CHEMICAL GOOD LOOKS
BY Emily Yoffe, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, November 10, 1997, pp. 86, 91
Each day American women reach for shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, moisturizer, and dusting powder. We apply blusher, eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick, then maybe dab on a nail polish and perfume. We look good, we smell good, and we have just exposed ourselves to 200 different chemicals. As American consumers we have every confidence that someone in a lab coat in a big government building has checked out these substances. Right? Not exactly. "You know more about the ingredients in your dog’s collar than you know about the toxicity of whatever you’re putting on your skin.", argues David Wallinga, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. It turns out that cosmetics—a group of products that includes makeup, skin creams, hair-care products and dyes, baby lotions, and deodorants, on which Americans spend about $22 billion a year—comes to us almost un-examined by the Federal Government. And, as recent events on Capitol Hill indicate, the situation is not about to change.
To get a prescription or even an over-the-counter drug on the market, a manufacturer must first prove the drug’s safety and effectiveness to the Food and Drug Administration. The burden of proof rests on industry. That’s not the case for cosmetics, although the FDA regulates them, as well. Except for a handful of banned chemicals, manufacturers can add almost any ingredients to those revitalizing eye creams, vitamin-stuffed conditioners, and kiss-resistant lipsticks, and if questions about the safety of products arise, the burden is on the government to prove the product is unsafe. With a budget of about $5.5 million—less than one per cent of the FDA total—and around 30 employees, the cosmetics division is rarely up to that challenge, say critics.
The law governing cosmetics says that they may not contain "harmful substances". But how the tests for harmful or unsafe substances will be conducted is left up to the companies themselves. The FDA doesn’t accept standards for proper safety testing—and doesn’t require companies to do any testing at all. If the company does tests, the FDA has no authority to review the records. Companies test cosmetics for their tendency to cause allergic reactions and irritate skin (protests over using animals for these tests have led many companies to do them in test tubes and on human subjects). But as for possible long-term effects of exposure to cosmetic ingredients, says John Bailey, Director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, "those kind of issues are not addressed very well".
State muscle. This summer, the cosmetics industry almost won an even laxer regulatory set-up from Congress. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg introduced an amendment to the FDA reform bill that would have prohibited states from requiring warning labels on products containing suspect chemicals, or otherwise filling the vacuum in the federal rules. Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, with the support of the Clinton administration, managed to defeat the proposal. "The reason preserving the states’ ability to act is so important is that FDA’s regulation has been so weak.". Kennedy says.
Ironically, the law that created the modern FDA in 1938 is itself partly the product of public concern over cosmetics-caused injuries. An eyelash-dyeing product called Lash Lure was damaging the eyesight of many women, and after one woman died and another was blinded, Lash Lure became the first product seized under the new FDA authority. Since then, the rules governing the manufacture and distribution of foods and drugs have been endlessly revised. But the cosmetics rules haven’t been changed much, despite a revolution in the way scientists think about the skin.
In the 1930’s, skin was thought to be essentially an impermeable barrier, a more attractive version of armadillo plate. But since at least the 1960’s, it has been widely known that the barrier can be breached, partly as a result of demonstrations that some pesticides could enter the body through the skin. In the 1980’s, in particular, molecular biologists began piecing together a new understanding of the skin as a reactive, dynamic organ. This view led to the development of transdermal patches, which deliver drugs into the body through the skin.
Not all chemicals can pass through the skin, however. Many ingredients in cosmetic creams are designed to sit on the surface, helping to keep the skin moist by holding in water, says Jim Riviere, Director of the Cutaneous Pharmacology and Toxicology Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Many ingredients in these products, such as fatty acids, are identical to chemicals that occur naturally in the human body. "Most ingredients I’ve come across in cosmetics are fairly benign compounds.", Riviere says.
But there is a controversial class of chemicals in cosmetics that may be absorbed through the skin. These are the color additives, derived from petroleum, known as coal tars. Coal tar colors (they are also found in foods, like M&Ms) are the single group of ingredients in cosmetics required to be tested for safety.
In 1960, there were about 200 on the market. But because so many have been found to be carcinogenic, such as Red No. 2, which was banned in 1976, today the list of approved colors numbers about 45.
Hair dyes derived from coal tars are mostly exempt from federal rules. Women who use dark dye for many years might increase their risk of dying from cancer. The FDA’s Bailey says these remaining dyes have been so widely tested that he has "very high confidence that they’re safe". Not everyone is so sure. Dr. Andrew Weil, the natural health maven, advises avoiding the color additives whenever possible. "[Many] are energetic molecules that can interact with DNA, potentially causing mutations that lead to cancer", he writes.
