SEARCH FOR CHEMICALS
Contact

There are tens of thousands of chemicals in our everyday personal care products, many of which pose serious health threats.  Xenoestrogens, respiratory toxins, neurotoxins.  We do our own independent research on every chemical that we post so you have the latest information available.

Saturday
Oct242009

Triethanolamine (TEA or TEOA)

Today's Chemical:

Triethanolamine (TEA)

EWG Risk Score:

6

What is it?

Triethanolamine is a detergent and emulsifying agent. 

Why is it a risk?

TEA is created by reacting ammonia with ethylene oxide (a known carcinogen).  Amines such as TEA can degrade and break down in to nitrosamines under certain conditions.  Some people are also sensitive to TEA, and it can cause skin redness and burning.  It can also cause respiratory responses in airpborne products (like hairspray).  Most TEA on the market is a blend of about 85% TEA and 15% DEA, Diethanolamine.  Diethanolamine, a related chemical, has been linked to certain types of cancers. 

Steph's Opinion:

Alone, TEA has not been shown to form nitrosamines when it breaks down.  However, in the presence of N-nitrostating agents like sodium nitrate, bronopol, and brondiox, it has the potential to form nitrosamines.  The FDA recommends keeping TEA  and nitrosating agents apart so that no nitrosamines are formed.  So, although the risk of nitrosamine formation is low, this is still a troublesome ingredient because of its risk of skin irritation and because of its contamination with DEA.

 

Sources:

http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient/706639/TRIETHANOLAMINE/

http://www.dow.com/PublishedLiterature/dh_004c/0901b8038004cfcd.pdf?filepath=productsafety/pdfs/noreg/233-00267.pdf&fromPage=GetDoc

http://www.lotioncrafter.com/triethanolamine-nf.html

http://www.preventcancer.com/press/releases/feb22_98.htm

Wednesday
Sep162009

Sorbitol

Today's Chemical:

Sorbitol

EWG Risk Score:

1

What is it?

A sugar alcohol used as a humectant in cosmetic products. 

Why is it a risk?

If ingested, it can cause intestinal upset. 

Types of products it's found in:

Soaps, Personal Lubricants, Facial Cream, Moisturizers, Mouthwash

Brands that use this ingredient:

Bubble & Bee Organic (That's us!)

Hugo Naturals

The Body Shop

Poofy Organics

Tom's of Maine

Steph's Opinion:

All sugar alcohols can cause digestive upset when ingested.  One study in 1987 showed that sorbitol caused mutagentic activity when ingested at high doses.  However, more recent studies have not shown this effect.  In fact, in one study, the "control" group had more chromosomal abnormalities than the group that was treated with sorbitol.  So, in this study, sorbitol had anti-mutagenic effects. 

When used on skin, sorbitol is a wonderful humectant, meaning it draws moisture from the air and brings it to skin.  Extracted from sugar beets, sorbitol is very similar to vegetable glycerin.  So the bottom line---great stuff!

Sources:

http://www.jtbaker.com/msds/englishhtml/s5666.htm

http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient.php?ingred06=706239

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119640248/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

 

Saturday
Sep052009

Polyaminopropyl Biguanide

Today's Chemical:

Polyaminopropyl Biguanide

EWG Risk Score:

2

What is it:

Polyaminopropyl Biguanide is a synthetic polymer used as a preservative and anti-bacterial agent.

Why it's a risk:

Polyaminopropyl Biguanide does not pose much risk other than a slight risk of skin or eye irritation at higher concentrations.

Types of products it's found in:

Contact Solutions, sunscreen, facial products, hair products, body washes and scrubs.

Brands that use this ingredient:

California Baby

Skin Free

ReNu

The Purity Project

Neutragena

Steph's Opinion:

Although a synthetic ingredient, it is not a terribly dangerous one.  It is not known to be mutagenic on mamilian cells, not an endocrine disruptor, not carcinogenic, and has a low toxicity.  It is not easily absorbed in to skin, and pretty mild on skin and eyes.  One fact that gives me pause is the way in which it works--by breaking the cell wall of the bacteria and damaging its DNA.  Anything that damages DNA doesn't sound very good to me.  However, the studies that have been done on the ingredient have shown that it's not strong enough to break down mamilian cells--so that's a good thing.  The bottom line: although it's not a natural ingredient that I would personally use, if you have to use it (say, in your contact solution) you can breathe a little sigh of relief that it's a safer ingredient. 

