We all use personal care products and cosmetics to look, feel, and…*ahem* … smell better.
But, unfortunately, most personal care products don’t make us any healthier. In fact, many of them contain ingredients that can cause serious health problems.
While most people understand that eating organic meats and produce can help them reduce their exposure to pesticides and other dangerous chemicals, they often have no idea about the potentially toxic chemicals that they’re being exposed to via their personal care products.
The majority of the chemicals used in the production of these products are NOT regulated by the government. Health Canada (and the FDA in the US) do not have any pre-approval processes in place for most personal care products.
So even if you want to make healthier choices, it can be difficult to know how.
Hopefully this blog post will help. In it, I’ll discuss a few of the common toxins found in personal care products, how you can avoid the ones that might be harmful to your health, and how to make more informed choices.
Exposure Adds Up
We use all kinds of personal care and cosmetic products on a daily basis. Including:
- shampoo and conditioner
- soap, body wash, bath bombs, and body scrub
- fascial cleansers, toners, and moisturizers
- deodorant and anti-perpirant
- scented lotions and creams
- perfume, cologne, aftershave, and body spray
- make-up and cosmetics
- shaving cream and chemical hair removers
- hand sanitizers
- toothpaste and mouthwash
- …the list goes on…
A recent survey conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that the average adult uses 9 personal care products each day, containing an average of 126 unique chemicals.
Here are some of the other interesting stats taken away from this survey:
- 1 in every 13 women and 1 in every 23 men are exposed — DAILY — to ingredients that are known or probable carcinogens.
- 1 in every 24 women (approx. 4.3 million overall) are exposed — DAILY — to ingredients that are known or probable hormone disruptors, reproductive toxins, and developmental toxins. Many of these chemicals have been linked to impaired thyroid function, impaired fertility, or developmental harm to a fetus.
- Many potentially harmful chemicals are not listed on product labels.
Most of us assume that because personal care products are readily available at the grocery store, drug store, and health store that they’re safe.
But this isn’t necessarily true.
The Top 12 Toxins in Personal Care Products
Here’s just 12 of the potentially harmful chemicals commonly found in personal care products…
1. Fragrance and Parfum
Fragrance is found in hand soap, body wash, lotion, hair products, skin care products, sun screen and deodorants.
The term “fragrance” may include any of over 3000 chemicals. A study by the EWG found that the average fragrance-containing product includes 14 chemicals not listed on the product labels.
Compounds commonly used in fragrance have been linked to respiratory issues, allergies, and hormonal disruptions.
Parebens are used as preservatives in most self care products.
They are known hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen. Parabens have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive issues in women, as well as, decreased sperm count and increased risk of prostate and testicular cancer in men.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent found in toothpaste, hand soaps, and body wash.
It is a skin irritant and known endocrine disruptor that can decrease thyroid function. Some studies have found that triclosan may be contributing to the development of antibacterial-resistant “super germs”.
4. DEA-Related Materials
DEA (diethanolamine) and DEA-related compounds are used to make personal care products creamy. It’s also used as a PH adjuster, counteracting the acidity of other ingredients.
DEA and DEA-related compounds are commonly found in soaps, cleansers, shampoos, moisturizers, and sunscreens. They are known to cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation. Long term exposure to DEA compounds has been linked to increased risk of liver, skin and thyroid cancer.
5. Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is a foaming agent commonly used in shampoo, hand soap, fascial cleansers, and body wash. It is a well documented skin, lung and eye irritant.
SLES might also have cancer-causing effects based on interactions with other chemicals used in personal-care products.
6. PEG Compounds
PEG compounds are petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in soaps, lotions, and cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture carriers.
They are known skin irritants and carcinogens. Some studies suggest that PEG compounds might also interfere with genetic development.
Petrolatum — or petroleum jelly — is found in many hair care products, lip balms, soaps, and skin care products. It is used as a moisturizing agent that creates a barrier to lock moisture into the skin and make hair shine.
When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns. However, it’s often not fully refined in North America, which means it can be contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
8. Dibutyl Phthalate
Dibutyl phthalate is commonly found in hair products, body wash, hand soap, and other fragranced products.
It is a known endocrine disruptor that has been linked to birth defects and an increased risk of reproductive issues.
Cyclomethicone and other chemicals ending in “-siloxane” are silicone-based compounds often used in personal care products and cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten.
Siloxanes are known endocrine disruptors that interfere with fertility and fetal development. In laboratory experiments, high exposure to siloxanes has been associated with increased risk of uterine cancer and harm to the reproductive and immune systems.
10. BHA and BHT
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are closely related synthetic antioxidants that are used as preservatives in lipsticks, moisturizers, and other cosmetics. They are also widely used as food preservatives.
