People have been using chlorine bleach to clean their homes and clothing since the 1950s. For many, the smell of bleach is the smell of clean. But is it really clean? Today we’re discussing why you shouldn’t clean with bleach.
New research conducted on over 9,000 European children, ages 6–12, found that this popular cleaning solution was actually associated with a higher chance of illness. Children from bleach-using households were found to have 20% greater incidence of influenza, a 35% increase in tonsillitis and 18% increase in general infections.
The poison can also be absorbed through the skin, causing pain, inflammation and blisters.
Why you shouldn’t clean with bleach
Bleach might not even be as effective a cleaner as some think. Most people don’t know that it loses its effectiveness over time and when exposed to heat, light and oxygen. Even if stored undiluted in a cool, dark place, it only has a shelf life of about six months. A bleach solution loses its disinfecting power after one day.
Bleach can be a useful cleaning agent. You need a fresh, potent bleach solution (about one part bleach to nine parts water). Spray it on and leave it in contact with the surface you’re cleaning for 30 seconds to 10 minutes to kill all the bacteria. If you have small children you know 10 minutes is plenty of time for the worst to happen. Children are curious and get into everything. They’re fascinated with whatever the grownups are doing (especially when they’ve been told not to touch).
Be careful when cleaning with bleach, even if you’re not mixing cleaning solutions. For example, don’t use a bleach-based product to clean your cat’s litter box. It can mix with ammonia from the cat’s urine and give off toxic fumes. Other cleaners can be just as powerful and deodorising, without the risk.
Safe alternatives to bleach
Luckily, there are non-toxic cleaning options. Rubbing alcohol will kill germs, and hydrogen peroxide can be used to disinfect household surfaces, too. Baking soda and white vinegar are cheap, non toxic and easy to use. Use essential oils to add nice smells and an extra antibacterial kick.
If you’re not a do-it-yourself type, Hello Charlie stocks a full range of safer cleaning products for your household, for laundry, dishes, floors and surface cleaning.
Abode is an Australian brand with an extensive natural cleaning range.
Ecostore is a New Zealand brand that has a full range of natural cleaning products and personal care products. If you’re looking for a product that will whiten clothes, check out their Laundry Soaker & Stain Remover.
Ecover is a Belgian brand with a full range of cleaning products. I love their Stain Remover – it’s so popular we have trouble keeping it in stock!
Organic Clean is an Australian brand that is ACO certified organic, with a small range that will still cover your household cleaning.
This is the next instalment in our ongoing series about chemicals often found in home and personal care products. Here, we make an assessment of ingredients so you can make informed choices about the products you buy.
Today, we’re looking at titanium dioxide.
You’ve probably come across titanium dioxide in sunscreen or in cosmetics. But did you know that this chemical is also in foods like doughnuts and in things like paint and rubber? Some studies suggest that titanium dioxide (TiO2) can cause cancer, while others say it’s perfectly safe. So should you avoid it? Let’s find out.
What is titanium dioxide?
Titanium dioxide is the naturally occurring oxide of titanium. It’s a white powder that’s widely used as a whitening agent, UV filter, and thickener in many consumer products. Because it’s naturally bright and reflective, it’s added to paints, plastics, toothpastes, cosmetics and paper to give them a cleaner colour.
TiO2 is also a common food additive. It makes white foods like powdered sugar, salad dressing, lollies, chewing gum, biscuits, and dairy products even whiter.
Because it protects skin from both UVA and UVB radiation, titanium dioxide has been used in sunscreens for decades. And because it’s less irritating than UV absorbing chemicals like oxybenzone, it’s often the active ingredient in sunscreens for babies and those with sensitive skin.
The problem with titanium dioxide in sunscreen is that it can leave white streaks, which isn’t a good look. The solution to this was creating titanium dioxide in nanoparticle form. When it’s an ultra fine powder, titanium dioxide doesn’t leave a white cast on skin. So people were more likely to use sunscreen before heading outdoors.
What’s the problem with titanium dioxide?
Titanium dioxide may be safe to use on skin, but titanium dioxide nanoparticles are another matter entirely. Because they’re so tiny (smaller than 100 nanometers), there are concerns that these particles could penetrate the deeper layers of skin and end up in the bloodstream, posing potential health risks.
Some studies have found that nanoparticles can have toxic effects on our organs, especially the brain. There’s also evidence that nanoparticles can interfere with our immune system, cause DNA damage, and lead to some cancers.
In cosmetics and sunscreen
Fortunately, studies indicate that most titanium dioxide nanoparticles are too big to sink past the uppermost layers of human skin. The problem with nano sized titanium dioxide seems to be when it’s inhaled or ingested.
