People always ask me what toxins / ingredients I avoid in skin care products.
I always read labels for ingredients — exactly as I do food sources. After all, what I put ON my skin has the potential to cross the skin barrier.
This list (in no particular order) will serve as a good starting point for your personal research regarding things you may decide to avoid in your bath and body care products.
Also remember that healthy skin is as related to diet and lifestyle choices as it is to the products used on your skin! That means the usual mantra: clean air, lots of clean healthy water, good organic food, and a bit of exercise!
Here’s a simple list for a quick reference. I usually use a simple rule in my decision making: “if I can’t pronounce an ingredient – It’s suspect – and I tend to probably avoid it.”
For sure I avoid what Quantum Nutrition calls the “Nasty Nine” – Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), all Parabens, Propylene Glycol, Phthalates, Petroleum, DEA, Urea, Butyl or Ethyl Acetate.
Parabens are used as a preservative and found in shampoos, moisturizers, deodorants, and other products.
These might be listed as: methyl-paraben, propyl-paraben, butyl-paraben, or ethyl-paraben.
Phtalates are found in many products including baby powders, perfumes, colognes, and lotions.
Phthalates are also commonly included in the term “fragrance.” (I tend to prefer products that are either “scent-free” or that use pure herbal scents and essential oils to scent their products.)
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS):
Sodium lauryl sulfate is commonly used in soaps, bubble baths, body washes, and shampoos because it creates the “foam” in many products. SLS may strip hair and skin of moisture and necessary oils naturally produced by your body. I prefer products that are sulfate-free. They clean without stripping skin and hair of beneficial natural oils.
Other Chemicals I Avoid:
Propylene Glycol, Fragrance. Mineral Oil, Urea, Synthetic Colors (FD&C), Triethanolamine (TEA).
In addition, here is a list of toxic chemicals commonly found in cosmetics and other skin care products. (This information is quoted from Quantum Nutrition’s website – Many thanks to them for such a complete list.) I tend to avoid these as much as possible!
1,4-Dioxane:A carcinogenic contaminant of cosmetic products. Listed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics as a Level 10 Hazard, which is the highest rating, and cited for Allergy/Immunotoxicity, Carcinogenic Activity, Renal Toxicity, Sense Organ Toxicity, Respiratory Toxicity, Eye Irritant, Reproductive Toxicity and Neuro-toxicity. It is also cited as a Eco-toxin and Persistent Bio-accumlative in Wildlife. It is banned in Canada and the European Union.
Acrylamide: Hazardous air pollutant, possible human carcinogen, may contain harmful impurities or form toxic breakdown products, skin sensitizer, neurotoxin. MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for a 6% acrylamide premix states: “WARNING! HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED, INHALED OR ABSORBED THROUGH SKIN. CAUSES IRRITATION TO SKIN, EYES AND RESPIRATORY TRACT. AFFECTS CENTRAL AND PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEMS AND REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM. SUSPECT CANCER HAZARD. CONTAINS ACRYLAMIDE WHICH MAY CAUSE CANCER. Risk of cancer depends on level and duration of exposure. POSSIBLE BIRTH DEFECT HAZARD. MAY CAUSE BIRTH DEFECTS BASED ON ANIMAL DATA.“ Under Potential Health Effects, it states: “Causes irritation to skin. Symptoms include redness, itching, and pain. May be absorbed through the skin with possible systemic effects, ” and “Prolonged or repeated exposure through any route may cause muscular weakness, incoordination, skin rashes, excessive sweating of hands and feet, cold hands, peeling of the skin, numbness, abnormal skin or muscle sensations, fatigue, and cause central and peripheral nervous system damage. Suspect cancer hazard. May cause cancer. May affect the reproductive system and act as a teratogen (agent that causes malformations of an embryo or fetus.)”
Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40): A very drying and irritating solvent and dehydrator that reduces the dermal moisture and acid mantle, critical for dermal metabolism and immune function. Found in many skin and hair products, fragrance, antibacterial hand washes. May cause headaches, flushing, dizziness, mental depression, nausea, vomiting, narcosis, anesthesia, and coma.
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES): See Anionic Surfactants and Ethoxylated Surfactants
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS): See Anionic Surfactants
Anionic Surfactants: Anionic refers to the negative charge of these chemicals. They are frequently contaminated with nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. Surfactants can pose serious health threats. They are used in car washes, as garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers – and in 90% of personal-care products that foam. Anionic Surfactants include: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS), Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES), Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate, Potassium Coco Hydrolysed Collagen, TEA (Triethanolamine) Lauryl Sulfate, TEA (Triethanolamine) Laureth Sulfate, Lauryl or Cocoyl Sarcosine, Disodium Oleamide Sulfosuccinate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Disodium Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate
Benzoates (Benzoic acid, sodium benzoate or parahydroxy benzoate): Used as a preservative in cosmetics. Implicated in a wide variety of health problems including testicular cancer, cell mutation, and other cancers.
