Bath and shower products, as part of the $50-billion personal care products industry, have become big business in the United States.
Indeed, from the looks of ads, enticing aromatic soaps and gels have clearly become part of that invigorating daily shower or relaxing hot bath experience.
But have you ever glimpsed at the label of that fragrantly silky gel you're splashing over your hands and body or that bar of soap that promises to keep you smelling great all day long?
Do you really know what's in those products you're slathering over your body? Do you know if those ingredients are safe?
If I were to tell you that your shower and bath products could be putting you at risk for less-than-optimal skin and eye health, immune and endocrine function, and possibly even cancer, would you pay a little more attention to your products' ingredients?
When you or a family member bathe or shower with questionably safe products, you risk…
- Exposing highly sensitive mucous membranes
- Inhaling ingredient fumes and irritating your lungs
- Accidentally swallowing potentially toxic ingredients
- Absorption through your skin, your largest organ
- Contact with your eyes
Soaps and Shower Gels: What You Don't Know CAN Harm You
Did you know that applying a substance to your skin isn't much different from eating it? In fact, I believe it may be even worse.
And let's not forget… a hot steaming shower…
- Opens your skin pores
- Drives a high absorption rate of chemicals directly into your system
- Vaporizes 70 to 90% of the chemicals present so you inhale them into your lungs
When you consider that products such as shower gels and soaps may be used daily, you can imagine the chemical residue that may build up over the years.
What's in Your Bottle of Shower Gel and Liquid Hand Soap?
Take a second and grab a bottle of your liquid hand soap or shower gel.
Most have the same basic six groups of ingredients to provide effective cleansing, lathering, and moisturizing. These six groups of ingredients include:
Typically the main ingredient listed in bath and shower gels. Functions as the liquid solvent for the other ingredients.
Act to increase foam and provide thickening for bath gels, giving them their gel-like consistency.
Used to clean the skin.
Create a lather or foam when the bath gel or liquid soap is applied to the skin.
Extend the shelf life of bath gels and liquid soaps and prevent microbial contamination.
Most shower gels contain fragrance to cover up the chemical smell of other ingredients and to help make using the shower gel a pleasing experience. Most fragrances used in shower gels are synthetic. Some may be derived from essential oils and natural plant extracts.
7 Questionable Ingredients to Avoid
Certain chemical ingredients can potentially cause problems for your skin when applied as a liquid or bar soap and are best avoided.
The 7 ingredients topping the "To Avoid" list include…
- Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS/SLES)
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, detergent, and emulsifier used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners. Present in nearly all shampoos, toothpastes, body washes, and cleansers, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents, and bath oils and bath salts.
Although SLS originates from coconuts, the manufacturing process results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic byproduct.
SLS is the sodium salt of lauryl sulfate, and is rated by the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database as a "moderate hazard."
SLS breaks down the skin's moisture barrier, easily penetrates the skin, and allows other chemicals to penetrate by increasing skin permeability by approximately 100-fold.
Combined with other chemicals, SLS becomes a "nitrosamine," a potent class of carcinogen.
Research studies have linked SLS to skin and eye irritation, organ toxicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity, cellular changes, possible mutations, and cancer.
Common in a wide range of products as part of PEG, Polysorbates, Laureth, and ethoxylated alcohols. These compounds are usually contaminated with high concentrations of highly volatile 1,4-dioxane which is easily absorbed through the skin.
This "probable carcinogen to humans" substance has received a "high hazard" rating from EWG's Skin Deep and is especially toxic to your brain, central nervous system, kidneys, and liver.
A synthetic derivative of coconut, watch for misleading language on labels, stating "comes from coconut."
Avoid any product with indications of ethoxylation, which include: "myreth," "oleth," "laureth," "ceteareth," any other "eth," "PEG," "polyethylene," "polyethylene glycol," "polyoxyethylene," or "oxynol," in ingredient names.
Widely used as preservatives in an estimated 13,200 cosmetic and skin care products, parabens have been connected with breast cancer in studies.
They have hormone-disrupting qualities, mimicking estrogen, and interfere with the body's endocrine system. Studies have shown that parabens can affect your body much like estrogens, which can lead to diminished muscle mass, extra fat storage, and male breast growth.
The EPA has linked methyl parabens in particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal, and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers.
- Propylene glycol
A common ingredient in personal care products, it's been shown to cause dermatitis, kidney or liver abnormalities, and may inhibit skin cell growth or cause skin irritation.
Also found in engine coolants, antifreeze, rubber cleaners, adhesives, and paints and varnishes.
- Diethanolamine or DEA
DEA readily reacts with nitrite preservatives and contaminants to create nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA), a known and potent carcinogen.
DEA also appears to block absorption of the nutrient choline, vital to brain development.
Toluene, made from petroleum or coal tar, is found in most synthetic fragrances. Chronic exposure is linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing fetus.