There is evidence that titanium dioxide nanoparticles can be inhaled by some mammals, possibly even humans, and that ultra fine particles are more toxic than larger particles. Nano sized titanium dioxide can irritate the lining of the lungs and may cause enough injury to trigger a cancer-like response.
Titanium dioxide is commonly used in the food industry, appearing in products like pasta sauce, lemon curd, cheese, ice cream, and yoghurt.
Sweets, lollies, and chewing gum have the highest levels of nano sized titanium dioxide, which means that children get the highest exposure levels to this chemical. Data also suggests that these ultra fine particles can cross the intestinal barrier and spread to other organs.
In 2017, a study by researchers at France’s National Institute of Agricultural Research found that absorption of nanoscale titanium dioxide can cause immune system disorders, intestinal inflammation, and cancer formation. Though the study was on rats, it showed that it only takes small amounts of TiO2 nanoparticles to induce colon cancer and other health problems.
This has led to concerns that the effect on humans may be similar. Since the study’s publication, many have asked for a ban on the use of titanium dioxide in food and medicine.
Some companies have already taken it upon themselves to ensure that their products don’t contain titanium dioxide. Back in 2015, Dunkin Donuts removed TiO2 from its powdered doughnuts and So Delicious took it out of their dairy free coffee creamers.
What the experts say about titanium dioxide
Since 1966, the US Food and Drug Administration has listed titanium dioxide as a safe food additive, provided it doesn’t make up more than 1% of the food product. It also labeled titanium dioxide safe to use as a colour additive in drugs, medical devices, and cosmetics, including those for the eye area.
The FDA allows titanium dioxide in over the counter sunscreen drug products at concentrations no higher than 25%.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified titanium dioxide as a Group 2B carcinogen or “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2006. The finding was based on a couple of studies. One showed that animals that inhaled high concentrations of the chemical developed lung tumours. Another showed a “slightly increased” risk for lung cancer among titanium dioxide production workers.
In 2014, the EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety concluded that nano sized titanium dioxide is safe for use in cosmetics in concentrations up to 25%. This does not apply to titanium dioxide nanoparticles in products that might lead to inhalation exposure (like sprays and powders).
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration noted that the “vast majority” of studies show that titanium dioxide nanoparticles don’t penetrate skin or reach the bloodstream. In a 2017 report, the TGA said that based on current knowledge, “the minor risks potentially associated with NPs in sunscreens are vastly outweighed by the benefits that NP-containing sunscreens afford against skin damage and, importantly, skin cancer.”
Titanium dioxide has an Environmental Working Group hazard rating of 1-3. The EWG notes that the chemical “appears to have low skin penetration but inhalation is a concern.”
Since 2011, ECOCERT no longer certifies cosmetic products containing nano titanium dioxide.
COSMOS recognises titanium dioxide nanoparticles as acceptable UV filters as long as certain conditions are met.
Is nanoscale titanium dioxide safe?
There’s still not enough evidence to say if titanium dioxide nanoparticles actually pose health risks to humans. What we do know is that (a) they’re in a lot of products, and that (b) we don’t have a clear idea as to how long term exposure affects us.
In cosmetics and sunscreen
Studies have found that nanoscale titanium dioxide can’t penetrate healthy skin. Unfortunately, there’s insufficient evidence on whether or not nanoscale titanium dioxide can sink into skin with repeated and long term exposure, as when we apply sunscreen on a daily basis for years and years. It’s also still unclear how UV radiation affects nano sized titanium dioxides’s ability to penetrate skin. Because of this, some experts have called for the use of titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sunscreen to be limited until long term studies confirm that they are indeed harmless.
While the effects of topical exposure is uncertain, what is known is that TiO2 nanoparticles can be inhaled and ingested. They can then accumulate in the lungs and in the gastrointestinal tract. From there, they can enter the bloodstream and reach other organs. Animal studies have found that nano sized titanium dioxide can lead to asthma, allergies, chronic inflammation, and lung tumours. It’s unclear if these findings translate to humans.
Again, there’s no consensus on how ingesting titanium dioxide nanoparticles affects our health. What is certain is that there’s still no data on how a lifetime of oral exposure to even tiny amounts of nano sized titanium dioxide, like those we get from food, medicines, and toothpaste, affects our health.
So. Titanium dioxide? Seems fine. But titanium dioxide nanoparticles? It’s not quite as clear. Certainly you don’t want to be inhaling this.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t skip sunscreen. Skin cancer can definitely kill, nanoparticles we’re not so sure about. And compared with UV absorbers, titanium dioxide is still one of the safest options for protecting yourself from the sun. If you’re worried about nanoparticles, skip the spray on sunscreens and stick to natural sunscreen creams and lotions.
