Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia’s Guide to less Toxic Products:

More than 10,000 ingredients are allowed for use in personal care products — and the average woman wears 515 of them every day, according to a 2009 British study that looked at the routines of over 2,000 women. Very little is known about the health effects of these chemicals. More than 90% have never been tested for their effects on human health, and complete toxicity data are available for only 7% of them. Even though government agencies are aware of the health hazards of some ingredients, such as hydroquinone or phthalates, they are still allowed in personal care products.
We are providing information on some of the most common hazardous ingredients, so that you can check your cosmetic labels and see if they are there. Hazardous ingredients are usually present in conventional products, but they may also be found in some “alternative” products which try to be more health conscious. Note though that some chemicals about which there are serious concerns. such as fragrance ingredients or contaminants found in certain chemicals, will not show up on labels so reading labels won’t tell you everything you need to know. The information below should be helpful.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acids – Alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids are acid “skin peels” marketed as a way to remove wrinkles, blemishes, blotches and acne scars. With their use, “the skin reddens like a sunburn, then darkens and peels away supposedly leaving ‘new’ skin”, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. Beta hydroxy acid is preferred for oily skin. These skin peels enjoy widespread popularity. The Environmental Working Group found they were added to one out of every 17 personal care products on the US market. They can be found in skin care products ranging from moisturizers and cleansers to eye creams and sunscreen. The FDA estimates that they injure 1,000 Americans every year by burning the skin. The FDA is also concerned that they contribute to UV skin damage and may raise the risk of skin cancer. In Canada, the Health Canada Cosmetic Hotlist allows concentrations of less than 10% in personal care products, but higher concentrations are allowed for professional use. Health Canada also requires cautionary warnings on leave-on products containing AHA when the concentrations are above 3%.

Aluminum – Aluminum compounds are the active ingredients in antiperspirants. By temporarily plugging the sweat ducts, they stop sweat coming to the skin’s surface. A 2005 British study, published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, found that aluminum-based compounds may be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like effects. Because estrogen has the ability to promote breast cancer cells, some scientists have suggested that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer. A 2003 study in the European Journal of Cancer found that women who used antiperspirants or deodorants and who shaved their underarms at an earlier age were at greater risk for breast cancer than women who started later.

Benzyl Alcohol and Isopropyl Alcohol – Both benzyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol irritate the skin. They are used as fragrance ingredients and as preservatives, solvents and anti-foaming agents for hand sanitizers, sunscreens,lotions and baby wipes. There is also evidence that these two alcohols are neurotoxic. Children younger than 3 years old are particularly at risk for toxic effects if they are exposed to benzyl alcohol.

Boric Acid and Sodium Borate – Boric acid and sodium borate are preservatives in personal care products and baby products, which are easily absorbed into the skin. Although they are considered by the cosmetic industry to be unsafe for infants or for damaged skin, they are an ingredient in many diaper rash creams and moisturizers.

Bronopol (2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-2,3-Diol) – Bronopol, a preservative, is a lung, immune system and skin toxicant, and has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system in animal studies. Yet, it is used in baby wipes, conditioners, liquid soaps and body washes. Bronopol can break down into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and into nitrosamines, which are suspected carcinogens.

Butylated Hydroxy Anisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxy Toluene (BHT) – Butylated hydroxy anisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxy toluene (BHT) are closely related preservatives and antioxidants. They slow down the rate at which product ingredients change colour. They are present in lipsticks, eyeshadows and many other types of cosmetics. Both BHA and BHT are skin allergens. BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the US National Toxicology Program. It is also used in fragrances, although this use is not allowed in the European Union because it can cause skin depigmentation. For BHT, there is some evidence that it promotes tumours and can disrupt the hormonal system.

Ceteareth – See Polyethylene glycol (PEG).

Coal Tar Dyes – Used extensively in personal care products, coal tar colours are often identified on ingredient lists as FD&C, D&C or C.I. followed by the colour name or number. As their name suggests, they are made from coal tar, a petroleum product. Many people experience allergic reactions like skin irritation and contact dermatitis. Some evidence suggests that certain coal tar colours cause cancer — D&C Blue 1, D&C Green 3, D&C Red 4, and D&C Yellow 5. Coal tar itself is a recognized human carcinogen and is banned from use in cosmetics. However, each coal tar dye has different properties and different potential health concerns. On US products, coal tar dyes are listed as FD&C or D&C, followed by a colour and a number (F indicates that the colour is also approved for food use). In Canada, they may be identified as C.I. (Colour Index) followed by a 5 digit number or as p-phenylenediamine. (Natural and inorganic pigments are numbered in the 75000 and 77000 series respectively.) In Canada, coal tar colours are permitted in hair dyes only if the labels carry warnings about skin irritation and possible blindness if the product is used for dying eyelashes or eyebrows. Health Canada does not allow many of these colours to be in products sold for use in the area of the eye, but there are no restrictions on their use in other products.

1,4-Dioxane – Because it is classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a probable carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane is a particular concern in children’s and baby products. It is a contaminant in shampoos, body wash, children’s bath products and other sudsing cosmetics. Because 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant and not an ingredient, it doesn’t appear on ingredient labels. Product tests done in 2009 for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found 1,4-dioxane in in baby shampoos and in many bath products marketed for young children. 1,4-dioxane can form during a manufacturing process called ethoxylation. Ethoxylation uses ethylene oxide (a mammary carcinogen in animals) to make other chemicals less abrasive. For example, ethylene oxide converts the harsh sodium laurel sulphate to the milder sodium laureth sulphate (the “eth” in laureth shows ethoxylation), which can result in 1,4-dioxane contamination. In addition to sodium laurel sulphate, ethoxylation is used for many different chemicals used in cosmetics.

DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea – DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea and imidazolidinyl urea are commonly used preservatives that can release formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a sensitizer and a proven carcinogen. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness and loss of sleep. It is estimated that 20 per cent of people exposed to DMDM hydantoin will experience an allergic reaction. Imidazolidinyl urea may cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.

FD&C Colours – See Coal Tar Colours.

Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde is a known sensitizer and a known carcinogen. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and loss of sleep. Formaldehyde may be used in personal care products as a disinfectant, germicide, fungicide and preservative. It can be found in soaps, shampoos, hair preparations, deodorants, lotions, shaving cream and mouthwash. it is also used in nail products, specifically as a nail hardening agent, and is one of the “toxic trio” targetted for elimination from nail polish and removers by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. It has also been found in high concentrations in certain hair straightening products. Formaldehyde may also be released when the preservatives, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea and imidiazolidinyl urea are present in products, as discussed above.