There is an extraordinary loophole in the FDA regulations regarding testing and approval of colors. In 1938, the industry managed to win an exemption so that hair dyes derived from coal tars don’t have to meet the standard that products not be harmful under normal use. As the FDA’s own publication on hair dye points out, "Compounds suspected of causing cancer are found in temporary, semi permanent, and permanent dyes."
Bad hair daze. Does that mean hair dyes cause cancer in people who use them? The epidemiological studies are mostly reassuring. In 1994, a large survey found that dye users had a slightly lower rate of fatal cancers than women who didn’t color their hair. But there is one exception: Women who used dark hair dye for two decades or more had a four times greater risk of dying from two cancers of the immune system, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
The FDA itself is looking into Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), which are added to skin creams to help smooth out fine wrinkles. "We’ve demonstrated that the use of AHAs increases sensitivity to sunlight", says Bailey. He speculates that the chemicals may also make skin more susceptible to skin cancer and perversely to even more wrinkling from sun damage.
Of course the question arises, how much do we really want to know about the safety of our cosmetics? We face so many dangers in life, do we have to live in fear of our moisturizers, too? As an experiment, I cross-checked the ingredients in my Anti-Aging face cream with A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. Most seemed fairly harmless. Until I got to zinc sulfate, about which the dictionary noted that "injection under the skin of 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight caused tumors in rabbits." That’s when I began to wonder if the Anti-Aging moniker was a macabre joke. Is the idea that if I use it, I won’t live long enough to get my full complement of wrinkles? But I’ve already paid good money for it, and I’m still using it.
In 1978, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, did an analysis of how the laws should be changed to improve cosmetics safety. The office suggested reforms like establishing industry-wide standards for safety testing and reviewing data from countries that have banned particular ingredients to see whether similar actions should be taken here. Those are just the kinds of reforms industry critics are seeking today—and will be seeking for a long time to come.
Back to top
SAFE IN THE SHOWER? (The Unbelievable Story of Propylene Glycol)
Fasten your seat belts folks, you won’t believe what you are about to read:
Bob Folsom, a Field Hydrographer in the High Sierra Nevada mountains, has to work with propylene glycol on his job. Even though the PG is used in a solution of about 80% water, 20% PG and 1% mineral oil, there are rigid rules about how it must be disposed of, because it is considered so hazardous.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues "Material Safety Data Sheets" that must accompany all hazardous chemicals. The data sheet for propylene glycol warns of severe health consequences and reactions, because PG has systemic consequences such as brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities.
(1) If the solution makes contact with the skin, immediate action must be taken, and the incident should be reported to the supervisor.
(2) If the solution spills on the ground, it must be contained and the contaminated earth dug up and hauled to a toxic waste dump.
When Bob is finished using the solution, he is required to empty it into a 55-gallon drum labeled "Hazardous Waste." While doing so, he must wear rubber gloves, goggles, and protective clothing. When the barrel is full, it must be transported to a special collection site, and the driver of the truck is required to maintain a commercial driver’s license with a "hazardous material endorsement." Improper paperwork or mishandling of this toxic solution can result in severe fines and even imprisonment. It costs between $500-$1,000 to get rid of each 55-gallon drum.
Yet when Bob gets off work and goes home, he is free to shower with soaps and shampoos and then use a stick deodorant containing much higher concentrations of propylene glycol than the toxic solution he just shipped to the dump. If it was so hazardous at work, why is it "safe" at home?
Used as a solvent, propylene glycol is probably THE most common ingredient found in personal-care items, such as make-up, hair products, lotions, after-shave, deodorants, mouthwashes, and toothpaste. (Check the labels of your favorite products!!) It is also the active component in antifreeze; and there is no difference between what’s used in industry and what you apply to your skin! Industry uses it to break down protein and cellular structure (what the skin is made of); it’s so strong that it can take barnacles off the bottom of boats.
But because it is so inexpensive, it is widely used in very high concentrations in most personal care formulations—even ones from "natural food" stores.
You CAN choose healthful alternatives:
Dare To Care What Touches Your Skin And Hair
Back to top
ARE FOAM AND BUBBLES WORTH BAD HEALTH?
The Truth about Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Do you enjoy a shampoo with a rich lather? A shaving cream that really foams? How about relaxing in a tub full of bubbles? These may seem like some of life’s simple, innocent pleasures…until you look at WHAT is causing all that foam and lather. Once you find out, you may decide it’s not so simple or pleasurable after all.