As for cosmetics, keep in mind that companies don’t have to declare the size of the titanium dioxide they use. This means you’ll want to seek out brands that specifically state that they don’t use nanoparticles (like Benecos, Hanami, and Ere Perez). This is particularly important with products that become airborne, such as blush and face powder.
Nano sized titanium dioxide is in so many food products, it’s practically impossible to avoid. But if you stick with real, whole foods and avoid processed junk, you can significantly reduce the accumulation of titanium dioxide nanoparticles in your gut.
Bubble bath isn’t an essential skincare product in the way that say, toothpaste is. But it makes bathtime fun for little ones, and feels luxurious and relaxing for adults.
But before you pour a capful of bubble bath into the bath, think about this.
A bubble bath is not a ‘wash off’ product like shampoo is. You sit in the bath for a long time (depending on how good your book is, or how quickly the bathwater cools!), then you get out and dry yourself off. You don’t have a shower after you have a bath, so whatever you put in the bath stays on your skin.
How safe is your bubble bath?
Although we don’t have any such requirements in Australia, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says that:
“It is very important to follow the directions on the label of the product and to not stay in Bubble Baths for prolonged periods of time.”
The FDA requires that a warning should be put on all ‘foaming detergent bath products’: “Excessive use or prolonged exposure may cause irritation to skin and urinary tract”.
Why is that? Well, let’s have a look at the ingredients commonly found in kids’ bubble baths.
Common ingredients in bubble baths
A few common ingredients make up bubble bath products.
There’s surfactants to make the bubbles. You may find emulsifiers, which stop the ingredients from separating in the bottle. And there may be emollients (or skin conditioners), which make your skin feel soft after you get out of the bath. Fragrance makes the bubbles smell good. Colours give the bath water a pretty tint. And finally, there are preservatives, which stop everything going off.
Like all skincare products, there are safe and not-so-safe alternatives for all the ingredients.
As I was researching baby and kids bubble baths, I found quite a few common ingredients that I would choose to avoid.
Ingredients to avoid in bubble bath
1. Fragrance – unless it’s essential oil based, I avoid fragrance. Manufacturers don’t have to disclose what’s in perfumes. And so fragrances can contain suspected allergens and sensitisers, phthalates, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters.
2. Phthalates – often found in perfume ingredients, and you won’t know because manufacturers don’t have to tell you. Read more about why I avoid phthalates.
3. Propylene glycol – used as a humectant (to lock moisture into your skin), an emulsifier and as a preservative. It can cause skin irritation and is associated with allergic contact dermatitis. Not an ingredient that I want to be soaking in!
4. Synthetic colours – FD&C or D&C colours are just in a product to make it look pretty. They’re coal tar derivatives, which is a petroleum by product, and has contamination concerns.
Surfactants (the stuff that makes it bubbly):
5. Sulphates – these are common surfactants. SLS used to be very common, but manufacturers aren’t using it as much because it’s an irritant. But SLES is common, and I found it in a number of Australian kids bubble bath products. It’s also an irritant. There’s more about sulphates and why you should avoid them here.
6. Cocamidopropyl betaine – there are contamination concerns (nitrosamines being the main concern). That’s why it’s suspected of being an irritant. Lots of companies say it’s ‘derived from coconut’ and so it’s natural. However, it’s so far derived from coconut that it’s basically synthetic. Besides contamination concerns, cocamidopropyl betaine is also a penetration enhancer. It means that other chemicals can get into your skin more easily. And that’s concern if the other ingredients you’re exposed to are toxic.
7. PEG’s – can cause skin irritations, and shouldn’t be used on broken skin. Also, there are concerns that PEGs can be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane. Avoid whenever you can!
8. Cocamide DEA – surfactant and emulsifier which scores a 7 in EWG. It’s a skin toxicant and allergen. And it’s linked to organ system toxicity. Plus it’s considered to be a carcinogen, and there are concerns that it can be contaminated with nitrosamines. That makes for one toxic tub!
9. Polysorbate 20 – another surfactant and emulsifier. This one is problematic because it can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane.
10. Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) and Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) – widely associated with contact dermatitis, especially in leave on products (like bubble bath).
11. Phenoxyethanol – can cause skin and lung irritation, and there is evidence of organ toxicity.
12. Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate – scores a 6 in the EWG database, because it may release formaldehyde. Although it is derived from a natural source, it’s synthetic, not natural.
Because of its cheerful yellow and orange flowers, calendula is a popular addition to home gardens and lawns. But did you know that this gorgeous herb is also a valuable medicinal plant?
For centuries, people have been using calendula (Calendula officinalis) not only ornamentally, but also for ceremonial, culinary, and medicinal purposes. You can toss calendula petals in your salads and use it to dye fabrics. It can also help regulate your period, reduce fever, treat nappy rash, and may even discourage cancer.
What is calendula?
