The Chemical Conundrum

What’s up, Greenies! Today I want to talk about chemicals. Because of all the green marketing tactics and less-than-accurate advertising, we have been trained to freak out when we hear the word “chemical”. In a lot of people’s minds, all chemicals = cancer, disease, environmental harm, and toxicity. While there definitely are chemicals to avoid, not all chemicals or things we can’t pronounce on an ingredient list are automatically bad!

One harmless (and, in fact, necessary) chemical substance is what we, in everyday speech, call water. It is also called hydrogen oxide, dihydrogen monoxide, hydrogen monoxide, hydric acid, and hydrohydroxic acid, among other things. This is why it’s important to research each ingredient you see rather than to assume that just because it’s a long, scientific word, it’s bad for you.

As an example, one product I am currently using (which I will talk more about next week) contains two “unpronounceable” ingredients, decyl glucoside and cocamidopropyl betaine. If we’re going to go with the “all unpronounceable items are evil” mindset, then obviously this product is out. But let’s take a closer look!

Decyl glucoside is a foaming agent, but unlike its undesirable and potentially carcinogenic counterpart, sodium laureth sulfate, is derived from 100% natural and vegetarian sources like coconut and corn starch. Cocamidopropyl betaine is derived from coconut oil and is used in conjunction with decyl glucoside to create a smoother foam. But both of these, despite being chemical compounds and being difficult to pronounce, are 100% natural, vegetarian, and can be derived from local, organic sources.

What do I avoid, then?

So what should you absolutely avoid on ingredients lists? My suggestion, to start with, is to look up lists of commonly used carcinogens (things that have possible links to cancer) and stay away from products that use them. You’ll find that this takes care of quite a lot of products and significantly narrows the market you can buy from. Some of these are formaldehyde, benzene, ethylene oxide, silica, chromium, cadmium and related compounds, and coal tar, although there are many others. There are a few that have not been conclusively proven to be carcinogens, but quite frankly, even the possibility is enough to turn me off. It’s not worth the risk.

Another category to avoid when it comes to beauty products is anything ending in -paraben (ethylparaben, propylparaben, etc). Parabens are preservatives used mostly in makeup and skincare products. The problem is that they can sometimes imitate estrogen, and although I haven’t found reliable, conclusive studies to link them to breast cancer, I also haven’t found conclusive studies showing that there is no link. Whether or not they can cause or contribute to cancer, the fact that they mimic estrogen is enough of a turn off for me. The hormone balance in your body is a delicate one, and you never want to use any kind of hormone or imitation hormone, except for medical or health reasons and with proper research.

Other than that, I avoid products that have sodium laureth sulfate, any preservative that isn’t natural, or any kind of fragrance or perfume in them, even if the fragrance/perfume is “naturally derived”. Really, you’ll just have to do some googling 🙂 It’s very common for me to stand in a store, googling ingredients, while people walk past and wonder what the crazy lady is doing.

What do I look for?

So which ingredients do you want to see? Essential oils, natural extracts, and ingredients you recognize right off the bat are always good signs. Shorter ingredient lists are usually a good sign as well, but if it’s a long list, it’s still fine as long as you see lots of the words “oil” and “extract”. Basically, things that sound like plants, trees, fruits, vegetables, and herbs are a good indicator that the product is pretty natural. But again, do your research! Unfortunately you can’t just walk into a place like Wellness Warehouse and assume that everything on their shelves is 100% natural.

On the bright side, this research and googling thing is only time consuming in the beginning. Petty soon you’ll begin to recognize and remember certain ingredients and know to stay away from them, or know that they’re fine despite the long name. Once you’ve gotten into the swing of things and found products you like, you won’t have to read the lists anymore as you’ll probably keep buying the same things anyway. Or maybe you’ll decide to go the homemade route and skip the trouble altogether!

I hope that helped to clear up some chemical confusion and to let you know what to watch out for! Next week I’ll be going over my laundry problem (and my 100% green, zero waste product solution).

Until next time!
-africanstardust, aka Green Girl


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