Why I am one of the “experts” at Personal Care Truth.

We human beings have a strong emotional attachment to our beliefs, and our actions are not always logical. Take, for example, the green movement. Are you a “green consumer”? I like to think that I am. Do you want products that are organic/fair trade/do not harm the environment/come from sustainable sources etc? In holding such beliefs, it’s all too easy to demonize synthetic ingredients.

When we hear that sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) contains 1,4-dioxane, and that 1,4-dioxane is a probable carcinogen, in a strange way this is comforting, because it supports what we already believe; after all, SLES is synthetic. So, rather than ask how much 1,4-dioxane is in SLES, whether it penetrates human skin, and whether SLES is in fact carcinogenic, we demonize that surfactant. It becomes one of the evildoers, a terrorist in our bathroom.

I believe there is a good case for restricting 1,4-dioxane levels in personal care products (they are currently not restricted in the USA) and 1,4-dioxane levels in SLES can vary enormously. But let’s be clear, the safety issue is with dioxane, not with SLES per se.

It’s easy to get our “issues” muddled. We sometimes confuse of naturalness with safety, and ecological matters are quite distinct, both from naturalness AND from safety. Also, consumers may not understand complex toxicological issues. (So my shampoo DOES contain a carcinogen, and you’re OK with that!? Why are we even debating how much is acceptable? I just want poison-free products!). If only it was that simple.

cola-drinksCola drinks are flavored, in part, with natural essential oils, one of which is nutmeg oil. Nutmeg oil naturally contains safrole, which is a rodent carcinogen, and safrole levels in cola drinks have been measured and are known. Are cola drinks therefore evil? Will they kill our children? Actually, no. The amount of safrole is so small that it has no adverse effect, and this is why cola drinks are permitted. And, there is absolutely no correlation between cola consumption and liver cancer, which really does prove that no harm is being caused. I’m NOT saying that carcinogens are cool, I’m just saying that you will find them everywhere if you look hard enough.

Fortunately, our bodies are designed to cope with tiny amounts of naturally occurring toxins and carcinogens. If they were not, we would not live very long because just about everything we consume contains trace quantities of something nasty. As with cola drinks, we can find toxins in the foods that we eat, in our essential oils, vegetable oils, genuinely organic products etc. The presence of a toxin is not necessarily cause for alarm, but the amount in which it is present, our degree of exposure to it, the ease with which it enters the human body, and the degree to which it does or does not accumulate may raise the safety stakes. This is what I mean by complex toxicological issues. Simply pointing out that “substance A” contains “toxin B” is what is known as scaremongering.

Natural does not necessarily mean safe, and synthetic does not necessarily mean dangerous. But I’m not saying that every synthetic substance is warm and fuzzy. Sometimes the way they are manufactured is anything but environmentally friendly, but note that I said “sometimes.”

I support Personal Care Truth because I’m tired of seeing legislation being passed that unfairly discriminates against natural essential oils, the evidence being twisted to suit an agenda. I’m tired of hearing that linalool (a major constituent of many essential oils) is a skin allergen and a neurotoxin, as the Environmental Working Group would have us believe. Incredibly, they also flag up a concern under “Cancer” (more on this soon). And I’m equally tired of hearing that parabens cause breast cancer.

Let’s be clear that safety, naturalness and environmental friendliness are three distinct issues. And, when discussing safety, please let’s not be scaremongers. It’s not helpful to anyone, and it does nothing but create unnecessary fear and anguish.

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