Check the labels of your shampoo, soap, facial cleanser, shaving cream, body wash, or shower gel: Do you see either Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) listed? Or one of their cousins: Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Myreth Sulfate, etc.? Most manufacturers use these anionic detergents because they produce a lot of foam very inexpensively. But SLS is so strong that it’s also used to scrub garage floors. Worse, it has been proven to cause cancer in the long run. And the American College of Toxicology says SLS stays in the body up to five days. Other studies show it easily penetrates the skin and enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, the lungs, and the brain. Yet SLS is found in most cleansing, foaming products—even in some toothpastes! (Note: SLS may be disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the parenthetical explanation "comes from coconut." Let's save the coconut from defamation of character!)
One woman who examined labels found that all the shampoos she checked had SLS—even health food store brands. Many listed Sodium Laureth Sulfate as the first ingredient on the label, meaning it’s the single most prevalent ingredient. So this lady called one company to complain that their product contains a substance that will cause people to have cancer. Their response was, "Yeah, we knew about it, but there’s nothing we can do about it because we need that substance to produce foam."
Try contacting some manufacturers yourself: The typical responses might be:
(1) Denial: "It’s completely safe."
(2) Avoidance: "You'll have to talk to someone else" or "We can't talk
(3) Ignorance: "I've never heard about that."
Most people selling products with this and other harmful ingredients really just don't know. The FDA has a GRAS list (Generally Regarded As Safe), and almost everything is on there, so most people selling these products just focus on the marketing hype and what the product is supposed to do for skin (clean it, make it feel soft, etc.). Sadly, of the 7000 ingredients used on the skin, only 5-6 have been tested for LONG-TERM safety, and none have been tested TOGETHER. Currently, 125 are strongly suspected carcinogens, 20 cause adverse nervous system reactions, and 25 are connected to birth defects.
So why exactly is SLS so bad?
Here are what tests show about Sodium Lauryl Sulfate:
(1) SLS PENETRATES EYES AND TISSUES. Tests show that SLS can penetrate into the eyes as well as systemic tissues (brain, heart, liver, etc.) and shows long-term retention in those tissues. Especially when used in soaps and shampoos, there is an immediate concern relating to the penetration of SLS into the eyes and other tissues. This is especially important in infants, where considerable growth is occurring, because a much greater uptake occurs by tissues of younger eyes, and SLS changes the amounts of some proteins in cells from eye tissues. Tissues of young eyes may be more susceptible to alteration by SLS
(2) SLS FORMS NITRATES: When SLS is used in shampoos and cleansers containing nitrogen-based ingredients, it can form carcinogenic nitrates that can enter the blood stream in large numbers. They can cause eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, and allergic reactions.
(3) SLS PRODUCES NITROSAMINES (potent carcinogens that cause the body to absorb nitrates at higher levels than eating nitrate-contaminated food like hot dogs or lunch meat): Dr. David H. Fine, the chemist who uncovered NDELA contamination in cosmetics, estimates that a person would be applying 50 to 100 micrograms of nitrosamine to the skin each time he or she used a nitrosamine-contaminated cosmetic. By comparison, a person consuming sodium nitrate-preserved bacon is exposed to less than one microgram of nitrosamine. 
(4) SLS STRIPS MOISTURE AND OIL FROM THE SKIN. According to the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, SLS produced skin and hair damage, including cracking and severe inflammation of the derma-epidermal tissue. Skin layers may separate and inflame due to its protein-denaturing properties.
(5) SLS IRRITATES SCALP AND MAY PROMOTE HAIR LOSS
(6) SLS CAN DAMAGE DNA IN CELLS—according to Japanese studies.
SLS and all its cousins are very harsh detergents that strip the skin's moisture barrier (which is linked to immunity and skin health) and causes serious health problems during testing on animals. It is linked to harming children's eyes, denaturing protein (thereby possibly contributing to hair loss or thinning), and combines with DEA, MEA and TEA (often found in the same shampoo) to form nitrosamines, a potent carcinogen. Since it is only included in products because of its potent foaming action, the question you must consider is:
What’s more important: the foam or your health?
You CAN choose healthful alternatives:
Dare To Care What Touches Your Skin and Hair!
References for above information:
 Green, Dr. Keith. Detergent Penetration into Young and Adult Eyes. Department of Ophthalmology Medical College of GA, Augusta GA
 Hampton, Aubrey. Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. Organica Press Metarasso, or Hampton, Aubrey. Natural Organic Hair and Skin Care. Organica Press, Tampa FL
 Journal of Invest. Dermatology, 32-581, 1959 "Denaturation of Epidermal Keratin by Surface Active Agents"
Wright, Camille S. Shampoo Report. Images International, Inc. 1989
Vance, Judi. Beauty to Die For. Promotion Publishing, San Diego, CA 1998. Page 23.
