Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in Personal Care Products
There are over 85,000 toxic chemicals on the market today. 10,500 used in the cosmetics industry and this number is growing. The craziest part-an estimated 90% of those chemicals have NEVER been assessed for safety.
The European Union has banned almost 1400 chemicals from products. The United States has only banned 11.
Chemicals that are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, that can cause reproductive harm, and can cause almost every other chronic illness are allowed in the personal care products that people use every day, every week, every year.
The US government has no adequate regulation policy. The FDA does not asses the safety of personal care products or their ingredients. Companies are allowed to manufacture and use chemicals without ever establishing their safety. In other words, the industry gets to self police. The FDA does not even have the authority to order the recall of a hazardous cosmetic from the market.
This is not an all inclusive list but a list of the most common chemicals found in personal care products.
Luckily, there are great brands out there that have products that are not only safer but happen to work great (and I think even better than their toxic counterparts)!
Important Note: All of the ingredients listed with a * are endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors mimic, block and alter hormone levels in the body-also called hormone disruptors. The Endocrine system regulates ALL biological processes in the body. This includes: the brain and nervous system, the reproductive system, metabolism and sugar levels, ovaries, testes, pituitary, thyroid, and the adrenal glands. Endocrine disruption is especially scary for our children as they are still growing and developing.
Fragrance is found in just about every type of personal care and cleaning product on the market today.
This is considered a “trade secret”. Companies can hide hundreds of different chemicals under this one term. Never buy a product with the term fragrance or parfum. Never.
Many fragrances contain phthalates. Phthalates are linked with breast cancer, birth defects, diabetes, obesity, autism and ADHD. (Campaign for Safe Cosmetics-2002 “Not Too Pretty Report"). They are also found in nail polish and hairspray. (Look for DBP, DEHP, DEP).
Fragrance chemicals have also been known to cause: headaches, rashes, coughing, vomiting and skin irritation among many other problems.
Found in many products labeled “moisturizing”, hair care and skin care products, lotions, makeup, baby oil, vaseline and aquaphor.
Petroleum products are made from crude oil. They can be contaminated with known carcinogens such as 1,4 dioxane and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Most people incorrectly believe that petroleum based products seal in moisture. It actually does just the opposite. Petroleum products disrupt the skin’s natural immune barrier, inhibiting its ability to breathe, absorb moisture and nutrients, and release toxins. This causes a host of issues-from dry skin, premature aging, acne, dermatitis and many other skin conditions.
Parabens are found in antiperspirants, deodorants, sunscreens, hair care, lotions and skin care products.
They are a group of compounds used as preservatives, derived from petroleum. Look for ethylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben and anything ending in paraben.
Studies have linked these common endocrine disruptors with breast cancer, developmental and reproductive issues, immunotoxicity, allergies and skin rashes. In a small study, 99% of of breast cancer tissue tested positive for parabens. A 2011 study by the California Pacific Medical Center linked BPA/methylparaben with breast cancer, and the combination blocked effectiveness of popular cancer drugs like tamoxifen.
PEG’s or polyethylene glycols
PEG’s are petroleum by products used to dissolve grease.
They are found in shampoo, body wash, bubble bath, foaming soaps and cleansers, creams and sunscreen.
They contain carcinogenic contamination 1,4 dioxane which is known to affect liver and kidneys as well as ethylene oxide-also a carcinogen. It can strip the natural oils of the skin which leaves the immune system vulnerable and makes the body more vulnerable to other toxins. It can be toxic to organs, the respiratory system, and is a skin irritant.
Triclosan is the active ingredient in “antibacterial products” such as hand sanitizers and soaps, also found in toothpaste deodorants and cosmetics.
Triclosan is actually registered with the government as a pesticide and is related to agent orange.
Studies show that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and interferes with the body’s thyroid hormone metabolism. A 2012 study links it to weakened muscles, including the heart, and contributes to liver and inhalation toxicity.
Triclosan and the overuse of antibacterial products contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Anti bacterial soap has been found to be no more effective than regular soap. It is also toxic to the aquatic environment.
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS/SLES)
These ingredients are what cause products like soaps and shampoos to foam.
SLES is often contaminated with formaldehyde releasing 1,4 dioxane-a carcinogen. SLS is classified as a drug in bubble baths because it eats away skin protection and causes rashes/infection. SLS may also be contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosomes. It is so strong that it is used in concrete cleaners and engine degreasers. A study indicated that SLS penetrated into the yes as well as brain, heart, liver, etc. and may result in harmful long term effects. It can cause cataracts in adults and prevent children’s eyes from developing properly (University of Georgia Medical College). SLS may also cause hair loss, damage, dryness and reduce the ability to grow hair. They often cause skin irritation and trigger allergies. They can also cause depression and diarrhea.
Oxybenzone* and Octinoxate
Synthetic chemical sunscreen “active” ingredients. Also found in moisturizers, foundation and lipsticks with SPF.
These are penetration enhancers so they make all the other toxic chemicals in products sink in even faster. They can generate cell damaging free radicals when exposed to sun. They are toxic to ocean life and responsible for coral reef bleaching and many beaches in Australia have banned these ingredients. Linked to possible hormone disruption, irritation, sensitization and allergies.
