Top 10 Toxins in Personal Care Products

By  January 05, 2009

Ever wonder if all those hard to pronounce ingredients in your personal care products are safe? You guessed it; some of them are worrisome or even down-right dangerous and best avoided. It is estimate that humans absorb up to 60% of what we put on our skin. The Environmental Working Group notes that on average, adults apply 126 unique ingredients on their skin daily and nearly 90% of personal care product ingredients have not been evaluated for safety by any publicly accountable institution.

So, if you are unsure of which products to use, not to worry—armed with the following information, you can ensure that you’re both safe and beautiful!

The top ten personal care product ingredients to avoid are:

1. Placenta: These extracts are believed to give the body an unhealthy dose of hormones.

2. Mercury: Low doses have been shown to damage brain function, especially in the young. Watch out for the mercury preservative Thimerosal, as well as, Mercuric Oxide, Phenyl Mercuric Acetate and Phenyl Mercuric Benzoate. Mercuric compounds are found in some eye drops and mascaras.

3. Lead: A neurotoxin that harms the developing brain. It is also a persistent, bioaccumulative in wildlife and humans. Also listed as Lead Salt, Lead Diacetate, Plumbous Acetate, and Lead Salt Acetic Acid. Lead compounds are found in some hair dyes.

4. Fragrance: Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top five allergens in the world. Fragrance ingredients are often not labeled. Fragrance is also listed as parfum. Fragrances are found in numerous products including: shampoos, conditioners, soaps, deodorants, perfumes, and lotions.

5. Nanoparticles: Untested ingredients that can make their way to the optic nerve, brain and into red blood cells. One-third of all product ingredients are now available in nano forms, often listed as Nano Zinc Oxide. The following ingredients could be nanoparticles: Micronized Titanium Dioxide, Micronized Zinc Oxide, and Boron Nitride. Nanoparticles can be found in numerous products including: sunscreens, foundations, concealers, eye creams, and skin creams.

6. Phthalates: These difficult to pronounce chemicals are toxic and regulated under environmental law. They interfere with the male reproductive organs and are known to damage sperm, reduce fertility, and are especially dangerous to developing fetuses. Pregnant women should avoid dibutyl phthalate in nail polish. Often listed as: Fragrance, Dibutyl Phthalate(s), Diethyl Phthalate, 1,2-Benzenedicaroxylic Acid, Dibutyl Ester, Dibutyl 1,2-Benzenedicarboxylate, Dibutyl Ester1,2- Benzenedicaroxylic Acid, DBP, and DI-N-Butylphthalate. Phthalates are often contained in the “Fragrance” ingredient in personal care products.

7. Petroleum Byproducts: Can be contaminated with cancer-causing impurities. Often listed as Petroleum, Petroleum Distillates, Stoddard Solvent, and Light Liquid Paraffin. Petroleum byproducts have been called the workhorse of personal care product ingredients and are found in numerous products.

8. Formaldehyde: Is a known human carcinogen, immune system toxicant, and respiratory toxicant. Also known as Formaldehyde Solution (Formalin), Formic Aldehyde, Merthaldehyde, Methanal, Methyl Aldehyde, Oxomethane, Oxymethylene. Formaldehyde can be found in facial moisturizers and cleansers, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, styling gel, sunscreens, foundations and many other products.

9. Hydroquinone Skin Lightener: A skin bleaching chemical that can cause ochronosis, a disfiguring and irreversible skin disease. Also listed as: 1,4-Benzenediol, 1,4-Dihydroxybenzene, P-Dioxybenzene, 4-Hydroxyphenol, and, P-Hydroxyphenol. It can be found in some skin lighteners.

10. Animal Products: Less a human health concern and more a question of personal ethics. Look for the word tallow and you’ve found an animal ingredient. Visit National Anti-Vivisection Society or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for more information on which companies use animal ingredients and which continue to test their products on animals.

Now that you know that harmful ingredients are present in many personal care products, including your make-up, how can you find out if a product you use is safe? The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database is a great place to check the safety of your favorite products and discover new, safer products.

Want to encourage Congress to protect consumers from unsafe personal care product ingredients? Check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics – a coalition of women’s, public health, labor, environmental health, and consumer-rights groups working to protect the health of consumers and workers by requiring that the health and beauty industry phase out the use of chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems, and replace them with safer alternatives.

Shop smart and be safe and beautiful!

~ Amanda Miller