Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Taking the Harm out of “Harmless” Beauty Products October 29, 2008

Whenever possible, we choose organic products for our family—especially soaps and body-washes. Like all babies and kids, our children have delicate skin, but more than that, we recognize that our skin is our largest organ. More importantly, the landscape of that organ is covered in pores. Why slather on chemicals, artificial fragrances, stabilizers and fake colorings? The problem we’ve found is that buying “organic” isn’t as easy as it ought to be. Products with often very little organic ingredients masquerade themselves as all-organic with misleading packaging and mysterious chemical ingredients.

So how do I know what to buy? I had the good fortune of learning from Scott Shoemate of Ilumina Organics, a passionate advocate for consumers seeking the highest quality organic products for body and hair. His company is his answer to this problem. The father of a 3-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl, Shoemate works from home with business partner Kathy, an organic salon owner operating in Mt. Shasta, Calif. Eight years ago, when Kathy suffered from several chronic upper respiratory illnesses, her doctor advised her to leave the salon where she worked at the time, or make a career change. “I had been breathing in aerosol hairsprays, fragrance and fumes of the chemicals I worked with daily.” Obviously perms and colors are chemicals, but hidden dangers lie within supposedly “safe” and “harmless” shampoos, conditioners, styling and skincare products.

The partners developed Ilumina Organics, and Kathy’s respiratory problems became a thing of the past. As Shoemate explains, “The federal government has defined the USDA Organic Certification as being products that have content that are 95% organic.  What consumers don’t realize is that in many products, the active ingredients that do most of the work and pose the greatest danger, make up 5% or less of the product. An unethical manufacturer can fill their product up with huge amounts of say, organic aloe juice (water with a little aloe), then dump in a dangerous chemical and still make an organic claim. ” 

To make your next shopping trip easier, Shoemate identified a dozen chemicals that must be avoided due to evidence that they may cause harm. Check the labels of your favorite products for these 12 SYNTHETIC COSMETIC INGREDIENTS TO AVOID:

  1. Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea
    A primary cause of contact dermatitis (American Academy of Dermatology).
  2. Methyl and Propyl and Butyl and Ethyl Paraben
    Widely used and highly toxic, these cause allergic reactions and skin rashes.
  3. Petrolatum
    This is mineral oil jelly which promotes sun damage and can interfere with the body’s own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping.
  4. Propylene Glycol
    A synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant causing allergic and toxic reactions.
  5. PVP/VA Copolymer
    A petroleum-derived chemical which may contribute to foreign bodies in the lungs of sensitive persons.
  6. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
    This chemical causes eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, and allergic reactions. It is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the parenthetic explanation “comes from coconut.”
  7. Stearalkonium Chloride
    This toxic additive causes allergic reactions. Originally developed as a fabric softener.
  8. Synthetic Colors
    Labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. (e.g.: FD&C Red No. 6), synthetic colors are believed to be cancer-causing agents.
  9. Synthetic Fragrances
    The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. “There is no way to know what the chemicals are,” says Shoemate “since on the label it will simply say, ‘Fragrance’.” Problems may include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation.
  10. Triethanolamine
    TEA causes allergic reactions including eye problems, dryness of hair and skin, and could be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.
  11. BPA – Bisphenol A
    Endocrine disruptor linked to catastrophic health problems in animal studies and now in human research.
  12. Phthalates (same as #11 above.)

The last two items are usually found in the plastic bottle holding the product. “We work with a small plastics company in Texasthat has taken all the estrogenics or endocrine disruptors (Bisphenol A (BPA), Phthalates, Alkyl-phenols) out of their plastic bottles,” says Shoemate. “Our bottles cost three times what a standard bottle costs but for us they’re worth every penny.”

To these business partners, Ilumina means “to shed light upon.” You can learn more about their product line at, or call 1-888-784-0797.


5 Responses to “Taking the Harm out of “Harmless” Beauty Products”

  1. Cy Says:

    thank you for sharing this valuable information! peace/health/radiance.



  2. […] Taking the Harm out of “Harmless” Beauty Products This chemical causes eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, and allergic reactions. It is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the parenthetic explanation “comes from coconut. … […]

  3. rjlacko Says:

    Hello Cy,
    I love you blog! What an interesting life you lead. If you’re looking for more great raw food recipes and ideas, check out my food column, “Unassuming Foodie”

  4. Ann Garrity Says:

    Check out a downloadable card of “The Dirty Dozen” at

  5. rjlacko Says:

    Thanks for the tip, Ann!
    I first discovered when I read the fabulous book Gorgeously Green, by Sophie Uliano. You ladies are an inspiration, truly.
    For women who want to be naturally beautiful–and ultimately, a diva–take a moment to visit Ann’s site!

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