Fragrance – Synthetic fragrance is the most common ingredient found on the label of personal care products. The generic terms, “fragrance” or “parfum”, can indicate the presence of up to 3,000 separate ingredients. Most or all of them are synthetic. Fragrance is a sensitizer and a known trigger of asthma. Symptoms reported to the FDA have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. A test of fragrance products by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “Not So Sexy”, found that perfumes contained an average of 10 known sensitizing chemicals, which can trigger allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches, and contact dermatitis. In addition, clinical observations by medical doctors have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes.” (Home Safe Home, Debra Lynn Dadd). Many of the compounds in fragrance are also suspected or proven carcinogens. In 1989 the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects. They identified 884 of them as toxic substances. In a 1991 study, the US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of the perfumes they tested contained toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus. Certain fragrance ingredients, such as phthalates, have been found to have hormone disrupting properties. Diethyl phthalate (DEP), a solvent used in fragrances, has been linked to adverse reproductive effects, including DNA damage to human sperm. Many of the fragrance ingredients that have harmful effects are not listed on ingredient labels. In the European Union, labels are required to identify 24 well-known allergenic substances that are used to create fragrances. For more information on hazardous fragrance ingredients, see also phthalates and musks.

Hydroquinone – Hydroquinone is found in many skin lightening products, and is considered to be one of the most toxic ingredients allowed in cosmetics. It can also be present as an impurity in ingredients such as tocopherol acetate, used in facial and skin cleansers and hair conditioners. Hydroquinone works by reducing melanin in the skin, and therefore increases exposure to UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Hydroquinone is classified as a cancer causing agent by Health Canada. It has been linked to kidney damage, and can cause a skin condition called ochronosis in which the skin becomes dark and thick. It was assessed under Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan as a chemical of high concern. As a result, it has been added to Health Canada’s Cosmetic Hotlist and is restricted to use in hair dye and nail products. Warnings on hair dye products should tell users not to dye eyelashes or eyebrows, and users of nail products should be warned to avoid skin contact.

Iodoproponyl Butylcarbamate – Iodoproponyl Butylcarbamate is a preservative found in baby wipes, moisturizers, sunscreens and shampoos, as well as other cosmetic products. It is a pesticide that is registered for use as a fungicide and as a wood preservative. It can cause skin allergies, and may have toxic properties that have not been assessed. It is very toxic when inhaled and should be avoided in aerosol products.

Lead – Lead is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin that can lead to learning and behaviour problems. It has also been linked to reduced fertility. It is readily absorbed through the skin, and accumulates in the bones. Large accumulations can result in leg cramps, muscle weakness, numbness and depression. Lead can be a contaminant in many different kinds of products including sunscreens, foundation, nail colours, whitening toothpaste, and lipstick. A 2008 study by Health Canada found lead in 21 of 26 lipsticks tested. Although lead is prohibited from use in lipsticks, it can be found in colour additives or as impurities in ingredients. It is an ingredient in Grecian Formula 16 and other dark hair dyes for men available in the US, but it is banned from the formulas used in Canada and Europe.

Mercury – See Thimerosol.

Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone – Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone are preservatives used in many cosmetics and personal care products. They are most often found in hair products — shampoos, conditioners and dyes — but they are also used in body washes and cleansers. They have been shown in animal studies to be toxic to the immune system and possibly to the developing nervous system. Health Canada’s Hotlist allows them to be used together in very limited concentrations for rinse-off products and in even smaller concentrations for leave-on products.

Musks – Galaxolide, Tonalide, musk xylene and musk ketone are musks, which are popular replacements for natural ingredients once used as fragrances in cosmetics. Different musks have different hazardous properties. Although data on their toxicity are scarce, some musks appear to have effects on reproduction. A 2009 study of Austrian students detected 11 different musks in their blood. Galaxolide was found in 83% of the students. The highest levels were found in students who used the most lotion and perfume. Canada has restricted the use of two little used musks — musk ambrette and musk tibetene — in cosmetics, but has no restrictions on the more commonly used musks. The European Union has identified musk xylene as a substance of very high concern.

Nanoparticles – Nanoparticles are particles from known chemicals that are manipulated to extremely small dimensions in order to attain certain properties. Widely used in personal care products, particularly sunscreens, the original chemical will be listed on ingredient lists of Canadian cosmetics but there is no requirement to indicate whether it is present in nano form. Nanoparticles are untested for their effects on human health. Their small size means that they can enter the body more easily and have greater access to vulnerable organs and tissues. Animal studies suggest that some nanomaterials in the body cause inflammation, damage brain cells and cause pre-cancerous lesions. The European Union has ruled that companies must indicate when a chemical is used in nano form by adding “nano” in brackets after the chemical’s name on the ingredient list.

Nitrosamines – See DEA, TEA and MEA.

Nonylphenol – This estrogen-mimicking chemical is a surfactant used for its detergent properties. It can be found in some plastics, as well as shaving creams, shampoos and hair colours. It can be created when certain chemicals commonly found in personal care products break down. Nonylphenols can be a component in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a compound often found in acrylic nails. They are persistent in the environment and of such concern that many European countries are phasing them out. Some manufacturers have voluntarily discontinued their use.

Oxybenzone – Oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, 4-MBC and homosalate, is a sunscreen agent and UV light absorber. It is the active ingredient in most sunscreens. The higher the SPF of the sunscreen, the higher the concentration of oxybenzone is likely to be. It is also common in sunscreen moisturizers, facial moisturizers, sunscreen lip balms, skin care lotions, lipstick and hairspray. It is associated with photoallergic reactions in the sun, and is very easily absorbed through the skin. Oxybenzone also assists other ingredients to penetrate the skin. There is scientific evidence suggesting that oxybenzone is a hormone disruptor and may be toxic to the nervous system. A 2008 study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that oxybenzone exposure to pregnant women was associated with low birth weight baby girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is detectable in 97% of people tested in the US.

Parabens – Parabens are preservatives with antibacterial properties. They are widely used in all kinds of personal care products, and particularly deodorants. Paraben on the ingredient list is usually preceded by the prefixes methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, or propyl-. Parabens mimic estrogen, a hormone that is associated with breast cancer. Parabens can cause allergic reactions or contact dermatitis in some people. Parabens are absorbed through the skin and have been found in biopsied tissue from breast cancer tumours. Safer alternatives to parabens exist, and many products are now marketed as “paraben-free”.

PEG – See Polyethylene Glycol.

Phenylenediamine – Used in permanent hair dyes, phenylenediamine or PPD is a coal tar dye of particular concern. It is found in most hair dyes, even products marketed as “natural” or “herbal”, and is present in high concentrations in the darkest formulations. It may even be found in hair dyes advertized as “black henna”. Some tattoo artists use it to darken henna tattoos. PPD is a carcinogen, and it can also cause severe skin irritation and react with other chemicals to cause photosensitivity. Health Canada requires warnings about skin irritation and blindness if PPD is present in products used for dying eyelashes or eyebrows.

