Please read the following update added November 18, which includes links to a website that is using science to address these concerns/myths.


Original Post:

Each and every day it is estimated that we put up to 10 different personal care products on our bodies. This includes shampoo/conditioner, lotions, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm, sunscreen, shaving products, cosmetics, insect repellants, and for kids – diaper cream.

Many of these products include toxins that are known to be unhealthy for human consumption.

Were you aware that there are no standard testing guidelines established by the FDA for personal care products? According to Skin Deep’s Cosmetic Database, “Even knowing whether or not the products have been substantiated for safety is impossible — safety studies are not required to be made public, and FDA has no means to know what studies have or have not been conducted.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) have compiled a list of toxins that exist in brands already on store shelves.

What ingredients to watch out for when shopping:

  • Placenta
    • May be labeled as: Placental Extract, Lyphilized Beef Placenta, Placenta Enzymes, Placental protein, Animal Placental Extract, Bovine Placental extract, Bovine Placental Protein
    • Why avoid it? – These are full of hormones that, while they condition skin and hair, have also been shown to create breast growth in toddlers.
    • Found in: facial masks/moisturizers, hair conditioners
  • Mercury
    • May be labeled as: Thimerosal, Mercury, Phenyl Mercuric Acetate, Phenyl Mercuric Benzoate, Methoxyethylmercy Chloride
    • Why avoid it? – Mercury damages brain function, even at low levels
    • Found in: Mascara, eye drops
  • Lead
    • Why avoid it? – This is a neurotoxin, human reproductive toxin, human development toxin, possible carcinogen and has been banned in Canada and the European Union for use in cosmetics and personal care products.
    • Found in: hair coloring agents, conditioners,
  • Fragrance
    • May be labeled as: parfum
    • Why avoid it? – Can contain neurotoxins and are common allergens.
  • Animal Parts
    • May be labeled as: polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene hydrogenated tallow amide, polyethylene glycol tallow amine
    • Why avoid it? – “If fat scraped from the back of the hide of mink or derived from emu isn’t something you’d like to smear on your skin, you may want to avoid mink and emu oil, conditioning agents in sunscreen, shaving cream, hair spray and more.” – EWG
    • Found in: sunscreen, shaving cream, hair spray, and more
  • Hydroquinone Skin Lightener
    • May be labeled as: Hydroquinone, Quinol, 1,4-Dihydroxybenzene, 1,4-Benzenediol
    • Why avoid it?: “This skin bleaching chemical can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with “disfiguring and irreversible” blue-black lesions that in the worst cases become permanent”.  – EWG. Known to cause cancer, reproductive toxicitiy, non-reproductive organ toxicity, is a neurotoxin and high allergen.
    • Found in: facial moisturizers, lipsticks, anti-aging products, foundations, lip gloss/balm, facial cleansers, eye shadows, body wash/exfoliant, sunscreens, shampoo/conditioner, eye liner, mascara, concealer, blush, and more.
  • Nanoparticles
    • May be labeled as: Companies are not required to list these in ingredients. But these are KNOWN ingredients: nano zinc oxide, microspheres, aluminum powder, nano titanium dioxide
    • Why avoid it?  – These “can slide up the optic nerve to the brain or burrow inside red blood cells.”
    • Found in: sunscreens, skin creams, and more.
  • Phthalates
    • May be labeled as: Dibutyl phthalate, 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid, diethyl phthalate, diethyl ester, dep, dibutyl phthalate, dibutyl ester
    • Why avoid it? – These chemicals cause feminization of male sex organs.
    • Found in: Nail polishes/treatments,
  • Petroleum byproducts
    • May be labeled as: Stoddard solvent, light liquid paraffin, petroleum distillate, 2-nitro-p-phenylenediamine, naphtha, petroleum naphtha, and more!
    • Why avoid it? – Petroleum byproducts contain carcinogens like 1,4-dioxane and petrochemical waste called coal tar.
    • Found in: Moisturizers, lip glass, cleansers, diaper cream, wound treatments, makeup removers, scalp-treatment shampoos.