Back to top
DO YOU USE THESE PRODUCTS
By David Steinman, Natural Health Magazine, September/October, 1997 pp. 54 - 56
"If so, you may want to rethink how much you use them. Studies point to their possible dangers."
"Ron Owens’ parents never imagined what would happen to their son after they sent him to summer camp in 1972. Ron was like every other teenager at this mountain camp in California: He swam, played sports, slept in a cabin with other campers. Unlike the other boys, though, Ron slept a few feet from a no-pest strip. Night after night, he was exposed to dichlorvos (DDVP), a toxic pesticide. Not long after camp ended, the boy died of a fatal blood disease—aplastic anemia—that the family’s attorneys argued was caused by the boy’s exposure to chemicals in the no-pest strip. (The manufacturer admitted no wrongdoing, but did give the Owens family a small settlement.) Today, twenty five years after Ron’s death, you can still buy no-pest strips containing the chemicals suspected of having caused the boy’s death.
As a consumer advocate who has investigated the safety of thousands of products over the past fifteen years, I’ve heard too many accounts of people, often children, felled by dangerous products. Every day we use products that we think are safe—we assume the product has been tested and any dangerous ingredients labeled. The truth is, products are not always safe and manufacturers don’t have to tell us so. (The warning statement on the no-pest strip makes no mention of these health risks: bone marrow damage and aplastic anemia, as reported in 1980 in Clinical Research; immune system suppression, as determined by the World Health Organization in 1986; and cancer and birth defects, as reported by Shirley A. Briggs and the Rachel Carson Council in Basic Guide to Pesticides [Hemisphere, 1992].)
Cosmetic products are notorious. Hair dyes with suspected cancer-causing ingredients are not required to carry warning labels. Products often list fragrances, which can contain up to 600 different compounds, many carcinogenic or otherwise toxic, but the label only says they contain a "fragrance". And while cosmetic makers are required to list ingredients, they are not required to conduct pre-market safety tests.
"Even if the [Food and Drug Administration] suspects that serious adverse health effects are caused by a cosmetic product, they can’t require the manufacturer to provide test data to prove the product safety", says Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.
It should be said that products with even very toxic ingredients are not likely to kill you—or even cause illness—with one-time or short-term use. But when so many different products on the market contain toxic ingredients, come claim that they may endanger the health of immunologically vulnerable people who use them regularly. If you or your children frequently use such products, the risks climb. Guarding yourself is simple: the less you breathe, eat, or absorb a toxic chemical, the less chance there is that it can harm your health. I recommend that people act on the side of safety and simply not use—or radically reduce their use of—products whose ingredients are proven to be dangerous, or even suspected of being dangerous based on the available research.
In 1995, with the help of consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Samuel Epstein, M.D., the coauthor of my book The Safe Shopper’s Bible (Macmillan, 1995), I compiled a list of those products that I personally choose to avoid or use sparingly.
Personal Hygiene Products
1. CREST toothpaste lists saccharin and FD&C Blue No. 1 on its label. A clear-cut bladder carcinogen in animal studies (with some evidence from human studies), saccharin has been rated carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for a decade. (Cancer warnings for saccharin are required on artificial sweeteners.) Children and adults absorb the saccharin by swallowing or through the tissue in their mouths. FD&C Blue No. 1 has also caused tumors in experimental animals. Crest should not be singled out. Many other brands, including Colgate, also contain these two toxic substances.
2. The main ingredient in JOHNSON’S BABY POWDER is talc. In 1982, Daniel Cramer, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist, found that women who used talc for feminine hygiene had a three-fold increase in their risk of ovarian cancer. Additional reports in Lancet (1979), Cancer (1982), and Obstetrics & Gynecology (1992) confirm the risk associated with frequent and prolonged use of talcum powder in the genital area. In 1994 the Cancer Prevention Coalition in Chicago petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require a label warning on this product. The FDA has not acted on this matter.
3. ORTHO WEED-B-GON LAWN WEED KILLER contains 2,4-D Agricultural studies by National Cancer Institute (NCI) researchers strongly link exposure to this chemical with high cancer rates. Another NCI study found that dogs whose owners use 2,4-D weed killers have higher rates of cancer.
4. LYSOL DISINFECTANT SPRAY may contain ortho-phenylphenol. This germ killer is carcinogenic, according to both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and IARC. Lyson’s manufacturer stopped using this ingredient in 1995, but I still see cans of Lysol containing ortho-phenylphenol on store shelves. Be sure to read the label when buying this product. The older formula of Lysol, which does contain this chemical, is particularly troubling because as a spray it can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.