BHA and BHT are skin irritants and possible human carcinogens. There is also evidence that BHA interferes with hormone function.
Animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of BHA and BHT can cause lung, liver, kidney and thyroid problems.
11. Coal Tar Dyes
Coal tar dyes are extensively used in the cosmetic industry and are generally identified by a five-digit Colour Index (C.I.) number.
Coal tar is a mixture of a number of chemicals derived from the petroleum industry. It's a known carcinogen. Coal tar dyes can also be contaminated with low levels of heavy metals and some are combined with aluminum-compounds. Aluminum compounds and many heavy metals are known nervous system toxins.
Some coal tar dyes are not approved as food additives, yet they are still used in cosmetics that may be ingested, like lipstick.
12. Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives
Formaldehyde releasing preservatives are a group of antimicrobial chemicals commonly found in soaps, cosmetics, and cleaning products. They are often used in shampoos, body wash, nail products and liquid baby soaps to help prevent microbes from growing in water-based products.
Formaldehyde releasing preservatives are easily absorbed through the skin and are known to be carcinogenic and highly allergenic. They are also toxic to the immune system, nervous system, and respiratory system.
How Do These Chemicals Enter Our Bodies?
The three most common exposure pathways for toxins are our lungs, digestive tract, and skin. For example:
- We can breath them in through sprays, perfumes, and powders.
- We can ingest them unintentionally by getting them on our lips.
- We can absorb them through our skin.
Each of these pathways have physiologic defence mechanisms to help limit toxic exposure. But… with the sheer volume we’re exposed to these days through environmental pollutants, processed foods, harsh cleaners, and personal care products, our bodies’ filtering organs can also become “plugged” with toxins.
Regulation and Legislation
Most of us assume that if personal care products are allowed to be sold that they must be safe. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true.
In fact, with the exception of a few dyes and a handful of prohibited chemicals, cosmetic companies can use almost any ingredient or raw material that they want, without review or approval.
Yep, the industry is largely unregulated.
In fact, there are about 80,000 chemicals used in North America and the vast majority of them have never been assessed for safety.
And, because the industry is unregulated, products that are “natural”, “gentle”, and “hypoallergenic” aren't necessarily so. Companies can pretty much make whatever claims they want to on product labels — true or not.
One EWG study found that over 80% of products labeled as “hypoallergenic” contained known allergens, skin irritants, and eye irritants.
Many of the chemicals routinely used in North American products have been banned in Europe.
Resources and Healthier Alternatives
Now, I’m not sharing all of these statistics, facts, and findings to incite fear.
I’m sharing them so that we can better understand the negative effects that some of these products can have on our health, because knowing is half the battle.
Now that we know, we can do something about it by taking a more proactive approach.
The good news is… There are safer products available.
Start by reading product labels and be on the watch for the “dirty dozen” chemicals discussed above. Then, over time, you’ll get to know the more honest brands that you can trust.
You can use the database to research ingredients and safety ratings of your favourite products. And with the app, you can scan the barcode on any personal care or cleaning product and it will issue a safety rating on a scale of 1 to 10. The lower the rating the safer the product. It will also list any potentially toxic chemicals and their side-effects.
Once you have this information, you can use it to find safer, healthier products.
Summary and Next Action Steps
Know that there are many potentially dangerous chemicals commonly found in personal care products that are subject to very few federal regulations or safety reviews.
Be a critical consumer and take the time to do a little research so that you can protect your health and the health of your family.
But don’t feel like you have to overhaul your entire self-care routine all at once. Instead, choose to make more informed decisions.
Here’s a simple strategy to get you started:
- Make changes progressively, over time. When you run out of a product, replace it with a healthier one. These small changes will really add up!
- Use the EWG Skin Deep Database and/or Healthy Living App to choose safer products.
- Don’t rely on label claims because they are often false or misleading.
- Use fewer products.
- Limit your exposure to artificially fragranced products first because they often contain the highest number of toxins. Start by eliminating air fresheners and then choosing unscented soaps, lotions, cleaners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, etc. instead. If you want some sweet smelling fragrance, try adding your own by using pure essential oils instead.
- Try making some of your own simple personal care products at home. DIY personal care products are often safer, cheaper and more effective. You can cover most of your personal care needs with just a few simple ingredients:
If you'd like to learn more about making your own personal care products,I share a few of my favourite DIY recipes each week in my Essentially Strong Private Facebook Group. Click the link or the image below to join.
If you’d like to try a few free essential oil samples or book a free one-on-one consultation to learn more about how you can use pure essential oils to support your health and reduce your toxic load, click the links provided and complete the surveys.