Calendula is also known as pot marigold. This isn’t the same as the annual marigold plant (genus Tagetes) usually found in vegetable and herb gardens, though they do look very similar. Calendula is native to the Mediterranean, western Europe, and some parts of Asia, but is now grown all over the world.
Nowadays, calendula is usually applied to skin instead of taken by mouth. The exceptions are calendula teas and the small amounts of calendula in homeopathic remedies.
Calendula is also available in creams, salves, oils, ointments, and other skincare products. Teas, tinctures, and infusions can be made from dried or fresh calendula flowers.
Calendula is considered safe to use on skin. However, if you are pregnant or nursing, you should first consult with your healthcare practitioner.
If you are allergic to other members of the daisy family (such as chamomile and ragweed), you might also be sensitive to calendula. If so, use calendula with caution.
Before taking calendula by mouth, consult with your doctor. Calendula may interact with sedatives and with medications for diabetes and high blood pressure.
Weleda harnesses the skin calming and healing powers of calendula in its Calendula range for delicate baby skin.
The Weleda Calendula Baby Care line includes Cream Bath, Lotion, Nappy Change Cream, Baby Oil, Face Cream, and Shampoo and Body Wash. The entire range is 100% natural, organic and biodynamic and contains organic calendula extract from Weleda’s own Biodynamic gardens.
Weleda also has a Calendula Toothpaste perfect for soothing sensitive gums.
Care to try calendula in tea? The Tea Tonic Well Being Tea is a refreshing blend of calendula, spearmint, and alfalfa. Great for digestion, it also helps enhance health and restores your natural balance.
Hello Charlie stocks Weleda’s Calendula range and other calendula based products. Shop them here.
Have you used calendula products or taken calendula tea? What are your favourites?
Degradable, biodegradable and compostable. What’s the difference?
All plastics labeled “biodegradable” are degradable. And all “compostable” plastics are biodegradable. But not all “degradable” plastics are compostable or biodegradable.
You’re not alone.
You see these terms a lot. And it’s hard to know the difference, so you might think that you’re doing something eco when you’re not.
In fact, last year, a Senate inquiry found that there is widespread confusion about the differences between degradable, biodegradable, and compostable plastic bags. The report recommends that consumers should be made aware of how each type affects the environment and how to properly dispose of them.
With that in mind, here’s our handy guide to help you make sense of those labels.
Degradable plastics are petroleum based and have other chemicals (including heavy metals) added. These plastics break down eventually because, well, that’s what “degrade” means. All plastics are degradable, either because they’re intentionally broken down (like if you take a hammer to a plastic cup) or through the natural degradation of the material, which could take hundreds of years. When a label says “degradable,” there’s really no telling how long the plastic sticks around after you throw it away.
Are degradable plastics a greener alternative to regular plastic bags? Unfortunately, experts say they’re probably just as bad for the planet.
You see, degradable plastics don’t “return to the earth”; they just break down into millions of tiny pieces of plastic. That makes them harder to remove from the environment and easier for animals to ingest. Some of the “microplastics” left behind enter the food chain via smaller species like plankton, fish, and birds, eventually making their way into human bellies.
Degradable plastics go into the general waste bin. They’re not suitable for compost bins or worm farms.
Don’t be fooled by “recycled plastic”, either. It’s recycled, but it’s not biodegradable.
Biodegradable plastics can be made from sustainable materials, like rice husks, or they can be made from oil. And like degradable plastics, they contain chemical additives that give them certain properties. Here, the added chemicals allow them to break down under the action of microorganisms, usually bacteria.
Like “degradable,” the term “biodegradable” says very little about what happens to a plastic bag when you dump it. After all, everything biodegrades given time.
As with degradable plastics, there’s no way of knowing just how long it takes before a biodegradable plastic bag breaks down completely. There’s no time frame required. Another problem is that there are no restrictions on the toxic residues that these plastics may leave behind. Some biodegradable plastics are better than others, but the only way you know is to ask questions before you buy.
Biodegradable plastics are not suitable for the compost pile. They go into the general waste bin along with the degradables.
Compostable plastics (also known as bioplastics) are made from renewable raw materials like corn starch and soy protein. Bacteria digest this type of plastic and turn it into compost.
A compostable plastic bag must meet certain requirements to earn its label. For example, it must biodegrade within a specific time frame. It can’t leach heavy metals or other harmful residue, can’t be toxic to worms, and must be able to support plant life.
Collect your food waste and organics in compostable plastic bags. When it’s full, dump the bag into your home compost bin or send it to a local composting facility. Don’t put it in the general waste bin, because it won’t as compost well in landfill.
You can’t go past BioBag for compostable and biodegradable bags for home composting, dog waste and keeping food fresh. We’ve got a great range of BioBags, from bin liners to reusable zip lock bags, and they’re all fully compostable.