Butylhydroxy (BHA): Synthetic preservative approved for use in food and cosmetics. Listed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics as a Level 10 Hazard, which is the highest rating, and cited for Allergies/Immunotoxicity, Carcinogen, Neurotoxicity, Endocrine System Disruptor, Reproductive Toxicity and Liver Toxicity. It also cites it as an Ecotoxin and Persistent Bioaccumlative in wildlife.
DEA (diethanolamineM) & MEA (monoethanolamine): Causes allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. Toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time. Used to create “foam” in products like shampoo, shaving creams, and bubble bath. See Nitrosating Agents.
Dimethylamine: Immune system toxin, liver toxicant, neurotoxin, cardiovascular and blood toxicant, respiratory toxicant. Frequently found in hair care products and body gels. Prohibited for use in cosmetics in the European Union.
Disodium Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate: See Anionic Surfactants
Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate: See Anionic Surfactants and Ethoxylated Surfactants
Disodium Oleamide Sulfosuccinate: See Anionic Surfactants
DMDM Hydantoin & Urea (Imidazolidinyl and Diazolidinyl): Preservatives that often release formaldehyde which may cause joint pain, skin reactions, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and loss of sleep. Formaldehyde contaminates personal care products when common preservatives release formaldehyde over time in the container. Common ingredients likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde include quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.
In March 2009, the report “No More Toxic Tub” presented third-party laboratory results showing that many baby care products are contaminated with these formaldehyde releasing ingredients.
Ethoxylated surfactants: Widely used in cosmetics as foaming agents, emulsifiers and humectants. On the label, they are identified by the incorporation of “PEG”, “polyethylene”, “polyethylene glycol”, “polyoxyethylene”, “-eth-”, or “-oxynol-” into ingredient names. According to the Environmental Working Group, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “1,4-dioxane is generated through a process called ethoxylation, in which ethylene oxide, a known breast carcinogen, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh. This process creates 1,4-dioxane. For example, sodium laurel sulfate, a chemical that is harsh on the skin, is often converted to the less-harsh chemical sodium laureth sulfate (the “eth” denotes ethoxylation), which can contaminate this ingredient with 1,4-dioxane.” Almost 50% of cosmetics containing ethoxylated surfactants were found to contain 1,4 dioxane.
FD&C Color Pigments: Synthetic colors made from coal tar that deposit toxins onto the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Animal studies have shown them to be carcinogenic.
Formaldehyde: Used as a cosmetic biocide, denaturant and preservative. It is a known carcinogen. Causes allergic, irritant and contact dermatitis, headaches and chronic fatigue. The vapor is extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat (mucous membranes). Listed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics as a Level 10 Hazard, which is the highest rating. Formaldehyde contaminates personal care products when common preservatives release formaldehyde over time in the container. Common ingredients likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde include quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.
In March 2009, the report “No More Toxic Tub” presented third-party laboratory
results showing that many baby care products are contaminated with this hyper-toxic ingredient.
Fragrance/ Parfum: Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to four thousand separate ingredients, many toxic or carcinogenic. Symptoms reported to the USA FDA include headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and skin irritation. Clinical observation proves fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, and irritability. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics gives fragrance/parfum a High Hazard rating of 8, and cites Allergies/Immunotoxicity and Neurotoxicity.
Isopropyl Palmitate: A fatty acid from palm oil combined with synthetic alcohol. Industry tests on rabbits indicate the chemical can cause skin irritation and dermatitis. Also shown to be comedogenic (acne promoting.)
Lauryl or Cocoyl Sarcosine: See Anionic Surfactants
Lead Acetate: Color additive, known human reproductive/development toxin, possible human carcinogen. Prohibited in the European Union.
Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone: Both cause cosmetic allergies and potentially dangerous neuro-toxic effects. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics cites these preservatives for Allergy/Immunotoxicity and Neurotoxicity in humans. They are also cited as Ecotoxins and Persistent Bioaccumulatives in wildlife. Both ingredients are restricted in Canada and Japan.
Nitrosating Agents: Nitrosamine has been determined to form cancer in laboratory animals. There are wide and repeated concerns in the USA and Europe about the contamination of cosmetics products with nitrosamines with the use of the following chemicals:
- Cocoyl Sarcosine
- DEA compounds
- Imidazolidinyl Urea
- Hydrolysed Animal Protein
- Lauryl Sarcosine
- MEA compounds
- Quaternium-7, 15, 31, 60, etc
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
- Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
- Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate
- TEA compounds
Parabens (Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben): Used as inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend shelf life of products. Widely used even though studies have shown parabens to be carcinogenic and associated with breast cancer. Studies have shown that they are weakly estrogenic and can be absorbed by the body through the skin. Found to cause allergic reactions and topical dermatitis.
Petrolatum/Mineral oil: Petroleum coats the skin like plastic. It interferes with normal skin metabolism and acid mantle health, resulting in a build-up of toxins, promoting acne and other skin disorders. Petroleum by-products impair dermal cellular development, resulting in premature aging. Any petroleum by-product may be contaminated with cancer-causing PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons). Manufacturers use petroleum by-products because they are extremely cheap. Petroleum-derived ingredients include mineral oil, paraffin oil, paraffin wax, petrolatum and liquidum paraffinum.