Retinyl Palmitate and Retinol (Vitamin A)
Found in many sunscreens, moisturizers, anti-aging and blemish control skin care.
In the presence of sunlight, retinal palmitate enhances skin cancer lesions by 21%. (FDA, 2011). Yes, the FDA showed that an ingredient commonly found in sunscreens enhances skin cancer lesions.
Found in lotion, hair care, deodorant, cosmetics. toothpastes, and baby wipes.
It is a synthetic petrochemical mix. It is linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive issues, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption and liver and kidney damage, allergic reactions, hives, and eczema. It also happens to be the active ingredient in anti-freeze. The EPA requires workers to wear protective gear while working with it.
Found in skin lightening creams.
This skin lightening chemical is linked to cancer, organ toxicity, and skin irritation.
These include DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urera, quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (bronopol), glyoxal and oxaldehyde.
Found in nail polish, shampoo, hair straightening treatments, eyelash glue, and body wash.
The EPA recognizes formaldehyde as a known carcinogen. It may increase the risk of lung cancer, lymphoma and leukemia. It is linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity and immunological toxicity. It can cause allergic reactions, joint pain, headaches, and can lead to asthma. It may also cause menstrual disorders.
Ingredients ending in “-eth”.
Including cteareth and triceteareth. Can carry carcinogenic compounds of 1,4 dioxane which is a known carcinogen.
Aluminum and metals
The active ingredients in many anti-perspirants.
This bio-accumulative neurotoxin stores in fat cells and accumulates, destroying nerve tissue.
Synthetic colors and dyes
Found in cosmetics, hair dye, shampoos and food.
Color pigments made from a synthetic mix of chemicals as well as coal tar; a derivative of petroleum and studies show that most are carcinogens. Coal tar itself is a known carcinogen. Aluminum may also make up synthetic colors and dyes. These pigments amy also cause skin irritation/sensitivity and other issues. FD&C red #4 was once widely used in foods (still used in cosmetics) but is no longer used in foods due to its known problems in the adrenals. Look for items labeled FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number.
Found in mineral sunscreens and moisturizers containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Pulverized metals such as zinc and titanium that are not required to be labeled. Look for mineral sunscreens labeled non nanoparticle.
They have been shown to cross the brain barrier, cell barrier and drive into organs.
DEA (Diethanolamine, cocomide DEA), MEA (monothanolamine) and TEA (triethanolamine), lauramide DEA, also referred to as ethanolamines.
Found in most products that foam as well as sunscreens, cosmetics, and fragrances. A study suggests that prenatal exposure may have detrimental effects on brain development. Many of these ingredients are linked with kidney, liver and other organ damage and cancer according to several government-funded studies. They may cause hormone disruption as well as respiratory issues such as asthma, sore throats. Also linked to eye and skin irritation, contact dermatitis, skin toxicity and allergies.
Dimethicone, cyclomethicone, and ingredients ending in -siloxanes*
Found in skin care, anti-frizz products, cosmetics.
These are endocrine disrupting chemicals and can have reproductive effects including impairing fertility. Research also shows that some may cause uterine tumors and harm to the immune system.
Found in baby powders, cosmetic powders; including blush and eyeshadows.
Talc belongs to the asbestos family and is dangerous to inhale. Data suggests it can cause tumors in the lungs and is a probable respiratory toxin. Numerous studies have linked genital talc use to ovarian cancer, including a report that among African-American women, genital use of powder is linked with a 44 percent increased risk for invasive epithelial ovarian cancer. Johnson and Johnson is currently being sued by thousands of woman who claim they have ovarian cancer due to the use of baby powder.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)*
Found in cosmetics and personal care products including diaper creams.
These ingredients are used to slow the rate at which ingredients change color, thus extending their shelf life.
They are endocrine disruptors and probable human carcinogens. Animal studies show brain, liver, neurotoxin, reproductive and respiratory toxicity.
Methylisothiazolinone (M1) and methylychloroisothiazolinone and other isothiazolinones.
Found in shampoos, conditioners and body washes. These are common preservatives used to kill off microorganisms, giving products a longer shelf life. Common cause of skin irritation, sensitization and skin allergies. It was named allergen of the year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2013. A recent study found these chemicals may be linked to nerve damage. In animal studies, research showed these chemicals damage brain cells; “a brief exposure (10 minutes) to Methylisothiazolinone, a widely used industrial and household biocide, is highly toxic to cultured neurons.”
Tetrasodium EDTA (Ethylendiaminetetraacetic acid) (Edetate sodium,Tetrasodium edetate, Tetrasodium salt,TEA-EDTA)
Found in hair color, soaps, shampoos and moisturizers.
It is used to prevent the deterioration of cosmetic and personal care products, as it stops the growth of mold and other microorganisms. Tetrasodium EDTA also helps maintain clarity, protect fragrance compounds, and prevent rancidity.
