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Customer & member questions. This is a public forum. Your questions help all of us!

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    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.

    Friday
    May202011

    Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide

    Today's Chemical:

    Ferric ammonium ferrocyanide

    EWG Skin Deep Hazard Score:

    (4-6 Depends on usage)

    What is it:

    Ferric ammonium ferrocyanide is a synthetic colorant used to impart a blue color to cosmetic formulas.  It is closely related to Fferric ferrocyanide, or Prussian Blue, but is not the same chemical. It belongs to a class of chemicals called inorganic cyanides and is also a quaternary ammonium compound.

    What are its risks:

    • According to this safety sheet, "Inorganic cyanides react slowly with water to evolve gaseous hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Acids cause the rapid evolution of HCN; carbon dioxide from the air is sufficiently acidic to liberate HCN from solutions of cyanides."  Hydrogen cyanide is a highly toxic gas.  Would the water in sweat plus exposure to air, combined with the compound in a makeup be able to create enough toxic gas to be harmful?  Likely not, but it could cause an unknown low-level exposure.
    • The safety sheet linked to above also sates that if exposed to skin it can be a potential irritant.  While some safety sheets aren't an accurate reflection of the safety of an ingredient in cosmetic use, the following phrase really is concerning: "If symptoms such as redness or irritation develop, IMMEDIATELY call a physician and be prepared to transport the victim to a hospital for treatment."  and in cases of ingestion: "IMMEDIATELY call a hospital or poison control center and locate activated charcoal, egg whites, or milk in case the medical advisor recommends administering one of them. [...] IMMEDIATELY transport victim to a hospital. If the victim is convulsing or unconscious, do not give anything by mouth, assure that the victim's airway is open and lay the victim on his/her side with the head lower than the body."  These strong warnings would indicate to me this ingredient has at least moderate toxicity.
    • According to this study, Ferric Ammonium Farrocyanide is known to be neurotoxic to humans.
    • Is considered an air pollutant by the EPA. (Source)

    Steph's Opinion

    This ingredient has been used and approved for cosmetic use since the 1970s.  In small doses (not much is needed to give color to a product) it is likely not harmful.  However, if one is striving to reduce their exposure to toxins as much as possible, this ingredient would be one to avoid. 

    Monday
    Apr042011

    Benzyl Benzoate

    Today's Chemical:

    Benzyl Benzoate

    EWG Risk Score:

    5

    What is it:

    Benzyl benzoate is a synthetic chemical used as a fragrance ingredient, artificial flavor, preservative, and solvent.  It is also considered an over the counter drug and can be used as a scabies or lice treatment.  It is an ester of benzyl alcohol and benzoic acid. 

    What are it's risks:

    • Benzyl benzoate has been found to posess weakly estrogenic properties and have weak stimulating action upon the growth of breast cancer cells in one study. However, this study found benzyl benzoate not to display this activity at the concentration tested. 
    • Listed as a suspected allergen by the EU Cosmetics Directive. (Source)
    • From Drugs.com, the side effects of medical-strength benzyl benzoate are:
      • Blister formation, crusting, itching, oozing, reddening, or scaling of skin
      • difficulty in urinating (dribbling)
      • jerking movements
      • sudden loss of consciousness
      • burning or itching of skin

             These side effects are usually only seen at high doses and concentrations, however, damaged skin or    impaired immune function may make certain individuals more suseptible to reactions. 

    Brands that use benzyl benzoate include: Jason, The Body Shop, Origins, Weleda, Dermalogica & Zia.

    Steph's Opinion:

    I would classify the estrogen-mimicking properties of benzyl benzoate as potential, but not confirmed.  As a person who seeks to avoid xenoestrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body) I, as a precautionary measure, avoid benzyl benzoate as well. 

    Tuesday
    Mar082011

    Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine

    Today's Chemical:

    Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine (aka, coco hydroxysulfaine).

    EWG Hazard Score:

    0

    What is it:

    Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine is similar to cocamidopropyl betaine. It is a synthetic detergent used also as a foam booster, thickener, and anti-static agent. 

    What are it's risks:

    Like cocamidopropyl betaine, it can be a strong skin allergen. (Source)

    Steph's Opinion:

    There is only ONE published study regarding the safety of this ingredient.  The MSDS sheet is also not made public. Although the database scores it as a 0, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's safe--it's just means that there is no data on the ingredient. So, while it doesn't have a history of being harmful, it also doesn't have a history of being safe.  If you have skin sensitivies, eczema, reactions, and such, I would personally suggest avoiding this ingredient. 

    Monday
    Feb282011

    Phenoxyethanol

    Today's Chemical:

    Phenoxyethanol

    EWG Risk Score:

    4

    What is it:

    Phenoxyethanol is an aromatic ether alcohol. What does this mean? This ingredient starts out as phenol, a toxic white crystalline powder that's created from benzene (a known carcinogen) and then is treated with ethylene oxide (also a known carcinogen) and an alkalai.

    What's its job as an ingredient:

    Phenoxyethanol is commonly used in the ingredient listed as "fragrance" and also used as a preservative.

    What Type of Products is it in:

    Sunscreen, facial products, scrubs, moisturizers, body wash, mascara

    Safety/Hazard Info:

    • This animal study found phenoxyethanol to be a reproductive toxin.  (Source)
    • This study found it to be the cause of contact dermatitis (skin allergen/irritant.)  (Source)
    • This review confirms phenoxyethanol as a reproductive toxin.  (Source)
    • This also confirms phenoxyethanol as an ovarian toxin not just for the original animal exposed to it, but shown to effect the development of its offspring.  (Source)
    • This study found it to be a significant contact allergen.  (Source)

    Steph's Opinion:

    Made out of carcinogenic and toxic compounds, phenoxyethanol is an ingredient that I would suggest avoiding. Oftentimes it's found in "natural" products. They'll use phenoxyethanol as the preservative and then tout that they're "paraben-free." In addition it's commonly used as a fragrance ingredient. Many of the natural companies still use synthetic fragrance. They'll tout that they're "phthalate-free" but still contain phenoxyethanol. So, just because something's "phlalate-free" or "paraben-free" doesn't mean it's safe. Any time you see "fragrance" listed, phenoxyethanol could be present, along with any number of harmful synthetic chemicals. Phenoxyethanol is structurally similar to parabens on a chemical level, so its toxicity to the reproductive system is not surprising.  

    Also note: some companies may claim that their phenoxyethanol is extracted from natural sources.  So, while this is better because it lessens the risk for ethylene oxide contamination, it is still the same chemical structurally, and would pose the same risks. 


    Friday
    Jan212011

    Sorbitan Olivate

    Today's Chemical:

    Sorbitan Olivate

    EWG Risk Score:

    0

    What is it:

    Sorbitan is a mild surfactant and emulsifier made from sorbitol and olive oil.

    What are its risks:

    Sorbitan olivate is a relativeley new chemical on the market, so there is not much published data on the ingredient.  According to MSDS sheets, however, it is over 90% biodegradeable, defined as non-toxic and non-irritant. 

    Steph's Opinion:

    I have worked with this ingredient before and it actually is a synthetic that I would consider to be safe.  I would consider this to be a better alternative to "vegetable emulsifying wax," which is full of ethoxylated compounds (you can read more about that here.)