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</P> The US-based Environmental Working Group (ew.

DBP and birth defects

The US-based Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) has recently published research revealing that a wide range of cosmetic products, from nail polishes to skin lotions, shampoos, conditioners, perfumes, and antiperspirants, contain a chemical called dibutyl phthalate, or DBP.

This chemical, which can be absorbed through the skin, is used in cosmetics to enhance penetration of skin products, to create a sensation of "softness," and to help nail polish form an even film as it dries. DBP is also a suspected reproductive toxin, and has been linked to birth defects in lab animals.

The EWG report found that DBP is "ubiquitous" in human populations&in levels "above federal safety standards, in women of childbearing age." While the report doesn't call for a ban on DBP, Jane Houlihan, senior analyst for EWG, states, "Women who are considering becoming pregnant, or who are pregnant and nursing, should avoid using any products containing DBP."

Check labels for "dibutyl phthalate," "butyl ester," or "plasticizers" (although, admittedly, not all manufacturers label their products). Most skin and hair products found in your local health food store will be free of phthalates, and a few major cosmetics companies are also beginning to find alternatives to use in their products.

Natural sunscreens

The summertime tan isn't what it used to be. We now know that sun damage is a leading cause of skin cancer.

However, some researchers are beginning to question the safety of the chemical ingredients used in sunscreens, citing links to endocrine system disruption and cancer. Among these are:

1. diethanolamine

2. padimate-o

3. methylbenzylidine camphor (4-MBC)

4. benzophenone (oxybenzone)

5. octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC)

6. the parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, butyl,-and propyl-).

Titanium dioxide is generally considered a safe ingredient and an effective sunscreen; the US National Institute of Health proclaims it isn't "classifiable as a human carcinogen," although some studies cite it as a suspected carcinogen. Zinc oxide, which works by deflecting UV rays, appears to be a safe sunscreen ingredient. Some plant oils, including sesame, coconut, peanut, olive, and cottonseed, have been found to work as moderately effective sunscreens. PABA is also an effective sunscreen, but it can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation in some people.

The best protection against the sun's harmful rays is common sense. Stay out of the sun between 11 am and 2 pm, wear a hat, sunglasses, and light clothing with a tight weave or one of the new SPF fabrics.

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