What is lurking in your soap and shampoo?

I must admit that I have basically ignored this aspect of living healthy. Sure I buy the Whole Foods 365 brand or other health food brands when they are on sale, but what I didn’t realize is that many of the personal care products that are stocked on the shelves of health food stores are nothing more than chemical soup. The more research I did, the more I was convinced that I could find some good products that I could use on my hair and body, and still be willing to go out in public. I am happy to say that not only did I find some, but after an adjustment period of some really bad hair days, my hair is healthier and softer than it has been in a long time.

So lets get down to business. What is lurking in these products that give cause for alarm? The following list is not all-inclusive, I am not a chemist, and have to rely on others for my research, so if you know of another super scary ingredient, feel free to share those with me.

The following are some of the dirty ingredients in your soap and shampoo; they range in concern from skin and eye irritant, to allergen, to hormone disruptor, to carcinogen, to even damage of vital organs:

Cocamide DEA or MEA; lauramide DEA or MEA; phthalates; cocoamidopropyl betaine; olefin sulfonate; PVP copolymer; methyl, propyl or butyl parabens; diazolidinyl urea; triclosan;

D&C colors; synthetic fragrance; sodium myeth sulfate; formaldehyde; propylene glycol; and sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate (SLS)

SLS has had a lot of press, so I will explain it in more detail. It is a surfactant widely used in shampoos, toothpaste, and soaps to give it a good lathering or foaming quality; and that includes most health store brands. Labeling regulations allow “derived from coconut oil” which makes one think it is very natural. But in reality it is drying to skin and hair, irritating to eyes, and can cause damage like cracking, inflammation, and allergic reactions. This damage to the skin can also allow other chemicals to penetrate deep into the skin and reach the bloodstream easier. But the even bigger problem is that it has the potential to become contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines when manufacturers add chemicals to make the product less irritating so it won’t cause the problems listed above. So although sodium lauryl sulfate is not a recognized carcinogen by itself, the chemical is frequently combined with TEA (triethanolamine), DEA (diethanolamine), or MEA (monnoethanolamine), which can produce the formation of the carcinogenic substances known as nitrosamines).

There are so many more chemicals…way too many to list. And some chemicals go by multiple names. And if you rush to your shampoo and soap bottles, you will probably see
many of these as well as many others on the ingredient list, as I did. So I set out to find the cleanest soaps and shampoos and test them on my family. These were my results. (I
wish I could say that I was being paid by these companies to promote them, but sadly I am not)

Any truly natural shampoo is going to irritate the eyes. A no-tear formula shampoo has simply added multiple chemicals to neutralize and offset the burning sensation to the eyes; this doesn’t make the chemicals safer. So when using any of these natural shampoos, keep it out of little eyes (and yours for that matter) because it will sting.

For my son, who has a buzz cut and is also the one I want to have the safest products, I was able to use the extremely pure products from Terressentials (clay based – no
detergents), as well as Burt’s Bees Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar and Tropical Traditions Shampoo Bar. I am thankful for these products because he also likes to sit in the bath water and play, and sometimes without me seeing, sip on the water. I finally feel comfortable that he is not poisoning himself. Although these are the best shampoos I have found, I am afraid they didn’t work so well for my hair and my daughter’s hair. I would definitely try them to see if they will work for you though.

So the next best option I found, and am very pleased with is Aubrey Organics Shampoos. The worst ingredient in this line of shampoos is hydrolyzed soy protein and carrageenan.

And although I wouldn’t eat these ingredients (although many people do), I feel okay with them on my scalp. With the natural shampoos, my daughter and I have found it necessary to use a conditioner, and Aubrey Organics conditioners are also very natural.

A few other brands are also worth mentioning. Although they contain a few skin irritants (cocamidopropyl betaine, olefin sulfonate) they are relatively clean and include Burt’s Bees liquid shampoos, Kiss My Face Organic Whenever Shampoo, and Desert Essence Organic Shampoos.

