMALDEHYDE is an irritant and a carcinogen. This is the same stuff that is used to kill and mummify bugs, etc., in labs and museum exhibits. Cosmetically, it is used as a fixative or a preservative, and it is also a by-product of several other cosmetic preservatives (which means that it will not be mentioned on the label). Look for formaldehyde in many cosmetic products, particularly nail-care items. Want to preserve your skin with formaldehyde, anyone? I don't think so!
  • ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL: As well as being toxic, this is a denaturant, which means that it changes the natural qualities of a substance. You will find it in hair colour, mouthwash, after-shave, fragrances and many other health and beauty products. This is the same stuff that is used in shellac and antifreeze. It is petroleum based and may cause body tissues to be more vulnerable to carcinogens. To quote from A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, "Inhalation or ingestion of the vapor may cause headache, flushing, dizziness, mental depression, nausea, vomiting or coma." Not exactly user-friendly!
  • LANOLIN: This is a wonderful natural moisturizer derived from sheep's wool. Sadly, it has been contaminated by the chemicals used to control ticks, flies and parasites on the animals. I am a farmer's daughter, and I remember watching the sheep being 'dipped' in a long cement trough. The unhappy critters were forced to go down a couple of steps and swim the length of the trough - at one point their heads would be pushed under so that they were thoroughly soaked. While this saves the sheep from being infested with bugs, it never really comes out of the wool, so the lovely lanolin is contaminated. If you want the benefits of lanolin, you will just have to get your own sheep. The stuff you can buy is probably a wolf in sheep's clothing!

  • MINERAL OIL: This ingredient is so common that most of us do not give it a second thought. We should, though! Mineral oil is a petroleum derivative that feels pleasant and soothing when applied. Unfortunately it is an effective barrier, a bit like plastic wrap, keeping air out and everything else in. It stops the skin from breathing and from absorbing nutrients, as well as from releasing toxins in a natural way. The result? Disfunctional skin, acne and inhibition of normal cell development. Take a look at that bottle of baby oil. If it contains mineral oil, find (or make) something else to put on your precious little person.
  • PROPYLENE GLYCOL: Another petroleum derived product. You will find this substance in the great majority of personal care products, as it is a surfactant or wetting agent. In other words, it makes water wetter by breaking down the surface tension of the molecules. It also breaks down protein and cellular structure. If you buy a barrel of the stuff, you will be given a Material Safety Data Sheet warning against getting it on your skin, as it can be absorbed to cause brain, liver and kidney abnormalities. Suggested precautions for handling include protective gloves, clothing and goggles... This substance may make up to 5% of some formulations, with possibly a greater amount in stick deodorants, but no warning label is mandated. Propylene Glycol is also used in antifreeze, a product well known for lethal toxicity.
  • SODIUM LAUREL SULPHATE and SODIUM LAURETH SULPHATE: If you read the labels on carwash soaps, garage floor cleaners or engine degreasers, you are likely to find these ingredients. The very same ingredients are used extensively in shampoos, toothpastes, liquid soaps and any cosmetics that bubble or foam. They are both potential carcinogens. 'Laurel' is rapidly absorbed through the skin and may be retained in heart, liver, eyes and brain. Both can react with other ingredients in shampoo, etc., to make a witch's brew of dioxins and nitrates. Large amounts of nitrates can enter the blood from just one shampooing and will stay in the body for up to five days. Of the two, 'Laurel' is more irritating but 'Laureth' is more drying. These two beauties can be found in about 90% of commercial shampoos...so read your labels!
  • SYNTHETIC COLOURS: These are labelled with the letters D&C or FD&C followed by a colour and a number. They are dyes made from coal-tar, and a very large percentage of the are suspected toxins, teratogens (can cause abnormalities in utero) or carcinogens.
  • SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES: Our senses are deluged with synthetic smells. Things like carwash soap or even insecticides have their own 'designer fragrances' and there is no getting away from the stuff. It is an insidious and potentially dangerous form of advertising, because, even if you like the smells, they can cause sensory overload, allergies and worse. The fragrance business is largely unregulated. Manufacturers are not required to disclose their fragrance formulas as these are considered a trade secret, so the word 'fragrance' commonly listed on labels, tells us nothing. In her book 'Beauty to Die For', Judi Vance discusses the neuro-toxins used in perfumes and lists the twenty most common ingredients found in a sampling of thirty-one fragrances. The ingredients and their effects on our systems are scary. No wonder that a trip to the mall can leave people feeling dizzy, nauseous and disoriented. If you are 'perfume sensitive' do some complaining. And puchase or make only products that are fragrance-free.