Sources:

http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient.php?ingred06=704962

http://www.naturalingredient.org/Articles/msds_cosmocil_cq.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PAPB

Saturday
Aug152009

Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE)

Today's Chemical:

Grapefruit Seed Extract

EWG Risk Score:

3

What is it:

An extract used as a preservative.

Why it's a risk:

Grapefruit Seed extract as a pure extract is harmless.  However, the risk with it is that it can be contaminated with other harmful chemicals like methylparaben, triclosan, and benzethonium chloride.  When a company uses GSE, they don't have to disclose all of the ingredients inside the extract.  Is it an alcohol based extract?  Is it in water?  Is it in vegetable glycerin?  Or is it pure extract?  Does it contain preservatives?  Companies don't have to tell you, and sometimes they're unaware of the actual ingredients of the extract that's being sold to them.   It's used as a preservative, but studies have shown that GSE as a pure extract exhibits no anti-microbial activity, and that it's typically the impurities in the extract that act as a preservative. 

Types of products it's found in:

Bar soap, hand cream, moisturizer, conditioner, shampoo, facial cleanser, body washes.

Brands that use this ingredient:

(Note: This list is according to the EWG database.  Not all products from these companies contain this ingredient)

Meadowlake Farm Honeybee Products (*See comments below.  Meadowlake has confirmed they have tested their GSE for contaminants and assure their customers that it is a pure extract with no chemical contaminants.) 

Aubrey Organics

EO

Samantharoma

Khushi Spa

Jason Naturals

Lafe's

(for the full list, click here)

Steph's Opinion:

While it's not the worst ingredient out there, it's not as natural as it sounds.  If you're using a product containing GSE, call or write to the manufacturer and find out if they have tested their GSE in a laboratory for contaminants and that they can guarantee to you that it is free from harmful impurities. 

Sources:

http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient.php?ingred06=701433

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapefruit_seed_extract

 

 

Wednesday
Aug052009

Castor Oil

I'm going to deviate today and put our Chemical of the Day in a Q&A form. 

Q.  What do you think about castor oil? It is an ingredient in my favorite organic soap. I've read mixed things about it. That it contains a toxic protein called ricin at some stage of production but apparantly none of that remains in the final product. What do you think?

-Phillip

A.  That's a great question.  Castor oil by itself is not a bad ingredient, and is a widely used in soaps, lotions, etc all over the world with a long history of safety as an oil.  However, castor oil production is not a safe or environmentally-friendly process.  First of all, castor oil is in high demand because it's cheap and it has unique chemical properties that allow it to be used in many industries to make lubricants, inks, paints, greases, adhesives and other industrial products.  Because of its high demand and low cost, the castor seed plant is, in many cases, genetically modified to increase yield and obtain certain fatty acid compositions.   Genetically modified crops, as you may know, can weaken ecosystems and deplete soils (among other side effects).  In addition, these crops require fertilizers and pesticides which pollute the soil and groundwater.  The use of a certified organic castor seed oil would of course not contribute to these problems.  However, there is still the problem of the processing.  The castor seed contains the poison ricin (as you already know).  Ricin is only slightly less toxic to the body than radioactive plutonium!  The oil extraction process removes the toxin from the oil, but the waste material has to go somewhere---it can end up in wastewater and landfills which then pollute the entire environment.  Much of the worlds' castor oil is processed in countries that don't have strict environmental safety standards.  In addition, there are allergenic compounds found on the plant surface can cause permanent nerve damage, making the harvest of castor beans a human health risk for the workers involved.  So, although as a finished product it's safe for use, we feel it's not a responsible ingredient to use because of the safety risks involved with the processing and harvest of the plant.  We have found that other oils such as sunflower and coconut do just as good or better of a job at moisturizing skin and don't have these negative side effects!

Sources:

http://www.linnaeus.net/problem_with_castor.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castor_oil