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Here we explore some of the myths & legends!

Tuesday
Feb032015

No Lead in this Lipstick, But...

There's a company out there you may be familiar with (once again, I'll keep their name to myself). Their main focus is creating products with ingredients that score low in the EWG Cosmetics Database. They make a lot of color cosmetics and have gone to admirable lengths to ensure that the levels of naturally-occurring lead in their products is at the lowest level possible. (Lead, a naturally-occurring heavy metal in the earth's crust, can be found in trace amounts in mineral ingredients used to create colors in makeups because it's inherently found in the ground.) 

However, while they're concerned about lead, they intentionally add other concerning metals to their products, with one lipstick containing: tin oxide, Yellow 5 Lake, Red 5 Lake, Red 7 Lake, Red 27 Lake, and Blue 1 Lake. (Of course, there are lots of other companies that use these colorants, but this company's main marketing point is safety, so I'm bringing it to the table today.) 

First of all, there's hidden aluminum in this product. Yellow 5 Lake, Red 5 Lake, etc, are all artificial colors made from coal tar and--you guessed it: aluminum. 

While most of these artificial colors score low in the Cosmetics Database (due to lack of data) there are inherent problems with these colorants. First of all, they contain aluminum (read more about the harmful effects of aluminum here.) Tartrazine (yellow 5 lake) was recently found to be a xenoestrogen in a lab study on human breast cancer cells. (Source) (Not surprising since aluminum is a metalloestrogen.) Yellow 5 Lake has also been found to create free radical damage to DNA in the colon in several animal studies. (Source). 

Another problem ingredient is tin oxide. The affects of tin on the human body are still largely unknown. (source) While some sources say it is quickly removed from the body after ingestion, traces are known to remain in the body. Tin is not an essential mineral with any positive biological function and can have adverse effects. First of all it is known to create free radical species (damage) to cells. Some tin compounds can have neurotoxic effects (although it's generally considered that tin oxide does not.) (source) Tin is also suspected to replace calcium in bone, possibly leading to osteoporosis. 

"In one study, rats were fed tin at concentrations of 10, 50, 100, or 250 parts per million in the diet. At tin concentrations of 50 ppm or greater, blood levels of calcium were reduced and the calcium content of certain areas of femur bone was diminished." (source)

An ingredient listed on a product would have much higher levels of tin than would be measured in parts per million. (Usually around 1% of the formula.) And while tin oxide is approved as a safe ingredient by the Cosmetics Ingredient Review, they assessed its safety based on the fact that it's not absorbed easily through the skin. However, the safety of tin oxide in a lipstick product with potential for ingestion was not assessed in particular. (Source.) 

So, while this company has done a great job of working to avoid lead and other heavy metals, we can't forget about the potential harmful effects of other metals intentionally added to the product. 

The takeaway: no matter what, always read your ingredients! 

Tuesday
Jan272015

Another Impossible Ingredients List

In the past I've posted articles exposing products that have ingredients lists that just don't add up. (See here and here.) Today I've run on to another product that doesn't seem to make sense. It's gaining a lot of attention with popular green bloggers and is marketed beautifully. I'll keep the name of the product to myself so I'm not accused of "shaming and naming" but I couldn't keep my mouth shut any longer about this baffling ingredients list. 

The product claims to be a multi-purpose do-it-all soap. Use it at full-strength for heavy degreasing or dilute it 1: 15 and use it as a shampoo. Use it as a foaming hand soap. Dilute it 1:30 and you'll have a multi-purpose spray cleaner. Reviews of the product have said that they were able to clean an oven with ease. They claim it removes stains and bacteria, all without the use of synthetics. 

This one soap can clean your countertops, dirty laundry, showers, floors, wine stains, puppy accidents, even your spaghetti-splattered ovens.

Sounds like a miracle in a bottle, doesn't it? Let's take a look at the ingredients they list:

Purified water, fatty acids, coconut oil, minerals and enzymes derived from edible and seed-bearing plants.

Miracle indeed. Let's take a look at these ingredients individually.

Purified water--needs no explanation.

Fatty acids--All oils are made up of chains of fatty acids held together by a glycerol group. (Usually in a formation of three fatty acid chains to one glycerol group, called a triglyceride.)  Split the glycerol from the fatty acids and you have glycerin and fatty acids. Common fatty acids in oils include lauric acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, alpha-lipoic acid, oleic acid. Fatty acids are slightly soluble in water, however, the longer the fatty acid chain, the less soluble it is. We aren't sure exactly which fatty acids are in this product--it can be any number of fatty acids. Not a lathering or cleansing agent; fatty acids are typically used as thickeners and emolients. Sometimes they can have some emulsifying properties, but not enough for heavy degreasing or serious cleaning. (Think cream cleanser.) 

