More and more people are becoming concerned about the dangers of harsh chemicals and synthetic additives, especially in things that they apply to their skin. For this reason, there is a growing range of sulfate, paraben, and phthalate-free beauty products on the market today.
Why Avoid Sulfates?
Sulfates, such as sodium laureth sulfate, are an anionic surfactant which is added to a lot of soaps, shampoos, and even toothpaste to help them foam and make them more effective as cleaners. However, sulfates can be harmful to your hair and your body. They can weaken the follicles on your skin, and lead to brittle, dull looking hair. Some people also find that sulfates make their scalp itch and that inflammation can be a serious problem. If you dye your hair, then sulfate-containing shampoos could make the dye fade more quickly.
Using a sulfate-free shampoo will help to avoid those problems. People who have sensitive skin will find that sulfate-free shampoos are effective at preventing irritation and that if their scalp was sore and inflamed that problem will subside when the scalp is no longer being exposed to irritants on a daily basis.
Using sulfate-free shampoo can help to improve the moisture retention in your hair, and this can lead to more vibrant, healthy looking hair that looks fresh and healthy, and that holds its style for longer.
Your hair follicles produce natural oils that can help to keep your hair moist and make it stronger and healthier looking. Sulfates wash out those oils, which makes the hair dry out more quickly, and makes it more likely to break. When you wash your hair with more natural products, you are less likely to have to worry about that sort of problem. In addition, because you are not exposing your skin to the chemicals, you do not have to worry about them being absorbed through the skin.
Why Avoid Parabens?
Parabens have been added to products since the 1950s as a way to prevent bacteria growing in cosmetics. They are an effective preservative, and they are generally thought to be safe at least until recently there was little evidence of them posing a health risk - while other, newer products are more problematic because they have less of a track record.
There are several different types of paraben. The most well-known are butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. These are all commonly found in creams, lipsticks, shampoos and lotions.
In the 1990s, concerns arose that parabens could be xenoestrogens. This means that they mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and that they could cause reproductive issues, and even increase a person's risk of breast cancer if they are used in large quantities. This has caused some countries to push for limits in terms of the amount of parabens that can be added to cosmetics. There is now some concern that parabens could build up over time in the body, and that there could be a risk of ill effects from cumulative exposure, even if those exposures were just small amounts at a time.
The studies that raised this concern, however, were questionable, and this means that not all countries - or cosmetic makers - agree that parabens can increase your risk of cancer. However, even if the risk is controversial the fact that some people consider it to be present makes it worthwhile to pay attention to what you are putting on your body.
If you are concerned about minimizing your risk of exposure to parabens, then you might want to limit the products you use that contain them. For example, body lotion is something that you apply to a large area of your skin, so why not make sure that the body lotion you use is paraben-free. Pay attention to where parabens are on the list of ingredients, too. Ingredients are listed in amount order, so if parabens are in the first few ingredients then this means that there is a lot of them in the product. Conversely, if it is one of the last ingredients in the list you can be confident that you are seeing lower exposure. Note that the FDA and the WHO both consider parabens safe - at low concentrations. The jury is still out on the effects of heavy exposure, however.
Why Avoid Phthalates?
Phthalates are a class of chemicals which are used as a lubricant in cosmetic products and are also used to make plastics more flexible. There are several different chemicals that can be considered to be phthalates, however, cosmetic makers do not list them by name - they simply say that they contain 'phthalates'.
These chemicals were thought to be safe for a long time, but in recent years it has been found that they can act as endocrine disruptors - increasing the risk of birth defects, causing premature breast development in young girls and reducing masculine behavior in young boys. Reducing the amount of exposure that young children have to phthalates, and reducing the exposure that pregnant women have to phthalates can help to prevent these problems.
Choosing all-natural cosmetics will help to avoid not just these issues, but also other long-term issues. We are only now discovering the potentially harmful effects of chemicals that we have been using for 60 years.
Natural products may not stay fresh for as long, and may need to be purchased in smaller quantities, but they are kinder to your body.
- American Academy of Dermatology: Getting past the hype: Dermatologist untangles common hair care misconceptions
- Examiner.com: Sulfate free, is it really beneficial?
- NY Times: Sulfate-Free Products Have Some in a Lather
- Parabens: Safe Cosmetics
Image Credit: (1) NY Times, and (2) Fooducate.com