For some people, whether to wash new clothes before wearing is a no-brainer. For others, clothes will never look any better or brighter than when they’re still shop-fresh.
Are new clothes clean? Or should you put them straight into the washing machine?
Turns out, clothes may look clean and fresh off the rack, but they’re actually covered with chemicals and crawling with germs. Experts say we should wash new clothes before we wear them, especially if the garment will be in direct contact with our skin or if it’s something we will sweat on.
Here’s why you should always wash new clothes, especially if they’re for your little ones.
1. Because of the dyes and chemical finishes on new clothes
Most fabrics get their colour from azo-aniline dyes. These chemicals can induce severe skin reactions, particularly in children who are allergic to them.
Putting new clothes through the wash flushes out the extra dye that can otherwise end up on your skin or on your other garments.
Another reason to wash new clothes is formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Manufacturers use formaldehyde resin on clothing to stop them wrinkling and to prevent the growth of mould and mildew during the shipping process.
These chemicals are irritating to the skin, eyes, and nose. They can spark full-blown allergic reactions, especially in those with sensitive skin, and are a nightmare for people with conditions like eczema.
Even if you only purchase clothes made with natural fibres, you still have to wash them. Experts say even 100% cotton garments are treated with potentially irritating chemicals before being sold.
2. Because new clothes are icky
Don’t forget, your clothes have been through many hands and may have been tried on by any number of people at the store. Clothes end up on dirty stockroom and change room floors. Ever tried on clothes when you’re sweaty? Or haven’t washed your hands? Well, so has everyone else!
And, yes, your new dress could be carrying other peoples’ germs.
Scientists have found respiratory secretions, yeast, and even faecal germs lurking in new clothes.
Contaminated clothing can cause diseases like fungal infections, diarrhoea, MRSA, hepatitis A, salmonella, athlete’s foot, and scabies. Another thing you can get from wearing unwashed new clothes? Lice.
Doctors say the number of germs on new clothes normally isn’t enough to make us seriously ill. But if your immune system is compromised, you can definitely catch a bug from wearing contaminated clothing.
Which brings us to #3.
3. Because babies are vulnerable to bugs and harsh chemicals
Babies, with their developing immune systems, are more susceptible to the disease-causing bacteria and viruses on new clothes. And because their skin is much thinner than ours, they are particularly sensitive to the nasty chemicals sprayed on fabrics.
Children and infants with sensitive skin can develop rashes in areas that come in constant contact with their clothing—armpits, wrists, waists, and necks.
Wash baby clothes before wearing to prevent skin reactions. It’s also why you should use detergents without optical brighteners, bleach, and fragrances—chemicals that can cause skin reactions.
Washing baby clothes
Wash all new clothes, baby blankets, bibs, swaddles, and bedding before you put them away. Use a gentle laundry powder. It doesn’t have to be a specifically “baby” washing powder—any eco friendly, fragrance free washing powder will be okay.
If the clothing you bought has strong odours, soak it overnight in a bucket filled with water and a cup of baking soda. Let it air dry in a breezy location after washing.
Here’s some of our favourite (and most popular) laundry powders and liquids at Hello Charlie:
Isn’t it ironic that something created to protect us from life threatening illnesses may actually harm us?
Take sunscreen, for example.
You should use it every day. And you should put it on thick enough that it actually protects us from the sun. Then you should reapply often. Unlike soap or shampoo that’s quickly washed off, sunscreen stays on our skin for hours.
You’d think that because of this, sunscreen ingredients would be safe and non toxic.
But as we now know, conventional sunscreens can be full of harmful ingredients.
Studies indicate that ingredients found in popular sunscreens can:
cause skin irritation and allergic reactions,
mimic our hormones,
harm our reproductive systems,
alter sexual development, and
affect babies in the womb
If you’re shopping for your next sunscreen, watch out for these ingredients.
Active ingredients to avoid
Also called benzophenone-3 or BP-3, oxybenzone is in nearly 65% of all chemical sunscreens in the Environmental Working Group’s 2017 sunscreen database. It has been detected in over 96% of the American population.
Of all the popular sunscreen chemicals it warns us about, EWG calls oxybenzone “the most worrisome.” The main concerns about oxybenzone are:
Oxybenzone penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream. Studies have shown that it mimics oestrogen and blocks testosterone, especially in adolescent boys. In women, it is associated with endometriosis.
Animal studies have linked octinoxate with delayed puberty, lower sperm counts, and sperm abnormalities.
While we use sunscreen to protect our skin from sun damage, studies have found that octinoxate may actually do the reverse. Research has found that the chemical produces free radicals that can damage skin cells and induce premature skin ageing.