5. BONNE BELL GRAPE LIP SMACKER FLAVORED LIP GLOSS, which is marketed to teenagers, contains saccharin and FD&C Blue No. 1 (both of which are discussed on page 56). Although this product is not directly ingested, these ingredients can be absorbed through the skin on the lips, or through the mucous membrane in the mouth. This lip gloss also contains fragrances and propylene glycol, two of the leading causes of contact dermatitis, an allergic skin reaction.
6. COVER GIRL REPLENISHING NATURAL FINISH MAKE-UP contains several potentially toxic ingredients, but no warnings. The first is butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which is carcinogenic, according to IARC. The second, triethanolamine, which keeps the makeup moist, can combine with nitrite contaminants to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. An FDA report done in 1988 found 30 percent of cosmetic products contained these carcinogens. A third ingredient, lanolin, is perfectly safe by itself; however, it may be contaminated with pesticides. According to a 1993 report from the National Research Council, some 16 pesticides were identified in lanolin; diazinon [sic], a neurotoxin, was found in 21 of 25 samples.
7. CLAIROL NICE ‘N EASY hair dye contains par-phenylenediamine, a dye that was recently shown to induce breast cancer in animals. It also contains quaternium 15, a preservative that often causes allergic reactions. One-fifth of cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among women are linked to hair-dye use. Indeed, more than a dozen studies link hair dyes with cancer, yet the FDA requires no warning of this hazard on product labels. Clairol is not the only hair dye to pose these risks. Many other brands, including L’Oreal, and Revlon, contain similar chemicals.
8. GRECIAN FORMULA for men contains lead acetate. Lead damages the nervous, circulatory, and reproductive systems. And this particular form of lead can penetrate skin. Recently, researchers at Xavier University found that large amounts of lead are left on the fingers of adults and children who rub their hands through the hair of men using lead-based anti-gray products. The FDA has suggested it will "study" the situation, according to a February 5, 1997 Associated Press report. While they do that, Karen Filkins, M.D., director of reproductive genetics at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, says, "Avoid products that could contain lead, especially if you are pregnant. And prevent exposure to young children".
9. ZODIAC CAT & DOG FLEA COLLAR contains propoxur. This chemical is a carcinogen, according to a 1989 report done by researchers at Cornell University, University of California, and Michigan and Oregon State Universities. It may also cause learning disabilities, according to Basic Guide to Pesticides.
David Steinman, a former representative of the public interest at the National Academy of Sciences, is co-author of the forthcoming Breast Cancer Prevention Program (Macmillan, 1997). He is author of Diet for a Poisoned Planet (Ballantine, 1992), and co-author of The Safe Shopper’s Bible (Macmillan, 1995) and Living Healthy in a Toxic World (Perigee, 1996)."
Back to top
by M. Angela McGehee, Ph.D., Biology and Marine Sciences
Triclosan, a chemical used for its antibacterial properties, is an ingredient in many detergents, dish-washing liquids, soaps, deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, antimicrobial creams, at least one brand of toothpaste, and an additive in various plastics and textiles. However, the safety of triclosan has been questioned in regard to environmental and human health. While the companies that manufacture products containing this chemical claim that it is safe, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered it as a pesticide. The chemical formulation and molecular structure of this compound are similar to some of the most toxic chemicals on earth, relating it to dioxins and PCBs. The EPA gives triclosan high scores both as a human health risk and as an environmental risk.
Triclosan is a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals which is suspected of causing cancer in humans. Externally, phenol can cause a variety of skin irritations, but since it can temporarily deactivate sensory nerve endings, contact with it may cause little or no pain. Taken internally, even in small amounts, phenol can lead to cold sweats, circulatory collapse, convulsions, coma and death. Additionally, chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides can be stored in body fat, sometimes accumulating to toxic levels. Long term exposure to repeated use of many pesticide products can damage the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs, suppress the immune system, and cause hormonal disruption, paralysis, sterility and brain hemorrhages.
Dioxins, PCBs, chlorophenols and many pesticides are categorized as persistent organic pollutants. In other words, they persist in the environment and accumulate to higher and higher concentrations with each step up the food chain. Virtually, every creature on earth has a measured amount of these pollutants in its body fat. Once absorbed into the fat cells, it is nearly impossible to eliminate these compounds. Triclosan is among this class of chemicals, and humans are among the animals at the top of the food chain. The health risks are considerable.
