Do You Read Your Labels? (Part 1)

Hi Friends, Happy Friday!

The post today isn’t a very happy one though. It is serious! And scary. So many cases of cancer and other serious diseases, among my social group as well as celebrities these days, make me wonder sometimes! Was it always like this or has it increased – the frequency of us hearing about these ?

We, as a society, have become increasingly aware of what we eat…we worry about clean eating, some turned vegan, some eat organic only…it’s high time we start reading the labels on our everyday skincare, haircare and other cosmetic products too. For what? For parabens, sulpates (commonly also referred as SLS, SLES and ALS), and even artificial fragrance!

Like we don’t want pesticides and lots of preservatives in our food items, we don’t want these in our personal care products. If you have noticed, a lot of personal care and cosmetic companies now even run ad campaigns and market their products as parabens and sulfates free.

I am sure you have heard about parabens and sulfates…the labels proclaiming various products free from these, are everywhere, more than ever and you also probably heard these are bad for us. But, do you know why?

I first became aware of these supposed carcinogens (i.e. cancer-inducing) in various products when I read a case study, a few years back, of a company that is a Global Leader in babycare. After it faced many litigations, the company finally agreed to remove parabens from its baby line in 2015. The company is currently in the process of revamping its product lines and is trying to catch up on lost global market-share!

As a consumer, I was so disgusted with the brand when I read about it…carcinogens in babycare of all! I vowed never to use their products for my little ones and threw whatever products I bought or received as gifts! Yes sir! Straight to the dustbin!

After that, I have always bought baby-products which are free from these carcinogens and though a little (or lot more) expensive, I found them much safer and worth the expense!

Of all things, baby care!!

Since that day, I have also found many brands which are free from parabens and sulfates etc and they are good and as effective. I really don’t see any need to go for products which are cancer-inducing even if they use permissible concentration of these carcinogens. Even if they are considered safe or just a ‘moderate hazard’. Thank you.

One thing I have realized while reading and researching in general – that the companies and their marketing teams are not always truthful about their claims.

I have not yet found a brand (in India) in toothpastes that is free from these carcinogens…except for one single variant of a toothpaste brand. Going to switch to this one now. Not even the herbal ones are free from these. My search is on! If you found one available in India, do share!

The Reactions World-wide: To mention only a few

EU has banned usage of five parabens in cosmetics and restricted Triclosan. In this amendment, it has also altered the safe limits to much lower concentration. Read more here, if you want:

The David Suzuki Foundation includes parabens on their Dirty Dozen list and the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption lists parabens as Category 1 priority substances based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function. Health Canada is currently conducting an assessment of parabens in all uses, which will be published as a draft in Summer 2019. Can’t wait for it! Holland & Barrett, the U.K.’s largest nationwide chain of health food shops (with just under 550 stores), recently announced a ban on products containing parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

Why? What are these?

First introduced in 1950s, parabens are man-made chemicals that have been used in thousands of personal care and beauty products as well as pharmaceuticals, food and beverages – since ages to increase their shelf life and they act as preservatives for products like deodorants, lipsticks, shampoos, mascaras, sunscreens and what not! In simple terms, they stop bacteria, fungus and other microbes growing in these products.

Sulfates are cleaning and foaming agents and are mostly found in toothpaste, soaps, shampoos, body washes etc. These are linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption in many studies.

Are They Harmful?

There is a big fat chance, yes! Studies have shown that parabens mimic the activity of hormone estrogen and disrupts our body’s hormone system. Our body does not break down synthetic estrogen well and it can get accumulated in fat cells including breast tissues. Parabens have been found in breast tumours.

The reason parabens are used so widely is that they are cheap and effective. So far, they are allowed by FDA and similar agencies as they have found no evidence that within permissible limits these are proven health hazards.

Sulfates have been found to have a negative effect on body’s cell membranes and leave residue in our lungs, brain, heart etc if not properly rinsed off. In shampoos, they might cause scalp irritation and dryness to sensitive skinned people as it is.

Is It Time To Panic?

Not yet, as many regulators including USFDA and other similar International (including Indian) regulatory bodies that these are safe to use as the percentage of preservative in a formulation is generally very small.

But then these are mostly studied in isolation. What about the cumulative effects of these…from multiple products…after many, many years of usage?

I would rather be safe than sorry, to be honest! There are better and safer alternatives available so I do have a choice.

Are Sulfate-free Products Necessarily Any Better?

  • Sulfates are really good cleaning agents!
  • Also, just because a product claims to be sulphate-free, its not automatically better.
  • Just because a company says its products are sulfates-free, doesn’t mean that they don’t contain another alternative chemical in them which is a substitute for sulfates but equally bad!

How To Know If Your Product Is Sulfate Free?

If your shampoo lathers, it has sulfates. I have recently started using a shampoo which does not lather at all. I found it difficult initially and it takes more than usual quantity to get my hair cleaned with it but, my hair are lot softer and easier to manage now. Will do a product-review soon after a few more washes!

Sulfates can be easily identified if you read the label for ingredients. Sulfates are listed pretty high up on the list.

How To Identify Parabens?

Parabens are a little trickier. However, look for paraben in the ingredient name e.g. methylparaben (E number E218), ethylparaben (E214), propylparaben (E216), butylparaben and heptylparaben (E209)—they can also be listed as Alkyl parahydroxy benzoates.

How To Stay Safe

  • Look for “paraben-free” tag/label on the products. There are many alternatives available today which are paraben, phthalates and sulfates free. Lot of renowned brands and companies are also making their products free from these harmful substances. India is still lacking as of today as our allowances are more liberal and less stringent, not just in personal care products but almost everywhere, sigh!
  • Look for products that use fruit or vegetable-based cleansing ingredients
  • Watch out for products containing methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and other ingredients ending in -paraben.
  • Also, use everything in moderation. Sometimes, there are no alternatives easily available. As I said earlier, I have been looking at a paraben-free toothpaste in India and I have only found one so far! Not even the herbal ones are parabens free ☹
  • Rinse well. I’ll be making sure to rinse off such products properly as well as using them in moderation. Everything is best to use in moderation, anyways!
  • Try to keep it simple if you can. Limit the no. of products you use. Try switching products. Try DIY products. Whatever works for you!
  • In general, never take marketing and adverts at face value. With so much information available, it’s easy to educate ourselves on the label content of our personal care and beauty products at least.

The debate between scientist, government regulatory bodies world-side and the manufacturing companies is heating up. Many companies are re-vamping their product line-up and reducing the usage of these carcinogens and many government bodies are also re-assessing their parameters.

Till then, I would err on the side of caution! What about you? One product at a time!

Hope you liked today’s post and found it useful! Share with me your thoughts and feedback. And favorite parabens and sufates free products too.

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Till next Friday, XOXO

6 thoughts on “Do You Read Your Labels? (Part 1)”

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  2. Hi,
    First of all sorry for late reply as I was at a place with bad internet connection! After that in the worry of my kids’ books and uniforms it just slipped my mind!
    This is an amazing post! I shall definitely be more careful in the future regarding this! Or at least try to be!?
    It is scary that here we don’t have much options and even if we do, mostly they’re pretty expensive! It becomes particularly difficult because of this! People prefer to buy things which are cheaper!

    1. Yeah Suman! We can do as much as we can! Hope your trip was good.

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