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Issue 12
, 2009
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My Chemical Soul

Salil Chaturvedi
Source: Salil Chaturvedi, Date: , 2009

soapIt was close to midnight and I wasn’t being able to sleep. See, I’ve had this irritating allergy for about seven years now. My eyes swell up and get all puffy and raw, and the skin around the eyes itches in a strange way from the inside. A helpful and well-meaning skin specialist had told me to think about how I spend my day, what I eat, what I use, what I wear... you get the picture.



So, at midnight, I had this moment of inspiration and I decided to explore my life a little. I tip-toed around the house, collecting bottles from the bathroom, the fridge and the kitchen. My plan was simple: list the things that I use on a daily basis and try and isolate the problem ingredient. Blackie, our adopted street dog, (variously called Bilkis, Blankie, and Bucket), followed me around, wagging her chrysanthemum-like tail, hoping for a mid-night snack. I gave her some dog biscuits and settled down on the sofa for some heavy-duty midnight research.



The bottles were arranged all around me and my laptop was hooked to the Internet. I was ready to go. I must confess, though, that I felt slightly guilty about the whole thing. After all, responsible companies run by responsible, upright people had spent millions of dollars testing these products in every possible way, and here I was, a Doubting Thomas, sneakily checking up on them at midnight. I felt somewhat like a burglar, but what to do? My allergy had driven me to desperation.



So, how did I spend my day? I began by brushing my teeth with the extra whitener toothpaste. I picked up my favourite toothpaste and listed the ingredients.



toothpasteMy tooth paste X Advanced Whitener has the following ingredients: Silica Sorbitol, Glycerine, Sodium fluoride. It also said that children under 6 years of age should use it under adult supervision and only a ‘pea’ amount. It also said ‘Do not swallow, spit and rinse thoroughly’.



I decided to go after sodium fluoride and googled it on the laptop.



I found that kidneys can eliminate only about 50% of the daily fluoride intake. The rest gets absorbed in calcified tissues, like bones and teeth. For the average individual, a retention of 2mg/day would result in crippling skeletal fluorosis after 40 years. Small children, even if pea-size amount is used, will still absorb the same, more if the child is younger and has less swallowing control skills. Half a tube of toothpaste can kill a child.


So my toothpaste was not the culprit. Sodium Fluoride didn’t cause any allergies as far as I could tell. And now I knew how to pop off annoying children. Not bad, for ten-minute’s worth of research.


I scratched my eyes a bit and moved on. After brushing, I normally shave and put on an after shave lotion. I checked on the lotion.



Lotion content : Alcohol denatured with 1% diethyl phthalate.



Off to the Internet, again. I found that phthalates are a family of chemical plasticizers that are used in personal care products as solvents and to moisturize skin. They are almost synonymous with fragrance. Phthalates have been shown to cause birth defects, reproductive impairments, and liver damage in lab animals.



That was cool, then, no allergies.



I also found that manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients used in ‘fragrance’, but common ingredients also include methylene chloride, toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, ethyl alcohol and benzyl chloride, all of which are hazardous. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, ‘fragrance’ is the number one cause of allergic reactions in cosmetics.


There it was! An allergy caused by fragrance. But it didn’t mention diethyl phthalate, specifically, so maybe this wasn’t it. I decide to move on.



Okay, so next I have a bath, sometimes I shampoo my hair and sometimes, when it’s hot I apply talcum powder. I prefer A talcum powder and use B, or C and, on occasion, D shampoo. Actually, to tell the truth, it depends on what my wife is using.



So I started listing the ingredients. Now it started getting a bit complicated. If I hadn’t had the allergy for seven years I would have given up right here. Here’s the list of ingredients:



My shampoo contained Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Sodium Chloride, Glucerin, Glycol Distearate, Hexylene Glycol, Cocamide Mipa, Polyquaternium 10, Disodium Ricinoleamido MEA-Sulfosuccinate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Butylparaben, Hexyl Cinnamal, Ethylparaben, Hydroxypropyltrimonium hydrolized wheat protein, Isopropanolamine, Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Magnesium acetate, 2-Oleamido-13-Octadecanediol, Linalool, Asparitic Acid, Glycine, Arginine, Parfum (fragrance).



What the +#@$%? Was this rocket fuel or a shampoo? Ummm, I think I’ll go for this polyquarternium 10 thing. Click, click, type, type, enter.



Quarterniums are toxic, cause skin rashes and allergic reactions. They are formaldehyde releasers. Dr Epstein reports in his book that there is substantive evidence of casual relation to leukaemia, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and other cancers.



There was the allergy again. This Sodium Laureth Sulfate also sounds promising. Click, click, type, type, enter.



Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is found in soaps and shampoos and is exactly the same as you would find in a car wash or even a garage, where it is used to degrease car engines. In the same way as it dissolves the grease on car engines, sodium lauryl sulfate dissolves the oils on your skin, which can cause a drying effect. It is also well documented that it denatures skin proteins, which causes not only irritation, but also allows environmental contaminants easier access to the lower, sensitive layers of the skin.


