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Stephanie's Chemical Database
Ever been bored in the shower and read all the ingredients on your shampoo? Wonder what all those chemicals really are?
I've started this database of chemicals so you can know what's in your products--and why you should avoid them. I'll be updating this database frequently with new chemicals. If you have a question about one of the products you're using, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I could choose your e-mail in an upcoming article or vlog! ___________________________________________________________________
Arginine (“Amino Acid”)
What it’s used for: Hair and skin conditioning ingredient
Avoid it because: One or more animal studies have shown brain and nervous system effects at very low doses, one or more study has shown the ingredient to show positive mutation effects (ie, it caused cancerous tumors), one or more studies have shown endocrine disruption, and studies have shown it to be a reproductive toxin.
What it’s made from: Various sources
Steph weighs in: Although arginine is a naturally-occurring amino acid found in healthy foods such as salmon and oatmeal, arginine extracted by itself can have detrimental effects. Why? Because in foods its used in balance with other amino acids that work with it for protein building and other positive benefits. But taken internally on its own, it’s a growth hormone releaser and affects the body’s levels of estrogen and testosterone. One can only imagine what it would do when placed directly on skin, going straight to the bloodstream.
What it’s used for: emulsifier, emollient, foam booster, stabilizer, thickener
Avoid it because: Possible eye, lung, and skin irritant
What it’s made from: The spermaceti of whales or dolphins. Can also be derived from coconut.
Steph weighs in: A long time ago I ordered a bucket of cetyl alcohol to experiment with. The warning labels were a bit off-putting. “Do not get in contact with skin” “Do not get in contact with eyes.” “Do not breathe dust.” So…a product that’s usually in lotions shouldn’t be in contact with skin??? Yes, it gets diluted, but wouldn’t you rather use a moisturizer that has ingredients you don’t have to worry about? I played around with it for a little bit. When it was heated it smelled absolutely horrendous. I was thinking “That can’t be good.”
Cyclopentasiloxane / Cyclomethicone
What it’s used for: Used in moisturizers, foundations and deodorants as a fragrance carrier and gives sprays and body mists a “dry” feeling.
Avoid it because: It has bioaccumulative properties. It is a polluting toxin in wildlife. Studies have shown it to be a skin irritant at moderate doses. It is a synthetic silicon based product. It will actually break down PVC based bottles, releasing toxins and possible carcinogens.
What it’s made from: Silicon
Steph weighs in: This is a cheap alternative to vegetable glycerin and other actually beneficial ingredients. I know of at least one lotion that’s marketed as “organic” that contains this chemical.
What it’s used for: Skin conditioning agent, anti-foaming agent, emollient
Avoid it because: This chemical has been restricted by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessments Board. It can not be used over a certain concentration for safety concerns. Because it’s a product made from silicone, it should be avoided. Researchers have investigated silicon materials/compounds in association with several different illnesses: lupus, scleroderma, A.D.D. and cancer. Some researchers speculate that silicon may be linked to allergies, fibrocysts and irritable bowel syndrome.
What it’s made from: It’s a synthetic chemical of the silicone family. They are created using petrochemically-derived methanol, a toxic alcohol. The processing of dimethicone can create environmental hazards such as hydrochloric acid.
Steph weighs in: See my article about silicone products here.
What it’s used for: Preservative
Avoid it because: A known skin and immune system toxin, at least one study has shown it to show “positive mutation effects.” In other words, it created cancer in studies, studies have shown endocrine disruption, brain and nervous system effects at high doses. Has also been shown to effect metabolism in high doses.
What it’s made from: Cannot be derived from a vegetable source. Either synthetically produced or extracted from animal urine or other bodily fluids.
Steph weighs in: Some of the big “organic” brands will put a big “paraben-free” label on their products, using Diazolidinyl Urea instead as their preservative. Nice.
Ethylhexylglycerin / Ethylhexylglycerine
What it’s used for: Deodorant agent, skin conditioning agent, preservative booster
Avoid it because: It is a known skin irritant, can possibly damage and irritate eyes, and is known to cause dermatitis.
What it’s made from: Derived from vegetable glycerin.
Steph weighs in: Don’t let the fact that it’s derived from vegetable glycerin fool you. So is propelyne glycol! (see below) Many of the "natural" and "organic" companies use this as an alternative to parabens as a preservative. No matter what their label claims, it is not a natural preservative.
What it’s used for: Antioxidant, skin bleaching agent, fragrance ingredient, hair dye
Avoid it because: It’s a known human immune system toxicant and a skin toxin. There are strict regulations on its use; any product with the ingredient has to be rinsed off immediately. There is strong evidence it’s a neurotoxin, an eye irritant, and a respiratory irritant, and a nervous system toxin. Three studies have suggested that it’s a possible carcinogen and it’s even been banned in some European countries. It’s a common component of weed killer and it is restricted in the EU because it is a fish and wildlife pollutant.
What it’s made from: Produced synthetically
Steph weighs in: Need I say more???
What it is: There are many kinds of PEGs. PEG stands for polyethylene glycol. It is a group of chemicals that can be used as thickeners, detergents, and surfactants. PEG is usually followed by a number (for instance, PEG-30). The number refers to its molecular weight. PEG-8000 actually holds promise as a preventative supplement against colorectal cancer. It’s not typically used in cosmetics, however. The most common PEGs range from a molecular weight of 10 to 300.