Octinoxate has an EWG hazard score of 6. You’ll find it in ingredient lists as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate or octyl methoxycinnamate.
Another one that mimics hormonal activity, this one disrupts oestrogen, progesterone, and androgen. There’s also concern that it releases toxic by-products as it breaks down.
Octisalate blocks UVB rays but not UVA, which is why it often comes paired with other active sunscreen ingredients like avobenzone.
The problem with octisalate is that it’s a “penetration enhancer.” This means that it increases the amount of chemicals that passes into the skin. This becomes problematic when octisalate is accompanied by harmful ingredients (like hormone mimickers or synthetic fragrances).
Like octinoxate, this one is a photosensitiser. On sun-exposed skin, it produces free radicals that speed up skin ageing and increase the risk of skin cancer.
The EWG notes that this active ingredient poses a risk of skin allergies. In 2010, researchers advised caution when using octocrylene-laden sunscreen on children.
These active ingredients are uncommon in sunscreens in the US, but you’ll find them in sunscreens in Australia.
Also known as sulisobenzone, this benzophenone derivative may cause contact dermatitis. Studies have shown that benzophenone bioaccumulates and persists in the environment. The chemical and its derivatives are associated with cancer and endocrine disruption.
Unlike benzophenone-4, benzophenone-8 or dioxybenzone isn’t approved as a UV filter in the European Union. The main concerns for benzophenone derivatives are:
organ system toxicity,
developmental and reproductive toxicity,
Meradimate, as it sometimes appears on labels, is in some sunscreens in the US but not in Japan or in the EU. The big problem with this chemical is that it forms damaging free radicals when exposed to sunlight.
PABA or para-aminobenzoic acid may cause hypersensitivity and allergic reactions. It may also encourage the formation of cancer cells in the skin. Studies show that PABA breaks down and releases free radicals when exposed to sunlight. Canada and the EU have both banned PABA in cosmetics.
Padimate O, a derivative of PABA, is another baddie. This one has an EWG hazard score of 5. Main concerns include:
and oestrogen mimicking activity
This UVB absorber may cause photocontact dermatitis. It’s also a penetration enhancer, sinking deep into and persisting within muscle tissue.
Instead of sunscreens with these active ingredients, look for ones with the physical UV blockers zinc oxide and titanium oxide. If you prefer chemical UV filters, go for avobenzone or Mexoryl SX, which the EWG considers safer options.
Inactive ingredients to avoid
Inactive sunscreen ingredients typically make up 50% to 70% of the product. The following range from potentially toxic to verifiably harmful:
Manufacturers don’t have to disclose the specific ingredients they use in their fragrance blends. This means that synthetic fragrances may contain numerous toxic ingredients and none of us would have a clue.
Many synthetic colours are derived from coal tar. Studies have found some of them to be allergy inducing, toxic to the brain and other organs, and possibly carcinogenic.
The EU has concluded that no amount of methylisothiazolinone has been demonstrated to be safe for use in leave-on cosmetic products, including baby wipes. In 2013, it was named “Allergen of the Year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
To help fight signs of ageing, manufacturers often add retinyl palmitate to sunscreens. However, EWG has warned consumers about this chemical. Government studies in the US have shown that if you apply retinyl palmitate to animal skin and then expose the skin to sunlight, the chemical may speed the development of malignant tumors and lesions.
What can you do?
Most of the studies on sunscreen ingredients were done on animals, which makes it hard to determine if the same effects will be observed in humans.
Nonetheless, some scientists warn that these ingredients could be so toxic that they may cancel out the health benefits of using sun protection.
But this doesn’t mean that you should stop using sunscreen! Wearing sunscreen is still one of the best ways to protect ourselves from skin cancer, skin ageing, and the many other consequences of getting too much sun.
Avoid the sunscreen ingredients listed above. Don’t buy spray on sunscreens—you risk inhaling toxic chemicals (and getting them into the lungs of the people around you). Avoid sunscreens with SPFs over 50—these fool you into thinking that you can go longer between reapplications.
Above all, use sunscreen properly. For your body, squeeze out at least enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass. Apply it 30 minutes before you head out and reapply every 2 hours or after swimming. Plan your activities around the sun, protect your eyes with sunglasses, and stay in the shade when you can.
Gearing up for sunnier days ahead? Check out Hello Charlie’s selection of natural sunscreens—no nasties here. If you need help choosing the right product for your family, here’s our Safer Sunscreens Cheat Sheet to get you started.
If your baby has bad nappy rash, your doctor might prescribe a medical cream. It could be a cortisone cream like Sigmacort, or an antifungal like Canesten or Daktarin. They aren’t designed to be used every day. They’re for treatment, not for prevention.
“so called ‘natural products’ as they may contain colourings, perfumes and plant products that have the potential to cause an allergic reaction.”