Employing a strong antibiotic agent such as triclosan for everyday use is of questionable value. Many antimicrobial treatments are toxic and take a shotgun approach to killing all microscopic organisms to which they are applied. However, this approach includes the risk of toxicity to host organisms, that is, the plants or animals (including humans) exposed to treatment for microbial infections. Toxic exposure to living creatures can also occur when food items and objects such as utensils or hard surfaces are treated with disinfectants for microbial contamination. Additionally, the shotgun approach destroys the beneficial bacteria which occur naturally in the environment and in our bodies. These so-called friendly bacteria cause no harm and often produce beneficial effects such as aiding metabolism and inhibiting the invasion of harmful pathogens. Antimicrobials and disinfectants can also cause genetic mutations resulting in drug-resistant bacterial and mutant viruses, producing new strains of harmful microbes for which the human immune system has no defense.
Triclosan has not been completely tested and analyzed for all health and environmental risks, but since it occurs in the category of the chemicals which are known to have the detrimental effects described here, do you want it added to products you use every day?
Back to top
COMMON DISINFECTANT COULD BREED SUPERBUGS
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent, Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
It sounds like a good idea -- put a germ-killing disinfectant in toothpaste and soap to keep kids and adults safe from infection -- right? Wrong, Boston-based microbiologist Laura McMurry and colleagues at the Tufts University School of Medicine say.
McMurry said triclosan, a disinfectant widely used in products as diverse as kitchen sponges, soap, fabrics and plastics, is capable of forcing the emergence of ``superbugs'' that it cannot kill. And experiments have shown that it may not be the all-out germ-killer scientists once thought it was. Changing just one gene in the E. coli bacterium allowed it to resist triclosan's effects, McMurry said in a telephone interview. ``We were able to get resistance by simply changing an amino acid in the target.''
Triclosan is used so widely because it is what is known as a nonspecific biocide -- it kills all microbes. Like bleach and alcohol it was believed to interrupt so many cell processes there was no way any organism could develop resistance to it. ``It was just kind of thought it dissolved the membranes. If it does, then you are probably not going to get resistance. You would have to have a totally different membrane that would be resistant,'' McMurry said.
Most drugs used as antibiotics work on just a single process. For instance, penicillin stops many bacteria from building a strong cell wall by acting against one component, known as a mucopeptide. But this specific action means many bacteria, including the very common staphylococcus, can resist penicillin. That is why new generations of antibiotics have had to be developed.
MORE USE MEANS MORE CHANCE OF RESISTANCE The more a drug is used, the more chances bacteria have to evolve resistance. Unless all the bacteria in an infection are killed, the ones that survive exposure to a drug will be those that resist it in some way, while the weaker ones die first. Thus, a species of bacteria can evolve resistance, especially if this happens over and over again. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming a bigger and bigger problem. They range from penicillin-resistant gonorrhea to super-strains of staphylococcus that cannot be killed by vancomycin, the strongest antibiotic available.
For this reason, doctors are now being warned to cut back on frequent prescriptions of antibiotics except for people who really need them, and patients are being reminded to take their full course of drugs to make sure no resistant bacteria survive to breed more resistant bacteria. But no one had thought this evolutionary process was a problem with triclosan because it was thought to kill all bacteria. Then McMurry and her colleagues put this to the test, breeding bacteria that had various genetic mutations to see if they would resist triclosan. Writing in the most recent edition of the journal Nature, they said they had found one. It was a gene called fab1, which is involved in the creation of fatty acids in cells. McMurry said this could mean that bacteria could evolve resistance to triclosan, but she stressed that there is no evidence so far that this has happened in nature.
DAILY USE OF TRICLOSAN MAY BE UNWISE ‘We did find those triclosan-resistant mutants in the lab; we have not looked for them out in the real world. But the point is not that we've proved that it's really happened out there in the real world but that there is the potential.''
Considering this, she said, using triclosan daily in the home -- in products ranging from children's soaps to toothpaste to ``germ-free'' cutting boards -- may be unwise. "As I understand it, washing hands with soap, the goal of it is to wash off the bacteria. I think that unless it's in a setting where you are in a hospital or you are in a home with a really sick person, I think it is overkill,'' she said. "That's my suspicion. It's putting a chemical in there that I'm not sure is necessary.''
McMurry has not tested her mutant bacteria to see if they would resist triclosan in a real-life setting. "The amounts of triclosan employed in many of the hand soaps are quite high,'' she said. "I can't say with those high amounts that even my mutant would survive.'' But there is more than one way to fight off a drug. Sometimes bacteria evolve their own resistance, but they also have a habit of meeting and exchanging genes with one another. This means resistance to triclosan could be acquired, and not simply evolved.
Back to top
"The glossy images we're fed by the media hide a dangerous secret: Most of our toiletries, even the "natural variety", are made from the same harsh chemicals used for industry".