Coconut Oil--The ingredient we're familiar with from cooking and skin care. Not soluble in water, also doesn't lather or clean. It can be turned in to soap through saponification (mixing with an alkali) or chemically processed in to a detergent. But on its own, as just coconut oil, it's not a cleansing agent. 

Minerals and enzymes from edible and seed-bearing plants--As with "fatty acids," this is not a full ingredient disclosure. Which minerals? What kind of enzymes? There are no minerals or enzymes that are known to lather or act like a soap. 

Food-grade alcohol--they state on a separate page of their website that alcohol is used as a processing catalyst. However, no reaction between these ingredients would really happen. The fatty acids could react with the alcohol to create fatty alcohols, which could then further be processed in to detergents. Just fatty acids and alcohol wouldn't create soap, however.

They state that their formula contains no synthetics, however, nothing here would lather up and do the cleaning that they say it does. They call it a soap, however it doesn't appear that the oils and fatty acids have gone through the necessary processing to turn them in to a soap (by mixing with an alkali.) Unless perhaps the "minerals" is potash (maybe in the form of ash from burnt plants?) and the fatty acids and coconut oil is reacting with the potash. However, if that's the case, they should be listed as saponified oils or their final chemical name (potassium cocoate, etc). 

This product may very well be totally safe and natural. Maybe these are saponified oils and fatty acids. On the other hand, there may be hidden synthetics giving the product lather. And what about preservatives? If the first ingredient is water and there's no apparent preservative that could be a problem. Especially if they're recommending dilution! Maybe there are special "minerals and enzymes" keeping it preserved, but how can we assess safety without knowing which minerals and enzymes are present? Just because it's plant-derived doesn't mean that it's safe. Like in the instance of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract or Grapefruit Seed Extract. 

I thought...maybe I'm missing something here? The branding and copy on their website seemed so believable, so I asked a group of cosmetic formulators what they thought about it. Here were some of their responses:

Wow, ummmm yea it doesn't add up.

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Sniff-sniff... smells fishy!

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O_0 this is a very vague ingredients list.

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 I think they're dancing a fine line (stretching). 'Minerals' = lye. 'Enzymes' = Plants, okay. But their explanation of how they don't use lye...can't be true. I adore their branding though. Remember, marketing strategies can be outright lyes (see what I did there?:)

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So they are saying they are "creating" a soap with the water & plant "something" instead of using lye? Ok...but then fatty acids are an ingredient not a component of another ingredient? So terribly vague..

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Wow, visited their web site. All I can say is they must be miracle-workers with some of their claims.

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Not to mention their implication that the actual lye they claim they don't use is toxic or irritating when it's not even present in the finished product. And yes, what kind of labeling is this? Seems more misbranding than branding.

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The ingredient deck conveniently left out a solubilizer, perhaps a preservative and the proper INCI designation of the other ingredients. On their website they elude to antimicrobial / viral action, but then put up a disclaimer. That's a red flag to the FDA. 

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Thousands on website and marketing. Big bucks supporting this.

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I wonder if this is soap nut based? They just left out the INCI?

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Crazy. How can they NOT list the exact ingredients in descending order in INCI format???

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They can list this BS this way because they can. Until they get their ass handed to them by the FDA. They're selling what some people want, the way they want it. No different than the MLM EO companies. Giving their products holy water claims, medical claims, bad to worse labels, no preservatives. Don't use the product if you were considering it. 

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Could it be soapwort as a foaming agent? But how terribly irresponsible to leave out the preservative and emulsifying ingredients. What if someone has a terrible allergic reaction because of their inaccurate labeling?

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The labeling issue never fails to amaze me. It's really not that hard to comply, and if you need to hide your ingredients, then... you're doing something wrong. It's disrespectful to the customer.

Thursday
Sep042014

Metalloestrogens

We talk a lot about hormone-disrupting chemicals: parabens, pthalates, phenoxyethanol. But the risks of these chemicals may be overshadowed by a potentially more harmful class of chemicals that not as many people know about: metalloestrogens. Many common metals have been found to mimic estrogen or interfere with hormone function in the body. There is still much to be learned about the mechanisms whereby they act, however, research is uncovering much about these metals' roles in diseases such as breast cancer and endometriosis. 

