The following is some interesting research carried out by Philippa Turnbull at www.naturallybetterforyou.co.uk. This information originally appeared in Naturally Better for You, the magazine about natural products, their health benefits, and where to buy them.

"...When was the last time you covered your body in corrosive industrial cleaner? The answer is, probably this morning. And if you have children, what about them? How would you feel about washing their hair in something known to cause cataracts? Again, chances are you already do. These shocking facts are incredible but true. After reading this article, just go to your bathroom and look at the lists of ingredients on the personal care products you and your family use. The higher up the list that an ingredient appears, the greater the proportion of that chemical in the product. This article is about ingredients that you can truly say are a real health hazard. The information here could save your life.

Chemical exposure in the home today is a far greater contributor to poor health and increased cancer risk than ever previously thought. The word “cancer” has become one of the most feared words in society today. It is established that at this very moment one third of us have cancer at different stages of development and in the next 20 years it is expected that this figure will rise. Harsh toxic industrial chemicals and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) are invading our lives through ingredients we believe are safe, and trust. They are found in many of our commonly-used shampoos, conditioners and bubble baths (and many other personal care products). When they interact with other ingredients and substances, it is now known that once they get into the body through their intended use they can have a serious effect on our health through gradual poisoning and an increased risk of cancer. For example, most commercial shower gels contain a corrosive industrial cleaner. More about this later, and about an actual poison warning that appears on toothpaste in America.

Let’s talk about some of the experiences we may have had that are chemical reactions: – sneezing after using a scent or spray deodorant, a skin reaction after using a particular cosmetic, lotion, or shampoo. Even more common is the persistent headache after painting the house or having a new carpet laid. Or have you noticed how itchy your scalp can feel if you don’t manage to rinse out your shampoo properly? We are all exposed to these chemical reactions and don’t even realise it.

Which do you think is commonly thought of as the most dangerous room in the house? The kitchen? If you think of the dangers in terms of health risk, not injury statistics, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. Of the chemicals available for use in personal and skin care products, 884 have been reported as toxic substances and 125 as cancer-causing agents. It may surprise you to learn that at the turn of century cancer was a rare disease, but today 1in 3 get cancer and 1 in 4 die from it. Why, you ask, are these potentially harmful ingredients allowed in personal care products? What are they doing to me and my children and grandchildren? Are there any safe alternatives out there?

I want to alert you to the possible health hazards you may encounter in the products you use every day and to enable you to make informed decisions concerning the kind of ingredients you should look out for. Research has found that many ingredients used may be linked to liver, lung, heart, brain damage, premature babies, cataracts, environmental cancers, contact dermatitis, and possibly eye damage in young children. Most people have no idea what many of the products they use every day in good faith are doing to them. In the UK in June 1999, the chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition was a keynote speaker to a select committee from both houses of parliament, on the need for cancer prevention and the ways in which this should be done, with particular emphasis on avoidable toxins in the home and workplace. The fact is that information on these damaging chemicals has been available for several years, but it hasn’t even been publicised inside the medical community let alone more generally. It usually takes about 20 years for scientific health information to become general knowledge but that doesn’t mean that you have to wait to protect yourself and your family. Of the 1000 new chemicals introduced onto the market each year, only 12 are tested for carcinogenic effects.

So what are some of the most harmful ingredients that you should watch out for? Well, the greatest concern of many scientists has centred around an ingredient that’s found in about 90% of all commercial shampoos, shower gels and bubble baths. It’s sodium lauryl sulphate, or SLS for short. It has other names too –see below. There is also sodium laureth sulphate or SLES. But with sodium laureth sulphate, dioxins are created – and they are some of the most potentially dangerous carcinogens in the world. That’s what Agent Orange the chemical foliage spray was composed of. And from which those serving in Vietnam have been getting cancer. Now just check your present shampoo bottle! The reason SLS is so common is that it is inexpensive, and just a small amount mixed with table salt produces a lot of foam. But, profound health hazards aside, SLS is highly corrosive. In the industrial world it’s used for engine degreasing, garage floor cleaning, in car wash soaps and the like. The manufacturers of SLS, in their material safety data sheets, issue strict guidelines for the safe handling of the material. These include wearing self-contained breathing apparatus, heavy rubber gloves and safety goggles! The guidelines say to avoid inhalation and not to get in the eyes or on skin as it is irritating to mucous membranes and the upper respiratory tract. This could be a challenge when taking a shower, or having a bubble bath in the stuff! SLS also corrodes hair follicles and impairs their ability to grow hair. One study showed that if you use SLS on your scalp it will cause hair to fall out! If it is known to corrode hair follicles and stop hair growth and to make it fall out, whyever use it?