Phthalates – Everyone in the general population is exposed to phthalates from one source or another. They are found in many products from soft plastics and air fresheners to shampoos and nail polish. Tests done by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found phthalates in 3/4 of the 72 products they tested, including deodorants, fragrances, hair gels, mousses, hairsprays and hand and body lotions. Phthalates are used to enhance fragrances to make them last longer and to denature alcohol. Research has shown that phthalates disrupt the hormonal system and interfere with reproduction. A 2008 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that pregnant women exposed to high phthalate levels were more likely to give birth to baby boys with a shortened distance between the anus and the genitals. This study showed that the effects of phthalates on humans were similar to the effects seen in animal studies. The shortened ano-genital distance is associated with genital problems and feminization. An earlier 2002 study in the same journal found that one common type of phthalate, diethyl phthalate (DEP) is damaging to the DNA of sperm in adult men at current levels of exposure. DNA damage to sperm can lead to infertility. DEP is a popular fragrance ingredient and the phthalate that is found in the highest levels in humans. Although some manufacturers have reduced their use of phthalates over the last 8 years, recent product tests found that many fragrances still contain high levels of DEP. Another phthalate, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), has been a favourite ingredient in nail polishes, and US women of child-bearing age have been found to have high levels of DBP. As well, butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), used to make nail polishes and lipsticks glossy, has been linked in animal studies to an increased risk of breast cancer. For several years, the European Union has banned DBP, BBP and DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) from use in cosmetics, but in Canada and the US there are no restrictions on any phthalates in cosmetics. In addition, phthalates are difficult to avoid. Except for nail polish, phthalates are not generally listed as ingredients on labels because Canada’s Cosmetic Regulations allow them to be included under the heading of “fragrance”.

Polyethylene Glycol – Polyethylene glycol (PEG) and Ceteareth, both petrochemical compounds, are found in many personal care products, such as body washes, liquid soap, baby wipes, sunscreens and shampoo. They are used as thickeners, softeners, moisture-carriers and penetration enhancers. Both PEG and ceteareth may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen, and ethylene dioxide, a known human carcinogen. 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin, and is considered unsafe for injured or damaged skin. While 1,4-dioxane can be removed from products easily and economically by vacuum stripping during the manufacturing process, there is no way to determine which products have undergone this process. Labels are not required to show this information.

Polysorbate 60 and Polysorbate 80 – Polysorbate 60 and polysorbate 80 are used as emulsifying agents and fragrance ingredients in many different types of personal care products. These chemicals may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen, which readily penetrates the skin. While 1,4-dioxane can be removed from products easily and economically by vacuum stripping during the manufacturing process, there is no way to determine which products have undergone this process. Labels are not required to show this information. Ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, may also be a contaminant of these ingredients.

Propylene Glycol – Propylene glycol is used in many skin products, including moisturizers, facial cleansers, foundations, and anti-aging products, as well as mascara and hair colour products. It is widely used as a moisture-carrying ingredient in place of glycerine because it is cheaper and more readily absorbed through the skin. It is related to polyethylene glycol (PEG) and is known to cause contact dermatitis even at very low concentrations. It is recognized as a neurotoxin by the US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, and it may cause kidney damage. The Material Safety Data Sheet for propylene glycol warns workers handling this chemical to avoid skin contact.

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats) – Listed on labels as benzalkonium chloride, cetrimonium bromide and quaternium-15, these compounds are caustic and can irritate the eyes. Quaternium-15 is a formaldehyde releaser and the number one cause of preservative-related contact dermatitis. For about 5% of people, quats are an extreme sensitizer and can cause a variety of asthma-like symptoms, including respiratory arrest. When they are used with hot running water, steam increases the inhalation of vapours. These compounds are used in a wide range of products as preservatives, surfactants and germicides. They make hair and skin feel softer immediately after use but long-term use will cause dryness.

Selenium Sulfide– Selenium sulfide is an anti-dandruff and hair conditioning agent found in shampoos, conditioners and dandruff treatments. It is believed to be a neurotoxin and it is classified as a possible human carcinogen by both Environment Canada and the US National Toxicology Program.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate – Sodium lauryl sulfate is a known skin and eye irritant and enhances allergic response to other toxins and allergens. It is used as a lathering agent and detergent, and is present in hundreds of commercial shampoos, body washes, and bubble baths, as well as skin creams and some brands of toothpaste. When sodium laurel sulfate is combined with ethylene oxide (ethoxylized) to create the milder sodium laureth sulfate, it may become contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin. While 1,4-dioxane can be removed from products easily and economically by vacuum stripping during the manufacturing process, there is no way to determine which products have undergone this process. Labels are not required to show this information. This processing may also lead to the creation of a known carcinogen, ethylene oxide. Ammonium lauryl sulfate is the same compound as sodium lauryl sulfate and has the same uses, but the sodium group has been replaced with an ammonium atom. Although it is also a skin irritant, ammonium lauryl sulfate is not considered quite as hazardous as sodium lauryl sulfate, unless it is ethoxylized. During its ethoxylation to become ammonium laureth sulfate, it is also likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen, and ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen.

Talc – Talc is a naturally occurring mineral which is carcinogenic when inhaled. In addition, women who regularly use talc in the genital area are at increased risk for ovarian cancer. Airborne talc in body powders and antiperspirant sprays can irritate the lungs. Talcum powder is reported to cause coughing, vomiting, and even pneumonia. Many pediatricians now tell parents to avoid using talc on babies as it can cause respiratory distress. Talc is found in blushes, face powders, eye shadows, foundation and skin fresheners. Used near the eyes, it can irritate sensitive mucous membranes. Talc in liquid cosmetic formulations poses minimal risk.

TEA, DEA and MEA – Triethanolamine (TEA), diethanolamine (DEA) and monoethanolamine (MEA) are additives used in different types of cosmetics such as sunscreens, moisturizers, foundations and hair colour. Other DEA compounds, cocamide DEA and lauramide DEA, are used in soaps, cleansers and shampoos. DEA and its related compounds are used to adjust the pH of products and to act as surfactants. Surfactants help to mix oil and water and work as emulsifiers or wetting agents. DEA and TEA are known to combine with nitrates to form nitrosamines, classified as possible carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. If a product contains nitrites (used as preservatives or present as contaminants although not listed on labels), a chemical reaction can occur either during manufacturing or after a product is made. There is no way to know which products contain nitrosamines because the government does not require companies to disclose this information on labels. Repeated skin application of DEA was found to cause liver and kidney damage in animals. Researchers also discovered that when absorbed through the skin, DEA accumulated in organs. TEA, which is also used as a fragrance ingredient, is toxic to the skin, and to the respiratory and immune systems.

