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Parabens, Phthalates, Petrolatum, Oh My!

Hi, my name is Nicole, and I’m addicted to chapstick. I keep chapstick in my pocket, in my car, several in my bag or purse, on the coffee table, on my desk and kitchen counter. Needless to say, I apply chapstick no less than seven times per day. This has led me to wonder, where does it go? Chances are I’m eating a good amount of it. And if you’re a chapstick addict (or lipstick addict for that matter) like me, you’re probably eating a bunch of chapstick too.

If you are reading this, you’re likely already health conscious and picky about the ingredients that go into your food. I urge you also to be mindful of the ingredients that go into your lip care and other personal care products. These ingredients matter too!

Not only do we ingest a good amount of chapstick, but we also absorb some of the lotion, cream and deodorant that we put on our skin. We absorb and inhale the perfume/cologne, hairspray, sunscreen and bug sprays we put on. We are constantly involuntarily exposed to toxins in our environment. When you have the choice, spare your body from the extra burden. It will thank you.

I know it can feel overwhelming and time-consuming to try and figure out what products you should and shouldn’t be using. The good news is The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done all the legwork for you. They’ve done their research and have evaluated hundreds of safety studies and thousands of ingredient labels, so you don’t have to. They created a handy free database called Skin Deep. Skin deep allows you to search for the products you’re using and provides you with a safety rating. If your particular product isn’t in their database, you can search for individual ingredients.

Here are the main things to look out for and avoid:

Parabens: when looking for these the ingredient will contain the word paraben. Several common ones include methylparaben and propylparaben. They are a family of preservatives that are used in many personal care products, pharmaceuticals and food (1). Parabens are endocrine disruptors, meaning they are chemicals that mimics human hormones. In the case of parabens, they mimic estrogen. Parabens are associated with:

  • Decreased male fertility (2). 15% of couples are affected by infertility, and half of these cases are due to male infertility from low sperm motility and/or sperm count

  • Breast cancer (3), (4)

  • Obesity (5)

Phalates: are a group of chemicals that have also been classified as endocrine disruptors. They have adverse effects on the thyroid and male fertility. They also increase oxidative stress (again the opposite of an anti-oxidant) which are also associated with asthma and obesity.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate: are sunscreens used in chapstick and other products. They cause the body to produce a lot of reactive oxygen species (basically the opposite of an anti-oxidant). Like parabens, they are mild endocrine disruptors and have a high level of bioaccumulation meaning they build up in the body (7, 8).

Petrolatum: also known as petroleum jelly and mineral oil, is derived from petroleum. The concern here is that it may contain trace amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are considered probable carcinogens. Although cosmetic grade petroleum goes through a rigorous purification process, why risk it?

A note on fragrances... Fragrances are common ingredients in everything from laundry soap to lotion. Here’s what the EWG says: "Recent research from EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, none of them listed on the label. Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. Our advice? Buy fragrance-free wherever possible.” (9)

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