Top Ingredients to Avoid in Personal Care Products

Photo: Natural Home and Garden

With everything I’m learning about unhealthy ingredients and more people I talk with who have developed conditions, diseases or cancers, I find myself being more vigilant about the products I buy.  I did not go into my bathroom and throw everything out but I did look at everything again and found other uses for some of the products I had, like using facial cleansers for cleaning non-living items.  Products with past expiration dates went into the garbage or recycle bin.

I have vowed to purchase “cleaner” products when replacing them.  I do think about the sometimes higher cost and then I remind myself how long the product will last and the alternative of medical care down the road should I develop a condition from an accumulation of toxic substances in my body.

Less than 20% of chemicals in our personal care products are tested for safety and the US Food and Drug Administration does not impose any limits on ingredients in cosmetics!  The Cosmetics industry has their own guidelines and companies can choose to follow guidelines or not.  So the label can say “natural”, safe”, “safe for children”, “organic”, “pure”, etc. and the product can contain every toxin known!

If you don’t care what toxic ingredients are in your products, at least watch the video: The Story of Cosmetics.  If this video doesn’t open your eyes to the dangers of your personal care products, I don’t know what will.

Kelly Lerner and Alli Kingfisher have written a great article in Natural Home and Garden magazine to help identify the top ingredients to be aware of:

Lotion and sunscreen. Shampoo and body scrub. Powder and deodorant. The collection of personal-care products in our bathroom cabinets—women use an average of 12 a day, men six— contains an assortment of chemicals, including some that have been shown to disrupt hormones or increase cancer risk. Because each of these products contains about 12 chemicals, we are literally bathing, lathering, brushing, spraying, powdering and rubbing ourselves and our children with dozens of chemicals every day. Nearly all of these chemicals can penetrate the skin, and some we ingest directly from our lips or hands.

While many of the chemicals used in common personal-care products are benign, some are known carcinogens, neurotoxins or reproductive toxins. Others are endocrine disrupters that upset the body’s hormonal balance (leading to weight gain and other hormone-related health problems), including chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body and can cause problems in sexual development and adult sexual function, as well as increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer.

Unfortunately, these toxic ingredients may be more prevalent than you think: More than one- third of all personal-care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as less than 20 percent of the chemicals in personal-care products have been tested for safety. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate or limit the use of chemicals in personal-care products or require that all of the ingredients be listed on the label.

As a result, trying to choose safer personal-care products can be confounding. You can read labels, but because the FDA doesn’t regulate the health claims or labeling for personal-care items, the words “organic,” “herbal,” “natural,” “hypoallergenic” and “nontoxic” used on these products have no legal meaning. One particularly maddening example of this is the “pink- washing” of brands that have campaigns to fight breast cancer while continuing to use chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

No one should have to worry about inadvertently choosing toxic products while shopping in the personal-care aisle. That’s why a group of organizations, including the Breast Cancer Fund, have come together to form The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition working to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal-care products through legislative, regulatory and corporate reforms.

But you don’t have to wait for major reforms to find safer products. Here’s what you can do today to protect and promote your health and safeguard your family:

• Read the list of ingredients on your personal-care products.

• Create a safe shopping list by looking up your favorite products at the Environmental Working Group’s database of personal-care product safety ratings.

• Make your own products using healthy, nontoxic ingredients. For recipes, visit, or check out our sister publication The Herb Companion. Another excellent resource is Janice Cox’s book Natural Beauty at Home.

• Get involved! Spread the word about toxic ingredients in personal-care products. Visit to see The Story of Cosmetics, a great video about identifying toxic ingredients, finding safe products and helping to bring about industry reform.

Ingredients to Avoid

Prefixes Ethyl, Methyl, Butyl or Propyl

What It Is: Parabens Health Risks: Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer Found In: Lotions and shampoos

Fragrance, DEHP, DHP, DBP 5, Dibutyl Phthalate

What It Is: Phthalates Health Risks: Sperm damage, infertility Found In: Nail polish, shampoo, deodorant, lotion

Dyes: Blue 1, Green 3, Yellow 5 & 6, Red 33

What It Is: Coal tar Health Risks: Carcinogenic Found In: Hair color, medicated shampoos

Triclosan, Chloro, Phenol, Irgasan

What It Is: Triclosan Health Risks: Endocrine and thyroid disrupter; promotes antibiotic-resistant bacteria; bioaccumulates in the body Found In: Antibacterial soap, shampoo, facial cleanser, toothpaste, deodorant

3-(4-methylbenzylidene)-camphor (4-MBC), octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC), octyl- dimethyl-PABA (OD-PABA), bexophenome-3 (Bp-3), homosalate (HMS)

What It Is: Sunscreen chemicals Health Risks: Estrogenic activity; enhances the potential for pesticides to penetrate the skin Found In: Sunscreens

Polyethylene glycol (PEG, PPG, Cocoate), propylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene mineral oil What It Is: Petroleum byproducts Health Risks: Carcinogen; liver and kidney effects

Found In: Lotions

Petrolatum Page 3 of 4Natural Home & Garden Magazine 9/16/11 12:04 PM

What It Is: Derivative of petroleum Health Risks: Endocrine disrupter; carcinogen Found In: Lotions

Lead acetate, thimerosal, mercurius solubilis, mercurius sublimates, mercurius corrosives, mercuric chloride What It Is: Lead and mercury Health Risks: Found in higher levels in women with breast cancer; neurotoxin

Found In: Hair color, wound treatments, artificial tears


What It Is: Propellant made from petroleum processing Health Risks: Carcinogen Found In: Moisturizer, shaving cream, foot spray, breath freshener


What It Is: Placenta, placental enzymes, placental extract Health Risks: Filled with hormones that upset your own balance and increase estrogen Found In: Skin and hair conditioner


What It Is: Hydroquinone Health Risks: Can cause a skin disease called ochronosis Found In: Skin whitener

Nano zinc oxide <100mm

What It Is: Nanoparticles Health Risks: The safety of nanoparticles has not been tested, but they can cross the blood/brain barrier and move along nerves. Found In: Sunscreens, lotions

A year studying sustainability in Sweden prompted Kelly Lerner and Alli Kingfisher to revamp their personal-care products. The more they find out about the effects of toxic ingredients, the more they read labels and change what they buy.

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