Synthetic fragrances can also be drying and irritating to your skin.
The antibacterial agent added to many liquid hand soaps to help kill germs. Triclosan is suspected of contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
Triclosan Can Transform Into Something Even More Dangerous
Here's something else you may not know about that innocent-looking bottle of liquid hand soap sitting next to your sink.
When triclosan mixes with the chlorine in your tap water, chloroform is formed, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified as a probable human carcinogen.
And when combined with other disinfection byproducts (DBPs) in your tap water, this chloroform can raise the concentration of dangerous trihalomethanes (THMs) above the EPA's maximum allowable amount.
Trihalomethanes (THMs) are Cancer Group B carcinogens, meaning they've been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Disinfection byproducts (DPBs) have also been linked to reproductive problems in both animals and humans.
Not only do you absorb them into your skin, these antimicrobial chemicals flow down your drain, contaminating the environment and food chain.
So, let me ask you… do you really want to put triclosan, SLS, parabens, dioxane, DEA, toluene, synthetic fragrances, and propylene glycol (along with other chemicals we haven't even talked about here) on your skin?
In my opinion, you're better off switching to skin care products made of natural plant names you recognize, can pronounce, and could even eat (if you had to).
When 'Organic' Isn't 'Organic' – The Great 'Natural' Controversy
You can't always depend on the words "organic" and "natural" on the labels to protect you.
According to the Organic Consumers Association, the word "organic" is not regulated with personal care products as it is with food products, unless the product is certified by the USDA National Organic Program and bears the USDA Organic seal.
Some "organic" bath and soap products may contain only a single-digit percentage of organic ingredients.
And as I discussed earlier, other products may use ingredients derived from natural sources but are highly processed and contain synthetic and petrochemical compounds.
As an example, a 2008 study commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association found that many leading "natural" and "organic" brand body washes and shampoos contained the cancer-causing contaminant 1,4-Dioxane.
Protecting yourself can require sharp detective work. Become aware of product manufacturers' "marketing-speak" so you can recognize and steer clear of hazardous substances in your bath and shower products.
Safe Alternatives to Commercially Prepared
Shower Gels and Liquid Hand Soap
The safest way to ensure that you're not being exposed to potentially hazardous substances is to make your own personal care products, using inexpensive all-natural ingredients that you may already have in your home.
Finding recipes for your own homemade bath and hand washing products isn't difficult if you have access to the Internet. Google "natural shower gel" and "natural hand cleaner" for tips and recipes.
When buying products, look for the genuine USDA Organic seal, and if those aren't available, select products whose ingredients you recognize and can pronounce.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself… "Would I eat this?" (I don't recommend you actually eat it, of course.)
To see how your products rate for safety, I recommend checking out the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database and a newer site called Good Guide.
We've Decided to Bring the Goods to You…
During our search for all-natural bathing and hand washing options, we stumbled upon a manufacturer, who in my opinion, is doing all the right things:
This manufacturer's products are all…
- Certified to USDA Organic Standards
- Totally non-toxic without any questionable ingredients
- Made without petrochemicals, synthetic ingredients, sugars, or alcohol
- Free from artificial colors, fragrances, and chemical preservatives
- Made from vegetable USP pharmaceutical grade glycerin free from gluten
- Made with natural, organic aromatherapy scents
- Soothing and gentle, especially on dry and sensitive skin
- Free from any measurable free alkali (the most common irritant in soap)
- Made without animal products or animal testing
In essence, it's master soap making at its organic finest.
Mercola Teams Up with New England Master Soap Maker
Tucked away in a small town in New England is a thriving enterprise with a passion for quality.
In fact, that's how the company started…
One person setting out in a quest for a natural, inexpensive solution to a stubborn and long standing dermatological challenge.
Certified as an Organic Processor in June of 2003, this successful natural soap company is dedicated to crafting organic alternatives to chemical and detergent based personal care products.
They're credited with manufacturing the first truly organic shower gel, organic non-toxic cleaners, and hand poured soaps suitable for even the most sensitive skin.
Old Fashioned Handcrafted Soap… One Month in the Making
Yes, you read that correctly.
The soap that this phenomenal company has agreed to make for us – our Shea Butter Bar Soap – takes one month to make.
Borrowing from the best of the traditional 300-year method of soap making that originated in ancient Greece on the island of Lesbos, these world-class soap makers painstakingly craft soap that's said to be "fit for a king."
Combining certified organic oils of Palm, Coconut, Olive, and Palm Kernel with an alkali solution, the soap is blended for hours and allowed to thicken slowly.
Once ready, botanical concentrates and organic herbs are added. The soap is then poured into wooden molds and kept warm for three days.
As the soap hardens, alkali salts begin to rise to the top like cream. Around the fourth day, the blocks of soap are removed from the molds, skimmed of all alkali salts, and wire cut into individual bars.
