Just as you read labels when making food selections, it is equally important to read labels on personal care products – and don’t skip over the inactive ingredient list! The following ingredients are commonly added to most personal care products on the market. Many are linked to serious ailments such as cancer, developmental disorders, asthma, endocrine/hormone disruption, infertility and neural toxicity. At The Choosy Chick, you can be assured that none of the products we represent contain these ingredients.
You will not find 1,4 Dioxane on ingredient labels. Instead, it is a byproduct of manufacturing processes. According to 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. Research shows that 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin . 1,4-dioxane is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  and is listed as an animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program . It is included on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects"(Source)
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it was found in 46% of personal care products tested and in numerous baby products. It can easily be removed from products, but manufacturers are failing to do it. (Source) It is a carcinogen and can cause organ system toxicity. So if it isn't on the label, what do you look for? Avoid the following ingredients: PEGs (polyethylene/propylene glycol compounds), Ceteareth 20, SLS (sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate), polysorbates 20, 60 and 80. Interesting to note that USDA organic products do not seem to contain 1,4 dioxane, so do look for that great USDA organic label. (Source)
Aluminum is a commonly found element, naturally present in water and soil. We avoid Aluminum Chlorohydrate, and the aluminum salt known as AZAG (Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex GLY) that are used to control sweat in underarm antiperspirants. Some studies have shown a link to breast cancer, but no clear studies have been able to prove this. Aluminum can affect the central nervous system and is suspected to be associated with Alzheimer's disease. (Source) Be wary of crystal stick deodorants that claim to be "aluminum free" as many of them contain potassium alum which simply is another form of aluminum!
BHA/BHT - butylated hydroxyanisole, butylated hydroxytoluene
Used as a preservative in makeup, moisturizers and foods. This is a suspected endocrine disruptor and carcinogen. California requires all products that contain these ingredients to be labeled as "May Cause Cancer." In addition they are considered to be harmful to fish and other wildlife. (Source)
Boric Acid and Sodium Borate
Used as an insecticide and is poisonous; however, it can be found in lotions and even more concerning - diaper creams - one in fact that I relied on for years with two of my children. The EWG lists it as an endocrine disruptor and Medline considers it lethal. The irony is that the European Union and Canada have banned it in products for children under 3 years of age, but it is used widely in diaper creams in the U.S! Do not let children ingest this toxin - here is what the NY Times had to say recently about it. (Source)
Used to treat dandruff, psoriasis, eczema and is a known carcinogen. Coal tar dyes are used as colorants in foods, dyes, shampoos, and cosmetics. P-phenylenediamine is a coal tar dye used in hair colorants, particularly in the darker shades. Coal Tar dyes used in hair color have been linked to bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Scientists have noted a significant elevation of bladder cancer among hairdressers and beauticians exposed to hair dyes. (Source)In addition, these dyes can be very harmful to children. There is evidence that artificial colors increase hyperactivity, ADHD and learning difficulties in children. (Source) What to look for on the label? Coal tar solution, Naptha, Naptha distillate, or ingredients with Benzin. Look for coal tar dyes listed as FD&C followed by a number.
DEA(diethanolamine), MEA(monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine)
Used in a wide variety of beauty products including moisturizers, shaving creams and shampoos, they can react to form nitrosamines which can cause cancer. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, DEA "can react with other ingredients to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is readily absorbed through the skin and has been linked to stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers." (Source)
The European Union restricts the use of these ingredients in cosmetics. Look for related ingredient: Cocamide DEA. This is a chemically modified form of coconut oil used as a thickener or a foaming agent in shampoos. In 2012 it was listed by California as a known carcinogen. (Source) Read more here about a lawsuit launched after it was found in almost a hundred different shampoos, many of which are marketed for babies. You might find some of your favorite shampoos on the list!
Used in cosmetics, shampoos and detergents and has been linked to cancer. It is also used to sterilize surgical instruments, and according to the Breast Cancer Fund is a known human carcinogen. Several studies have been done that link ethylene oxide to breast cancer. (See 1,4 dioxane above) (Source)
EWG rates this baddie a big fat 10.
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers
Formaldehyde use has declined some since proven to be carcinogenic but is still found in some hair straighteners. Formaldehyde releasers on the other hand (DMDM Hydantoin, Imidzaolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Quaternium-15) are widely used in cosmetics and nail polishes. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, "These ingredients are a concern because they slowly and continuously release small amounts of formaldehyde, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies as a known human carcinogen". (Source)
In addition, they may cause skin sensitivity and allergies. Achoo!
