Dec 4th, 2016, 11:55 PM

It Reads Bio: But It May Mean Toxic

By Carolina Galbiati
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Westport Wiki
Are your toiletries potentially harmful?

As America leads the global trend towards beauty and hygiene products deemed "organic" or simply "healthy," consumers are increasingly putting their safety in the hands of big brands that give promises of being "natural" and "safe"—promises that are often false. What is really happening, under the glossy graphics and appealing commercials, is that producers have found a way to circumvent regulations and introduce dangerous chemicals that increase the risks of cancer, skin decay, hair loss, and allergies. When comparing the chemical regulations in America and Europe, it is evident that Europe bans more carcinogenic products than the U.S. However, because of the uprising in popularity of organic products in the United States, and the growth in organic department stores and supermarkets, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, this natural consumer environment allows American customers to choose between products that have none of the less well-known chemicals that are still present in European products.

As a Californian state-of-mind girl and a Whole Foods lover, I find myself really struggling when it comes to finding truly organic products for my standard beauty care routine in Paris. A simple Google search of many of the ingredients common in European products reveal that they are essentially as dangerous as many of their banned counterparts. Even the most bio brands contain chemicals that are linked to breast and brain cancer, aging and overall contamination. For example, the main chemicals to avoid in shampoo and conditioners are sodium lauryl sulfates, fragrance, triclosan, cocamidopropyl betaine and polythylene glycol. The danger in these chemicals is quite serious: they are known to cause hormonal discharge, increased chances of brain or breast tumors, skin pigmentation and hair loss, and general body dysfunction. According to Real Sample, British scientists have found samples of parabens and sulfates in breast and brain cancer tissues, chemicals that are found in 99.9% of deodorants, cleansing gels and hair products in the Western Hemisphere. During my personal research, with the help of some American friends, we performed a shelf-to-shelf test. I went to a Monoprix Beauty Store, a Monoprix that has the widest range of beauty products and merchandise for one's standard personal health routine. Known to be one of the most expensive department stores in France, I searched for items and brands that contained the least amount, if none, of the chemicals I mentioned. I found only two shampoo and conditioner brands without parabens and sulfates, out of the 56 brand that Monoprix offers. In the soap department, only two out of 17 brands did not contain sodium lauryl sulfates—considered by many to be the most carcinogenic ingredient in soap. 100 percent of deodorants contained sulfates and cocamidopropyl betaine, both linked to breast cancer. There was no consistency between products marked "natural" or "bio" and the presence or absence of these chemicals—which begs the question: what does "bio" actually mean?

However, a shelf-test performed independently at a Californian Whole Foods found that the consumer climate is much more diverse in America. 20 out of the 33 brands of shampoos and conditioners did not contain parabens and sulfates; 14 out of 15 soap merchandise was SLS-free, and nine out of the 20 deodorant products did not contain either sulfates or cocomidopropyl betaine. While Whole Foods is an organic-only store, it is the 5th leading supermarket in America, grossing an average of 18 billion dollars a year, according to Statista. As it is one of the most expensive supermarkets on Earth, the data demonstrates the phenomenal success of organic department stores in America.

Image Credit: Flickr/noricum

Unfortunately, a lack true of distinction between a "normal" and "organic" supermarket in France has led to this consumer confusion. Naturalia, Biocoop and Bio'C'Bon are the only organic market chains in Paris—and their locations are usually dwarfed by any neighborhood Monoprix. An identical shelf test performed in Naturalia, the biggest organic market chain in Paris, revealed that the store's advertisements do not hold true to their product lines. Out of the 55 shampoos and conditioners available, only 13 had none of the chemicals identified to be dangerous—while an additional seven excluded only SLSs. In the deodorant and soap sections, two out of ten deodorant brands did not contain toxins, and only four soap detergents out of ten were chemical-free. These relatively low results show the artificiality of the ethos behind Naturalia. Interestingly, France is the second largest consumer market for organic products in Europe; additionally, the market is expected to expand significantly by 2018, according to Bordbia food alert.

In the meantime, here are the toxins to avoid in your beauty care routine: sodium lauryl sulfates, parabens (prefixes ethyl, methyl, butyl, propyl), cocamidopropyl betaine, polythene glycol, ethanolamines, formaldehyde, triclosan, coal or tar coloring agents (usually identified as "D&C"), fragrances (specifically DEHP, DHP, DBP, DBP 5, and dibutyl phtalate), petrolatum, butylated hydroxyanisole and toluene. Unfortunately, the lack of consistency between the "bio" label and the actual contents of many products demonstrates the decaying relationship between the industry and the consumer. Many companies and law regulators have decided to overlook certain aspects of our hygiene, betraying the customer's trust by beautifully designed packaging, fooling us into buying products that in reality are more harmful than using none at all.