Beauty wise

Here’s where consumer power really scores. Most of us like to look and feel good, so it’s no surprise the beauty market is surviving well in spite of the economic downturn. Well, we’re worth it…

Sales may be good, but it’s still pretty competitive out there. So what we choose to buy to put on our faces and bodies can make a huge difference to beauty product manufacturers. Never underestimate your  power.

Take animal testing, for example. You may remember how many people campaigned against animal testing for cosmetics, fuelled by pix of bunnies with weeping eyes. Cosmetic testing on animals is now banned in the UK. Unfortunately, as it still goes on in other countries, we still need to keep the banner flying and petitions flowing.

But even if the cruelty-free angle isn’t your thing, it’d be good to think about what actually goes into some of the products we buy. There are literally dozens of synthetic chemicals in our toothpastes, moisturisers, hair care, soaps and make-up (including such delights as antifreeze, lead and potential carcinogens…).

Naturally produced plant extracts are likely to be less hazardous, both for your own health and for the environment. But even then, you might want to keep your magnifying glass handy when you’re shopping.  Some of the so-called ‘natural-sounding’ ingredients also need monitoring – palm oil, for instance, is now leading to vast areas of rainforest being destroyed (see Vital links).

So what’s the answer? Buying organic and eco-friendly may be a start – to be sure look for Soil Association verification on products. Trust your supplier, read labels, buy local where you can and perhaps try making some of your own.

And keep us posted with your progress and tips. We’re all in this together – that’s what joined up living is all about.

Here are a few of the ingredients you might find on labels and what they actually mean…

Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate are found in soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and body washes. They’re proven skin irritants and while not carcinogenic in themselves, can cause chemical interaction with other ingredients.

Sodium fluoride is found in many toothpastes. Recent research from Harvard Medical school that shows fluoride was linked to bone cancer, in the 10-18 age group, especially boys.

Triclosan, also found in many toothpastes, can produce toxic dioxins when in contact with water. Recent research shows when triclosan is in contact with chlorinated water, it can release chloroform.

Formaldehyde is commonly found in shampoos, nail varnishes and moisturisers. It appears under around 40 different names, such as methyl aldehyde, and has been linked to leukaemia and lung cancer. It is banned in Sweden and Japan

Talc or talcum powder is in many female face powders, blushers and mascaras but is reported to have a similar formula to asbestos and should not be breathed in. It has been linked to ovarian cancer.

Propylene glycol, the sister product to commercial anti-freeze, is used in skin moisturisers, after-sun lotions, face creams and even baby wipes. Workers handling it in factories must use protective clothing and gloves because it burns the skin in high concentration!

Dark hair dyes often contain paraphenylene diamine and hydrogen peroxide, a chemical combination that can cause cancer in rats. They also contain ammonia, a basic toxin. A number of neck, head, bladder and kidney cancers have been linked to these dyes.

Nail varnishes and cleaners may contain xylene, formaldehyde and toluene, ingredients linked with liver damage, DNA damage, neurotoxins, and skin and respiratory irritation. Toulene can also affect the endocrine system.

Lipstick may contain isopropyl alcohol, which can damage DNA, and colourings can include titanium, zinc or aluminium – the latter being implicated in Alzheimer’s. Worse still, the occasional lipstick still uses lead. A woman who applies just two coats a day, across a lifetime, will ingest around 20kg lipstick!

Synthetic perfumes can contain more than 100 different ingredients, and several can be potent EDCs (endocrine disrupters), such as toluene. (Information supplied by Cancer Active


The Story Of Cosmetics with Annie Leonard
The Soil Association  0117 314 5000