Your best bets are bar soaps. There are many brands that make a good clean bar soap. Check out Dr Bronner’s, Aubrey’s, Burt’s Bees, or check out local farmer’s markets, or do a
search on the Internet for natural soaps, just watch for added synthetic fragrances. For a shower gel try Dr. Bronner’s, these soaps are very pure and have very interesting reading material on the bottle. Aubrey Organics also makes an everyday herbal body soap gel.

If you are like me, you would prefer to have a pump dispenser of liquid hand soap at the sink. Liquid soaps are trickier when trying to avoid chemicals. Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps are excellent, and I use them as a shower gel, but they have clogged up every hand dispenser I have. Tropical Tradition’s foaming hand soaps are great, and they don’t clog up nearly as bad. They are pretty pricey, but if you check their website periodically they will put them on sale often, and their tea tree oil hand soap is nice to have by the kitchen and bathroom sinks for killing germs.

The next best thing I have found for liquid hand soaps with only one or two chemical skin irritants are once again Burt’s Bees and Kiss My Face Organic Foaming Hand Soap (it has
to be this part of their product line, many of their other products have multiple chemical problems).

Remember, if you try these products and you are highly sensitive, some of the essential oils used in the natural soaps might be irritating to your skin. If that is the case try unscented varieties.

Now that I am done reducing chemicals in family’s personal cleaning, I am working on other ways to lighten my home’s chemical load, and have found some great alternatives to chemical home cleaners. Stay tuned next month.

Keeping those pearly whites

Taking your child to the dentist can be overwhelming. Should we allow the x-ray? What about the fluoride treatment? Amalgam or composite filling? What is a safe toothpaste? The questions go on and on.

I will not claim to have all the answers, but I have done a lot of researching, and can at least offer some information I have learned that might help you when making those decisions.

Let’s start at the dentist’s office. After each topic I have offered my personal opinion if applicable. It is certainly not the “right” way to do it; instead it was just what I felt comfortable with. You get the pleasure of making that decision for yourself.

X-rays – The radiation that the body absorbs from an average dental x-ray is about 2 millirem (unit of measure for medical radiation). In comparison, the amount naturally absorbed on average by the body in our environment is 1 millirem per day. So, for instance, the two bitewing images they took of my daughters mouth on her last visit exposed her to 4 days worth of radiation concentrated in the tissues of the direct line of fire. What I could not find out was the impact of having that normal four-day amount of radiation concentrated in a few seconds in a specific area of the body. In my personal experience, I have allowed x-rays simply because it is an excellent tool for spotting problems before they occur, yet, I do not allow more than is absolutely necessary and have refrained from the full mouth series (multiple shots and angles) done on either of my children. In my opinion, the full mouth series was too much radiation for one little mouth on a given day.

Dental sealants – Sealants are plastic protective coverings, which are applied to the molars to help prevent cavities. Researchers in Spain have reported that sealants release an estrogenic compound, bisphenol A, into the mouth. If you remember my article about plastic, you remember that bisphenol A is used in many plastics, and is a known hormone disruptor. In all fairness, I should report that most U.S. research teams believe that American-made sealants do not leach detectable estrogenic compounds into the mouth, and are therefore safe for use in children. In my own experience, I have chosen to have sealants put on my daughter’s teeth, due to the fact that she has extremely deep grooved molars, just like I do, and no matter how well I brushed, I ended up with a few cavities.

Fillings (Amalgam or Composite) – This is one area where I have a very strong opinion. Composite fillings are the commonly used white fillings (sometimes called porcelain – but are really a special plastic). Although they can contain compounds like acrylate, aluminum, formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polyurethane, strontium, toluene, and xylene; they do not contain mercury. Amalgams (silver colored fillings), on the other hand, by definition of the word means mixed with mercury, and in my opinion are best never to be put in any person’s mouth!

