Posted by Trevor Smith on September 25th, 2012
You may hear people talking about them as they walk through the meat aisle in your store. Healthy eating calls for avoiding these “noxious chemicals” at all costs. The controversy, highlighted by CBC’s Marketplace, about nitrite preservatives in “Natural Selections” products caused some headaches for Maple Leaf. These chemicals can form a cancer causing agent, nitrosamines, when they react with the proteins in your meats. …So, how do you avoid these ingredients? In food, it is much easier. Eat fresh and unprocessed foods whenever possible and you’ve taken a great first step to avoiding preservatives and choosing a healthier lifestyle.
In household products it is not so easy. They need to last much longer periods of time. After all, you don’t want to buy a bottle of all-purpose household cleaner every time you need to clean. Often preservatives in your household products are even harsher than those in your food. Even though you aren’t eating them, these chemicals can still find their way into your system.
So, if preservatives are so bad, why do we need them? Well, any product you purchase has a shelf life. Once you open the container, the chance of your product breaking down increases dramatically. Breakdown may be caused by highly reactive chemicals (free radicals) or micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi or viruses) that get into these products. The more contact you have with the product, the greater the likelihood of product contamination. Preservatives are ingredients in the product that work to either prevent the growth of micro-organisms or neutralize the reactive chemicals that cause your products to break down. Not only do they protect the product, but they also protect you from any harmful germs that may be growing inside.
Their function necessitates a certain level of harshness. But, there needs to be a delicate balance between destroying contaminants that degrade your products and protecting your health and the health of the environment. As the science of looking at the health effects of various ingredients has evolved, several preservative ingredients have come under fire.
Parabens (methyl-paraben, ethyl-paraben and propyl-paraben)
They have been used for a long time in cosmetic products. Only recently, it has been linked to breast cancer in several studies. However, the cosmetics industry continues to use these ingredients, stating that there is not enough evidence to consider these chemicals hazardous.
Triclosan is a chemical that was developed as a safer alternative to the current preservatives on the market. Ofter it is used as an antibacterial agent in soaps and sanitizers. However, it interrupts hormones in the human body,in wildlife in our waterway, and may break down to even more harmful chemicals in the environment.
Formaldehyde releasing agents such as DDM-Hydantoin and Quaternium-15
Some preservatives slowly release formaldehyde into your household products. Formaldehyde, which is known to increase the likelihood of cancer, can enter your body through the air or your skin.
So what can you do?
Luckily there are solutions. Many of the natural essential oils, surfactants and other ingredients in your household products have their own preservative properties . Carefully formulating with ingredients to enhance these preservative properties can allow formulations to preserve themselves without the need for more conventional preservatives. The article “Self-Preserving Cosmetics” lists many ingredients to look for that preserve the product while serving their other main purpose. The chemists working for Green Cricket are always looking for the newest and greenest methods of preserving our products.