Your Bathroom Cabinet Breakdown
Good|June 2017

Difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to decipher, the labels on your family’s day-to-day products could be hiding a wealth of scary secrets. We consult the experts and set about decoding your daily regimen...

Sheila Deocareza

So, you eat organic, buy eco-detergent and try to avoid toxins wherever you can. But if your bathroom cabinet looks like that of the average family, the chances are it’s hiding a wealth of chemicals you’d rather avoid.

Eliminating toxins in our homes, and reducing our children’s exposure in particular, is a minefield at the best of times, and the problem is exacerbated here in the UAE, where the products we’re buying are imported from so many different countries that understanding what they can contain is near impossible – what is banned in Europe may well not be in the USA, for example.

“For years, our most trusted brands have contained harmful ingredients, which are only now coming to light,” explains Gemma O’Dwyer, brand manager for UAE-based natural beauty e-store Beautiful Brands. “In recent years, research has uncovered more dangers, but the truth is the beauty industry is a multimillion-dollar business and to uncover these alarming ingredients can damage a company’s reputation overnight. The good news is that we are starting to see more and more ethical brands eliminating these ingredients from their products, but until regulations are tightened, we are still exposed to the risk of finding these in our everyday products.”

That said, knowing that there could be potentially questionable ingredients in even the most day-to-day family products is one thing, learning how to decipher the labels is another thing entirely. Some basic rules can make a big difference – if you can’t pronounce it, it’s likely a chemical, so do your research before buying. Know that ingredients are listed in order of highest concentration, so while a product might claim to be ‘natural’, if natural oils are listed behind a host of chemical ingredients, it’s likely the natural ingredients aren’t very active. There is no international standard for what can be branded ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ in beauty either, so brand research is critical.

To make things easier, we pulled together a panel of natural beauty experts to point us in the right direction, highlighting the key ingredients you might want to try eradicating from your family bathroom. Gemma and her colleague, Beautiful Brand’s founder Anna van Rosendveldt, pharmacist Samina Ghori, managing partner Lucrae General Trading LLC, and Aly Rahimtoola, founder of Herbal Essentials, each cast their eye over a range of our most commonly used beauty products and gave us a rundown of the nasties they’ve binned from their households. The results might surprise you...

SHAMPOO

What does it say on the bottle?

Sodium laureth sulphate/SLS/SLES

What is it?

Sodium laureth sulphate is a type of detergent used in all manner of cleaning products, from your shampoo to the cleaner you use on your garage floor.

What does it do?

It’s a lathering agent, used to create the foamy bubbles we’ve come to expect from shampoos. It’s the lack of SLS that means organic shampoos create far fewer bubbles.

Should you avoid it?

Our experts say yes. “The US Environmental Protection Agency recognises it is a potential carcinogenic,” explains Amy. While SLS does cut through grease effectively, its potency also means it can cause skin irritation and dry out the hair and scalp.

Where else is it found?

In some brands of toothpaste, mouthwash, bodywash and shower gels and soaps, as well as in all manner of household detergents.

What does it say on the bottle?

Parabens. In specific terms, these can include ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.

What is it?

Parabens are a group of chemicals that prevent bacteria growth.

What does it do?

Because parabens stop bacteria from multiplying they help extend your product’s shelf life. The more natural a product is, the shorter its use-by period is likely to be.

Should you avoid it?

While the medical community is split over whether parabens pose any real risk to health at permitted levels, they are a known allergen and should be avoided in shampoo by anyone with sensitive or reactive skin. “Parabens have been associated with allergic reactions,” explains Samina, “and sometimes when consumers think they are allergic to a specific product, they’re actually reacting to the preservatives”.

Where else is it found?

Parabens are used in all manner of beauty products, and are particularly common in deodorant, lotion, lipstick and body scrubs.

What does it say on the bottle?

Dimethicone, otherwise known as poly dimethylsiloxane or PDMS

What is it?

A silicone-based polymer or, in layman’s terms, a type of plastic.

What does it do?

Used as a smoothing agent, dimethicone is a popular ingredient in shampoo as it makes hair appear smooth, shiny and visibly healthy.

Should you avoid it?

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