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 Choosing Shampoos

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PostSubject: Choosing Shampoos   Sun Oct 26, 2008 12:04 am

Marianne Kapfer, a librarian in Washington, D.C., likes a natural look. She doesn't wear much makeup but loves to indulge in a good shampoo and conditioner. When she started reading labels more closely, however, "I realized that my 'natural' shampoo wasn't so natural," Marianne says. And that's not all. Due to labeling loopholes, many "natural" and "organic" personal-care products in the United States contain hazardous chemicals, some of which, at high exposures, have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, damage to nervous and reproductive systems and liver damage in lab animals.

According to "Skin Deep," a 2004 study and ranking of 7,500 cosmetic products published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 100 percent of shampoos tested contained ingredients that have not been assessed for safety by either the Cosmetic Industry Review panel (an industry body) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is charged with regulating cosmetic ingredients. Other hair-raising facts:

*69 percent of hair-dye products may pose cancer risks

*76 percent of conditioners contain ingredients that are allergens

*93 percent of shampoos possibly contain harmful impurities linked to cancer or other health problems.

"As an organization, we urge consumers to take action and reduce their exposure to industrial chemicals," says Timothy Kropp, Ph.D., a senior scientist in toxicology with the EWG. One simple way to do this: Read labels and choose hair-care products that are free of the following Top Four hazardous chemicals (for The Green Guide's full "Dirty Dozen" list, see Resources, below).

Top Four Ingredients to Avoid

1. Phthalates:

These chemicals get covered up on labels by the general term "fragrance," which the FDA permits to protect "trade secrets." But they're readily absorbed by our fingernails, skin and lungs. This July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported finding the metabolized forms of dibutyl phthalates, used in nail polish and synthetic fragrance, in every person tested in their national "body burden" study. Studies have found that phthalates can lead to liver cancer and birth defects in lab animals, and now research into the effects on humans is beginning to emerge.

For example, a study from the University of Minnesota, published in the May 2005 Environmental Health Perspectives, found a connection between phthalates and genital abnormalities in baby boys. Researchers measured the level of phthalates in the urine of 85 pregnant women and found that mothers with high levels of phthalates gave birth to boys with one or more developmental issues, including problems such as smaller penises and scrotums or less developed testicles. Although Dr. Christine Ternand, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Minnesota, said it was "premature" to instruct women to avoid these chemicals altogether, she added, "If I were pregnant or trying to get pregnant, I would reduce my exposure—and my fetus's exposure—to products containing phthalates."

To reduce exposures to phthalates, steer clear of shampoos and conditioners listing "fragrance" as an ingredient. Although some manufacturers have recently declared that they've removed phthalates from their products (see below), in the absence of specific labeling it remains unclear to what extent, and in which products, this is actually the case. Instead, choose products whose labels list only non-synthetic fragrancing ingredients, such as essential oils of lavender, mint or verbena. And before trying any new cosmetic product, do a touch-and-sniff test, since natural oils can cause irritation or allergic reactions in some people.

2. Parabens (methyl-, propyl-, ethyl- and butyl):

Some studies have shown that parabens mimic estrogen in rodents; the chemicals also have been shown to stimulate growth of human breast-cancer cells in the lab.

3. Coal Tar:

In 1993, the FDA issued a warning to consumers about coal tar being a possible cancer risk. Coal tar appears in many hair dyes and strong dandruff and psoriasis shampoos, but the FDA failed to ban it even though studies have linked it to cancer in lab animals. The EWG found that 71 hair-dye products contained ingredients derived from coal tar. John Masters of John Masters Organics, a New York City hair stylist for 30 years, says that he shuns the use of coal tars in his hair dyes for his own safety and the safety of his clients and staff. "The skin absorbs 70 percent of what we put on it. It's important that people know what they're applying and taking into their body," Masters says.

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
are found in some shampoos and conditioners and may cause hair loss and scalp irritation.
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