Thimerosol– Thimerosol is a mercury-containing preservative. According to Health Canada, mercury may cause allergic reactions, skin irritation and adverse effects on the nervous system. Studies have also show that it can affect reproduction. Thimerosol is used as a preservative for products applied in the area of the eye, such as eye drops and contact lens solutions. Mercury itself is also sometimes found in cosmetics, and in 2010 tests by the Chicago Tribune found a number of skin whitening products contained high levels of mercury. Mercury is readily absorbed through the skin. Thimerosol is on Health Canada’s Cosmetic Hotlist as a prohibited substance.

Titanium Dioxide– Titanium dioxide is widely used in personal care products such as toothpastes to provide whiteness and opacity. It is also used in cosmetic and skin care products and in many sunscreens to protect the skin from ultaviolet light. Titanium dioxide is lcassified as a “possible carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), but is not considered to be a significant health hazard unless it is in powdered form. However, in recent years almost every sunscreen manufacturer has chosen to use nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide so that when sunscreen is applied, it appears clear instead of white. The health effects of nano-sized titanium dioxide or other nanoparticles are unknown because of the lack of testing, but the few animal studies that have been done suggest serious concerns that these smaller particles may have greater risks.

Toluene– Toluene is a solvent used in nail polish and nail treatments to suspend colour and form a smooth finish on a nail. It is also listed on labels as methylbenzene or toluol. Exposure to toleuene can irritate the eyes, throat and lungs, and cause dizziness, headaches, fatigue and nausea. It is also known as a reproductive toxin and may put pregnant women at risk of having a baby with birth defects or delayed development. Benzene, which is a known human carcinogen, may be a contaminant of toluene, and may give toluene carcinogenic potential.

Triclosan and Triclocarban– Triclosan and triclocarban are synthetic antibacterial chemicals added to soaps, toothpastes, mouthwash, deodorant, shaving cream and other personal care products. Since they are “antibacterial” and not antiviral, they have no effect on viruses, and are, therefore, not effective against colds and flu. Triclosan, which is more commonly used, has been detected in human breast milk, and in 75% of human tissue samples taken, demonstrating widespread exposure. Studies show that triclosan and triclocarban may have endocrine disrupting effects, and in animal studies triclosan was shown to reduce thyroid hormones, which are critical for normal development. An Advisory Panel to the US Food and Drug Administration has said that there is no evidence that soaps with triclosan are any more effective in killing bacteria than plain soap and water. In 2009, the Canadian Medical Association called on the federal government to ban triclosan in consumer products because it causes bacterial resistance, which can interfere with the effectiveness of antibiotics.

Sources and Resources


Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: www.safecosmetics.org
Skin Deep Database, Environmental Working Group: www.cosmeticsdatabase.com
Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance (2010):www.safecosmetics.org
Phasing Out the Toxic Trio: A Review of Popular Nail Polish Brands (2009):www.safecosmetics.org
Not Too Pretty (2002 phthalates report) and A Little Prettier (2008 update):www.nottoopretty.org
Nano-Sunscreens: Not Worth the Risk, Friends of the Earth (2009): www.foe.org/nano-sunscreens-not-worth-risk
The Beast of Beauty: Toxic Ingredients in Cosmetics, Breast Cancer Action Montreal:www.bcam.qc.ca
Femme Toxic: www.femmetoxic.com
What’s Inside? That Counts, David Suzuki Foundation: www.davidsuzuki.org
Cancer Prevention Coalition: www.preventcancer.com
Prevent Cancer Now (Canada): www.preventcancernow.ca
DIY Recipes, Safe Cosmetics Campaign: www.safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=233
Cosmetics you make yourself- www.evalu8.org/browse/161


There’s Lead in Your Lipstick, Gillian Deacon, Penguin Books, 2010.
Ecoholic, Adria Vasil, Random House Canada, 2007.
No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, Siobhan O’Connor & Alexandra Spunt, Perseus Books, 2010.
Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health… And What You Can Do About It, Samuel S. Epstein & Randall Fitzgerald, Ben Bella Books, 2009.
Not Just A Pretty Face, Stacey Malkan, New Society Publishers, 2007.
Drop-dead Gorgeous, Kim Erikson, Contemporary Books, 2002.
Home Safe Home, Debra Lynn Dadd, Tarcher Inc, 2005.
Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living, Annie Berthold Bond, Three Rivers Press, 1999.

(revised Spring 2011)

Eye and Face Make-up

Through the ages men and women have painted their faces and bodies with colour – often with deadly results. Ancient Egyptians outlined eyes with kohl, a poisonous substance made from antimony. Greeks and Romans liked the pale look, achieved by applying white lead and chalk to their faces. During the Renaissance, the pale look was again popular with a white lead and vinegar mixture applied to face, neck and bosom. Lips and cheeks were tinted bright red with vermilion, a paint containing mercuric sulfide. A heavy coating of powder, often based on talc, kept everything in place. When women noticed that their lead cosmetics caused a variety of skin problems, some applied a facial peel made from mercury. Now we recognize that lead and mercury are highly toxic.

Today, the average woman uses 20 personal care products containing several hundred ingredients every day. And, even now, many of he ingredients are highly toxic. Colours in conventional cosmetics are often chemically synthesized from coal tar. While they’re less expensive than natural compounds to produce, certain coal tar colours have been shown to cause cancer in animals, and many are toxic to the nervous system. Impurities like arsenic and lead in some coal tar colours have been shown to cause cancer not only when ingested, but also when applied to skin. Because it is a contaminant in colours, lead, for example, has been found in many popular brands of lipstick. As well, conventional cosmetics may contain as many as five different synthetic preservatives. Parabens, which mimic estrogen in the body and have been linked with breast cancer, are currently the most popular preservatives used in makeup.

Another concern is the introduction of nanoparticles into just about every type of personal care product on the market, including sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner,anti-wrinkle cream, foundation, face powder, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, and nail polish. The only labelling you are likely to see is “micronized”, which may indicate that companies have used nanoparticles of certain ingredients in the product, or “no nano” from companies that have made the choice to avoid their use. Nanoparticles are tiny manipulated versions of existing chemicals, but they present new risks that have not been evaluated and are not yet understood. Because of the lack of information about nanoparticles and their use in personal care products, particularly sunscreens and mineral makeup, products that are identified as “best” or “good” would not qualify in those categories if their ingredients were known to be in nano form.