The biggest issue with EDTA is that it is a penetration enhancer so it allows other toxic chemicals to more easily penetrate and absorb into the body. It may also contain dangerous formaldehyde releasors created during manufacturing.
Found in nail polish.
A petrochemical solvent that can cause many issues form skin irritation, to eye and nose irritation, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and headaches. At higher risk are salon workers who are constantly breathing in the chemicals.
The Environmental Protection Agency states, “Breathing large amounts of toluene for short periods of time adversely affects the human nervous system, the kidneys, the liver, and the heart. Effects range from unsteadiness and tingling in fingers and toes to unconsciousness and death.”
Found in eye care products and cosmetics, may not be listed on the ingredients.
FDA banned mercury in most cosmetics in 1974. "The FDA has determined that mercury compounds may be used in cosmetic products only in trace amounts as a preservative in certain eye-area products when no equally safe and effective alternative is available for use in such products." But what is a safe amount if a product is used day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year? This is especially true since mercury has been shown to accumulate within the body.
The toxicity of mercury and its compounds is extensively documented in scientific literature. Some mercury compounds can be absorbed through the skin on topical application and accumulate in the body. Depending on the form of mercury, exposure to sufficiently high concentrations can result in allergic reactions, skin irritation, or neurotoxicity. Chronic exposure and accumulation to mercury compounds can result in a variety of symptoms and adverse reactions including nervousness, irritability, tremors, weakness, fatigue, memory loss, changes in hearing, vision and taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney damage, and, at high levels, death. It may interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children.
Mercury has been found in imported products that claim to lighten skin or reverse aging-so beware of buying products overseas that may contain larger amounts of mercury.
Bisphenol A (BPA)*
Although banned in cosmetic use in 2006, it may still be found in some products such as eyeshadow and styling gels. It is also found in the packaging of many cosmetic products.
BPA is an endocrine disruptor that may also alter DNA. Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia, shows that a range of personal care products may increase the absorption of BPA into the blood stream from items such as thermal receipts, water bottles etc.
Found in hair color products, shampoos, hair care products and products used to treat acne, and eczema.
Also look for it listed as : 1,3-benzenediol, resorcin, 1,3-dihydroxybenzene(m-hydroxybenze, m-dihydroxyphenol.
Possible endocrine disrupting chemical. Possible skin and eye irritant, and organ system toxicity.
Resorcinol is used in acne and skin treatment medication to remove hard scaly or rough skin. The concentration in acne medicine is usually about two percent. When resorcinol is used as a dermatological treatment, it is likely to be applied to damaged skin, which allows more resorcinol to enter the body.
Salon workers are at a higher risk for issues with resorcinol since they are exposed frequently.
Found in shampoos, soaps, antibacterial products, skin cleansers, and skin care and eye makeup formulations. Benzalkonium Chloride is used to prevent or inhibit the growth and reproduction of microorganisms in finished products. It is an antiseptic, disinfectant and detergent.
It may also cause a rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria. The Cosmetic Safety Database states that there is a moderate to strong evidence that benzalkonium chloride is an immune, skin, and respiratory toxicant, with laboratory tests hinting at mutative (carcinogenic) effects. The safety data sheet (MSDS) indicates the ingredient is a skin and eye irritant, and can be corrosive to both, with the amount of damage depending on the length of contact.
Found in hair color, lotions, and after shaves (as well as antifreeze and shellac).
Rubbing alcohol is a petroleum derived substance used to decrease the thickness of liquids and reduce foam generation when shaken.
It strips your skin of the healthy oils it needs to stay hydrated, and throws sebum production off balance. It only makes acne prone skin worse. It can cause headaches, dizziness, depression, nausea, vomiting and even coma.
Technically not an ingredient but definitely something to avoid. Anytime you see a product that says proprietary blend, it means the company is hiding something from the consumer. They want you to believe they are hiding their “special formula” from other companies but companies can file and pay a minimal fee to find out what exactly is in the proprietary blend. The other issue with proprietary blends-they may contain an allergen and the person using it would not know until a problem arose.
A few notes:
No, not all of these ingredients have been tested extensively on people so we don’t know for sure that they cause cancer or other health issues. But that is one of the problems...they haven’t been tested (except maybe in labs and on animals which show they cause cancer etc.). We are human guinea pigs for all of these probable carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. I would personally rather avoid them and not run the risk.
The other issue is that these chemicals are never tested when combined with other chemicals. They may make an already toxic chemical more toxic (or less) or may make the chemical do something else entirely. Again, I choose not to be a human guinea pig. There are enough studies out there proving the toxicity of many of these chemicals and add to that the total lack of regulation in the industry and I will choose ingredients I know are safe.
Many people say to me, “but there is such a small amount of those chemicals in the product.” We absorb up to 5 pounds of chemicals through our skin every single year. The average woman uses 500 chemicals every single day. Day after day, month after month, year after year. One study showed that the chemicals absorbed in through your skin can be 10 times the concentration of an oral dose due to the fact that our liver doesn’t help detox the chemicals we put on our bodies. Plus, just because a chemical may come in a small amount in one product, its strength may be huge. Every chemical is different.