There are however other more profound health hazards associated with SLS. Scientists have studied the effects of SLS extensively, and their studies reveal compelling and alarming evidence indicating that it should be avoided. Among the findings is that SLS is rapidly taken up by eye tissue and retained. Its uptake is greater in young children. Again SLS is absorbed through skin contact, not just through the eyes. Our eyes develop most during the first few years of our lives, yet we’re dousing children with SLS. And it’s not just bad for children’s eyes. SLS has been also linked to cataracts in adults. SLS has been documented to enter and maintain residual levels in the brain, liver, heart, and lungs from skin contact such as shampooing. It can damage the immune system and cause severe inflammation of the skin. The damage is accumulative. Once your immune system is damaged it takes long time for it to recover. This can lead to a form of suppression of your body that allows you to become more vulnerable to viruses or bacteria.

What about baby shampoos? A quick glance in the supermarket is all it takes to see that SLS is the main ingredient in baby shampoos. (The higher up the ingredients list SLS occurs, the higher its concentration compared to the other ingredients.) But it’s not only shampoos we have to watch out for. SLS is in a lot of other personal care products as well, including toothpaste, hand and body soaps, facial cleansers, shaving gel. In bubble bath it can cause urinary tract infections. Another concern with SLS is its tendency to react with other ingredients as it can form a potent cancer-causing agent.

Why have you not heard more about this? Remember that the makers of personal care products are making billions of pounds a year. Just like the tobacco industry was able to do for decades, the makers produce scientific data of their own to cast doubt on findings. After all it took 20 years for the tobacco industry to be forced just to add warnings to their products. The US Food and Drug Administration has insisted that the following warning appears on some tubes of toothpaste there. “Do not swallow …. In case of accidental ingestion, seek professional assistance or contact a poison control centre immediately.” Well, the fastest way to absorb things is under the tongue where it can take as little as 30 seconds. Is it not possible that some toothpaste might get under your tongue for that length of time while brushing? In fact, children have died from swallowing too much toothpaste. But more about toothpaste in another issue. The skin is a living and breathing organ of your body. To demonstrate just how much can pass through it, if you spend just 17 minutes in a bubbly bath, analysis of your urine would reveal traces of all the ingredients of that bubble bath product.

So, in summary, SLS is a major ingredient in most shampoo, bubble bath and shower gel. It appears there because it is cheap and very effective at producing foam. There is a large amount of evidence to suggest that SLS is a health hazard. The companies that produce most of these products want to produce them as cheaply as possible, and to make them as bubbly as possible. Whilst the evidence against SLS is not widely known, there is no commercial incentive for these companies to use anything else. As consumers, the best way for us to bring about change is to vote with our wallets. If people don’t buy their products because they want to avoid SLS, then these companies will stop using it. Until then, they won’t unless the are forced to by law. But the good news is that you can avoid SLS and SLES if you want to. There are many, many small companies - and some larger ones - producing products without these chemicals. It’s just a case of finding them.

Other Forms of SLS

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate have many, many other names. Here are just a few of them to help you spot them: Sodium Lauryl Sulphate - Sodium lauryl sulfate - Sodium dodecyl sulphate - Sodium n - dodecyl sulfate - Sodium dodecyl sulfate - Dodecyl sodium sulfate - Sodium monododecyl sulfate - Sodium monolauryl sulfate - SDS - SLS Sodium Laureth Sulphate - Sodium laureth sulfate - Sodium polyoxyethylene monoalkyl ether sulfate - Sodium polyoxyethylene monoalkyl ether sulphate - Sodium lauryl ether sulfate - SLES ...."

The above is an extract from Naturally Better for You Magazine.