Ingredients to Avoid
More than 5,000 ingredients are allowed for use in personal care products. Most are identified by The Environmental Protection Agency as chemicals. Many of those chemicals are toxic when used long term. Some ingredients with known health hazards are very common in personal care products, both conventional products and alternative ones. The following ingredients should be avoided. Instead of being metabolized they are stored in fatty tissue and other organs in your body. Many of these chemicals have been linked to numerous illnesses including cancer.
DEA, TEA, MEA – Diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), and monoethanolamine (MEA) are hormone disruptors. They are also known to combine with nitrates to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. If a product contains nitrites (used as a preservative or present as a contaminant not listed on labels) a chemical reaction can occur either during manufacturing or after a product is made. There is no way to know which products contain nitrosamines because the government does not require manufacturers to disclose this information on the label.
A 1997 study by the U.S. National Toxicology Program found that these compounds themselves might also be carcinogenic. Repeated skin application of DEA was found to cause liver and kidney damage in animals. The study also discovered that when absorbed through the skin, DEA accumulated in organs. TEA may also cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.
Dioxins – You won’t find dioxin listed on any label. It’s formed as an accidental by-product of some manufacturing processes using chlorine, especially paper bleaching and the creation of plastic. Dioxin is one of the most powerful carcinogens known and accumulates in body fat. Mainstream deodorants and anti-bacterial soaps are suspect. Chlorine bleached tissues, toilet paper and cotton balls can contain dioxin. Plastic bottles may leach dioxin into creams, shampoos and other products we use daily.
DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea – DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea and imidazolidinyl urea are preservatives that release formaldehyde. It is estimated that 20 percent of people exposed to this chemical will experience an allergic reaction. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness and loss of sleep. In lab tests, formaldehyde has caused cancer and damaged DNA. Formaldehyde is a known sensitizer. Imidazolidinyl urea may cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.
FD&C Colours – Used extensively in personal care products, FD&C colours are made from coal. Coal tar colours have been found to cause cancer in animals and many people experience allergic reactions such as skin irritation and contact dermatitis. They are listed as FD&C or D&C, followed by a colour and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6, or D&C Green No. 6.
Fragrance – Synthetic fragrance is the most common ingredient found in personal care products. “Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients. Most or all of them are synthetic. Symptoms reported to the FDA include headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. Clinical observations by medical doctors have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes.” (Home Safe Home, Debra Lynn Dadd). Fragrance is a known trigger of asthma. Many compounds in fragrances are suspected or proven carcinogens. Phthalates in perfumes are known hormone disruptors. In 1989 the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects. They identified 884 of them as toxic substances. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of perfumes contain toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus.
Lanolin – Lanolin is a common allergen and because of this has been replaced in many products. But there is another reason to be cautious about lanolin. Lanolin is derived from sheep’s wool. It may contain residues of insecticides into which sheep are dipped to control external parasites. These insecticides are fat-soluble. Dr. Samuel Epstein, chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, says these chemicals are likely to migrate through the skin and into the bloodstream. However, some sheep producers now control parasites by injecting sheep with insecticides, which work by circulating through the animal’s bloodstream. The best way to know if the lanolin in a personal care product is free of insecticide is to look for a certified organic product. Uncontaminated lanolin is perfectly safe, although it can cause contact dermatitis in some people. Lanolin oil, a more refined product, has been found to have little insecticide residue. Purified lanolin oil is a healthy product, as long as you aren’t allergic to it.
Lead – Lead is a known carcinogen and hormone disruptor. It is readily absorbed through the skin and accumulates in the bones. It causes neurological damage and behaviour abnormalities, and large accumulations can result in leg cramps, muscle weakness, numbness and depression. Lead is found in some hair dyes.
Nonylphenols – This estrogen-mimicking chemical is a surfactant used for its detergent properties. It can be found in some plastics, as well as shaving creams, shampoos and hair colours. It can be created when certain chemicals commonly found in personal care products break down. Nonylphenols can be a component in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a compound often found in acrylic nails. They are persistent in the environment and of such concern that many European countries are phasing them out. Some manufacturers have voluntarily discontinued their use.
Parabens – An estrogen mimic, parabens are preservatives with antibacterial properties. Extremely toxic .Widely used in all kinds of personal care products, paraben is usually preceded by the prefixes methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, or propyl-. Parabens can cause allergic reactions or contact dermatitis in some people. Preservatives are one of the leading causes of contact dermatitis. There are safer practical alternatives to parabens, including vitamin E, vitamin C and grapefruit seed extract.