Avoid it because: PEGs have a number of side effects, depending on their molecular number. Common concerns include: reproductive disorders, carcinogen contamination, proven cancer risk, endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, and skin irritation.
What it’s made from: Produced synthetically
Steph weighs in: It's hard to say just one thing about PEGs because there are so many of them. Look out for them because many "natural" companies will list them as a "natural thickener" or "vegetable based." Don't believe them!
What it’s used for: Thickener, filler,
Avoid it because: It has just about every side effect: the risk of caner, reproductive toxicity, useage restrictions, allergies and immune system toxicity, skin and eye irritations, organ system toxicity, endocrine disruption, and neurotoxicity. It also is a penetration enhancer, meaning it penetrates skin cells, getting right into the bloodstream, carrying other chemicals with it.
What it’s made from: Derived from glycerin.
Steph weighs in: If you’re using a supposedly “natural” deodorant, the odds are it contains propelyne glycol. Many of the natural companies sell “paraben-free” and “aluminum-free” deodorants, but they still contain propelyne glycol because it’s a cheap ingredient that makes a clear and thick deodorant bar. The other day I was buying my dogs some treats—and one of the ingredients on the package I picked up was propelyne glycol! Nasty. I put those back on the shelf. Check out my article on glycols here.
What it's used for: An emulsifier, binding water and oil.
Avoid it because: It has been linked to cancer. An in-vitro test of rodents have proven mutagenic effects.
What it's made from: Derived form the sugar alcohol sorbitol.
Steph weighs in: I see this ingredients listed on "organic" products as "natural emulsifier" or "sugar emulsifier" all the time. Some companies that use sorbitan oleate are Kiss My Face, Jason Naturals, and Burt's Bees. The ingredients is more natural than say, a petroleum-based emulsifier, but it's still a synthetic ingredient no matter how you look at it. A synthetic ingredient that's been linked to cancer. I think I'll stay away from that one.
What it’s used for: emulsifier, emollient, foam booster, stabilizer, thickener
Avoid it because: A known eye and skin irritant. Has also been shown in more than one animal study to cause tumors in high doses.
What it’s made from: Can be animal-produced from sperm whale oil. Also can be produced from vegetable sources.
Chemical Derivaties: Stearamine Oxide, Stearyl Acetate, Stearyl Caprylate, Stearyl Citrate, Stearyldimethyl Amine, Stearyl Glycyrrhetinate, Stearyl Heptanoate, Stearyl Octanoate, Stearyl Stearate.
Steph weighs in: I was surprised (mildly) to find this possible cancer-causing ingredient is in many of the “organic” companies’ lotions.
What it’s used for: Emulsifier, thickener, stabilizer
Avoid it because: It has been shown to be a respiratory irritant at even low doses. Although it’s not recognized by the FDA as a carcinogen, one or more in vitro tests on mammalian cells show positive mutation results. In other words it caused cancer in these studies. Also has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor and skin irritant at low doses.
What it’s made from: Commonly made from coconut oil, it can also be made from the fat of cows and sheep and from dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters. Most often refers to a fatty substance taken from the stomachs of pigs.
Steph weighs in: This ingredient is commonly disguised as a “coconut fatty acid.” Although it is a naturally-occurring fatty acid, the processing methods used to extract it can contaminate it and alter its natural beneficial nature. If you’re looking for the benefits of stearic acid as a moisturizing agent, use virgin coconut oil instead. (Plus the fact that it could be rendered from euthanized dogs and cats just makes my heart break! It’s also a common ingredient in chewing gum---gross!)
Tocopheryl Acetate (Often listed as Vitamin E Acetate)
What it’s used for: Anti-oxidant agent, labeling appeal
Avoid it because: There is much evidence that it’s toxic on skin and other organs. The biggest concern is that it can be contaminated in the manufacturing process by hydroquinone, a highly toxic and carcinogenic chemical.
What it’s made from: Made by combining natural Vitamin E with acetic acid.
Steph weighs in: Companies will frequently use this ingredient to actually make the ingredients label look appealing. “Now with Vitamin E!” sounds great. This form of Vitamin E has a longer shelf life and it’s cheaper than natural Vitamin E so companies use it. What they’re not telling you is that it has risks for contamination and that it’s a skin irritant and toxin. Some companies even try to play this nasty chemical off as a “natural” ingredient.
What it's used for: A preservative in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, etc.
Avoid it because: See below.
What it's made from: Tetrasodium EDTA is created when you combine formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and sodium cyanide is a toxic chemical.
Steph weighs in: So many companies are using Tetrasodium EDTA as a preservative to replace parabems. Commonly, they'll list it as a "natural preservative" or a "food-grade preservative." Don't believe them!
What it’s used for: Surfactant, emulsifier, pH adjuster,
Avoid it because: It’s a known human immune system toxicant, there is strong evidence that it’s an immune and respiratory toxicant, a skin toxin, and there is some evidence to suggest that it’s a carcinogen. Has the potential to create nitrosamines, which are carcinogens. Causes severe irritation and burns on skin and in eyes.
What it’s made from: A product of the Dow chemical company, and is made by reacting three ethylene oxide molecules with each ammonia molecule.
Steph weighs in: Look it up in the wikipedia: it can be used in the manufacture of nitrogen mustards!