The main ingredient in most blushes is talc, which may be contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos fibres. The US National Toxicology Panel has found that talc can be toxic and carcinogenic even if it is free of asbestos. Silica, if it is present in powdered blushes, may also damage the lungs and respiratory system. Alumina, used in many conventional blushes as an anti-caking agent, is considered to be a neurotoxin. Colour in blushes is usually provided by hazardous coal tar dyes, including dyes such as D&C Red 7 Lake and FD&C Yellow 5 Aluminum Lake, both of which are neurotoxic. Acrylate compounds, commonly used as thickening agents, can be strong irritants. Parabens, BHT and diazolidinyl urea are all used to preserve blushes, with parabens being the most widely-used. Parabens can disrupt the endocrine system and have been found in breast cancer tumours.

New formulations of blush, which use iron oxides for colour and mica instead of talc, are better alternatives. However, be aware that some mineral makeups may contain bismuth oxychloride, which is used for shine. Bismuth oxychloride can irritate sensitive skin and cause redness and itching, and, although it may not cause problems as an ingredient in conventional makeup, it is present in higher concentrations in mineral makeups.


Concealers contain numerous skin irritating chemicals like propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, and TEA. Polyethylene glycol can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen, and ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. TEA, used as an emulsifier, can be contaminated with nitrosamines, considered possible carcinogens. Alumina, a neurotoxin, is used in some concealers as an anti-caking agent. Popular brands are also likely to contain a variety of preservatives, incluing parabens. One, methylparaben, is easily absorbed through the skin and can react with the sun’s UVB rays to cause sun damage and skin ageing. Another preservative, imidazolidinyl urea is the second most reported cause of contact dermatitis. Retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A palmitate), a skin conditioning agent, is also used in some concealers even though it too can damage DNA and cause gene mutations in the presence of sunlight. Retinyl palmitate is on Health Canada’s Hotlist and is restricted in Canadian products. Fragrance ingredients are also widely used in concealers.


Eyeliners are made up of thickeners, such as wax, and plastic film formers that deposit the pigment onto the eyelid. Film formers can be acrylic polymers and PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone), classified by Environment Canada as a medium health priority. Aluminum and bronze powders, which can cause cancer and are toxic to the nervous system, are used for colour in some eyeliner products. As well, eyeliners may contain toxic coal tar colours such as FD&C Yellow 5. Phenoxyethanol and propylene glycol, which are in liquid eyeliners as emulsifiers, can irritate skin. Eyeliners also often contain parabens — methylparaben, butylparaben and propylparaben, preservatives that can disrupt the human endocrine system. BHA, another common preservative in eyeliners, is a probable carcinogen that can be absorbed through the skin.

Eye Shadow

Eye shadows are used for the colours they provide, but artificial colours like carcinogenic coal tar dyes are frequent allergens. One dye – FD&C Yellow No. 5 may cause severe reactions in people allergic to aspirin, and is potentially toxic to the nervous system. Eye shadows that use iron oxides for colour are a better choice.

Talc, a carcinogen, is the main ingredient in many powdered eye shadows. As well as talc, powdered silica is used in many brands. Both talc and and silica in powdered form can be carcinogenic when inhaled. Silica is also a respiratory toxin. Eye shadow may also contain dimethicone, a potentially harmful silicon-based polymer, which helps the powder stick to the eyelid.

Cream eye shadows are made with petrochemicals like mineral oil, an allergen that can be toxic to the immune system, petrolatum, which can be contaminated with carcinogenic PAHS, and lanolin oil, an allergen that may contain pesticide residues.

The glitter in eye shadows and eyeliners is often created by adding finely ground particles of aluminum or bronze, both of which have been linked with cancer and can be neurotoxic. In 2000, the Consumer Agency and Ombudsman in Finland tested 49 eye shadows and found that they all contained impurities of at least one of the metals lead, cobalt, nickel, chromium and arsenic. Researchers say the amounts could cause allergic symptoms in sensitive people, and, over the long term, could cause other people to become sensitive. BHA, a probable carcinogen, is a preservative in a number of eyeshadows. Parabens, which can disrupt the hormonal system, are also common preservatives in mainstream eyeshadow products.

Face Powder

Mainstream powder products commonly contain talc or silica. Both talc and silica can be easily inhaled and cause respiratory problems when they are airborne. As well, face powders are frequently coloured with potentially toxic coal tar dyes, such as D&C Red 30 Lake and D&C Yellow Aluminum Lake. Other toxic ingredients in face powders include quaternium-15 and imidazolidinyl urea, two preservatives that can release carcinogenic formaldehyde, butylated hydroxy toluene (BHT), a preservative and fragrance masking ingredient which can cause allergic reactions, and lanolin, a skin irritant. Synthetic fragrances, which are added to many popular brands, can also cause contact dermatitis. Endocrine-disrupting parabens are common as preservatives in face powders, and, in a few products, triclosan, another hormone disrupting chemical, is added for its antibacterial properties.


The main inredients in many foundations are talc, silica and alumina, all respiratory irritants when inhaled as powders. Some foundations contain aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, an aluminum salt that is toxic to the nervous system. Because foundation is worn on the skin for many hours, products containing synthetic ingredients can cause skin problems. Mineral oil can block pores and promote cosmetic acne, and isopropyl myristate, a fatty compound, can irritate the skin and cause blackheads. Other ingredients in foundations that can irritate skin and cause allergies include propylene glycol, phenoxyethanol, BHT and triethanolamine (TEA). TEA can also be contaminated with cancer-causing nitrosamines. Parabens, which are often used as preservatives in foundations can disrupt the hormone system and have been found in breast cancer tumours. Another preservative, quaternium-15, can break down into formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen and sensitizer. Synthetic fragrances, which may also cause allergies, are often used to perfume foundations, and potentially toxic coal tar dyes may be added for colour.

Lip Gloss, Balms and Protectors

Lipsticks and Lip Liners

A woman may ingest more than four pounds of lipstick in her lifetime – even more if she wears it every day. Mainstream lipsticks are composed of synthetic oils, petroleum waxes and artificial colours. The colours usually come from coal tar dyes, which can cause skin irritation and allergies, and some may cause cancer. Lead is often found as an impurity in the colours used in lipstick. Testing in 2008 by Health Canada found that 21 of 26 lipsticks contained lead. Lead is extremely toxic to the nervous system and can cause developmental problems for children. Lead was also detected in lip gloss and lip conditioners. Similarly, tests conducted by Canada’s Environmental Defence in 2011 found traces of lead, arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals in lip tints and glosses. In addition, these tests showed that not only lip products but all face makeup including products such as foundation, concealers and eyeliners contained traces of some heavy metals, with the exeption of one product.

