Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Dr. Jody Breaks "Green Cleaners" Down In This Q&A!

Q. I’m trying to switch over to a new ‘greener’ household, including cleaning products, and personal hygiene products. It is not only a costly process, but an overwhelming one! Can you tell me what chemicals, or ingredients I have to avoid, versus ones that might be less harmful? 

A. First of all, let me just say, I know that all the information out there can be overwhelming, confusing and contradictory. It’s hard to know who to bad is all this ‘bad stuff’, anyway?

The truth of the matter is, some of it is pretty bad, while others are simply not ideal. The hard part is knowing which is which, so you can land somewhere in the middle. First, let’s talk about some of the undesirable effects that some of these products are having, then we can get in to a more specific list of certain ingredients to avoid, based on these actions.

If you have been doing a lot of reading on this topic lately, you are sure to have come across the terms “endocrine disruptor”. Basically, the endocrine system is the hormone system of your body; a system like most in the body, that thrives on balance. An endocrine disruptor is an agent that can cause an imbalance in one or more of our hormone levels. This may mean that it interferes with sex hormone (problems with sexual development, infertility (female) (male) or birth defect), has known detrimental effects on thyroid function (weight gain, hair loss, dry skin, insomnia, etc.), or may play a role in hormone related cancers (breast, ovarian, prostate). Most likely, it means a number of these systems all at once, as these levels are so dependent on each other. Endocrine disruptors have also been associated with the development of learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems.

Carcinogens are considered any chemical or substance that can cause cancer.

A common irritant or allergen is a substance that can cause severe eye, skin, and respiratory irritation and allergies. This is especially dangerous for individuals with asthma, or pre-existing skin conditions, such as eczema.

Commonly used ingredients you should try to avoid! (from

Benzalkonium chloride: Found in many household disinfectants and cleaning supplies, benzalkonium chloride is a major irritant and allergen. Regular use of products containing antimicrobials such as benzalkonium chloride could lead to development of resistant bacteria.

BHAButylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” It can cause skin de-pigmentation. In animal studies, BHA produces liver damage and causes stomach cancers such as papilloma and carcinoma and interferes with normal reproductive system development and thyroid hormone levels. The European Union considers it unsafe in fragrance. It is found in food, food packaging, and personal care products sold in the U.S.

Coal tar hair dyes and other coal tar ingredients (including Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine): Coal tar, a by-product of coal processing, is a known human carcinogen , according to the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Hair stylists and other professionals are exposed to these chemicals in hair dye almost daily. It is also found in many dandruff shampoos.

DMDM hydantoin & bronopol (2-Bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol): These are all cosmetics preservatives that decompose and release formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, as well as triggering allergic reactions.

Formaldehyde: A known carcinogen, also an asthmagen, neurotoxicant and developmental toxicant. Some hair straighteners are based on formaldehyde’s hair-stiffening action and release substantial amounts of the chemical.

Fragrance: Fragrances are in everything from shampoo to deodorant to lotion. Federal law doesn't require companies to list on product labels any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. Buy fragrance free.

Hydroquinone: A skin bleaching chemical that can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with blue-black lesions that in the worst cases become permanent black caviar-size bumps. The National Toxicology Program is conducting reproductive toxicity and dermal carcinogenicity studies of this chemical.

Methylisothiazolinone & Methylchloroisothiazolinone: These preservatives, commonly used together in personal care products, are among the most common irritants, sensitizers and causes of contact allergy. Animal studies show it may also be neurotoxic.

Oxybenzone: A sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber linked to irritation, sensitization and allergies. Higher maternal concentration of oxybenzone has been associated with decreased birth weight among newborn baby girls but with greater birth weight in newborn boys. It may also be an endocrine disruptor.

Parabens (Propyl, Isopropyl, Butyl, and Isobutylparabens): Parabens are estrogen-mimicking preservatives, found in some breast cancer tumors The CDC has detected parabens in virtually all Americans surveyed. According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, longer chain parabens like propyl and butyl paraben and their branched counterparts, isopropyl and isobutylparabens, may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders.

PEG/Ceteareth/Polyethylene Compounds: These synthetic chemicals are frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which the U.S. government considers a probable human carcinogen and which readily penetrates the skin.

Petroleum distillates: Petroleum-extracted cosmetics ingredients, commonly found in mascara. They may cause contact dermatitis and are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities.

Phthalates: A growing number of studies link this chemical to male reproductive system disorders. Pregnant women should avoid nail polish containing dibutyl phathalate. Everyone should avoid products with “fragrance” indicating a chemical mixture that may contain phthalates.

Resorcinol: Common ingredient in hair color and bleaching products; skin irritant, toxic to the immune system and frequent cause of hair dye allergy. In animal studies, resorcinol can disrupt normal thyroid function.

Retinyl palmitate and retinol (Vitamin A): Vitamin A is an essential nutrient, but excessive amounts can cause severe birth defects if women are exposed during pregnancy. New evidence shows that when applied to sun-exposed skin these compounds can break down and produce toxic free radicals that can damage DNA and cause skin cancer.

Toluene: This is a volatile petrochemical solvent, paint thinner and potent neurotoxicant that acts as an irritant, impairs breathing and causes nausea. A pregnant woman’s exposure to toluene vapours during pregnancy may impair fetal development. It has also been associated with toxicity to the immune system, and linked to malignant lymphoma.

Triclosan & Triclocarban: Antimicrobial pesticides in liquid soap (triclosan) or soap bars (triclocarban) are extremely toxic to the aquatic environment. Triclosan also disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones. Overuse may promote the development of bacterial resistance. Watch out, this stuff is in your toothpaste, too.

As overwhelming as this list may seem, it is by no means exhaustive (but a great place to start!)

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