PEG – Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is used in cleaners and some oven cleaners to dissolve oil and grease. It can also be found in many personal care products. PEG may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen. Dioxane readily penetrates the skin. While dioxane can be removed from products easily and economically by vacuum stripping during the manufacturing process, there is no way to determine which products have undergone this process. Labels are not required to list this information.
Phenylenediamine – Used in permanent hair dyes, phenylenediamine can cause eczema, bronchial asthma, gastritis, skin irritation and even death. It is also a carcinogen. It can react with other chemicals to cause photosensitivity. The US Food and Drug Administration proposed legislation which would have required warning labels on products, advising that this ingredient can penetrate skin and has been determined to cause cancer in lab animals. If passed, beauty salons would have had to post warnings for their customers. Cosmetic industry lobbyists defeated the proposal.
Phthalates – Everyone in the general population is exposed to phthalates from one source or another. They are found in many products from plastics to shampoo. These hormone-disrupting chemicals are suspected of contaminating breast milk and causing damage to the kidneys, liver, lungs and reproductive organs. One type of phthalate, diethyl phthalate (DEP) is commonly found in fragrances and other personal care products. Phthalates are used to enhance fragrances, as solvents, and to denature alcohol. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives (December 2002) found that DEP is damaging to the DNA of sperm in adult men at current levels of exposure. DNA damage to sperm can lead to infertility and may also be linked to miscarriages, birth defects, infertility and cancer in offspring. DEP is the phthalate found in the highest levels in humans. Recent product tests found the chemical in every fragrance tested in the United States. Manufacturers are not required to list phthalates on product labels, so they are difficult to avoid.
Polysorbate 60 and Polysorbate 80 – Polysorbate 60 and polysorbate 80 may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen. Dioxane readily penetrates the skin. While dioxane can be removed from products easily and economically by vacuum stripping during the manufacturing process, there is no way to determine which products have undergone this process. Labels are not required to list this information.
Propylene glycol – The National Institute recognizes Propylene Glycol as a neurotoxin for Occupational Health and Safety in the U.S. It is known to cause contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities. It is widely used as a moisture-carrying ingredient in place of glycerine because it is cheaper and more readily absorbed through the skin. The Material Safety Data Sheet for propylene glycol warns workers handling this chemical to avoid skin contact. It could cause dermatitis, kidney damage and liver problems, according to various clinical studies.
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats) – Listed on labels as benzalkonium chloride, cetrimonium bromide, quaternium-15 and quaternium 1-29, these compounds are caustic and can irritate the eyes. Quaternium-15 is a formaldehyde releaser and the number one cause of preservative-related contact dermatitis. There is concern about their potential as sensitizers. For about 5% of people, quats are an extreme sensitizer and can cause a variety of asthma-like symptoms, even respiratory arrest. When they are used with hot running water, steam increases the inhalation of vapours. These compounds are used in a wide range of products as preservatives, surfactants and germicides. They make hair and skin feel softer immediately after use but long-term use will cause dryness.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate – This chemical is a known skin irritant and enhances allergic response to other toxins and allergens. The U.S. government has warned manufacturers of unacceptable levels of dioxin formation in some products containing this ingredient. The chemical can react with other ingredients to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. Detergent used as a moistener in floor cleaning products, found in engines and in Agent Orange (which served to kill vegetation and profoundly harmed human and animal life during, and long after the Vietnam War). SLS and SLES are used in laboratories as skin irritants in order to test soothing products. However, their low cost makes them present in the majority of shampoos and cosmetic foaming products. Several studies have underlined the harmful effects of their use: urinary infections, kidney and bladder infections, fertility problems, irritation to the eyes, skin and scalp, allergic reactions, lesions of the scalp and hair loss. Certain studies have asserted that SLS and SLES are carcinogenic
Talc – Talc is a naturally occurring mineral which is carcinogenic when inhaled. In addition, women who regularly use talc in the genital area are at increased risk for ovarian cancer. Airborne talc in body powders and antiperspirant sprays can irritate the lungs. Talcum powder is reported to cause coughing, vomiting, and even pneumonia. Many pediatricians now tell parents to avoid using talc on babies as it can cause respiratory distress, sometimes resulting in death. Talc is found in blushes, face powders, eye shadows, liquid foundation and skin fresheners. Used near the eyes, it can irritate sensitive mucous membranes. Talc in liquid formulations poses minimal risk.
Aluminum – Metallic element used in antiperspirants and antiseptics. Certain scientists have established links between aluminum and breast cancer. Its use in antiperspirants blocks the pores of the skin preventing toxins from being excreted. The toxins then go to the closest fat reserve: the breasts. Some suspicions have been equally raised about its implication in Alzheimer.