Lipsticks are often preserved with parabens, which have been found in breast cancer tumours. BHA, a probable carcinogen, and BHT are also common ingredients in lipsticks because they preserve the colour of the product. Sunscreen agents, such as the hormone-disrupting chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, as well as Padimate O and retinyl palmitate, are added to many popular brands. Retinyl palmitate is a skin conditioning agent, which under ultraviolet light can break down to produce free radicals and damage DNA. Synthetic fragrances are also common in name brand lipsticks. Beeswax or olive oil are used in place of petroleum wax and synthetic oil in many of the lipsticks identified as “best” and “good”.

Make-up Remover

Makeup removers may contain a variety of hazardous ingredients. Some companies add polyethylene glycol and ceteareth, both of which can be contaminated with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Makeup removers may also contain DMDM hydantoin, which may release carcinogenic formaldehyde, the skin irritant propylene glycol and even potentially toxic coal tar colours. Most brands are preserved with parabens, which are estrogen-mimicking chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine system. Fragrances are also frequently added to makeup removers.


 Home-made alternativesEye Makeup Remover
1 Tbsp castor oil
1 Tbsp light olive oil
1 tsp vegetable oil (sunflower, safflower, etc)Blend ingredients. Use to remove makeup around the eyes.



Tip: Use jojoba oil to remove make-up and lipstick.



Conventional mascara is made up of waxes for thickening eyelashes, pigments for colour and filmifying polymers that keep the mascara on the lashes. Water-resistant mascara is likely to contain isododecane, a volatile solvent, while non water-resistant mascara is usually based on water.

Mascaras can contain many irritating and potentially toxic ingredients, including petroleum distillates, which can be contaminated with the carcinogen butadiene, BHA, an antioxidant considered a probable human carcinogen, phenoxyethanol, an allergen and skin irritant, and propylene glycol, an allergen which can cause contact dermatitis, eye irritation and enhances skin absorption. Synthetic plastics, such as styrene PVP copolymer and sodium polymethacrylate, which can be toxic and reactive, are used in many products to lengthen lashes as well as to fix the mascara. Many conventional mascaras contain triethanolamine (TEA), which is toxic to the immune system and may react with other ingredients to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. Parabens, like methylparaben and butylparaben, both of which mimic estrogen and can disrupt the endocrine system, are common preservatives in mascara.

Dental and Oral Hygiene

Dental Floss

Most dental floss is made of nylon, a petroleum product, and coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE is related to the coating on non-stick cookware, a chemical which is considered to be carcinogenic. Unwaxed floss or floss with a natural wax coating, such as beeswax, are better alternatives to PTFE.

Denture Cleaners

No alternatives to mainstream products were found.


 Home-made alternativesSoak dentures in 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and water, mixed half and half.Soak dentures in a mixture of warm water and vinegar mixed half and half, brushing and rinsing them before using.



Conventional mouthwash is often alcohol-based with an alcohol content ranging from 18 to 26%. Products with alcohol can contribute to cancers of the mouth, tongue and throat when used regularly. In 2009, a review in the Dental Journal of Australia confirmed that alcohol-based mouthwashes contribute to an increased risk of oral cancers.

Fluoride (listed as sodium fluoride) may be added to protect against cavities. In some animal studies, sodium fluoride has been shown to be neurotoxic and possibly carcinogenic. Mouthwashes are usually sweetened with artificial sugars such as saccharin (listed as sodium saccharin), a suspect carcinogen, or sucralose, which may trigger migraines and other problems in sensitive people. As well, mouthwashes can contain synthetic flavours and colours, such as FD&C Blue 1 and FD&C Green 3.


 Home-made Alternatives

  • Salted warm water
  • 1/2 tsp of baking soda in 1/4 cup water
  • 2 ounces water, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda or sea salt, 1 drop peppermint oil, and an optional one drop of tea tree oil.


Rosemary-Mint Mouthwash
2 1/2 cups distilled or mineral water
1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon anise seeds

Boil the water, add herbs and seeds and infuse for 20 minutes. Cool, strain and use as a gargle/mouthwash. If you wish to make up a larger quantity, double or triple the recipe, then add 1 teaspoon of tincture of myrrh as a natural preservative. (adapted fromwww.ecofriendly.com and Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold Bond)



The main ingredients in conventional toothpaste are sodium fluoride to prevent cavities and abrasives like hydrated silica for cleaning and polishing the teeth. In animal studies, sodium fluoride has been associated with both cancer and neurotoxicity. Like mouthwashes, toothpastes are generally sweetened with artificial sugars such as saccharin and sucralose, and coloured with dyes such as Blue #1 and Yellow #5. To create foam, manufacturers add sodium laurel sulfate, which may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Propylene glycol, which can cause contact dermatitis at very low concentrations, is also a common ingredient in toothpaste. Triclosan may be added for its antibacterial properties. Triclosan is a possible endocrine disrupting chemical and has been shown in animal studies to harm the thyroid.


 Home-made AlternativesBrush with plain baking soda or salt.

Brush with 2 parts baking soda and 1 part salt mixed to a fine powder in a blender.

Herbal toothpaste
Mix 1/2 teaspoon (tsp) glycerin, 1/8 tsp mild neutral soap powder, 1 tablespoon calcium carbonate (often called chalk of Paris white), 1/2 tsp gum arabic and a couple of drops of peppermint oil. Add 1/8 cup of water to the mixture. Heat and stir for 5 minutes until the mixture has a paste-like appearance (adapted from Mother Earth News).



 Tip: Do not scrub teeth vigorously with toothpaste containing chalk (calcium carbonate) as it can wear away enamel.The main way to remove plaque is flossing, not brushing. Brushing with plain water is sufficient as long as you floss.
Tooth Whiteners

Over-the-counter tooth bleaching products generally rely on hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide or urea peroxide to whiten teeth. These ingredients, particularly in higher concentrations, may cause an increase in tooth sensitivity or mild irritation of soft tissue in the mouth, such as gums. Hydrogen peroxide is a neurotoxin and possible endocrine disruptor. The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Products recommended that home tooth bleaching products contain no more than 6% hydrogen peroxide. Some commercial products also contain sweeteners such as sodium saccharin or sucralose. Whitening toothpastes do not generally contain peroxide, but help whiten teeth using small particles to grind the dirt off. Because there are no long-term studies on the safety of tooth whiteners, limited use of these products would be wise.

Feminine Hygiene


Health Alert: An estimated 1 out of every 5 women uses talcum powder either directly on the genital area or applied to tampons, sanitary pads or diaphragms. Dusting with talc or “baby powder” is associated with a 3-fold increase in ovarian cancer, and should be avoided. An alternative to talc is cornstarch, preferably organic.