It’s true of any product, not just natural products. Read the ingredients, not just the front of the pack.
Always avoid colourings and perfumes in baby products.
For most babies, plant based products or food based products aren’t going to cause any problems. However, there are times when you’d be better to use a mineral oil based product. If there is eczema in the family, or the skin is broken, you can increase the chances of an allergic reaction. There’s more information in this article about when you should avoid natural products.
Look for zinc oxide in nappy creams. It repels water, and it soothes and calms skin irritations. It doesn’t play well with cloth nappies, though. I wrote about the best nappy creams to use with cloth nappies in this post, if you want more information on this.
What to avoid in nappy creams
I recommend that you avoid these ingredients in nappy creams:
Sodium borate shouldn’t be used on infant skin, or on broken skin.
Benzyl alcohol can be natural (it occurs in some essential oils). It can also be synthetic. It’s a mild anaesthetic. But it’s not a local anaesthetic (as I read in one slightly hysterical blog post about nappy rash creams). That’s not the issue with benzyl alcohol. Pawpaw also has mild anaesthetic properties, and I don’t recommend that you avoid pawpaw.
The problem with benzyl alcohol is that it shouldn’t be used on infant skin. Although it’s Ecocert approved, it’s not recommended for infants.
How to choose a non toxic nappy cream
Naturally, all the nappy rash creams that we stock at Hello Charlie are non toxic.
For a detailed breakdown of safer nappy rash creams, stay tuned for our Cheat Sheets. I’ve listed as many nappy rash creams as I could find in Australia. I’ll be releasing that on 1 September, so make sure that you keep your eye on the blog. Or sign up for our newsletter and we’ll email the cheat sheet to you automatically.
This is the next instalment in our ongoing series about chemicals often found in home and personal care products. Here, we make an assessment of ingredients, so you can make informed choices about the products you buy.
Today, we’re looking at retinyl palmitate.
Retinyl palmitate is an ingredient that pops up in tons of different skincare and beauty products. It’s common in anti-wrinkle creams, sunscreens, and SPF-containing products, as well as in lipsticks, concealers, eye shadows, and mascaras.
Look for it in your shampoos, facial cleansers, body washes, moisturisers, shaving creams, nail polish, nappy creams, and bubble baths. This stuff is everywhere!
Unfortunately, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has warned against retinyl palmitate. In its 2017 Guide to Sunscreens, EWG targeted the chemical as one of three main ingredients that it considers harmful.
It based the warning off multiple studies that have shown a possible link between retinyl palmitate and skin cancer. Studies have also found that the chemical could contribute to excessive vitamin A intake, which could lead to serious health problems.
So should you toss out a product if you find retinyl palmitate on the label?
What is retinyl palmitate?
Retinyl palmitate is the ester of retinol (vitamin A) and palmitic acid (a common saturated fatty acid). In the skin, it is converted into retinol and then to retinoic acid, the form of vitamin A in the prescription acne meds Retin-A and Accutane.
Retinyl palmitate belongs to the class of chemical compounds called retinoids. These are some of the most popular treatments for skin conditions like photoageing, wrinkles, acne, and psoriasis.
What is retinyl palmitate used for?
Retinyl palmitate is in vitamin A supplements and in treatments for dry eyes. It’s in low fat milk, where it replaces the vitamin A lost when the fat was removed.
Retinyl palmitate is gentler than retinol and is a more suitable acne treatment for those with sensitive skin. Cosmetics companies add retinyl palmitate to sunscreens to help prevent skin ageing brought on by sun exposure.
Though it has its benefits, studies have raised the possibility that retinyl palmitate could be making us susceptible to cancer.
The retinyl palmitate debate
In 2010, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer called the public’s attention to a government study that found that topical retinyl palmitate accelerated cancer growth in hairless mice.
In the study, which was conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP), tumours and lesions grew up to 21% faster in the skin of lab animals that were coated with cream containing retinyl palmitate and exposed to sunlight than in those slathered with a control cream.
This confirmed the results of earlier studies showing that retinyl palmitate encouraged excess skin growth and that in the presence of sunlight, the chemical formed free radicals that could damage DNA.
EWG published an analysis of raw data from the NTP website and concluded that government scientists were sitting on evidence that retinyl palmitate could be doing more harm than good.
The group considered the results troubling because, at the time, retinyl palmitate was in more than 40% of all sunscreens on the market.
EWG disputed this, claiming that the commentary was “faulty” and “highly misleading,” and noting that the researchers behind it had ties to the sunscreen industry. In 2012, the NTP released a technical report affirming that retinyl palmitate hastened the growth of cancerous tumours and lesions on animals exposed to simulated sunlight.
Is retinyl palmitate safe?
The scientific jury is still out on retinyl palmitate and cancer, but that’s not the only issue with the chemical.
