Watch Out for Toxins in Your Personal Care Products

While it goes without saying that we do not want our children breathing polluted air, drinking contaminated water, eating foods sprayed with harmful pesticides or playing with toxic toys, most of us are unaware of dangers posed by chemicals contained in our own personal care products. Most consumers do not understand what the continual use of these products has on our own overall health.

Here's a reality check... the average consumer can use more than two dozen personal care products containing hundreds of chemical ingredients each day.Most of these lotions and potions are filled with unregulated, toxic chemicals. These constant small exposures have a much bigger impact on your health and our environment than you might imagine.

I know it's hard to imagine that your favorite makeup, perfume, and personal care products could also be a threat to your health. But walk into any nail and hair salon and take a deep breath and think about what is entering your lungs and what is being applied to your body. As scientists search for the cause of diseases and chronic illness, a pattern continues to emerge. In a growing number of studies, researchers are beginning to link the adverse effects caused by many of the same chemicals found in commonly used personal care products.

Phthalates (dibutyl phthalate, or DBP), for example, are used as a plastisizor to make children's toys soft and pliable. It is also a hormone disruptor. For over 20 years, scientists have known that phthalates could interfere with reproduction and cause birth defects in animal studies.
In a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives (2000), high levels of phthalates were found in 68 percent of blood samples from young girls who began to develop breasts prematurely (before age eight). In another study, published in 2005, researchers found males exposed to phthalates, while in the womb, had an increased risk of impaired testicular function and other genital abnormalities.

Recognizing the potential health risks associated with phthalates, the European Union banned DBP use in cosmetics in 2004. In this country, Congress approved a nationwide ban on phthalates from products used by children under the age of 12. Retail giants Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us and Target announced that they will no longer sell children's products that contain phthalates starting this month. Both decisions are scheduled to begin this month.

While these responsible policies will go a long way towards reducing phthalate exposure in young children, the same dangerous chemical can still be found in many cosmetics, nail polishes, shampoos, hair sprays, body lotions and fragrances even though manufacturers often fail to disclose this information on the label. Because of this omission of information, millions of pregnant women and women of childbearing age could be unknowingly exposing their babies to this very dangerous chemical through a variety of personal care products.

The use of parabens and aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants have been a health concern for years. Parabens, widely used as preservatives, can accumulate in the body and mimic estrogen in the body's cells. In 2004, a study found parabens in 18 of 20 tissue samples from human breast tumors.

Aluminum, a known neurotoxin, can also cause estrogen-like changes in the body. Used in antiperspirants, only a small amount is applied to the skin. However as in most daily use personal care products, daily use results in persistent low-dose exposure. Some scientists suspect the aluminum can bind to estrogen, potentially damaging cell DNA, triggering abnormal growth, which may also increase the risk of developing breast cancer. In another study, researchers suggest the use of antiperspirants containing aluminum can increase the risk of Alzheimer's by 60%.

It's not only your own personal health at stake. Each time you shower or cleanse your face, you're sending all the ingredients in your shampoo and soap down the drain, and recycling these chemicals back into the environment.
Right now you must be thinking, it's just impossible and too complicated to avoid all of these toxic exposures by making wholesale changes to your personal care routine and too time consuming to figure out what products are truly safe.

Realistically, it is impossible to avoid all toxic chemical exposure and I'm not suggesting you throw out every product in your bathroom cabinet and replace them with expensive alternatives. I also wouldn't suggest you settle for a shampoo that doesn't clean your hair or shaving gel that clogs your razors just because it's "natural."

In the same way you can promote better health by making small simple changes to your diet, choosing one or two reduced or chemical-free personal care products, like yourlipstick and deodorant. This will also help reduce the amount of damaging toxins entering your body. Just like the foods we purchase, there are cleaner, safer alternatives.

By Diedre Imus

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