Douches are unnecessary and can have serious health effects. A US government advisory panel blames “tradition, ignorance, and commercial advertising” for the practice. The vagina cleans itself naturally. Using douches irritates the vagina and increases the risk of vaginal infections and cervical cancer. Dr. Samuel Epstein, Chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, cites a study which found that women who used douches more than once a week experienced a 4-fold increase in risk for cervical cancer.

The active ingredient in many douches is a cleansing agent called octoxynol. Octoxynol is an ethoxylated alkyl phenol which can cause skin irritation, disrupt the endocrine system and can be contaminated with ethylene dioxide, a known carcinogen, and 1.4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen. As well, preservatives such as parabens, which can also disrupt the endocrine system, and the potentially neurotoxic methylisothiazoline are used in “personal cleansing” products such as douches.

Tip: Let your vagina clean itself naturally by making mucous. The mucous washes away blood, semen and vaginal discharge. Keep the outside of your vagina clean and healthy by washing regularly with warm water and mild soap when you bathe. (from the Office On Women’s Health, US Dept. of Health and Human Services)

Tampons, Pads and other Menstrual Products

Feminine hygiene products may contain deodorants and absorbency enhancers, as well as artificial fragrances that can irritate the genital area. After tampons were found to be associated with toxic shock syndrome, manufacturers eliminated some ingredients so that tampons are now made of a simpler formulation of cotton and viscose rayon. The exact components of tampons and pads are trade secrets. Bleaching processes have also improved, but bleached cotton and rayon in pads and tampons can still be contaminated with traces of dioxin, a carcinogen created during the bleaching process. Safer alternatives include organic cotton pads and tampons, sponges and menstrual cups.


 Home-made AlternativesMake-your-own cloth menstrual pads: Cut out 3 layers of 100% cotton fabric, such as flanelette or terry cloth, into an 8 1/2″x10″ rectangle. Round corners. Pile together. Stitch all around using either a zigzag stitch or a serge stitch. Cut out 2 wings 6″x6″ shaped like this =O=. Fold each wing in half, and stitch all raw edges. Centre wings on the pad about 2 1/4″ from either long edge, with straight edge of wings facing straight edge of the pad with wings overlapping. Sew a straight seam, catching in the wings 2 1/2″ from both long edges. Either sew Velcro on wings or use hammer-on snaps. Fold the pad in thirds, and fasten the wings underneath the fold. Now you have a superabsorbent 9-layer menstrual pad that opens up for easy washing and quick drying! (fromwww.borntolove.com)


Hair Care


Most mainstream and many “natural” conditioners rely on quaternary compounds to produce thicker, tangle-free silky hair. These compounds – cetrimonium bromide and quaternium 18 – can be irritating to eyes and skin. Quaternary compounds and other preservatives found in conditioners, such as DMDM hydantoin, imidiazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea, release formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. Other ingredients to avoid: carcinogenic coal tar colours (FD&C), parabens, ceteareth 20, propylene glycol, cinnamate sunscreens, and retinyl palmitate. Most conventional conditioners contain fragrance, a synthetic mix likely to include endocrine disrupting phthalates and other hazardous chemicals.


 Home-made AlternativesConditioner: Pour 1 cup of warm beer over hair, then rinse with water. For extra conditioning, a teaspoon of jojoba oil can be added to the beer.Mayonnaise Conditioner: Massage mayonnaise into hair, coating every strand. Cover hair with plastic bag for 15 minutes, then rinse with warm water.Dry Scalp Conditioner: Massage plain yogurt into your hair, especially the scalp. Cover with a plastic bag for 30 minutes. Rinse with warm water.Henna Treatment: Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water over 1/4 cup of colourless henna and 2 teaspoons of honey. Let sit a few minutes to thicken. Coat each strand of hair, cover with a plastic bag and wrap with a warm towel. Shampoo after 1 hour.

Conditioner: Mix 1 egg yolk, 1 small container of yoghourt and 1 tablespoon of honey. Apply to hair, wrap in towel for 15 minutes, then rinse.

Cider Vinegar Conditioner: Mix 1/2 cup cider vinegar with 1 1/2 cups cool water in a bottle. After shampooing and rinsing, pour the vinegar rinse through your hair, taking care not to get it in your eyes. It should remove buildup on your hair and leave it shiny and smooth.

Hot Oil Treatment: Warm 1/2 cup soybean or sunflower oil and apply it to damp hair. Wrap your hair in plastic and apply a hot towel for 20 minutes. Shampoo hair. Before warming the oil, 5 drops of rosemary or 10 drops of lavender oil may be added to the original oil.

(adapted from Longlocks Hair Care Recipes Cookbook at www.longlocks.com)


Hair Colouring (Permanent)

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that women who use hair dyes five or more times a year have twice the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Many hair colouring products contain coal tar dyes, some of which are suspected carcinogens. Darker, more permanent dyes pose a greater risk. Studies have shown that using permanent hair dyes regularly over a long period of time is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and multiple myeloma. A study by the National Cancer Institute in 1992 found the use of permanent hair dyes could be linked to 20% of all cases of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in women. As well, women using hair dyes at least once a month doubled their risk of bladder cancer, according to a 2001 study by researchers at the University of Southern California. To reduce the risk of bladder cancer from hair dyes, the European Union in 2006 banned 22 hair dye substances, but these substances have not been restricted in North American products.

In addition, almost all permanent hair dyes contain PPD, or p-phenylenediamine, to make the dye work. PPD can often cause serious skin irritation and is suspected of causing cancer. Products sold in Canada containing PPD must be labelled with warnings that dyeing eyelashes or eyebrows can cause blindness. Resorcinal is another common ingredient in conventional hair colouring products. It is a skin irritant, toxic to the immune system and a frequent cause of allergic reactions to hair dyes. It is also an endocrine disrupting chemical. In a few dark formulas marketed in the US to men, there may even be lead acetate in hair colouring products. Fragrance and preservatives are also added to conventional hair dyes. Hair colouring products that use henna, cassia or indigo offer non-toxic alternatives.


Tip: True henna is a plant derived product which produces brown through red shades. Steer clear of so-called “black henna”. This is not a true henna, and contains PPD, a suspect carcinogen added to hair dyes. Black henna is also used to make temporary tattoos.


Hair Oils and Pomades

Oils, pomades, daily moisturizers, leave-in conditioner and creams will make the hair feel more soft and flexible. It is especially important to add them to permed or straightened hair which has been stripped of some of its ability to oil itself. However, hair pomade usually contains wax and petroleum-based oils that tend to clog pores. These oils are less easily absorbed into the hair and attract dust. Hazardous chemicals to avoid in conventional hair oils and conditioning products include fragrance, oxybenzone, parabens, DMDM hydantoin, ceteareth 20 and 25, propylene glycol and diazolidinyl urea.