Animal Fat – Animal tissues made of an oily and semi-oily solid that are the insoluble esters of glycerin and fatty acids. Generally one of the principal ingredients in bar soaps, animal fat is notorious for being highly contaminated with pesticides and for removing the protective lipid layer of the skin.
Cocamide (DEA, DEA-CETYL phosphates, DEA OLETH-3 phosphates, Myristamide DEA, Stearamide MEA, Cocamide MEA, Lauramide DEA, Linoleamide MEA, Oleamide DEA, TEA-Lauryl Sulfate) – These chemical ingredients are used as emulsifiers and foaming bases in the majority of body care products. In spite of the fact that the FDA (the American Food and Drug Administration) has warned the industry of their potential danger since 1979. Furthermore, in 1998 a study by the NTP (American National Toxicology Program) seriously condemned their use and designated them nitrates and nitrosamins, cancer causing elements.
Coal Tar Colors (sold under the names colors FD&C or colors D&C) – A sticky material with a complex composition, resulting from the distillation of coal and used to give texture and color to certain shampoos and also to reduce itching. Can contain a variety of toxins (benzene, xylene, naphthalene), recognized for causing allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches, nausea, fatigue, nervousness, lack of concentration and cancer.
Collagen – Derived from animal skins and chicken feet, the collagen molecules are too large to penetrate the skin. They stay on the surface and prevent the skin from breathing comfortably.
Imidazolidinyl urea and DM hydantoine (Germall Plus, Germall II and Germall 115) – Two preservatives that have the loosening effect of formaldehyde. Renowned for causing eczema. After parabens, these are the most used preservatives. They are well established as a main cause of contact dermatitis (the American Academy of Dermatology). There are three commercial names for these chemical products: Germall II, Germal 115 and Germall PlUS. None of them has a good antimycotic action and it must be combined with other preservatives. Germall 115 releases formaldehyde at a little more than 10Â¢X C. These chemical products are toxic.
DEET – Plastic solvent used as an insect-repellent. It is very irritating to the skin. The American Federal Environment Agency has compiled cases of death related to DEET usage. In December 2004 Health Canada will remove from store, shelves any product containing more than 0% of DEET.
Isopropyl Alcohol and any Synthetic alcohols (anything that contains the phrase benzyl butyl, cetearyl, cetyl, glyceryl, isopropyl, myristyl propyl, propylene, or stearyleg Isopropyl Pahnitate, Diglyceryl Caprylate) have been shown to cause allergies and dermatitis. Solvent distorting properties, found in hair dyes, massage oils, hand creams, after shave creams, perfumes and many other cosmetic products of large brands. Inhaling or ingesting the vapor could cause headaches, intoxication, sickness, narcosis or coma.
Mineral oil – Derivative of petroleum, used industrially as a cutting fluid and lubricating oil. It forms an oily layer on the skin and traps moisture under the skin thus preventing the skin from breathing. At the same time it stops toxins and wastes from escaping.
Petrolatum and Paraffin Gel (petroleum jelly) – Mineral oil in a gel form; causes many problems for photosensitive skin (that is to say, it augments damage sustained from the sun). It also tends to interfere with the body’s natural moisturizing mechanism leading to dry skin. Any product sold that contains this chemical creates the very conditions that it claims to relieve. Many manufacturers use petrolatum because it is incredibly cheap. Highly comedogenic.
PVP / VA Copolymere – Derivative of petroleum used in shampoos and conditioners. It is considered toxic because its particles contribute to the penetration of other foreign bodies in the lungs of sensitive people. Stearalkonium Chloride – A chemical used in conditioners, to detangle hair and in skin creams. It causes allergic reactions. The chloride of stearalkonium was developed by the textile industry as a softening agent. It is much cheaper and easier to include in hair conditioners than plant proteins or extracts, which are healthier for the hair. Very toxic.
Synthetic Perfumes – The term perfume on the label of a conventional product is very misleading: behind this simple word hide 200 chemical products that are unabashedly unlisted. Some problems caused by these chemical products are: headaches, dizziness, hyper-pigmentation, violent cough, vomiting and skin irritation.
Silicone Oils (eg dimethicone, cyclomethicone, copolyol) can clog the skin like plastic wrap and cause tumors when painted on lab animals (according to the Material Safety Data Sheet supplied by the manufacturer).
Methylisothiazolinone and MemylcMoroisothiazolinone - Both cause allergies.