What is Cocamidopropyl Betaine and what is it used for?
Cocamidopropyl Betaine is a surfactant (used, for example, to help remove dirt from your skin), and is also used as an antistatic in things like hair products. Companies will often say that it’s ‘from coconut’ or ‘coconut derived’, but it’s actually a synthetic surfactant because of the chemical processing involved in deriving it. However, there’s plenty of companies that like to say it’s natural because there’s coconut involved.
What’s the problem with Cocamidopropyl Betaine?
It is considered to be an irritant and an allergen, and it’s suspected to be an environmental toxin. There are also concerns that cocamidopropyl betain can be contaminated with nitrosamines.
PEGs (also known as Polyethylene Glycol) is part of a family of synthetic chemical compounds often used in cosmetic and personal care products. The manufacturing process of PEG’s may use ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane.
PEGs are used in cosmetics and personal care products as solvents, thickeners, softeners and moisture carriers.
PEG’s are usually followed by a number e.g. PEG-7 or PEG-80, showing how many units of ethylene glycol they comprise. The lower the number, the more easily it’s absorbed into the skin.
What’s the problem with PEG’s?
PEG’s are often manufactured using ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane. Ethylene oxide is a known human carcinogen, may interfere with human development and can harm the nervous system. 1,4 dioxane is a possible human carcinogen, and is an environmental toxin. It is impossible to know whether the PEG’s in cosmetic products are contaminated by ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane.
PEG’s are a penetration enhancer, and allow harmful ingredients to be absorbed more readily through the skin.
How do I avoid PEG’s?
As always, read the ingredients on the back of the label and avoid any ingredients marked PEG.
This is the next instalment in our ongoing series about chemicals often found in home and personal care products. Here, we investigate ingredients so you can make informed choices about the products you buy.
Today, we’re looking at polyethylene glycols or PEGs.
What are PEGs?
Polyethylene glycols or PEGs are polyether compounds that are in a wide variety of products—from toothpastes and laxatives to rocket fuel and liquid body armour.
In cosmetics and personal care products, PEGs serve as emulsifiers, surfactants, cleansing agents, and skin conditioners.
They’re in shampoos, deodorants, moisturisers, facial cleansers, eye creams, and various other personal care products and cosmetics.
When you look for PEGs on product labels, you’ll see that they include a number, e.g. PEG-4 or PEG-80. The number lets you know their average molecular weights.
It also tells you how easily the compound sinks into the skin. The lower the number, the more easily the PEG compound penetrates the skin’s layers.
What’s the problem with PEGs?
There’s a few issues with PEGs.
PEGs can cause skin irritation and severe hypersensitivity reactions.
Next, there’s 1,4-dioxane, which has been classified a possible carcinogen and has been linked to liver, lung, breast, skin, and gallbladder cancer.
This one is irritating to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. It can also damage the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system. EWG gave 1,4-dioxane a score of 8.
In addition to this toxic duo, PEGs may also be contaminated with propylene oxide, anotherpossible carcinogen and mutagen. Some PEGs are also tainted with heavy metals like arsenic, lead, cobalt, nickel, iron, and cadmium.
Unfortunately, there’s no way for consumers to tell by the label alone if the PEGs in a product contain impurities. Every time you use a product with PEGs, you risk exposing yourself to ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane (and other toxins).
Penetration enhancing effects
PEGs are penetration enhancers. This means that they allow ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products to be absorbed more easily through your skin. When PEGs are combined with other problematic ingredients, this isn’t good.
And the PEGs themselves may have contaminants. So you really don’t want these getting through your skin.
This is also why it’s important to avoid using products with PEGs on damaged or broken skin.
Irritation and hypersensitivity
In addition, PEGs can cause irritation, system toxicity, and hypersensitivity. A study published in 2016 showed that although polyethylene glycols are thought to be biologically inert and safe:
“cases of mild to life-threatening immediate-type PEG hypersensitivity are reported with increasing frequency.”
According to the study, most healthcare professionals are unfamiliar with polyethylene glycols. So they don’t pinpoint PEGs as the cause of hypersensitivity reactions in some patients.
Doctors often misdiagnose patients with PEG hypersensitivities, believing that they are allergic to other substances. Patients usually suffer through repeated severe reactions until they finally get a proper diagnosis.
There are currently no restrictions on PEGs in cosmetics in the U.S., Canada, and the European Union. However, both 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide are included in Health Canada’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist as chemicals that are prohibited for use in cosmetic products.
The CIR Expert Panel has deemed most PEG compounds safe for use in cosmetics, with the caveat that they should not be used on damaged skin.
How to avoid PEGs
The experts might have classified PEGs as safe for use in cosmetics, but the fact that they can contain carcinogenic impurities is enough reason for us to avoid them.
The best solution is to look for PEG-free alternatives to your favourite beauty and skincare products.
If you wish to avoid PEGs, remember that it’s not enough to look for words like “natural.” A 2008 study found 1,4-dioxane in many products labeled “natural” or “organic.”
