Picture by Forty Two. | flickr.com

Formaldehyde, dioxins, and endocrine disruptors sound like things most people would intentionally stay away from- so why are they so prevalent in our environment, water sources, and even in our own bodies?

Next time you put on deodorant or wash your hair, take a look at the label and see if you know what a third of those words mean. It’s likely that you’ll see ingredients called “sodium laureth sulfate” or “cyclotetrasiloxane,” which have no meaning to anyone who’s not a chemist by profession. Sodium laureth sulfate is an ingredient used to make shower gel, shampoo, and other foamy products. During its processing, sodium laureth sulfate tends to pick up a little chemical called 1,4-dioxane: a compound that barely biodegrades and is noted as a potential carcinogen. Cyclotetrasiloxane and other “siloxanes” are non-biodegradable toxins and known endocrine disruptors with the capability to bioaccumulate in marine organisms and potentially cause human infertility.

I have only listed only two of the David Suzuki Foundation’s “Dirty Dozen” ingredients- a cluster of chemicals in cosmetics found to either have negative environmental and human health impacts, or pose potential marine ecosystem and human health threats. Many of these chemicals have completely unknown consequences, but all of them are immediate human or marine toxins, allergens, and reproductive disruptors, or they have the ability to react with common compounds that form other potentially carcinogenic chemicals and dioxins.

Despite some unknown consequences of using these chemicals and the pessimistic predictions concerning their release into the environment, cosmetics remain hugely popular. Canadian regulations seem minimal, since cosmetic manufacturers aren’t even required to label many of the chemicals they use. Formaldehyde is one carcinogen on Canada’s list of disallowed cosmetic ingredients (in other words, concentrations at or below 0.2% are considered acceptable in our cosmetics). My question to you is - why are we allowing any carcinogens in our cosmetics?

Perhaps you’ll tell me not to be scared of these “unknown” consequences of cosmetics - they may be nothing, or concentrations of toxins may be so low that they don’t affect us. But are these potential carcinogens and endocrine disruptors even necessary? Why are we taking chances?

Showering used to sound like a fun, citrus-smelling way to get clean. Now I just feel like I’m contributing to a cancerous cesspool of diluted toxic waste. So what can we do to change that? Use all-natural cosmetics and cleansers - although it may not seem like an easy task, it is good place to start. 

Turns out, a relatively popular alternative method of hair care uses only two ingredients: sodium bicarbonate and acetic acid- that’s right, baking soda and vinegar. Secret recipes can be found all over the internet: simply adding a handful of baking soda to a container of warm water apparently serves as a deep-cleaning shampoo leaving no sticky product behind. A spoonful of vinegar mixed with warm water works as an excellent replacement for your 3-in-1 extra-volume conditioner for hair-that’s-never-good-enough-for-marketers.

In September, just to see if it worked, I decided to try the vinegar approach, and to be honest, it worked better than any conditioner I’ve ever used.  There are tons of nontoxic alternatives to shower gels, soaps, hair care products, and cosmetics, so why do we continually rub creamy health risks all over our bodies?

AuthorTeri Lubianetzky