Potential estrogen mimickers like parabens actually pass through the body fairly quickly, with most of the substance being metabolized wtihin a day or so and flushed out through urine. (Now, of course, in order to metabolize the parabens, the body has to use estrogen sulfotransferase enzymes, which are then not doing their original job of flushing out estrogen, thus possibly leading to increased estrogen levels.) So, when you stop using parabens, you're detoxed from them fairly quickly. But with metalloestrogens, the body has a much harder time at removing them. They are metals, after all. Some metals will stay in the body for 10 to 30 years. 

Now, here's where it gets more complicated. Some metalloestrogens such as chromium, cobalt, copper, and nickel are actually essential minerals that our bodies need in trace amounts for enzymatic and other functions. However, if the concentration of these metals become too high, they can actually interfere with enzymes, or even cause cancer. (Chromium and nickel are known carcinogens). Then, there are nonessential metals such as lead, aluminum, mercury, and cadmium that have no function in the body and end up blocking the function of essential metals and hormone receptors, leading to disease. 

Here are a few common metals that are suspected to display estrogenic effects:

Aluminum

For more on the dangers of aluminum, see my previous article. The bottom line--no matter the form (aluminum chlorohydrate, potassium alum, etc) aluminum has the ability to bind to hormone receptors and interfere with hormone balance. Aluminum has been linked to breast and other reproductive cancers. (Source)

Found in: antacids, antiperspirants, crystal deodorants, cookware

Chromium

 Chromium is an essential nutrient the body needs to function, however, in excess amounts it can cause toxic effects. There are two forms of chromium, chromium iii, and chromium iV. Chromium iV is more harmful than chromium iii. The body is able to convert chromium iV in to the less harmful iii form, however, when it does, the overall level of chromium iii in the body is increased. Animal studies have found it to affect reproductive function and create ovarian toxicity in animal tests. (Source) (Source)

Found in: drinking water, steel, cars, paints, treated woods and leathers. 

Lead

The potential estrogenic effects of lead are still largely under-studied, however, more is being uncovered about this harmful heavy metal. This study found that breast cancer cells proliferated when treated with a solution of lead. This study found that women with higher blood levels of cadmium and lead were more likely to suffer from uterine fibroids. 

Found in: older paints, varnishes, plates and cups, foods, water, mineral pigments

Cadmium

Cadmium exposure primarily occurs through dietary sources and cigarette smoking. It can stay in the body for 10 to 30 years. Smokers have been found to have twice the concentration of cadmium in their system than non-smokers. (Source

"Our data may suggest that Cd interferes with the levels of testosterone and estradiol in postmenopausal women, which might have implications for breast cancer risk." (Source

In this study, cadmium was able to proliferate the growth of cells responsible for endometriosis. 

(Interesting: melatonin found to help inhibit the action of cadmium here.)

Found in: this abundant element in the earth's crust can be found anywhere at low levels. However, it can be found in concentrated amounts as an industrial pollutant in soil and groundwater. 

Mercury

Mercury has been found to stimulate breast cancer cells in lab tests. (Source)  Levels of cadmium, lead, and mercury have also been found to lead to anovulatory cycles in women. (Source)

Found in: fish, dental amalagams

Other metals with potential estrogenic effects: selenite, tin, vanadate, cobalt, copper, nickel, antimony, arsenite, barium

What Now?

If you have eliminated parabens, pesticides, plastics, and other commonly known estrogen mimickers from your life as much as possible and are still suffering from reproductive disorders such as fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS, infertility, or even fibromyalgia or lupus, you may have a heavy metal toxicity. The best way to test for heavy metals is hair testing (can be done in conjunction with blood testing) which can be done in select holistic practitioner's offices. If you do have a heavy metal toxicity, there are different treatment methods (herbs, chelation, dietary changes) that can help you remove these metals that are wreaking havoc on your body. These treatments should be done under the careful watch of a qualified healthcare pofessional, as the release of these compounds in to the bloodstream from other tissues can have side effects, and you also should be monitored to make sure that other vital minerals are not being stripped through your detox.

Additional Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16489580

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4017651/

 

Saturday
Jun142014

Milk of Magnesia?

If you look around on the internet you'll find a lot of people recommending using Milk of Magnesia as a deodorant, a facial primer, or a treatment for acne. While using this product actually can work quite well, there are hidden dangers to using this seemingly innocuous "home remedy."

Milk of Magnesia is a milky-looking liquid made up of a suspension of a mineral called magnesium hydroxide. It's slightly alkaline and is used as a drug treatment for stomach upset and a laxative. (Read more about drug usage here.) The alkalinity of the substance may be one way in which the product works so well as a deodorant. 

