The Devil in Your Deodorant

By Veronidae (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I've been doing a lot of reading in the last few years about the substances that our bodies are absorbing through our beauty products, many of which have been discovered to be harmful and some of which are thought to cause early puberty in girls as young as seven. This should be a concern for those of us with children.

Following a post on Facebook by a woman complaining of mould on her lip balm, I realised that many of us aren't even aware of what's in the products we're slathering on our faces and bodies.

Unfortunately the preservatives that we've been putting in our food and beauty products has trained us to believe that mould is equal to rot, and that anything that looks mildly old should go straight to the refuse bin. South Africa alone generates more than 9 million tonnes of wasted food every year, while millions of people still go hungry every night.

The balm mentioned in the post is an all-natural and 95% organic product, and it is likely that the mould is the result of the user's own skin cells and probably the remainder of food on their lips. Someone mentions that their natural bee balm product does not grow mould, but bee propolis is also a natural antibacterial agent, so mould won't grow on that. It saddens me that people don't know that!

The balm in question above is also pabove araben-free, petrolatum-free, and phthalate-free. Why should these three ingredients be removed from a beauty product? Because they're (possibly) quite harmful in fact.

Paraben molecular representation
Firstly, parabens, esters of an acid, are the chemical that preserve your beauty product and this is why the balm has grown mould. Parabens have been used in cosmetics and beauty products since the 1950s and can currently be found in around 85% of cosmetics. Usually more than one form of the chemical can be found in your cosmetics, including butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. Concerns were raised in the 1990s after parabens were found to have gathered in cancerous tumours and were thus believed to imitate the function of estrogen in the body. Parabens have been found to have a weak effect on estrogen levels and many doctors say people should not be paranoically concerned.

By Kiyok (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Secondly, petrolatum, also known as mineral oil jelly, soft paraffin,  or petroleum jelly, is the queen of beauty products. It's in everything from lip balm to hair conditioner. It works really well to lock moisture into the skin and hair. But the European Union has restricted its use in cosmetics as it considers it a carcinogenic. It is a by-product of oil production and may be contamination with stuff called polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons and studies have linked these with cancer.

Potassium Hydrogen Phthalate
Thirdly, phthalates, also esters of an acid, that are used to make plastics more flexible, although they cannot become chemically bonded to the plastics they're added to. This means they're released into the air around us, our water, and into the product (food, liquid, cosmetic) the plastic is retaining. This release of phthalate is why plastic becomes hard and brittle over time, by the way. In cosmetics, they are also used to help fragrances last longer, increase a product's spreadability, and help lotions to penetrate the skin. The are also found in fatty foods such as milk, butter, and meat and this is apparently where we receive most of our phthalates from. Because of their widespread use, it is very simple for them to be absorbed into our bodies. Babies are particularly at risk: plastic toys + baby's mouth = oral absorption of phthalates.

Although the danger phthalates represent to humans have not been studied, as all studies have been undertaken on animals, the studies do suggest that phthalates can affect gestational age and birth weight, lower sperm reproduction, and abnormalities of male genitals. Other studies are looking at how phthalates might have a relationship with asthma, early puberty, and childhood obesity. The Breast Cancer Fund says phthalates disrupt the body's hormones as well and a high exposure to the ester may result in cancer.

Checking for phthalates is difficult: manufacturers apparently do not have to list them separately on the ingredients list, and sometimes they'll only be referred to as 'fragrance'. And finding phthalate-free plastics can also be a nightmare.

The problem for me is the fact that we're consuming more than just one low-dose paraben-, petroleum- or phthalate-including product a day and surely it all adds up. I don't use many beauty products - I'm abnormal - and I already have six products I use daily that include one or all of the above chemicals. All six have 'Fragrance', all sit in phthalate-leaking plastic all day, and at least two had a form of paraben in them. I happen to use petroleum jelly for my feet. So I'm too wicked to preach. :)

So what are we to do? Use more glassware, metalware, avoid plastic items, buy children's toys that are made from special plastic... and all of this at a higher cost of course. A cost that sadly the majority of the population cannot afford.

{Image credits in order of appearance:
By Veronidae (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}
By Kiyok (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}


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