Vitamin A toxicity
Government officials in Germany and Norway have warned that vitamin A ingredients in makeup and personal care products could contribute to vitamin A toxicity, particularly in pregnant women and other populations at risk of overexposure. Hypervitaminosis A can lead to liver damage, osteoporosis, hair loss, skeletal defects in babies and children, and spontaneous fractures.
However, the committee noted that in addition to Vitamin A exposure from food, “any additional source of exposure, including cosmetics products, may exceed [the recommended daily upper limit.]”
What the experts say
The FDA considers retinyl palmitate a GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) substance and has not limited its use in food.
The European SCCS allows the use of retinyl palmitate (with concentration limits) in personal care products and cosmetics. In Germany, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommends that the concentration of Vitamin A ingredients be restricted in products for the face and hands. It also warns against the addition of Vitamin A to lip and body care products.
Health Canada allows the use of retinyl palmitate with a maximum concentration of 1.83% w/w in cosmetics and personal care products. It has, however, required a warning label on all sunscreen products containing the chemical.
The label must warn consumers that the product “may increase [their] skin’s sensitivity to the sun and particularly to the possibility of sunburn.” It must also advise consumers to “limit sun exposure while using [the] product and for a week afterwards.”
EWG gave retinyl palmitate a score of 9 in its ingredient safety scale, marking it a high hazard chemical. The Cosmetics Database notes that there is concern for both reproductive and nonreproductive organ system toxicity with the chemical.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel concluded that retinyl palmitate is safe as a cosmetic ingredient back in 1987. It reviewed new data in 2005 and in 2013, and reaffirmed its previous conclusion.
Decline in use of retinyl palmitate
In its sunscreen guide this year, EWG noted that the usage of retinyl palmitate in sunscreens has dropped by more than half since it released its findings about the additive seven years ago.
In 2010, almost 40% of sunscreens the organisation reviewed contained the ingredient. This year, it was in only 14% of the products surveyed for the annual sunscreen guide.
So what’s the best approach to retinyl palmitate?
EWG has urged regulators to consider restrictions on retinyl palmitate and asked manufacturers to voluntarily stop using the chemical. The organisation asks consumers to avoid retinyl palmitate in sunscreens, lotions, and lip products.
Studies on the link between retinyl palmitate and skin cancer remain inconclusive. However, we do know that Vitamin A and its derivatives make skin thinner and more susceptible to sun damage. So it makes sense to just play it safe and avoid the ingredient, particularly in products you use during daytime.
And, as mentioned above, retinyl palmitate is in a lot of different products. The chemical may appear in small doses, but given the number of products we use on a daily basis, those small doses can accumulate and raise our risk of cancer and other health issues.
What’s your opinion on retinyl palmitate-free sunscreen? Let us know in the comments.
Our bodies need magnesium for all sorts of things like muscle and nerve function, regulating blood sugar levels and blood pressure, as well as making DNA, bones and protein.
Studies by the US Department of Agriculture showed that nearly half of Americans weren’t getting enough magnesium in their diets, and for teenagers aged 14 to 18, 2/3rds of them aren’t getting enough. As Australians have increasingly similar lifestyles and diets, there’s no reason to assume that we’re any different!
How do you know if you’re not getting enough magnesium?
I wrote a post on this last year, and you’ll find lots more info in that article about magnesium deficiency.
You might not be getting enough magnesium if:
you’re not eating a well balanced diet
you drink lots of caffeinated drinks or soft drinks
you’re elderly (magnesium absorption descreases as you get older)
you have a medical condition or are taking medication that inhibits magnesium absorption
What happens when you increase your magnesium levels?
Studies have shown that increasing your magnesium levels may help with:
You can get magnesium from foods like legumes (beans, lentils and peas), leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains and fish. However, thanks to soil depletion, your veggies don’t contain as many vitamins and minerals as they used to. So even if you’re eating a well balanced diet, you still may not be getting enough magnesium.
Research shows that your body absorbs magnesium more easily through the skin than it does if you take it orally. So applying to your skin daily makes perfect sense.
You can use an oil, like the ones from The Base Collective or Amazing Oils. Just spray on after a shower or a workout, or even across the back of our neck or your temples if you can feel a headache coming on.
I love to soak in a bath with some magnesium flakes like these ones from Ancient Minerals or The Base Collective. You can also try soaking your feet in a magnesium bath for a DIY pedicure that’s good for you!
And finally, you can add magnesium simply by applying a body lotion every day. The Base Collective have two beautiful body balms containing magnesium: White Tea Magnesium Body Balm and Magnesium & Lavender Baby Balm. Both products are organic, and they’re divine. Use them just like you would a normal body balm, but they’ve got the added benefit of magnesium.