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Toxic Beauty Glossary
YCteen staff
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This glossary goes with the stories "Your Toxic Beauty Regime" and "Buyer Beware!"

Bioaccumulation: The storage (or accumulation) of chemicals within the body or tissue of a living organism over time.

Biocide: A chemical that’s meant to kill something, like a pesticide or fungicide. Triclosan, which is a biocide, is sometimes used in mouthwash or anti-bacterial soap.

Body burden: Your “body burden” is the amount of industrial or synthetic chemicals you carry around in your body. To test someone’s body burden, scientists analyze the person’s blood, hair, fat, urine, or breast milk to see what chemicals he or she has absorbed. With these types of tests, studies have found that BPAs (Bisphenol A), a chemical used in many plastic products, are in more than 90% of the population. Other chemicals that commonly show up in people’s bodies are phthalates, which are in many toys and cosmetics, flame retardants known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), and chemical sunblock. It’s unclear what this means for our health. The Centers for Disease Control stated that “more research is needed to determine whether exposure at the levels reported is a cause for health concern.”
Source: The CDC’s National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Fourth Report

Carcinogen: A substance that has been proven to cause cancer. Carcinogenic is an adjective meaning cancer-causing.

Emulsifying agent: A chemical that helps two substances mix together, or bind together. Cosmetics and other products have emulsifying agents in them to keep all the other ingredients from separating the way oil and water separate.

Endocrine disruptor: Your endocrine system regulates your hormones, which are very important for reproduction, your metabolism, and the development of your brain and nervous system. Some man-made chemicals found in everyday products are considered “endocrine disruptors” because they mimic natural hormones, and when they’re absorbed in large enough doses, they can throw off your hormonal balance and cause developmental problems, male infertility, cancer, and birth defects. Some synthetic endocrine disruptors are: PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), PBBs (polybrominated biphenyls), plastics like BPAs (bisphenol A), plasticizers called phthalates, and some pesticides. Although there is much debate over how dangerous these chemicals are to human health, the Endocrine Society put out a statement in 2009 saying that “the evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes (infertility, cancers, malformations) from exposure to endocrine disrupting
chemicals is strong.”
Source: Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals, An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement

Fungicide: An agent that kills fungi or fungal spores.

Germicide: An agent that kills germs; an antiseptic.

Irritant: Any ingredient that can cause irritation or discomfort to your body. Common reactions to irritants include inflammation, contact dermatitis (skin rashes), a burning sensation on your skin, itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, and wheezing.

Neurotoxin: Neurotoxins poison your nerve cells. There are natural neurotoxins, like snake or spider venom, and man-made neurotoxicants, such as trichloroethylene, a sweet-smelling solvent commonly found in degreasers, metal cleaners, and other products.(Alcohol is a neurotoxin, too—slurred speech and the inability to walk a straight line are examples of the temporary effects of the alcohol affecting a person’s nervous system.)

Solvent: A substance (it can be a solid, liquid, or gas) that dissolves into another substance to form a solution. For example, ethyl acetate is a solvent used in some nail polishes and perfumes.

Surfactant: An ingredient that helps spread or dissolve. For example, detergents are considered surfactants because they dissolve or break up oil. The chemical treithanolamine is sometimes used as a surfactant in shampoos.

Synthetic chemical: A man-made chemical, as opposed to a naturally-occurring substance.

Toxicant: A man-made (synthetic) substance that presents a risk of death, disease, injury, or birth defects in living organisms through absorption, ingestion, inhalation, or by altering the organism’s environment. (In comparison, a toxin is produced in nature by a living animal or plant. The word “toxin” is sometimes used wrongly to refer to a man-made toxic substance.) When something is described as a “respiratory toxicant,” that means it poses a risk to your lungs and your breathing functions; a “hematological toxicant” poses a risk to your bloodstream; a “renal toxicant” is a substance that poses a risk to your kidney function, etc.

Viscosity: The measurement of a substance’s resistance to flow. Thick substances like molasses or honey have a higher viscosity than water, meaning they pour more slowly.

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(NYC-2011-09-toxicglossary)

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