Ever notice that you sneeze or get a headache when walking past the dryer sheets in the grocery store? This is a sneaky one...The term “fragrance”, or commonly listed as “parfum” is a broad label used to define a host of different ingredients that do not otherwise need to be itemized on the label. Synthetic fragrances can often contain phthalates (see below).
Commonly found in creams that are used to lighten the skin, hair colorants, and fragrance. EWG rates it a 9, and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review states there is strong evidence of it being a skin allergen or toxicant. The EPA calls it a known human respiratory toxicant. (Source)
Click here if you wish to learn how to pronounce this. It is a cosmetic preservative used a lot in shampoos and leave-on products. It can cause dermatitis, and lab studies on the brain cells of mammals suggest that methylisothiazolinone may be neurotoxic. (Source)
According to PubMed it was named Allergen of the year in 2013.
This is a controversial one because more research is needed to determine the extent of ill effects. Nanoparticles are used in cosmetics because they are absorbed by the skin easily due to their tiny size. They can be found in cosmetics, sunscreens, anti-aging treatments and more. Particles up to 100 nm (nanometers) are considered nanoparticles. They can penetrate cell walls including organ tissues and are known to be highly reactive. Through inhalation nanoparticles can be dangerous in the manufacturing process. The European Commission is beginning to assess the safety of this technology. Beware of labels that promote this technology on their labels with terms like "nano-technology" or "nanoparticles." Look for "non-nano" instead. (Source)
Not so sunny. Can be found in sunscreens and is possibly linked to hormone disruption and can affect the birth weight of babies. (Source)
Oxybenzone is easily absorbed through the skin, and in a study done by the CDC was found in the urine of 95% of those tested. Don't mind the white streaks and look for sunscreens with safer ingredients like zinc oxide.
Widely used as preservatives in cosmetics, shampoos and other body care products, these baddies are rapidly absorbed into the skin and are present in urine samples. Studies show that they mimic estrogens and have been found in breast cancer tissue. They are also linked to reproductive issues in men. Common names are methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben. The European Union restricts the use of parabens in cosmetics. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, "when applied to the skin and absorbed into the body, parabens in cosmetics bypass the metabolic process and enter the blood stream and body organs intact. It has been estimated that women are exposed to 50 mg per day of parabens from cosmetics. " (Source)
PEGs: Polyethelene/Propylene glycols
Used for conditioning and cleaning, the concern here is that they are commonly contaminated with 1,4 dioxane (see above), a possible human carcinogen and ethylene oxide (see above), a known human carcinogen that can also be harmful to the nervous system. (Source)
These are listed on labels typically as the letters PEG followed by a number. Related ingredient: Ceteareth 20.
Used as a skin conditioning agent and is typically promoted to heal irritated and chapped skin. It is also used as a moisture barrier. The problem here is that it can (depending on how purely it is refined) be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which may be associated with cancer and can ironically cause skin irritation - the very thing petrolatum is promoted to heal! (Source)
Note: EWG rates PAHs a fat 9. Related ingredient: mineral oil which is commonly found in baby oil.
Found in some lip balms, after-sun products, and body spray. EWG rates this a 7. The EPA labels it a known human respiratory toxicant, and the EU says it is toxic for products used on the lips and skin or in aerosol sprays. Japan restricts it in cosmetics, and it is banned for use in cosmetics in Canada. (Source)
Found in many "natural" cosmetic products because it has been used to replace parabens as a preservative. Although EWG rates this somewhat low as a 4, it is classified as an irritant by the European Union, and has been shown to cause toxicity to the nervous system. The FDA also issued a warning that it can depress babies' central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration in infants. It should be avoided in nipple creams used by nursing mothers. (Source)
(Pronounced "thalates") Diethyl phthalate and Dibutyl Phthalate - These are inexpensive chemicals used in plastics to make them more flexible, but can also be used to make fragrances last longer. Diethyl phthalate in particular is dangerous because it has been linked to early puberty in girls, obesity and insulin resistance in men and liver failure in young children who have sucked on plastic products that contain phthalates. (Source) Dibutyl Phthalate is found in nail polish and is a suspected endocrine disruptor and is toxic to the reproductive system. While some phthalates have been banned in the US and Canada from children's plastic toys and products that are sucked on or chewed, they are still present in cosmetics.
