If you’ve wandered onto our blog here at Vermont Soap, chances are you’re a fan of natural products. So let us confirm: you’ve come to the right place. What’s more, we have a slew of products that contain zero of the toxic stuff you find in conventional soaps and body products. And when you’re out in the world, keep this list of five (out of hundreds!) chemicals to avoid when shopping.
Triclosan. Triclosan is, believe it or not, a pesticide. It’s added to soaps for its amazing ability to rid bacteria from your skin. The problem with this type of antibacterial power is that it contributes to our population’s mounting problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance basically means encouragement for bacteria to evolve in such a way that drugs, and other methods of preventing infections are no longer effective. In essence, it is the evolution of super bacteria. Beyond this issue, triclosan has also been linked to a myriad of serious health problems impacting the thyroid, endocrine system, skin irritations, and more. Luckily, many commercial body product manufacturers have reformulated their recipes to exclude triclosan, but it could still be out there, lurking on your grocer’s shelf.
Sodium lauryl sulfate. Sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS is an extremely common ingredient found in almost any body wash, soap or shampoo from a conventional producer. It’s added as a cheap detergent and surfactant, making it easy for you to lather your skin or hair which in turn gets you a better “clean”. This chemical is so effective, it’s even found in automotive cleaning products! SLS has been known to cause skin irritation (concentrated, it’s what clinicians use to irritate the skin in order to test a skin irritant cure) and is often contaminated with a byproduct of manufacturing: dioxane, which is a possible carcinogen and may cause problems with the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system. Though SLS is considered safe in concentrations less than 1%, the human body lacks the enzyme to properly break it down, meaning it can accumulate in your cells for years on end.
Parabens. Parabens are a commonly found ingredient in many moisturizers, shampoos, deodorants, and more. On the ingredient label, you’ll read them as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. They are used as a preservative to make sure that bottle of lotion you just bought stays good for a year or more. But because parabens are often found in skin products, they have easy access through your pores and into your blood stream. Multiple studies report that parabens mimic estrogen in the body, which can have long lasting effects. An excess of estrogen disrupts the body’s hormone system and can even increase the risk of breast cancer. Concentrations of parabens have been known to show up in cancerous tumors, especially tumors located in fatty tissue where these chemicals get concentrated. Additionally, as endocrine disruptors, parabens have the ability to cause early puberty in children.
Fragrance. An ambiguous word, right? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “fragrance” is the largest perpetrator of dermatitis. Though most assume the purpose of fragrance is to make you smell good, it may actually be added to, say, your body wash, in order to hide the smell of whatever chemicals are also included. And the word itself? The FDA actually exempts “fragrance” from being any more specific, meaning that synthetics, preservatives, or other skin irritants could be hiding beneath its surface. Though the word implies just one ingredient, it could be harboring hundreds. There aren’t many of known side affects (other than dermatitis) of fragrance, but this is most likely because nobody knows what’s really in it.
Polyethylene glycol. Better known as PEG, polyethylene glycol is a mixture of compounds and polymers derived from petroleum and is actually used to produce plastics. The number that generally follows it, i.e. PEG-8, PEG-100, indicates the molecular weight of the compound. The thick and sticky liquid can be used as an emulsifier or an emollient, and is particularly good at penetrating the skin. If your product contains additional dangerous chemicals in it, PEG will facilitate the absorption of them into your skin, and its surface tension-altering properties can mess with your natural moisture balance. What’s more, just as in SLS, PEG is often contaminated with other toxins such as highly toxic ethylene oxide and carcinogenic 1,4 dioxine.
Jillian Conner is a blogger and media specialist and a frequent contributor to VermontSoap.com