Phenoxyethanol (also called ethylene glycol monophenyl ether): Preservative often touted as non-toxic in “organic and natural” products. Animal studies show it to be toxic, citing damaging effects on the brain and the nervous system at moderate concentrations. Environmental Protection Agency data sheets state, “chromosomal changes and genetic mutation effects in testing as well as testicular atrophy and reproductive damage in mice.” Phenoxyethanol breaks down to phenol and acetaldehyde, and acetaldehyde converts to acetate. Phenol can dis-able the immune system’s primary response mechanism. It is ironic that phenoxyethanol is used as an anti-bacterial in vaccines. Restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan and the European Union.
Phthalates: A synthetic chemical used as a plasticizer. Health effects include reproductive system disruptor, endocrine system disrupter, skin sensitizer, immune system toxin, kidney toxicant. It has been shown to be dangerous to the environment, toxic to aquatic life. All 289 people in a recent test for body load of chemicals tested positive for phthalates. Phthalates are implicated with low sperm counts and also causing sexual abnormalities and deformities. Prohibited for use in cosmetics in the European Union since September 2004.
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) compounds: Synthetic petrochemicals used as humectants in moisturizers, thickeners and melting point adjusters. Also used in cleansers to dissolve oil and grease. Potentially carcinogenic petroleum ingredient that can alter and reduce the skin’s natural moisture factor. Known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. Commonly used in caustic spray-on oven cleaners. See Ethoxylated Surfactants
Potassium Coco Hydrolysed Collagen: See Anionic Surfactants
Propylene Glycol/Butylene Glycol: Used as solvents, humectants and viscosity controlling agents. Commonly used to make extracts from herbs. These chemicals are petroleum derivatives that penetrate the skin and can weaken protein and cellular structure. Studies show that these ingredients cause skin irritation, particularly on mucous membranes; are immune toxins; and produce positive mutation in mammals (cause cancer.)
Quaternium-7, 15, 31, 60, etc: Toxic formaldehyde releasers that cause skin rashes and allergic reactions. Dr Epstein reports in his book Unreasonable Risk “Substantive evidence of casual relation to leukemia, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers.” In March 2009, the report “No More Toxic Tub” presented third-party laboratory results showing that many baby care products are contaminated with this hyper-toxic ingredient. See Nitrosating Agents and Formaldehyde
Silicone/Dimethicone/Dimethicone Copolyol/Cyclomethicone: Silicone and silicone-derived emollients are very long-lasting synthetic occlusives. They coat the skin like a plastic-wrap adhesive, trapping anything beneath it, and do not allow the skin to “breathe,” thus interfering with normal skin cell metabolism. Recent studies indicate that prolonged exposure of the skin to sweat, by occlusion, causes skin irritation. Some synthetic emollients are known tumor promoters and accumulate in the liver and lymph nodes. They are non-biodegradable, causing negative environmental impact.
Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate: See Anionic Surfactants and Nitrosating Agents
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): Anionic Detergents and Surfactants that pose serious health threats. Used in 90% of personal-care products. Exposure can lead to eye damage, depression, labored breathing, severe skin irritation, and even death. Young eyes may not develop properly if exposed to SLS and ALS because proteins are dissolved. SLS and ALS may also damage the skin’s immune system by causing layers to separate and inflame. It is frequently disguised in semi-natural cosmetics with the explanation “comes from coconut”. See Anionic Surfactants,Nitrosating Agents and Ethoxylated Surfactants
Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate: See Anionic Surfactants and Nitrosating Agents
Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate: See Anionic Surfactants and Nitrosating Agents
Synthetic Fragrances: Fragrance can indicate the presence of 4,000 ingredients, many toxic or carcinogenic. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration. Can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes.
Talc: The National Toxicology Program report found that cosmetic grade talc caused tumors in animals, even though it contained no asbestos-like fibers. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics cites it as an Ecotoxin, Persistent Bioaccumulative in Wildlife and Humans, Respiratory Toxin and Skin Irritant. It is also cited as a source of asbestos contamination.
Triclosan: a synthetic “antibacterial” ingredient is classified as a chlorophenol. This hormone disrupter can pose enormous long-term chronic health risks by interfering with the way hormones perform, such as changing genetic material, decreasing fertility and sexual function, and fostering birth defects.
TEA (Triethanolamine) Lauryl Sulfate & TEA (Triethanolamine) Laureth Sulfate: Anionic surfactants used as pH adjusters, emulsifiers and preservatives. Found in shampoo, body gel, liquid soap, moisturizer, shaving cream, cosmetics and acne treatments, including self-identified “natural” brands. Has been found to form carcinogenic nitrosamine compounds on the skin or in the body after absorption when mixed with nitrosating agents. Potential asthma inducer.
See Anionic Surfactants, Nitrosating Agents and Ethoxylated Surfactants.