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Archive for June, 2010

Petroleum – love it or hate it? I’m guessing that most of you hate it. The sad fact is that as much as we resent this commodity, it is unavoidable unless you are living with wolves. The latest catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico has put many of us over the edge in our disdain for it and yet we still have to get in our cars and go to work or heat our houses in the dead of winter. At this point, some things can’t be controlled but fortunately some things can.

The beauty industry is absolutely littered with petroleum products – from the ugly plastic packaging to the petrochemicals you unknowingly spread all over your body. A huge health concern with petroleum products is that they can generate 1,4-dioxane. This is a substance that is known to cause cancer and is also a kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant, and a respiratory toxicant not to mention a leading groundwater contaminant. The Environmental Working Group has found that an alarming 22% of all products contain unsafe levels of 1,4-dioxane.

I have compiled a list of what to look for in labels to determine whether an ingredient is petroleum-based.

Cosmetic Petrochemicals

  • Paraffin Wax
  • Mineral Oil
  • toluene
  • Benzene
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Anything with PEG (polyethylene glycol)
  • Anything ending in ‘eth’ indicates that it required ethylene oxide (a petrochemical) to produce e.g. myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth
  • Anything with DEA (diethanolamine) or MEA (ethanolamine)
  • Butanol and any word with ‘butyl’butyl alcohol, butylparaben, butylene glycol
  • Ethanol and word with ‘ethyl’ – ethyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride, EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetracetatic acid), ethylhexylglycerin
  • Any word with “propyl” – isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, propyl alcohol, cocamidopropyl betaine
  • Methanol and any word with ‘methyl’ –  methyl alcohol, methylparaben, methylcellulose
  • Parfum or fragrance – 95% of chemicals used in fragrance are from petroleum

The best way to take petroleum out of your bathroom is to avoid any products containing these chemicals and to choose products that use glass rather than plastic.  Use soap or shampoo bars rather than body wash and shampoo in bottles. It may take a little extra effort on your part, but you are likely to have a far better experience in your bathroom with botanicals than icky oil.

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Perfume Organ in Perfume Museum of Paris

Perfume Organ at the Perfume Museum of Paris

I’m on a role…next up, the perfume industry.

Scent is one of my greatest passions and has been for some time. In my childhood, I was fascinated by the perfumes that adorned my mother’s dresser in the 70’s and 80’s – Oscar de la Renta, Chloe, L’Air du Temps. When I was old enough to buy my own perfume, I gravitated to that amazing circular smelling station at the Body Shop where it was all about the White Musk, Dewberry, and Oceanus.  As I got older I went through different department store perfume stages – Red Door, Eternity, Angel, Ralph…

But now…I am SO over it.

Here’s how it happened. I started studying essential oils. When I began to experience these natural scents, I felt I had been ripped off all of those years of wearing perfume. Why had I been getting the cheap imitation of these beautiful smells when the real thing was available in essential oils? Synthetic fragrance just didn’t do it for me anymore.

As I removed synthetic fragrance from my life, I developed a sensitivity to it. Now if I’m around it, I sneeze, feel nauseous and I get a headache. This speaks volumes to me. It is toxic. There have been countless reports proving this and, like second-hand smoke, you are exposing others to something potentially harmful. I don’t want to seem like a fuddy duddy but when someone has bathed in perfume, I get a little put out and feel that they are being inconsiderate.

Synthetic perfume immediately makes me think “cheap”. Essential oils cost a considerable amount more than synthetic fragrances because they have to be grown, harvested, and carefully extracted. This is in stark contrast to petroleum being tinkered with in a lab until the scent of “fresh laundry” or “crème brulée” is achieved. Call me a scent snob.

My final gripe with the industry is the celebrity perfume. Give me a break. Do you know how long it takes to become a ‘nose’ at a perfume house? I love how starlets just waltz in and “create” their own scent. It just goes to show you how little people value the art.

All is not lost. The art of perfumery has been around for thousands of years. Just because petrochemicals took over in the last century does not mean that we have to accept these lower standards. There is an amazing movement of natural perfumers that I am confidant are going to take over this industry. They are masters. The two that I am especially amazed by are Miller Harris, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes and Anya McCoy of Anya’s Garden. To read more about this blossoming industry and to get a list of other natural perfumers, visit The Natural Perfumer’s Guild.

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