Crowns – When damage is too extensive on a tooth to use a filling, a crown (or cap) is sometimes needed. Crowns can be ceramic, ceramic on stainless steel, or stainless steel. The least toxic is the ceramic, although it contains aluminum. The stainless steel crown contains a lot of nickel, which is a known carcinogen, and the ceramic on stainless steel, although much more aesthetically pleasing than the plain stainless steel and less expensive than the ceramic, is not a great option due to chipping and containing both the aluminum and nickel. This was a hard decision for me. When the tooth is a primary molar (as is usually the case in children), the decision becomes how long will it last? Since we were going to need at least eight years out of this crown and since dental work requires complete sedation for my son, we opted for the stainless steel crown, which should last until his tooth falls out in the teenage years.

Fluoride – In short, ingested fluoride does nothing to help teeth, and in fact is very dangerous to the body, actually causing problems like dental and skeletal fluorosis. See a much more detailed explanation as to the harm done by ingested fluoride at www.iamot.org. Read their “Policy Position on Ingested Fluoride and Fluoridation.”

Even more alarming to me, is the way fluoride is manufactured for use in water supplementation. Pollution control devices are used by the phosphate industry to collect fluoride gases produced in the production of commercial fertilizer. After being collected, the hydrofluorosilicic acid, which is classified as hazardous waste, is sold across the nation. Hydrofluorosilicic acid is added to municipal water supplies as the primary fluoride chemical for water fluoridation.

Topical applications of fluoride have been shown to strengthen teeth as long as it is not swallowed, although many would still question its usefulness versus its safety. I take care that my family only drinks non-fluoridated water and uses only fluoride-free toothpaste. Yet, I do believe in the benefit of some topical fluoride. I allow a fluoride treatment to be done on my daughter’s teeth with each 6-month cleaning, especially since she understands not to swallow, and allows it to all flow up the tube with the rinse water.

If you feel strongly about using fluoride topically, and your child understands not to swallow. You can get a fluoride topical gel from your dentist. You can simply apply a very small amount to your finger and rub it across the surface of the teeth, then rinse the mouth with water and spit it out. This will cut down on the possibility of ingesting since it is applied directly to the teeth, and is not used with every brushing.

Toothpaste – To me this is one of the most important aspects of safety in dental health. The chemical and metal byproducts found in regular store bought toothpaste are frightening. The idea that you are not to swallow it is laughable with any child under 5, and plain hysterical when it comes to a child with special needs.

The dyes, artificial sweeteners, and flavors are enough to make you run. But, then include other chemicals, and it is simply a toxic mess. For instance, triclosan is a chemical found in many types of toothpaste. Triclosan’s chemical formulation and molecular structure are quite similar to dioxins and PCBs, some of the most toxic chemicals on earth. Many warn that not enough testing has been done to know the full effect of this chemical. In the UK, some stores have pulled products containing triclosan off the store shelves due to the fact that it can react with water to produce chloroform gas. When breathed in substantial quantities, chloroform can cause depression, liver problems, and even cancer in some cases.

So then there are the “natural” toothpastes. But even natural toothpastes can contain fluoride and most contain sodium lauryl sulfate or a derivative of it (SLS is a trigger for canker sores in the mouth as well as a known carcinogen).

I was determined that I could make my own toothpaste and be better off, but soon realized that my homemade toothpaste would simply be too hard on tooth enamel. So I am happy to say that I finally found one that I feel comfortable with, even if my son swallows some. It is made by Burt’s Bees and comes in Lavender Mint and Cinna-Mint. It does not feel like regular toothpaste because without the sodium lauryl sulfate it doesn’t foam up. I have to say that I use this exclusively for my children, but switch off with a Tom’s toothpaste for myself, to get that foamy tooth-brushing feel (I know, old habits die hard). Since Burt’s Bees is not a whitening toothpaste, I have found that brushing my children’s teeth with a wet toothbrush dipped in some baking soda once weekly, eliminates any stains that may have built up over the week.