Avoid these toxic ingredients when you are buying personal care products like shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste, as well as makeup, nail polish and other beauty products.
Let’s do a little experiment: Go grab your favorite shampoo, deodorant, eye shadow or whatever personal care product you can get your hands on quickly.
Turn the package over and take a look at the ingredients list. Chances are it’s pretty long and filled with a lot of unusual, scientific sounding names.
I know – reading ingredient labels is not something most people do for fun! Yet, understanding toxic ingredients is an important step in identifying natural, non-toxic beauty and personal care products.
Why It Matters
Finding beauty and body care products that you can trust to be non-toxic can be tricky. Just because something says natural or paraben-free on the label doesn’t mean it’s safe or eco-friendly.
In fact, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), one in three personal care products contain at least one ingredient classified as a possible human carcinogen. On top of that, many chemicals used in personal care products cause endocrine disruption, respiratory irritation and allergic reactions.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to go get a degree in chemistry and memorize a long list safe ingredients. But understanding the worst chemical ingredients to AVOID will help a lot.
In addition, you can use the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to research products and look for trusted certifications on product labels. And you’ll find lots more info about non-toxic beauty products and favorite brands on the blog!
Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Beauty & Personal Care Products
Nasty ingredients can be found in all types of personal care and beauty products – from skin care and bath products, toothpaste and deodorant, hair care and nail products, as well as lipstick, eye shadow and most other makeup products. This includes products for babies and kids (find safe baby care products here), as well as for adults.
Let’s take a look a the the top 12 worst toxic ingredients to skip when buying personal care, cosmetics and beauty products:
- Used for: Preservatives used to inhibit bacteria and mold growth
- Seen on label: methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben
- Health Concerns: Endocrine system disruptors linked to developmental and reproductive problems, as well as breast cancer
- Found in: A wide variety of personal care products including shampoos, cleansers, deodorants and makeup
- Used for: Adding scent to products and to mask unpleasant odors
- Seen on label: fragrance or parfum
- Health Concerns: Fragrance can be a mix of 100s of undisclosed chemicals including phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors and other ingredients that may cause allergic reactions.
- Found in: Many personal care and beauty products, including perfumes.
- Note: Fragrance is a complicated and evolving subject. Some brands list “fragrance” but state that it is all natural or paraben-free. Preferably, companies will be 100% transparent, but you may need to ask questions to get to the bottom of it.
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients
- Used for: Preservatives to kill bacteria
- Seen on label: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, bronopol, formaldehyde resin
- Health Concerns: Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. Formaldehyde-releasers are preservatives that slowly form formaldehyde and release it into the environement. Formaldehyde can also trigger allergic skin reactions.
- Found in: Many personal care products including shampoo, body wash, soaps, nail polish, and air fresheners
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Used for: To produce foam and lather in a product
- Seen on label: sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)
- Health Concerns: SLES is an ethoxylated ingredient known to produce 1,4 Dioxane, which is classified as a human carcinogen
- Found in: Shampoos, shower gels, facial cleansers
Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)
- Used for: Thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers
- Seen on label: polyethylene glycol, ceteareth
- Health Concerns: Ethoxylated ingredients frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, and which readily penetrates the skin. Polyethylene has also been noted as a skin irritant.
- Found in: Deodorant, makeup, styling gel, shaving cream and many other products
- Used for: Antimicrobial ingredient
- Seen on label: triclosan or triclocarbon
- Health Concerns: Linked to endocrine disruption, including proper functioning of thyroid and reproductive hormones. Also toxic to the aquatic environment.
- Found in: Toothpaste, deodorant, liquid soap and more
BHA and BHT
- Used for: Synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives
- Seen on label: butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) or butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
- Health Concerns: Possible human carcinogen, especially for products used on lips
- Found in: Lipsticks and other cosmetics, moisturizers and shaving cream
- Used for: Makes products creamy or sudsy and as a PH-adjuster
- Seen on label: diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), monoethanolamine (MEA)
- Health Concerns: Can react with other chemicals to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Can also cause skin and eye irritation.
- Found in: Shampoo, bubble bath, moisturizers, and sunscreens
- Used for: Sunscreen protection and ultraviolet (UV) light absorber
- Seen on label: oxybenzone
- Health Concerns: Linked to endocrine discruption as well as photoallergic reactions and irritation
- Found in: Sunscreen products
Dibutyl phthalate and toluene
- Used for: Solvents and plasticizers
- Seen on label: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, benzene, methylbenzene, toluol
- Health Concerns: Phthalates are reproductive and developmental toxicants, and toluenes are neurotoxins.
- Found in: Nail polish (dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde are considered the toxic trio in nail polish). Toluene is also found in hair dye.
Coal tar dyes
- Used for: Coloring hair
- Seen on label: P-phenylenediamine (PPD)
- Health Concerns: Linked to cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as eye irritant and allergic reactions
- Found in: Hair dye (permanent, semi-permanent and temporary)
- Note: These dyes used to be made from coal, but are now pertroleum-derived.
- Used for: Skin bleaching
- Seen on label: hydroquinone
- Health Concerns: Can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, leading to “disfiguring and irreversible” blue-black lesions on exposed skin
- Found in: Skin lightening creams
Have you seen these toxic ingredients on any products you use? Which ones are the hardest for you to avoid?
P.S. Be sure to check out my Non-Toxic Product Guides for Personal Care & Beauty Products!