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Personal Care: An Avoidance List

May 11, 2015 by admin0

Personal care products and cosmetics contain chemicals that are harmful to our health. Of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products, 1 in 8 are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants.

Check the ingredient list of all personal care products and avoid those listed below. Even “organic” and “natural” products may contain toxic chemicals.


Phthalates are so ubiquitous, trace amounts are found in all of us. Phthalates are used largely as plasticizers in soft and flexible plastics but are found in nearly all personal care products as well. Phthalates are used in the fragrance of many cosmetics. Phthalates are absorbed through the skin and have been shown to cause hormone disruption and reproductive defects in babies. They may also enhance the ability of other chemicals to cause genetic mutations. Look for phthalates listed on ingredient labels as dimethyl phthalate (DEP), di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) and diisononyl phthalate (DINP) Companies are not required to list phthalates on ingredient lists so look for products that are labeled “phthalate free” and avoid “fragrance” in your personal care products.

Fragrance or Parfum

The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on a cosmetic ingredients list usually represents a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals, including plasticizers and phthalates. Since fragrance recipes are considered a trade secret, companies are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients. Many of these hidden ingredients are irritants and can trigger allergic attacks, migraines, and chemical-induced nerve irritation in sensitive individuals. Fragrance ingredients have been associated with cancer, neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.  Look for fragrance derived from essential oils and products labeled phthalate free.


Parabens are antimicrobial chemicals and are widely used in cosmetics as a preservative. They easily penetrate the skin and are suspected of interfering with hormone function. There is some evidence that parabens mimic estrogen, and may be linked to breast cancer. Check labels for ingredients ending in “paraben” such as methylparaben and look for “paraben free” on the label.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate are used as cleansing agents in cosmetics and also to make products bubble and foam. This and other “ethoxylated” ingredients may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Both contaminants are associated with cancer. Ethylene oxide may harm the nervous system and interfere with human development, and 1,4-dioxane is persistent in the environment. Avoid ingredients with the letters “eth” such as: sodium myreth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, oleth, ceteareth and polyethelene glycol.


Triclosan is a chlorinated compound used as a preservative and an anti-bacterial agent in antiperspirants/deodorants, cleansers, and hand sanitizers. It is absorbed through the skin and is suspected of interfering with hormone function and may contribute to anti-biotic resistant bacteria. Triclosan has been labeled as potentially toxic to aquatic organisms, bioaccumulative, and persistent. The Canadian Medical Association has called for a ban on antibacterial consumer products, such as those containing triclosan and chlorphenesin.

Formaldehyde-releasing Preservatives

Formaldehyde-releasing agents are used as preservatives in cosmetics. Formaldehyde is a recognized human carcinogen. It can irritate skin and eyes and trigger allergies at low doses. Formaldehyde is toxic to both the immune system and the nervous system. Check labels for the following ingredients: DMDM, hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

Synthetic Colours

Synthetic colours are made from coal tar and contain heavy metal salts. They are absorbed through the skin or ingested in products like lipstick and can be toxic to the entire body. Most have been shown to cause cancer. Coal tar derived colours are used extensively in cosmetics and hair dyes and may be labeled as p-phenylenediamine or identified by a five-digit Colour Index (C.I.) number. They may also be labeled as “FD&C” or “D&C” followed by a colour name and number.

Propylene Glycol (PEG) Compounds (e.g., PEG-60)

PEG (polyethylene glycol) compounds are widely used in cream bases in cosmetics. PEG and propylene glycol open the skin’s pores and allow harmful ingredients to be absorbed more readily. PEG and other “eth” compounds may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Both contaminants may cause cancer. Also, ethylene oxide may harm the nervous system and interfere with human development, and 1,4-dioxane is persistent.


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are used in moisturizers and makeup (esp. lipsticks) as antioxidants, preservatives and fragrance. BHA is toxic to the immune system and is classified as a possible human carcinogen. Studies suggest that BHT may be toxic to the skin, lungs, liver, and immune system. Both chemicals can cause allergic reactions, are suspected of interfering with hormone function, and may promote tumor growth. They also have the potential to bioaccumulate in the body.


DEA (diethanolamine) and DEA compounds are used as foaming agents and stabilizers. They make cosmetics creamy or sudsy. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dry skin and hair. They may also be toxic to the immune and nervous systems. DEA compounds can also react with other ingredients in cosmetics to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. These chemicals have the potential to accumulate in the body.

Petrolatum/Mineral Oil/Paraffin

Petrolatum is used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin in a variety of moisturizers (i.e. petroleum jelly). It is also used in hair care products to make your hair shine. Petrochemicals are suspected carcinogens. They prevent the skin from breathing and can clog pores.


Cyclomethicone and siloxanes are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten. These compounds can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs. They are potential hormonal disruptors and may cause liver toxicity. These chemicals are persistent and are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

Choose safer personal care products by checking the Cosmetic Database by the Environmental Working Group or This will tell you how your current products measure up and make choosing safer products easier.

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