This article had several editions, but I think it’s still interesting both for parents and for anyone else. People talk about “green, biologic, organic” but in this field hoaxes are very easily spread out, and they are less easy to detect as such. It’s important, therefore, to ask people who are more knowledgeable: Fabrizio Zago is one of them, a chemist who is trying to keep the information flowing without raising alarm.
PEG, BHT, paraffinum liquidum: these terms are everywhere if you happen to read the ingredients in bottles of shampoo, shower gel and creams. Their meaning, however, is difficult to decipher for most of the public. Indeed, most parents try to buy for their children the best products, the one that are advertised as “delicate, hypoallergenic” without thinking that they might be slightly different from what they think. “Companies only need to prove that a product has certain characteristics or that they did some testing in a pediatric clinic. In fact, laws regarding cosmetics, in Italy, are not as advanced as those governing detergents.” Fabrizio Zago is an industrial chemist and author of Biodizionario.it, a website that lists the ingredients found in many cosmetic products and ranks them with green, yellow and red stickers, depending on their hazard to people or the environment. “In detergents, for example, all substances that are not biodegradable are forbidden. For cosmetics, however, there is no such law. ”
The first problem, according to Zago, therefore concerns “what is thrown down the drain”, substances that are sometimes harmful to the environment: “Biodizionario mostly signals the environmental impact of products we use everyday, and the PEG class of substances, polyetylen glycol, is just one example of products that are not easily disposed: they create problems even to the marine world. Their percentage of petroleum reaches 99.9 percent.” Their health hazard is not obvious, but it’s better to be careful: “If they were pure, obtained in a laboratory, they would not be harmful. However, in the real world during the processing of these substances a few others are created, such as dioxane which is suspected of causing damage to the nervous system and to be carcinogenic. It would be better for PEGs not to be present in any product, even because petrol is wasted making them.”
The pollutants, therefore, are the real danger behind components made of petroleum, including the ubiquitous paraffinum liquidum or mineral oil. “The law states that you can use them if they have a certain degree of purity: there is a limit of 3 percent of pollutants. I prefer, however, to prevent the risk: if a zinc oxide paste, for example, contains 2.9 percent of pollutants it is legal, but can I be sure that it is less evil than an illegal one, with 3.1 percent? Another condition which needs to be discussed is that there are other molecules that can replace petrolatum, with the same function of creating a protective barrier, which do not come from oil. Mineral oil is still used because it is cheap.”
Ingredients are listed depending on the amount that is present in that particular product, but it’s not so simple: “You can’t count on that, unfortunately: the requirement does not apply if their percentage is less than 1 percent in the composition. Producers know what substances are less pleasing to consumers, so they just list them at the bottom provided they are less of 1 per cent.” They can therefore be “hidden” by others which are more neutral, even though their amount might be higher.
Parents have a higher level of attention when buying baby products, with tighter controls in accordance with European law. “There are, however, substances that are still used, which I think is intolerable: the first one is perfume. Today it is widely known that most allergies are born in the first months or first years of life and perfume is one of the substances that creates them. Even worse are the BHT or BHA: they are antioxidants, with the sole purpose of not letting the cream turn yellow. However, they are on the list of possible disturbers of the Endocrine system, which means that they could create a hormonal imbalance if they are absorbed. ”
Another thing to pay attention to is natural remedies, even in cosmetics: “Natural does not necessarily mean good, curare for example is very natural. We should stop talking of “green” or “organic” and instead consider the level of toxicity, biodegradability and other values: they ensure that the product that is absorbed is not harmful.”
Equally important is the attention to be given to what can be read on the Internet: “It’s the science that must be carried out, if multinationals continue to see all this ignorance they won’t ever be troubled in what they do. Urban legends are harmful to the movement for a more sustainable world: every stupid thing said is a mortal wound inflicted by those who want a minute of fame.”
Ilaria M. Linetti
PEG and paraffinum liquidum are products of petroleum origin. They are not necessarily harmful but can contain pollutants: by law 3 percent is tolerated.
One of the tricks of the cosmetics companies is to list the ingredients that are less pleasing to the public at the bottom of the list: it is legitimate if they represent less than 1 percent of the product.
The “baby” products are more controlled than those for adults, but sometimes they still contain dangerous substances like BHT or BHA and perfume.
“Delicate” and “Baby” do not necessarily indicate a product without potentially harmful components: it just means that companies are following the laws in force, less severe than those for detergents.
Understanding the components is important regarding all the products that are used: creams, bubble bath, shampoo can be harmful to people and the environment.