Interpreting Product Labels, Episode 3…

When we think of clean, we think of something being safe, better for our health, free from the things that can do us harm. At some point, however, we’ve come to associate the use of chemicals with creating ‘a better clean’ without necessarily putting that connection to the test.

It’s clear that some developments are genuine advances in some contexts – but it’s equally clear that they’re not automatically beneficial in all contexts and some are not advances at all. The government does little to investigate this complex matter, the industry has no particular incentive to lift its game, since nobody is holding it accountable. That means the responsibility lies with each of us to decide for ourselves what we will accept and how creative we’re prepared to be in finding solutions to our cleaning needs.

This, in turn, drives movement across the globe towards ‘green’ cleaning methods… which just happens to be the topic our intern Olivia is currently researching. I’m looking forward to sharing her report when it is finished.

In the meanwhile, I thought I would share something that came up during our discussions.

At work and at home, we try to limit our use of manufactured products and instead use those clever fibre cloths and water, bicarb soda, vinegar, tea tree and other natural options. Quite a while back I bought some cloths and tea towels from a friend who had decided to become an Enjo consultant. When she delivered the order, she very thoughtfully included a little gift in the package – some Enjo hand wash.

I remember her exact words: “I know you like natural so I thought you’d like this. It’s from Enjo so you know it doesn’t contain any rubbish.”

Here are the ingredients of the handwash:

AQUA (WATER), SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE, COCAMIDE DEA, COCAMIDAPROPYL BETAINE, GLYCERIN, ALOE BARBADENSIS GEL, TOCOPHERYL ACETATE (VITAMIN E), CITRIC ACID, SODIUM CHLORIDE, SODIUM CITRATE, BENZOPHENONE-4, METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE, METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE, PARFUM (FRAGRANCE), BENZYL SALICYLATE, BUTYLPHENUL METHYLPROPIANOL, Cl60725.

So like we did in this review of a baby product from a well-known multilevel marketing company, let’s eliminate the ‘garden’. In this case, the garden is small: just the water and aloe, though perhaps the Vitamin E also came from a plant source.

The first few ingredients are all about altering surface tension and thus creating bubbles. Pretty much everyone on the planet has now heard of Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and its cousin Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS). Such chemicals are so well known for being harsh that every second brand on the market promotes itself as being free of them.

Cocamide DEA is a foaming agent, made from chemically altering coconut. So it must be healthy and natural, right? It is, if by healthy and natural you mean being a chemical given a moderate-high hazard rating, with links to cancer, allergies and immunotoxicity.

Cocamidapropyl betaine is another foam promoter, It’s linked to skin irritation and contact dermatitis, though it’s fair to say it is less harsh on skin than SLS or SLES.

Both Cocamide DEA and Cocamidapropyl betaine create problems through contaminant byproducts. Nitros amines, for example, are likely carcinogens and evidence suggests reproductive and developmental toxicity (so don’t use them on your kids, folks) as well as gastrointestinal or liver toxicity (so hey, let’s just rule them out for your whole family).

I could continue, but for now, I’ll just point out that Methylisothiazolinone recently featured on TV because of shocking skin effects – we’ve already posted about this here – plus we already discussed Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone here. Best avoided, for many reasons, especially if you have sensitive skin.

This is a great example for demonstrating that just because a brand is known for being clean and green in some areas (as Enjo is, for encouraging people to clean using water and its cloths), it doesn’t automatically follow that you can assume the other aspects of its brand share the same qualities.

You still need to read your labels!

Next time you drop by Y natural, pick up one of our Ingredients to Avoid card. It’s a small cheat sheet of sorts which helps you to quickly spot things you’re better off avoiding. It’s one small – and free! – way to empower yourself.

Til soon,
Barbara xx

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