The bars are then placed on custom made oak and stainless steel screened drying racks and cured for about three more weeks.
This meticulous process produces the mildest soap that can be made. Often lasting about twice as long as conventional bars, this handcrafted aromatherapy soap is extremely moisturizing and soothing to your skin.
Ingredients You Can Trust – That's All You'll Find in Our Foaming Hand Soap and Shea Butter Bar
Here's a quick snapshot of the ingredients you'll find in my unscented Foaming Hand Soap and soothing Shea Butter Bar Soap:
- Organic Coconut Oil
Richly rejuvenating to your skin, organic coconut oil protects against damaging free radicals and can protect skin from blemishes, signs of aging, or overexposure to sunlight. Coconut oil helps keep your skin's connective tissues strong and supple.
Helps create a youthful and noticeably smooth appearance by removing the outer layer of dead skin cells. It can even penetrate into the deeper layers of your skin and strengthen the underlying tissues.
- Organic Jojoba Oil
Known as "nature's wrinkle fighter," jojoba oil is a pure and luxurious liquid wax ester from cold-pressed seeds of the Simmondsia chinensis and S. californica desert shrubs native to the Sonora Desert in the southwestern U.S. Penetrates deeply into your skin and helps retain moisture skin elasticity.
Leaves your skin feeling smooth, soft and supple.
- Organic Palm Oil
Used for more than 5,000 years, palm oil is considered by some to be nature's gift to the world. Palm oil is nutrient-dense and contains many potent antioxidants, including beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, and tocotrienols, an extremely potent form of vitamin E, and a first line of defense against damaging free radicals.
Palm oil is a renewable resource that's biodegradable, unlike petroleum-based products.
- Organic Aloe Vera
Aloe contains more than 130 biologically active compounds and 34 amino acids that act synergistically to create soothing support for your skin. Helps produce collagen and elastin.
Records even show that Cleopatra used aloe vera to protect her skin from the sun and stay young looking. Unlike synthetics, aloe vera is most certainly something you want your skin to absorb!
- Organic Shea Butter
This all-natural vitamin A cream from West Central Africa grows in the wild without the use of pesticides. For centuries, shea butter has been highly regarded as a superior skin moisturizer. Its deep penetration restores your skin's natural elasticity while revitalizing and softening it.
Excellent for irritated, dry, chapped, or sun-damaged skin. Enables skin to absorb moisture from the air to become softer and retain moisture longer.
- Vegetable Glycerin
Glycerin is a component of natural oils. Our USP pharmaceutical grade glycerin is from palm oil so it's totally free from gluten.
- Organic Rosemary Extract
This essential oil from the flower is added as a natural preservative. Bioflavonoid-containing rosemary extract also soothes your skin and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Considered one of the world's most relaxing herbs, its gentle fragrance adds to the aromatherapy of all three products.
- Organic Calendula Extract
Calendula, an herb with fiery red and yellow petals, similar to a marigold, is used to moisturize and soften all skin types, rejuvenate you skin and reduce the appearance of signs of premature aging, including age-related thinning of your skin. When mixed with other oils such as olive oil its skin nurturing benefits are even more pronounced. Calendula's aromatherapy quality promotes relaxation.
The Obvious Choice Is Truly Organic AND All-Natural, and It's Waiting for You Here at Mercola.com
In my opinion, you won't find a finer bar of soap than our Shea Butter Bar Soap. When you hold it in your hands, you'll see why the soap makers themselves call it "hand lotion in a bar."
You'll appreciate its richly lathering suds, its delightful scent and a silky smoothness that you just don't expect from a bar of soap.
And if you're a fan of bath and body wash, get ready for a whole new experience.
In fact, if you're not accustomed to using a shower and bath gel, this one just might win you over…
And you haven't tried hand soap until you've test-driven our Foaming Hand Soap.
We've left out the scent so you can use this liquid soap while you're cooking and other occasions when you don't want a lingering scent.
What starts out as a liquid soap comes out as foam much like shaving cream, thanks to a series of fine mesh screens that mixes the soap with air.
The result is luxuriously rich lathering foam delivered right to your fingertips.
And the best part is, there are NO potentially dangerous chemicals and synthetic ingredients.
Why Settle For Chemicals, Synthetic Ingredients, and Dangerous Antimicrobial Agents When You Can Have Soaps as Nature Intended?
You no longer need to settle. Our Body Wash, Foaming Hand Soap, and Shea Butter Bar are now available to you, too.
It's time to stop exposing yourself to the multiple toxic ingredients filling the bottles of your favorite bath products. Now, you can indulge without worry or guilt.
Try our Body Wash, Foaming Hand Soap, and our soothing Shea Butter Bar Soap today. You'll be glad you did.
Here's another idea… stock up today and save on multiple packs. All five make wonderful, small gifts. What better way to show someone special you care?