Eco-Beauty Cheat Sheet
by guest columnist Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, founder of
Want to go natural with your beauty products? Don’t
just settle for the word on a label. Because the personal
care industry is unregulated, the terms “natural,”
“organic” and “pure” are often
used to market products made with chemicals that can
be dangerous to your health. But who wants to spend
an afternoon reading ingredient lists filled with unpronounceable
words? Not me.
That’s why I created this Eco-Beauty Cheat Sheet.
If you find one of these chemicals on your label, just
say no and try to find a similar product made from more
Let’s start with the weirdly named 1,4-DIOXANE.
Although it’s classified as a human and animal
carcinogen by the EPA, this nasty byproduct of processing
harsh chemicals with ethylene oxide to make them less
harsh is prevalent on beauty shelves. Got sodium lauryl
sulfate? Ethyoxylate it and you get sodium laureth—the
“eth” indicates the process. Unfortunately
you also get 1,4-DIOXANE, most commonly found in things
that bubble. A better bubble can be found in products
made with coconut-derived COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE or
HYDROXYSULTAINE, or corn-derived DECYL GLUCOSIDE, safe
sudsors that can be found in shampoos, liquid soap,
baby soap and bubble baths.
DIETHYL PHTHALATE is a reproductive
toxin that can affect the development of children, yet
is so prevalent that repeated studies by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention found phthalates
in the urine of nearly every test subject. Unfortunately,
phthalates aren’t always included ingredient lists;
typically they’re referred to as “fragrance”
in perfume, hair spray and deodorant. Safer perfume
sources are ESSENTIAL OILS derived by chemical-free
steam distillation, cold-pressing or the labor-intensive
enfleurage method used with delicate jasmine or tuberose
flowers. Essential oils may not last as long as synthetic
perfumes, but they’re just as sexy and can be
repeatedly applied without giving you a chemical headache.
Plus, essential oils aren’t linked to infertility
like phthalates. Bonus!
PARABENS are a common preservative
found in most conventional beauty and personal care
products; the word is typically prefaced by “methyl-,”
“ethyl-” “propyl-” “butyl-”
and “isobutyl-.” Regardless of type, parabens
have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive disorders—luckily,
safer alternatives can be found in naturally occurring
substances like TOCOPHERYL ACETATE (vitamin E) and ABSORBIC
ACID (vitamin C), among others. These preservatives
keep products fresh for a reasonable amount of time,
rather than extending their shelf-life into decades.
Look for nail polishes that are free of DIBUTYL
PHTHALATE or DBP, a reproductive toxin that
is banned in Europe because of links to birth defects,
TOULUENE, which affects the central
nervous system and can cause headaches, and FORMALDEHYDE,
a known carcinogen that’s also responsible for
turning your nails yellow when you take off the polish.
If your favorite nail salon is still using toxic polish,
just remember to BYOB (bring your own bottle). And speaking
of formaldehyde, many common chemical preservatives
release the stuff over time, so also avoid the words
QUATERNIUM-15, DMDM HYDANTOIN, IMIDAZOLIDINYL
UREA and DIAZOLIDINYL UREA
on your labels. Better safe than sorry!
Finally, I’m still a little wary of products
that advertise NANOPARTICLES, NANOMATERIALS
or NANOTECHNOLOGY, popular especially
in sunscreens, where this new emerging technology has
allowed scientists to break down ingredients—like
zinc or titanium dioxide—into tiny particles.
How small? A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in
diameter. Problem is, these nanoparticles are so small
that they can penetrate cell walls, including organ
tissues. Researchers recently found that inhalation
of carbon nanotubes led to mesothelioma—the same
kind of cancer linked to asbestos. While the U.S. isn’t
still assessing the dangers of nanotechnology, the E.U.
is a step ahead in reviewing the risks of nanomaterials
in cosmetics, especially sunscreens.
“Green-eyed Girl” is PrettyCity’s
monthly guide to the latest beauty products and treatment
trends reflecting a consciousness for the environment
and personal health. If it’s organic, we know
about it; if it’s helping our environment while
keeping us looking and feeling our best, we love it.
And, you can rest assured we’ll tell you all about
it. Please contact
us with story ideas or product suggestions.
Lincoln Sarnoff is the founder and editor of www.ecostiletto.com,
the secret to smart and sexy living, where these and
other ingredients to watch are listed on The
Big List of Things That Suck. With eco-beauty updates,
exclusive celebrity scoop and monthly giveaways of $500
or more in sustainable shoes, it’s no wonder “Gossip
Girl” Kelly Rutherford said “EcoStiletto
is for the woman who wants to do the right thing and
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