Perhaps most worryingly, SLS is also absorbed into the body from skin application. Once it has been absorbed, one of the main effects of sodium lauryl sulfate is to mimic the activity of the hormone oestrogen. This may be responsible for a variety of health problems from PMS and Menopausal symptoms to dropping male fertility and increasing female cancers such as breast cancer, where oestrogen levels are known to be involved.


No allergies there, as far as I could tell.


B– A Delightful Experience, contained Cetearyl Alcohol, Propylene Glycol, Chlorohexidine Dihydrochloride, Glyceryl Stearate, Hydrogenated Patrimonium Chloride, Methylparaben, Quaternium-80, Tilia Cordata Flower extract, Parfum / Fragrance (C15056/1)



Hmmm…Propylene Glycol?



Propylene glycol (PG) is a petroleum derivative. It penetrates the skin and can weaken protein and cellular structure. Commonly used to make extracts from herbs. PG is strong enough to remove barnacles from boats! The EPA considers PG so toxic that it requires workers to wear protective gloves, clothing and goggles and to dispose of any PG solutions by burying them in the ground. Because PG penetrates the skin so quickly, the EPA warns against skin contact to prevent consequences such as brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities. But there isn't even a warning label on products such as stick deodorants, where the concentration is greater than in most industrial applications. I remembered the time when my father-in-law had tried a deodorant stick and then roamed around the house in a vest for a week because of the allergy he had in his armpits.



I was getting hooked to this, so I continued.



Baby Shampoo contained Sodium Lauroamphoacetate, Polysorbate20, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PEG-150 Distearate, Cocoamidopropyl Betaine, PPG-2-Hydroxyethyl Cocamide, Cetyl Triethylmonium Dimethicone, PEG-8 Succinate, Acrylamidopropyltrimonium ChloridelAcrylamide Copolymer, Polyquarternium-10, Quaternium-15, Fragrance, Benzyl alcohol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Citric acid.



Lots of quarterniums here. Why not try something else? Dimethicone? Click, click, type, type, enter.



Silicone emollients are occlusive, that is, they coat the skin, trapping anything beneath it, and do not allow the skin to breathe (much like plastic wrap would do.) Recent studies have indicated that prolonged exposure of the skin to sweat, by occlusion, causes skin irritation. Some synthetic emollients are known tumour promoters and accumulate in the liver and lymph nodes. They are also non-biodegradable, causing negative environmental impact.



Facial Cream Mask. I don’t use this, okay! It just came along with all the other stuff that the wife uses. It contains Butylene Glycol, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Ethyhexyl Stearate, Butyrospermum ParkII, Cyclopentasiloxane, Methyl Gluceth-20, GlycerylPolymethacrylate, cetyl Alcohol, Ammonium Acryloldimethyl Taurate, Ribes Nicrum, Tocopheryl Acetate, Imidazolidinyl, Urea, Propylene glycol, Sodium benzoate, Ethylenediamine, Denatonium Benzoate, Butyl Paraben.



So many chemicals… so little time. Ummm...I’ll go for Butyl Paraben. Click, click, type, type, enter.



Parabens are used as inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend the shelf-life of products. Widely used even though they are known to be toxic. Have caused many allergic reactions and skin rashes. Highly toxic. Harmful if swallowed or inhaled. Cause irritation to skin, eyes and respiratory tract. May cause allergic skin reaction. Eye contact causes irritation, redness, and pain.



Wow! A cream mask that causes skin rashes!



Ingredient of my talcum powder – Triclosan, Isopropyl Myristate.



Triclosan please, it has a nice ring to it. Click, click, type, type, enter.



Triclosan (in talcum and toothpastes) could be, and is suspected to be, contaminated with dioxins. Dioxins can be found in triclosan as impurities formed during the manufacturing process. Researchers who added triclosan to river water and exposed it to ultraviolet light found that a significant portion of the triclosan was converted to dioxins, raising fears that sunlight could transform triclosan to dioxins naturally. A study by researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute finds that triclosan reacts with chlorine molecules in tap water to form chlorinated dioxins, which are highly toxic forms of dioxin. The same study also found that the combination of tap water and triclosan produces significant quantities of chloroform, which is a probable human carcinogen. Production of chloroform and dioxins may also be a problem in pools, where there are high levels of chlorine that can react to triclosan residues on people's skin.


My mosquito repellent lotion – Diethyltoluamide topical lotion.



Diethyltoluamide has not been studied in pregnant women. However, studies in animals have shown that diethyltoluamide is passed on to the offspring. One animal study has shown diethyltoluamide to cause death of the foetus. Before using diethyltoluamide, make sure your doctor knows if you are pregnant or if you may become pregnant.


Toilet Cleaner (Lemon) – Hydrochloric Acid, Benzalkonium Chloride, Amine Ethoxylate, Acid Brilliant Blue, Perfume.



Benzalkonium Chloride is corrosive and toxic, It causes burns. It is harmful by inhalation, ingestion and through skin contact. May cause reproductive defects.


So what about my allergy? Forget the allergy, the question gnawing my mind now is, with all these chemicals in my body, what about my soul? Who knows, maybe the soul is just another chemical compound. Perhaps a company is toiling right now to develop denaturised 5% soul patches that are to be worn on the arm when you have a soul craving.