Chemical Soul

By Salil Chaturvedi

I’ve had this itching allergy for about seven years now. My eyes swell up and get all puffy and raw-like and the skin around the eyes itches in a strange way from the inside. A skin specialist told me to think about how I spend my day, what I eat, what I use, what I wear, etc. So, my plan was simple, list the things that I use on a daily basis and try and isolate the problem ingredient. How do I spend my day? I begin by brushing my teeth with the extra whitener toothpaste. I picked up my favourite toothpaste and listed the ingredients.

Colgate Advanced Whitener: Silica Sorbitol, Glycerine, Sodium fluoride.

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 safe. Sodium Fluoride didn’t cause any allergies. And now I knew how to pop off irritating 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.

Old Spice: 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 to moisturize skin and as a solvent. They are almost synonymous with fragrance. Phthalates have been shown to cause birth defects, reproductive impairments, and liver damage in lab animals. Well, at least they’re not allergic. 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. What shampoo I use depends on the wife. I decided to pick a couple and list the ingredients. Now it started getting a bit complicated. If I hadn’t had the allergy for seven years I would have given up then and there. Here’s the list of ingredients:

L’Oreal Liss Extreme 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 shampoo or rocket fuel? I decided to zoom in on polyquarternium 10. 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.

Aha! Sodium Laureth Sulfate also sounded promising. Sodium Laureth 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.

Ultra Doux – 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 on to this, so I continued.

Oriflame Yoghurt and Blackcurrant Cream Mask. I don’t use this, okay? It just came along with all the other stuff that the wife uses. Among other noxious sounding ingredients, it contains Butyl Paraben. 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!

Good Knight 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. Lesson that I learned: Don’t try and make babies if you are applying Good Knight!

Surely these companies have souls and god-fearing, nice people working for them; people who have children of their own? They’d never put out deadly stuff like this, would they?

And my allergy? Well, it’s been sort of under control thanks to the Ayurveda Acharya who gave me some medicines and said authoritatively “Don’t Eat Ketchup.” Strangely, he is right. Every time I eat anything with a hint of chemical preservatives in it, my barometer eyes begin to announce the fact. The question gnawing my mind now is, with all these chemicals in my body, is my soul intact? Maybe the soul is just another chemical compound. Perhaps a company is toiling right now to develop denaturated 5% soul patches that could be worn unobtrusively on the arm.

Modified from a post on Salil's blog, Saliloquy

1 thought on “Chemical Soul

  1. Geeta Padmanabhan

    So that’s what you’ve been doing, Salil, reading the small print on your wife’s cosmetic bottles! Time well spent and all those who are not on the manufacturers’ side should be blushing naturally and thanking you!



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