(What Doctors Don't Tell You Vol 10 No7 10/99)
What could be more healthy than a refreshing body wash, a nourishing shampoo, a minty fresh toothpaste and a moisturizing facial cream? Commercials, magazine advertisements and billboards bombard us with the message that soaping and scrubbing, exfoliating and moisturizing are only beneficial to our health.
Yet the glossy images of well scrubbed individuals hide a dangerous secret:
Too many of the toiletries and cosmetics we use are carcinogenic cocktails of hazardous waste. Most of the chemicals which go into our toiletries are no different from the harsh toxic chemicals used in industry. Far from enhancing health they pose a daily threat to it. For example, propylene glycol (PG) is a wetting agent and solvent used in make up, hair care products, deodorants and after shave. Its also the main ingredient in antifreeze and brake fluid. Similarly, polyethylene glycol (PEG), a related agent found in most skin cleansers, is a caustic used to dissolve grease... the same substance you find in oven cleaners. Isopropyl, an alcohol used in hair rinses, hand lotions and fragrances, is also a solvent found in shellac.
What to watch out for
When selecting kinder cosmetics and toiletries, choose products which do not have any of the following ingredients.
DEA, MEA, TEA, Cause allergic reactions, irritate the eyes and dry the hair and skin. Can be carcinogenic, especially to the kidneys and liver.
Petrolatum, also known as mineral oil jelly, liquid vaseline, paraffinum, liquidum and baby oil. Can cause photosensitivity and strips the natural oils from the skin causing chapping and dryness, also premature ageing. Prevents elimination of toxins, can cause acne and other disorders.
Imidazolidinyl urea and DMDM hydantoin. These formaldehyde-forming preservatives can cause joint pain, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pain, chronic fatigue, dizziness, insomnia and asthma. can also weaken the immune system and even cause cancer. Found in skin body and hair products, antiperspirants and nail polish.
Alcohol, or isopropyl. A poisonous solvent and denaturant (altering the structure of other chemicals). Found in hair colour rinses, body rubs, hand lotions, after shave lotions, fragrances. Can cause nausea, vomiting headaches, flushing, depression. Also, dries skin and hair, creates cracks and fissures in the skin which encourage bacterial growth.
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) Found in shampoos, hair conditioners, toothpaste, body washes. Strong detergent which can cause eye irritation, permanent damage to the
eyes, especially in children, skin rashes, hair loss, flaking skin and mouth ulceration. When combined with other ingredients, can form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. Easily penetrates the skin and can lodge itself in the heart, lungs, liver and brain.
PVP/VA copolymer, a petroleum based ingredient used in hair sprays.
Padimate-O also known as octyl dimethyl, PABA is found mostly in sunscreens. Like DEA, a nitrosamine-forming agent. There is concern that the energy absorbed by this sunscreen is then turned into free radicals, which may actually increase the risk of skin cancer!
Methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl paraben, used to extend a products shelf life and inhibit microbial growth. Highly toxic. Can cause rashes and other allergic reactions.
Synthetic colours: coal-tar dyes are generally labelled as FD7C or D4C followed by a number. CARCINOGENIC!
Talc, found in baby powders, face powders and body powders as well as on some contraceptives such as condoms. A known carcinogen. A major cause of ovarian cancer when used in the genital area. Can also lodge in the lungs, causing respiratory disorders.
Fragrance. Usually petroleum based. Can cause headaches, dizziness, rashes, respiratory problems vomiting, skin irritation and multiple chemical sensitivity
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) used in toothpastes, shampoos and just about every personal cleansing solution, is a harsh detergent commonly used as an engine degreaser. Each of these ingredients readily penetrates the skin with potentially adverse consequences (see previous box)
Some of the most dangerous chemicals we put on our bodies in the name of beauty belong to a family of hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are water soluble ammonia derivatives.
DEA (diethanolamine), TEA (Triethanolamine) are almost always in products that foam: bubble bath, body washes, shampoos, soaps and facial cleansers. They are used to thicken, wet, alkalise and clean. While they are irritating to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract (Rev Environ Contam Toxicol, 1997; 149: 1-86) DEA, MEA and TEA are not considered particularly toxic in themselves. However once added to the product these chemicals readily react with any nitrites present to form potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines, such as NDEA (N-nitrosodiethanolamine). Of the three, MEA and DEA pose the greatest risk to human health. Prolonged exposure to these can alter liver and kidney function (J Am Coll Toxicol, 1983; 2: 183- 235) and even lead to cancer (Rev Environ Contam Toxicol, 1997; 149: 1-86).