Read the ingredients on the back of the label. Aside from “PEG,” look for “polyethylene glycol,” “polyethylene oxide,” and “polyoxyethylene.”
Sulphates are cleaning ingredients that are added to products to make them clean and foam. They’re also known as surfactants.
They’re used in shampoos, soaps, shaving gels, and bubble baths to make them foam up. They’re also used in products like dishwashing detergents, laundry detergents, carpet cleaners and engine degreasers.
There are different types of sulphates. Some of the common ones are:
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)
Ammonium lauryl sulfate
What’s the problem with sulphates?
They’re a known irritant, including eye and scalp irritation. SLS appears to damage the eyes, and it appears that when done to young eyes, the damage is permanent.
Research has shown that sulphates be damaging to the immune system, especially within the skin.
How do I avoid sulphates?
Choose ‘sulphate free’ products where possible, and if you’re not sure of the ingredients, don’t buy the product.
Which plastics are healthier for you and more easily recyclable?
Do you know which plastics contain BPA?
#1 plastics: PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)
These are usually soft drink bottles, water or juice bottles. Easily recycled into products such as polarfleece, bottles and even carpet fibres.
PET can break down over time and leach, so it’s best not to reuse these bottles. Recycle them straight away.
PET does not contain BPA, as it isn’t used in the production of PET plastic.
Is it safe?
#2 plastics: HDPE (high density polyethylene)
Used for milk bottles, juice and water bottles, as well as detergents, cleaners and skincare products. It’s usually white or opaque.
HDPE can be recycled into all sorts of products, including pallets, other bottles, bins, pipes and even into park benches and children’s playgrounds. It’s also increasingly being used as recycled plastic toys.
HDPE is considered to be a safe plastic. It does not contain BPA.
#3 plastics: PVC (polyvinyl chloride or plasticised polyvinyl chloride)
Used for things like plastic food wrap, plumbing pipes and cooking oil containers.
PVC can contain BPA and phthalates – it’s best to avoid plastics with the #3 where possible. PVC plastics can also leach DEHP, which is suspected of being a human carcinogen.
Is it safe?
#4 plastics: LDPE (low density polyethylene)
Used for bread bags, supermarket bags and some food wraps.
Considered to be a safe plastic, but it’s not very often accepted by recycling programs. Supermarkets will often have supermarket bag recycling bins in store.
Is it safe?
#5 plastics: PP (polypropylene)
Sometimes a cloudy plastic, like in sauce bottles. Sometimes it’s clear, and sometimes it’s coloured, like in yoghurt pots.
Does not contain BPA or phthalates, and is recommended for use as baby bottles, among other things. Easily recycled into things like worm farms and recycling bins.
Is it safe?
#6 plastics: PS (polystyrene)
It’s used in disposable plates and cups, as well as one off packaging, especially around electrical goods.
Polystyrene or styrofoam is another one to avoid, as it is not easily recycled and can leach styrene – a human carcinogen.
Is it safe?
#7 plastics: other (all other plastics, including acrylic and nylon)
This is a tricky one, as any plastic that doesn’t fit into numbers 1 to 6 are lumped into #7 plastics – ‘other’.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid #7 clear plastics, especially polycarbonate (PC) as this contains BPA.
However, there are other plastics in this category that are BPA free and safe – these are the #7 opaque plastics.
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), which Lego is made from, is a safe plastic. BabyBjorn also use ABS – it’s BPA free.
Plastics made from corn starch resin are lumped into the #7 category, and these are BPA free too.
Nylon is BPA free, and it’s a #7.
The trick with this category is to avoid clear plastic #7, and to buy from a brand you trust (which means asking the manufacturer or supplier some hard questions!)
Is it safe? That depends on the plastic.
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Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical building block that is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It’s commonly used in clear, hard shatterproof plastic containers, as well as in coatings on food and drink cans. BPA is used to make a whole range of products, from drink bottles and baby bottles, dental fillings and eyeglass lenses, to sports equipment and medical devices.
What’s the problem with BPA?
It’s an artificial oestroegen, and as such, is an endocrine disrupter. This means that in late pregnancy, for example, the hormones that are critical to brain development and the baby’s development as a whole, can be messed about by these foreign chemicals.
BPA has been linked to a range of other medical issues, too, including chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, impaired brain and impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity and resistance to chemotherapy.
What is being done about BPA?
Canada declared BPA to be a toxic substance in September 2010, and BPA is banned for use in baby bottles in the European Union, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates. Malaysia is due to ban BPA in baby bottles starting shortly, and China has also announced that it will no longer be using BPA in baby bottles, although there is no start date set for this yet. In the US, 10 states have imposed bans on the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand say they have no plans to ban BPA in Australia and New Zealand.
How do I avoid BPA?
Use alternatives to plastic, including glass, ceramic, silicone and stainless steel.
Avoid canned food and drink (that includes beer – switch to bottles!)
Know your plastics. Check the numbers and avoid plastic #3 (PVC) and clear plastics marked #7. Not all #7 plastics contain BPA, so check the packaging.