(Retinols, Retinyl Acetate) These vitamin A compounds have been used in creams for the treatment of wrinkles and are also used as skin conditioners. In actuality, they can make the skin more sensitive to the sun and the FDA has suggested through their own studies on animals that if applied in the sun, they can increase the risk of skin cancer tumors. Canada has considered labeling products with this ingredient to warn consumers to avoid sun exposure for a week after applying. Obstetricians caution women not to use oral forms of Retinoids as they may be toxic to the developing fetus, causing premature births and birth defects. It is also advised to avoid taking Retinoids while breast feeding. Topical forms are not as strong, but should still be avoided. The EWG rates these baddies an 8 and suggests that consumers do not use them in products meant to be left on the skin.
Used in cosmetics and creams to soften the skin and help creams glide more easily on the skin. Cyclotetrasiloxane is found in sunscreens and also used as conditioning agent. It is suspected to disrupt the endocrine system and be toxic to the reproductive system. It is classified by the European Union as a hormone disruptor and shows some evidence of developmental toxicity. (Source) According to the David Suzuki Foundation, these ingredients may be harmful to fish and aquatic organisms. Look for siloxane listed on the label as polydimethylsiloxane, methicone and dimethicone. (Source)
Sodium Laureth/Lauryl Sulfate
Used to make things foam and can be found in shampoos, body washes, detergents and toothpastes! Personally speaking, I am unable to use any toothpastes that contain SLS because it gives me terrible canker sores. And it is hard to find toothpastes without this ingredient! Blah. It can irritate the eyes and the skin, and can also be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane and ethylene oxide. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, both these ingredients are linked to cancer (Source). See notes above on these ingredients.
In addition to oxybenzone (above), be very careful of several other chemicals that are found in sunscreens. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, "Research has found that many sunscreens contain chemicals that are estrogenic, disrupt the endocrine system and can play a significant role in breast cancer development. For example, octyl-methoxycinnamate, which is estrogenic and has thyroid hormone-disrupting effects, is found in over 800 sunscreens. Homosalate, a hormone-disrupting UVB blocker, is an ingredient in over 400 sunscreens." (Source) Octinoxate another hormone disruptor - this chemical is found in breast milk. Who would think that the very thing you use to prevent cancer, can also cause it!
The original concern with talc was that it contained cancer-causing asbestos fibers. Although asbestos has been removed from cosmetic-grade talc since the 1970's, there is conflicting opinion about whether asbestos-free talc is associated with cancer. Some studies show an increase in ovarian cancer in women who apply the powder to their genital area. In addition, it is recommended that caregivers avoid using talcum powder on babies due to the risk of inhalation. (Source)
Used as a preservative and skin penetration enhancer (allows other ingredients to be absorbed into the skin). There are mixed reviews as to its toxicity; for example, EWG only rates it a 2. However, some studies have shown it can be harmful if inhaled or used orally. (Source)
Commonly found in nail polish, this ingredient can cause skin irritations and be dangerous if inhaled, causing headaches and drowsiness. It is a developmental toxicity hazard and has been found in mothers' breast milk. (Source) Certainly not good to be exposed to all day long in a nail salon...
Found in antibacterial products (like hand soap) and in toothpaste and tooth products. According to The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics it can cause endocrine disruption, allergies and immunotoxicity, and organ system toxicity. It can be especially harmful for pregnant and breastfeeding women, is restricted in cosmetics in Canada and Japan and is also causing antibiotic resistance. The FDA even found that there was no proof that soaps with triclosan were any more effective than plain old soap and water.
A note about lead and other heavy metals
Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can lead to learning and behavioral problems, miscarriage, male fertility problems and more. (Source) It is especially dangerous for children. Because lead is a naturally occurring substance found in soil and water, it is extremely difficult for cosmetic manufacturers to completely eliminate traces of it. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics takes a strong stance on this and is pressing the FDA to set a maximum limit of lead in lipstick, based on the lowest lead levels manufacturers can feasibly achieve. You can reduce your exposure by avoiding the following ingredients found on labels that may indicate contamination by lead and/or other heavy metals (lead acetate, chromium), hydrogenated cotton seed/oil, hexametaphosphate and thimerosal (was commonly found in mascara). The good news is, that over the last decade, lead levels in humans have decreased dramatically since lead was removed from gasoline.