Nitrites get into personal care products in several ways. They can be added as anticorrosive agents, they can be released as a result of the degradation of other chemicals, specifically 2-nitro-1,3-propanediol (BNDP), or they can be present as contaminants in raw materials. Ingredients such as formaldehyde or formaldehyde-forming chemicals, or 2-bromo-2-nitropropane (also known as Bronopol) which can break down into formaldehyde.... can also produce nitrosamines.
The long shelf life of most toiletries also increases the risk of creating a carcinogenic reaction. Stored for a long time at elevated temperatures, nitrates will continue to form in a product, accelerated by the presence of other chemicals, such as formaldehyde, paraformaldehyde, thiocyanate, nitrophenols and certain metal salts (Science, 1973; 182: 1245-6; J Nat Cancer Inst, 1977; 58:409;Nature, 1977; 266: 657-8; Fd Cosmet Toxicol, 1983; 21: 607-14)
Inadequate and confusing labelling means that consumers may never know which products are most likely to be contaminated. However, in a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report, approximately 42% of all cosmetics were contaminated with NDEA, with shampoos having the highest concentrations (National Toxicology Program, Seventh Annual Report on Carcinogens, Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, 1994).
In Europe, where more safeguards are in place regarding nitrosating agents, the picture is somewhat better. For instance, in Germany, after the Federal Health Office issued a request to eliminate all secondary amines (such as DEA) from cosmetics in 1987 a report confirmed that only 15 per cent of products tested were contaminated with NDEA (Eisenbrand, G, et al in O'neill, IK, et al [Eds}; N-Nitrosoalknolamines in cosmetics, Lyon: IARC, 1991).
Manufactures insist that DEA and its relatives are "safe" in products designed for brief or discontinuous use or those which wash off. However there is evidence from both human and animal studies that NDEA can be quickly absorbed through the skin (J Nat Cancer Inst, 1981; 66: 125-7; Toxicol Lett, 1979; 4: 217-22).
This argument also doesn't explain why these chemicals crop up regularly in body lotions and facial moisturisers, which are of course meant to stay on the skin for long periods of time.
As far back as 1978, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that "Although no epidemiological data were available, nitrosodiethanolamine should be regarded for practical purposes, as if it were carcinogenic to humans" (IRAC, 1978; 17: 77-82). This position was reaffirmed nearly 10 years later.
DYEING or DYING????? Back to top
If you use permanent or semi-permanent hair colours You are increasing your risk of developing cancer.
Both animal and human studies show that the body rapidly absorbs chemicals in permanent and semi-permanent dyes through the skin during the more than 30 minutes that dyes remain on the scalp.
In the late 1970s, several studies found links between the use of hair dyes and breast cancers. A 1976 study reported that 87 of 100 breast cancer patients had been long-term dye users (NY State J Med, 1976; 76: 394-6).
In 1979, a US study found a significant relationship between frequency and duration of hair dye use and breast cancer (J Nat Cancer Inst, 1979; 62: 277-83). Those at greatest risk were 50 to 79 year olds, suggesting that cancer takes years to develop.
Women who started dyeing their hair at age 20 had twice the risk of those who'd started at 40.
Another study found women who dye their hair to change its colour, rather than masking greyness, were at a threefold risk (J Nat Cancer Inst, 1980; 64: 64: 23-8).
More recently, a jointly funded American Cancer Society and FDA study admitted a fourfold increase in relatively uncommon cancers, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma in hair-dye users (J Nat Cancer Inst, 1994; 215-310).
The darker the shades of permanent and semi-permanent dyes, the higher the risks of breast cancer; women who use black, dark brown or red dyes are at the greatest risk!
In America in 1994, the National Toxicology Program similarly concluded in its Seventh Annual Report on Carcinogens that: "There is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of N-nitrodiethanolamine in experimental animals." The report noted that of more than 44 different species in which NDEA compounds have been tested all have been susceptible (Lijinsky, W, Chemistry and Biology of N-Nitroso Comaounds, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
Humans were unlikely to be the single exception said the paper.
The cosmetics industry's response to the problems of nitrosamine formation has been to put even more chemicals in their products in an attempt to slow or inhibit the formation of NDEA. These include ascorbic acid, sodium bisulfite, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), sodium ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate and a-tocopherol. None has proved adequate to prevent nitrosamine formation (Cosmetics & Toiletries, 1994; 109: 53)
In 1996, the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrance Association (Cosmetic Ingredient Review, Washington DC; 1996 CIR Compendium) stated: "These chemicals [Cocamide DEA, Lauramide DEA, Linoleamide DEA, and Oleamide DEA] should not be used as ingredients in cosmetic products containing nitrosating agents."
Nevertheless DEA, TEA and MRA continue to be widely used in a staggering variety of toiletries and cosmetics.
Back to top