Ugh – scariness.  My head is already spinning.  Check out the EWG’s Top 20 Brand of Concern and Top 20 Companies of Concern. Sadly, many of the top names in mainstream stores are listed…

You can use the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database to search for your favorite brands, or to find new ones. Each product researched includes a hazard rating and a data gap rating.  The hazard rating is shown on a 0-10 scale. The higher the number, the higher the concern.  The data gap rating is a measure of how much is unknown for certain ingredients. This can vary from ingredient to ingredient.  The 2 scores are calculated separately and are subject to change.

Any Other Concerns?

Well, that takes care of SOME of the concerns I’ve read about over the years. But what about other chemicals like Flouride and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, etc.?

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) & Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

According to the Natural Health Information Centre, located in the UK, SLES and SLS are used in any personal care product that consumers expect to “foam up” or create suds.  They are known as surfactants.  So, this includes: shampoos, detergents, toothpastes, soaps, cleansers, etc.

SLES contains a known carcinogen called 1,4-Dioxane, which is also known as ether.

SLS is less toxic than SLES, but is also known to cause “skin irritations, hormone imbalance, eye deformities in children, eye irritations, protein denaturing and carcinogenicity” (

UPDATE 18NOV: Read this article from Treehugger regarding SLS and the American Cancer Society.


Parabens are a chemical preservative used in personal care products to extend their shelf life. They can be labeled as methyl-, propyl-, butyl- and ethyl-parabens.   These chemicals “can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system, and were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested urine from 100 adults and found parabens in nearly all.”  The EWG also states that exposure to parabens can also be related to non-reproductive organ toxicity, infertility, birth and developmental defects.

What are these found in? Almost 25,000 cosmetics and personal care products.  I have even seen these in the ingredient labels of “natural” and “organic” brands.  Read your labels!


The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says that “Flouride is a compound that contains fluorine,… Using small amounts of fluoride on a routine basis can help prevent tooth decay. In areas where fluoride does not occur naturally, it may be added to community water supplies.”   Adding fluoride to the water supply has been done in the U.S. for the last 50 years.  And although, fluoride is labeled as a prescription drug by the FDA, there is no regulation, guidelines, or monitoring of the intake and use of this “drug” by consumers.

Fluoride has been shown to be more toxic than lead in some cases (and we already know how the word “lead” makes parents scream), and is a neurotoxin.  The case for and against fluoride has many arguments, so I am going to leave that one for your to decide. You can read the articles I’ve included below at length.   What does my family do? We do not use fluoridated toothpaste.

Final Thought

This post has been percolating in my brain for quite some time. It is something I am concerned about on a daily basis and yet feel completely overwhelmed when it comes to purchasing decisions. The best advice is to do your own research. Use the Cosmetics Database. Know your ingredients watch list. Know your products. You have to even check “natural” and “organic” products. Read the labels!



“What Not To Buy”. Environmental Working Group. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Why This Matters”. Environmental Working Group. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Chemical Families: Parabens”. Environmental Working Group. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“The Fluoride Debate.” Anita Shattuck. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Fluoride” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) What it is, where to find it and how to avoid it.” Natural Health Information Centre. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Sodium Laureth Sulfate: A Possible Carcinogenic Foaming Agent” by Elisheve Weyers. Viewed 21 July 2010


Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products.  By EWG’s Cosmetic Safety Database. Download PDF here. Good guide that tells you what to look for, what to avoid, and what brands are better choices.

Shopper’s Guide To Safe Cosmetics by the EWG’s Cosmetic Safety Database. Download PDF here. This is handy pocket-sized guide that tells you what to avoid, what to look for and other shopping tips.


“Personal Care: Information Based on Scientific Facts”. A website using science to debunk common myths about the claims made by EWG. Worth taking the time to read!

“Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics: New Legislation to Prevent Exposure” by EWG Public Affairs.

“How Safe Are Cosmetics? New Bill Wants to Find Out.” By Andrew Schneider. AOL News.


If you liked this post, check out my previous post: The Dangers of Sunscreen

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