But, looking more closely at the label, you'll find an ingredient hiding in the "inactive ingredients:" sodium hypochlorite. Seems simple enough...sounds like a simple salt? Nope. That's actually bleach.

THIS is why Milk of Magnesia works so well as a deodorant! The anti-bacterial activity of the bleach kills the odor-causing bacteria. The diluted bleach is what's doing the job of drying your skin out and killing the bacteria on your skin that are causing the acne. And it's causing it to be slightly inflamed--thus why it's popular as a toner/primer, because it temporarily firms your skin by irritating it. (My theory.)

So, what are the risks of using diluted bleach on your skin? 

  • First is the obvious risk of skin irritation. Considering the alkalinity of the magnesium hydroxide combined with the irritating nature of bleach, your skin's acid mantle could become seriously disrupted, leading to redness, dryness, and irritation. While the tightening/firming effect may be nice temporarily, constantly inflamed collagen will break down, only increasing wrinkles and damage over time.  
  • Some people are highly allergic to bleach; side effects would include rash, itching/swelling (face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, trouble breathing.
  • Sodium hypochlorite, when combined with water creates hypochlorous acid, which is highly reactive. "HOCL generates superoxide radicals that cause oxidative injury and cell death." (Source) It's this action that kills bacteria and pathogens, but can also cause damage to skin cells. 
  • Diluted bleach (sometimes referred to as Dakin's solution) has been found to destroy skin fibroblasts and keratinocytes (cells responsible for healthy skin growth). (Source)
  • Toxic chlorine gas can be formed when bleach is dissolved in an alkaline solution (such as magnesium chloride). However, the amounts would be quite small in M.O.M. due to its presumed low concentration. (Source)

So, the next time you see Milk of Magnesia as a simple "cure-all," now you'll know how it really works!

Tuesday
Apr092013

"Organic" Conditioner Exposed

Back in January I published an enlightening article, exposing the incomplete ingredients list on a suposedly "organic" shampoo.  Today I would like to talk about the conditioner from the same brand.  

The ingredients on the label read:

Purified Water, Vegetable Glycerin, Olive Oil, Spearmint Oil, Panthenol (Vitamin B5), Vitamin E (Tocopherol), Olive Leaf Extract, Ginger Extract, Chamomile Extract, Comfrey Root Extract, Rosemary Extract, Grape Seed Extract.

Let's start at the beginning...purified water.  That's pretty common.  Most conditioners are 80% water, so that makes sense.

Next...vegetable glycerin.  Vegetable glycerin is a water-soluble humectant that could be used in small amounts in a conditioner to draw moisture to your hair.  

Olive oil, used in small amounts, can add shine to hair.

Spearmint oil would give a nice scent to the product.

Panthenol can be used as a humectant (however, it doesn't nourish hair like commercials say it does.  Hair is dead, so it can't absorb and use nutrients.) 

Vitamin E helps keep the oils and extracts from turning rancid.

Olive Leaf Extract, Ginger Extract, Chamomile Extract, Comfrey Root Extract are likely used more for marketing purposes. May add a small amount of conditioning properties to the product.  

Rosemary extract also used as an antioxidant.

Grape seed extract is likely the preservative that helps keep the product from growing bacteria.  

So, now that we know what each ingredient does, looking at this list we can see that the product is missing something very key: an emulsifier.  How is the oil and water being combined? How is this product not just a runny mess of oil and water? 

So, I thought I'd do an experiment.  I gathered all the ingredients on the label and tried a number of things. Adding the oil to the water, adding the water to the oil, adding the glycerin and the oil, heating it--every combination turned out the same: a runny liquid with a film of oil that separated and floated to the top.  Not a stabilized emulsion with a lotion-like texture that this product is. On a chemical level, this is what make sense. Water and oil and glycerin plus some extracts don't equal an emulsion.

In a previous response to my article about their shampoo, their chemist verified that the ingredients underwent and "intricate chemical process" in order to give it the physical properties that the product has.  In other words, the ingredients were altered from their original state, and thus, the ingredients list not a true reflection of what's in the bottle.  Perhaps the ingredients once were water, glycerin, and olive oil, but now they're new unknown substances.  The conditioner has the same lack of full disclosure that the shampoo does.  The extracts alone aren't enough to give it "slip" which, the conditioner has a fair amount of.  Are there hidden quaternary ammonium compounds?  Are there ethoxylated chemicals in the emulsifier? Because of the lack of full disclosure, we simply don't know.