Top 10 Chemicals to Avoid in Personal Care Products

Put down that lotion! Ever read the list of ingredients on your shampoo, conditioner, lotion, or toothpaste? It’s usually a laundry list of ingredients that only a chemist can pronounce! I have compiled the top 10 chemicals that are high on the scare-o-meter.

A couple of months ago, I read There’s Lead in Your Lipstick by Gillian Deacon and it has changed my entire outlook on chemical exposure. It’s not just about what you ingest, it’s also the products that are on your skin and ones that you inhale (like perfume). I do believe that our bodies have their own “toxic threshold”. Each person is different. However, we do have a limit in terms of how many toxins our body can effectively remove from the body, from the air we breathe to what we eat. After a certain point these toxins start to accumulate in the body (mostly stored in those fat cells!). And after a certain level of accumulation, signs of the disease start to manifest. For some folks that can may mean cancer and for some it could be early-onset Alzheimer’s. That depends on genetics, family history, lifestyle, and a bunch of other factors that form the disease landscape.

As you read this list you may be a little shocked. How are our governments allowing such ingredients to be used in everyday health and beauty products? There are between 85,000-100,000 chemicals in the marketplace today and 85% of those chemicals have never been tested for human health impacts. The ones that have been tested are only tested for immediate reactions. So if a chemical doesn’t give the subjects a rash within 5 minutes it is labeled “safe for human use” and given the thumbs up. Needless to say, the combination of all the various chemicals in our products has never been tested for long-term effects. The legal system requires irrefutable scientific proof of harm before a chemical is pulled off the shelves, instead of only allowing ingredients that have been proven safe over long-term studies!

So what can you do to protect yourself and your family? Watch out for the ingredients below, and as a general rule of thumb, anything that sounds like a chemical is probably causing more harm than good in your body. I have also included a list of useful resources a the bottom of this post.

1. Parabens

Known names: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid, propy ester, propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, benzoic acid, 4-hydroxybutyl ester
Found in: shaving creams, shampoos, moisturizers, topical pharmaceuticals, toothpaste
Health hazards: endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, skin irritation, dermatitis

2. Phthalates

Known names: hidden within fragrance, perfume, parfum
Found in: most beauty products like lotions and deodorants, and children’s toys
Health hazards: endocrine disruption, liver, kidney and lung damage, cancer

3. Fragrance / Perfume / Parfum

Known names: fragrance, perfume, parfum
Found in: almost every body and beauty product has an artificial fragrance for the “scent” of the product
Health hazards: contains phalates, causes headaches, dizziness, asthma, allergies, adversely affect the central nervous system

4. Triclosan

Known names: triclosan, Microban
Found in: antibacterial products, soap, hand sanitizers, facial cleansers, deodorants. This chemical is found in over 1200 cosmetics registered by Health Canada
Health hazards: cancer, endocrine disruption

5. Talc

Known names: talc, French talc, cosmetic talc
Found in: baby powders, eyeshadow, blush, deodorant
Health hazards: talc is similar in chemical structure to asbestos and has been linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory toxicity

6. Sodium Lauryl (ether) Sulphate (SLS, SLES)

Known names: this is a chemical agent that makes products ‘soapy’. It’s usually listed as sodium lauryl, sodium laureth sulphate (SLS, SLES), sodium dodecyl sulphate, PEG (1, 4) lauryl ether sulphate, sodium salt, sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium PEG lauryl ether sulphate, sodium dodecyl sulphate
Found in: body wash, foaming facewash, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, bubble bath
Health hazards: this is originally an industrial degreaser and floor cleaner and can lead to major skin irritation

7. Oxybenzone

Known names: benzophenone-3, benzoyl-5, 5-methyloxyphenol, 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone, methanone, solaquin
Found in: most chemical sunscreens
Health hazards: this chemical accumulates in our fat cells and is related to allergies, hormone disruption, cellular damage, low birth rate

8. Ethoxylated Surfactants and 1,4-dioxane

Known names: watch for ingredients with ‘eth’ such as polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, oxynol, ceteareth, oleth, PEG, laureth sulphate
Found in: this scary by-product is usually not listed on labels and is found in over 57% of baby soaps! Also found in shampoos, body washes, hair relaxers and other beauty products
Health hazards: known human carcinogen identified by the US Environmental Protection Agency


Known names: diethanolamine, triethanolamine, monoethanolamine, cocamide DEA, lauramide DEA, oleamide diethanolamine
Found in: shampoos, face washes, body washes, makeup
Health hazards: carcinogenic, these chemicals are easily absorbed into the skin and combine with nitrates to create cancer-causing nitrosamines

10. Formaldehyde

Known names: formaldehyde, formalin, formic aldehyde, methanal, methyl aldehyde, oxomethane, oxymethylene, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea
Found in: nail polish, cuticle treatments, hair color, false eyelash adhesive
Health hazards: immune system toxicant, carcinogen, skin irritant

Your Resources

So that’s my top 10. Keep in mind though that new chemical concoctions are being introduced by cosmetic companies every day, and it’s really hard to keep on top of ingredients that we should be avoiding. There are some handy resources that you can use to guide you.

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