What Are You Putting on Your Skin?; Organic Foods Are Becoming More and More Popular Following Recent Food Scares, but Few of Us Would Consider Checking the Labels on All the Cosmetics We Use. Should We Be Filling the Bathroom Cabinet with Products Marked 'Natural' or 'Hypoallergenic'? Cathy Mayer Finds out What the Terms on Toiletries Really Mean and What Effect Our Cosmetics Might Have on Our Health

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Byline: Cathy Mayer

Your fruit and veg is free of pesticides and you know which country your meat has come from.

But while more and more of us are turning to organic food, few would think to check labels on the toiletries we use every day.

Figures show that up to 60 per cent of any substance applied to our skin is absorbed, with the average woman soaking up around 2kg of chemicals through her skin every year.

The Worldwatch Institute, which analyses environmental data, estimates there are 75,000 chemicals we could come into contact with.

While the majority of cosmetics and toiletries are completely safe, and millions enjoy using them, we still don't know the risks of long-term exposure to man-made chemicals.

But unless you have a scientific background, product labelling can be completely unintelligible while some descriptions are misleading.

Picking products marked natural or organic, is not a sure way to avoid chemicals.

There are currently no guidelines on using either word on cosmetics. A product labelled 'natural' could contain less than one per cent natural ingredients.

And according to organic beauty company, Green People, over 100,000 tons of man-made chemicals are added to 'natural' cosmetics every year.

Terms such as hypoallergenic and dermatologically tested are more strictly regulated by Trading Standards and companies must be able to prove their claims.

But this only means that these products are less likely to cause an allergic reaction rather than giving any guarantees.

Helen Ambrosen, product creator of natural cosmetics retailer Lush, emphasizes that some preservatives are vital to protect against bacteria, but says many standard cosmetics will have as many as six different preservatives in, to prevent the product decaying for years.

Formaldehyde, a carcinogen and neurotoxin, is found in some make-up. And skin products may contain chemicals listed as DEA and TEA, which can become carcinogenic if combined with nitrites, a common preservative.

Shampoos, bubble baths and toothpaste commonly contain sodium lauryl sulphate, a known irritant, while antiperspirants may include aluminium, which has been linked to Alzheimer's disease, although this is disputed by experts. …