The ECO-nomist and staying so fresh and so clean clean

Image via Thinkstock
Image via Thinkstock

What ingredients to avoid in your everyday beauty and hygiene products

By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor

In the August issue of the Other Press, there was an article about a push to ban microbeads due to their being hazardous to the environment. Microbeads are those little bits of plastic found in various scrubs and soaps. Looking back on this, I began to wonder what other environmental disasters could be lurking in my medicine cabinet, and whether or not making sure my beauty and hygiene products were green would cost me more than just some extra label reading.

What I found was that everyday bathroom items—such as soap, lotion, hair dye, makeup remover, etc.—are some of the worst offenders when it comes to hiding environmental contaminates. Most of the time their labels read like something out of a science text book, so consumers don’t know whether an ingredient is hazardous or harmless. Instead of going the DIY route, and making all of my beauty products (oatmeal deodorant, anyone?), I decided to just google it, and compile a list of ingredients to avoid.

BHA and BHT are found mostly in moisturizers, including ones used in cosmetics like lipsticks. They can also be found in food, but that doesn’t make them safe. BHA has been identified as a potential carcinogen, and extended exposure of BHT has caused liver failure and problems with blood coagulation, among other things, in laboratory rats. What makes them problematic for the environment is that they tend to bioaccumulate in a lot of marine species, meaning that these two toxins build up in the bodies of fish, whales, seals, and other animals at a greater rate than they are expelled by the body naturally. This leads to chemical poisoning, which is fatal. BHA is listed in the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic as being a substance of concern, and the United Nations stated in an assessment that low levels of BHT were hazardous to aquatic species.

Phenylenediamine is used in dye, especially home hair dying kits, though salons are also guilty of having it around too. This particular kind of dye can be identified as a “P” followed by a five or six digit number listed on the ingredient box. I found this especially sneaky, considering the ingredient name doesn’t even have to be listed, just its colour call number. Though research into whether phenylenediamine is harmful to humans is inconclusive, what isn’t is its effect on the ocean. According to The European Union, phenylenediamine is highly toxic to aquatic organisms and can have long term detrimental effects on the ocean environment.

Sodium laureth sulfate, also known as SLES on some product labels, is a chemical agent used in soaps, shampoos, shower gels/lotions, toothpastes, and cleansers. Essentially, what it does is make them lather or foam up, which we have been taught to want in hygiene products. Depending on how the agent is handled, and how the product is processed, the sodium laureth sulfate could be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is potentially a human carcinogen. This frequent contamination also ensures that the product doesn’t degrade properly, meaning that the pollutants and toxins it contains remain in the water even after it has been filtered through a treatment facility. Needless to say, that’s pretty bad for the environment, and on top of all of that, the extra foaming action doesn’t actually help you get any cleaner—it’s all purely aesthetics!

There are many other ingredients to avoid, and you can find lists all over the Internet, but I found that these were the most common. Funnily enough, products that avoid these ingredients aren’t usually any more expensive than products that contain them. In fact, in some cases they’re even cheaper.

Companies looking to promote affordable, natural beauty and hygiene like Alba, St.Ives, and Tom’sdo exist, and these brands are available in most grocery stores. So the next time you’re in the market, maybe think about switching up your routine and checking out some environmentally friendly alternatives.