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Chemical nasties

Look on the back of most of today's personal products, and you will more than likely find many of these chemicals and addatives in the ingredients list.

Alcohol

The alcohols to be concerned about in skin care products include words such as ethanol, ethyl, methanol, benzyl, isopropyl and SD alcohol. These can be extremely drying and irritation to the skin.

Aluminum

Commonly used in antiperspirant preparations. Can be extremely irritating on abraded skin. Recently linked to cancers.

Animal ingredients

It has consistently been demonstrated that animal products do not add benefit to skin care products. When used in soaps, tallow or lard (animal fat) can clog up pores - the skin's breathing system, causing blackheads and spots. It can also increase the incidence of eczema for those with sensitive skin.

Artificial colouring

Synthetic dyes derived from aluminum and coal tar can be absorbed into our bodies and stored in our organs and fatty tissues. Coal tar colours can cause such symptoms as nausea, headaches, skin problems, fatigue, mood swings, or other allergic symptoms in sensitive individuals. Coal tar dyes have produced cancer in laboratory animals.

DEA, TEA and MEA

Foaming agents which might trigger carcinogens in the body when mixed with petrolium-based surfactants.

Formaldehyde

Preservative also used in embalming fluid. Exposure to formaldehyde can irritate the respiratory system, cause skin reactions, joint and chest pains, allergies, headaches and ear infections. Studies show it is also a potential human carcinogen.

Imidazolidinyl Urea

Formaldehyde-releasing preservative. The most commonly used cosmetic preservative after parabens and the second most identified cosmetic preservative causing contact dermatitis according to The American Academy of Dermatology.

Mineral oil (parffinum liquidum)

Derived from petroleum and used widely in cosmetics. It contains no minerals and cannot nourish the skin. It is not well absorbed by the skin, and instead puts a barrier on top of it preventing the skin from breathing. Paraffinium can cause skin irritation.

Nano-ingredients

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of materials and the creation of structures and systems that exist at the scale of atoms and molecules. Designed to penetrate deep into the skin. - like sun creams and anti-aging products.

According to Friends of the Earth, some of the biggest names in cosmetics, are currently manufacturing and marketing nanoparticle-laced products - They are allegedly now being used in virtually every type of personal care product on the market .

Despite the growing evidence that nano-ingredients can be toxic to humans and the environment, these companies, and others are selling these products without labels or warnings, to inform consumers of the presence of these untested nano-ingredients.

Paraben (menthyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl)

Preservative that can cause skin irritation and affect hormonal levels. Possible link to breast cancer. more info

Parfum (or fragrance)

Can mean up to 4,000 separate ingredients - many may be toxic or carcinogenic. Synthetic scents can contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, phosphates and musks, all of which are potential irritants and can build up in the human body, which is unable to get rid of them. more info

Phthalates (pronounced thalates)

Typically found in plastics, this group of chemicals has recently been banned from children's toys. In cosmetics they are used as solvents. Studies have found that phthalates bio-accumulate and are hormone disrupters. But in cosmetics, phthalates can be difficult to avoid because they don't have to be listed on the label. This is because they are used in the fragrance of cosmetics and their presence is hidden by the much used term 'parfum'.

Propylene glycol

Used in many moisturisers, and hand/body lotions, it is readily absorbed through the skin and scalp. It may damage cell membranes causing rashes, dry skin and surface damage to the skin.

Sodium lauryl sulphate (sls)

Detergent foaming agent. Can cause skin irritation and be absorbed by the skin. more info

Triclosan

Sometimes marketed under the name of 'Microban' is an anti-bacterial chemical based, on an anti-biotic. It is typically used in toothpaste, mouthwash, soaps, body washes and household cleaning products.

Triclosan has been detected as a contaminant in human breast milk- Swedish research published in 2002 found high levels of triclosan in 60% of human breast milk. It has also been found in fish and in some rivers and lakes.

Environmentally, triclosan is also a problem, and can be converted to dioxin (linked to cancer) when exposed to sunlight in water.

A new Danish report shows that wastewater effluents discharged into rivers can contain the chemical.

In the last few years, government authorities in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany have issued press statements discouraging people from using antibacterial household and personal hygiene products. Concerns have been raised about the potential for encouraging bacterial resistance and research has suggested a possible link with hormone-disrupting chemicals.