 Home-made Alternatives
Shea butters, jojoba oil, sunflower oil and olive oil can all be used as hair oils or leave-in conditioners.
Hot oil hair treatment: Combine 1 teaspoon soybean oil and 2 teaspoons castor oil. Warm on low heat. Massage mixture into scalp and hair. Wrap hair in a hot towel for 15 minutes. Shampoo & rinse.


Tip: Oils are best applied to wet hair to help hold in the moisture already there. Creams or leave-in conditioners can be used on days when you don’t wash or wet your hair. The type of oil or cream you use in your hair is going to depend on your hair type. It may take some experimenting to find what works best for you. The time of year and your hair’s exposure to the elements may vary your routine.


Hair Relaxers and Straighteners

Relaxing or straightening the hair can be done with blow dryers, hot combs or flat irons. However, chemicals are the popular choice for a more permanent effect. Three types of chemicals are generally used — sodium hydroxide, guanidine hydroxide, and ammonium thioglycolate, all of which have damaging effects.

These include scalp irritation, skin burns, permanent scarring, deep ulcerations, skin drying and cracking, dermatitis, irreversible baldness, eye damage including blindness and weak, dry, broken and damaged hair. Hair straighteners along with hair dyes are the cause of more complaints to the US Food and Dug Administration’s Cosmetic Office than any other product.

Relaxers, whether with or without lye, have a very high pH (near the top of the scale). In other words, they are caustic. Relaxers work because they break the bonds that actually give strength to the hair. This causes the hair to straighten. Therefore, relaxed hair is, by definition, weaker than natural hair. Relaxers also deplete the hair of sebum (the oil your scalp secretes). Combine that with heat and you can really end up with a problem. Hair that has been straightened will be weaker than if it were natural and will be more prone to problems.

For years, the main chemical used in hair straighteners has been sodium hydroxide – a powerful alkaline caustic otherwise known as lye. Sodium hydroxide is used in products like Drano to dissolve hair in drains. It’s also used in depilatories to dissolve hair.

Newer “no-lye”products are also now on the shelves. Some contain quanidine hydroxide, a mixture of calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate. While this chemical combination is not lye, it is very similar and has the same effect chemically on the hair. Advertising leads people to believe these chemicals are much safer when in fact they only damage the hair slightly less and cause less scalp irritation, but they can still burn the scalp if used incorrectly.

A third chemical, ammonium thioglycolate, known as the “thio relaxer”, is less drastic than sodium hydroxide, and, in some cases, than guanadine hydroxide, but it also breaks down the bonds in hair.

The FDA has received complaints about scalp irritation and hair breakage related to both lye and “no lye” relaxers. The same safety rules should apply to any type of relaxer. They should be left on no longer than the prescribed time, carefully washed out with neutralizing shampoo, and followed up with regular conditioning. Hair care experts recommend that straighteners be applied by a professional in a salon setting and that extra care be taken to keep straightened hair healthy.

In addition to the concerns about the active ingredients, chemical hair straighteners have also been found to contain other hazardous ingredients, including formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen that has been found at high levels in a hair straightener called Brazilian Blowout. Hair straighteners may also contain parabens, polypropylene and glycols, as well as sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.

As well, a relaxer must be used with a neutralizing shampoo and conditioner whether applied at home or in a salon. Conventional shampoos and conditioners found in hair straightening kits contain the same ingredients found in conventional shampoos and conditioners, whose health effects are detailed in those sections.


 Home-made Alternatives
Use the heat from blow dryers, hot combs and flat irons to straighten hair. Even a curling iron with a wide diameter barrel held backwards can straighten hair.



Hair Styling

Hair styling products include hair sprays, styling gels and mousses.

Hair sprays and other styling products rely on polymers and solvents for their ability to hold hair, and are often applied with aerosols or pump sprays. Aerosols suspend fine particles in a gas, which propels the spray onto the hair. Isobutane, which can be contaminated with the carcinogen, butadiene, or propane are the gases typically used as propellants. Pump sprays, on the other hand, mix liquid with a small amount of air and use springs, valves and tubes to create a spray. Both aerosol and pump sprays produce fine droplets which can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and transferred into the bloodstream. Hazardous ingredients contained in the formulation of the spray can pose a higher risk if they are inhaled as fine particulate matter. Inhalation of spray can also cause respiratory irritation and breathing difficulties. If you use a spray, choose pump over aerosol as spray droplets are slightly larger. Hair setting lotions are a better choice.

Hair sprays, styling gels and mousses keep the hair in place by coating it with polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP), a plastic polymer, and using solvents to dissolve it in solution and keep the film flexible on the hair. PVP is classified by Environment Canada as a medium health priority. Phthalates, which can affect reproduction, may be used as solvents in sprays but are not listed as ingredients. Other hazardous ingredients in hair styling products include TEA, and potentially toxic FD&C colours. Ethoxylated alcohols and PEG compounds, also common in hair styling products may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Parabens, which can disrupt the endocrine system, are used as preservatives in hair sprays, and DMDM hydantoin, a formaldehyde releasing chemical, is a popular preservative in other styling products such as mousses. Fragrance, which is a mixture of many unknown toxins, is added to most conventional hair styling products.


 Home-made AlternativesHair Styling Gel – Mix together 2 cups boiling water, and 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin in 1 teaspoon vinegar. Strain through coffee filter and put in sprayer bottle.Lemon Hair Spray – Squeeze juice of 1 medium lemon into 2 cups of water. Slice up lemon peel and add. Boil slowly until reduced to 1 cup. Strain and pour into spray bottle. Keep in fridge. For extra hold use 1 1/2 lemons.Flax Seed Gel– Boil 2 tablespoons of flax seed in 1/3 cup water for 10 minutes. Rub through hair sparingly.


Permanent Waves

Using permanent waves or perms to curl straight hair is just as popular as straightening curly hair. The active ingredient in perms and in some straighteners is the toxic ammonium thioglycolate. It can cause eye and skin irritation, and allergic reactions in some people. Permanent wave solutions can also result in first-degree burns and even hair loss. They cause hair to become damaged and weakened, making it more susceptible to chemical and ultraviolet damage. As well as ammonium thioglycolate, permanent wave solutions contain a large number of allergens and skin irritants like TEA, polyethelene glycol, FD&C colours, DMDM hydantoin, parabens, hydrogen peroxide, imidiazolidynol urea and synthetic fragrance.

No alternatives to conventional home permanents were found. However, an alternative and less toxic permanent wave solution, Organic Care, is available through “green” hairdressing salons and spas. Organic Care does not contain ammonia or thioglycolate.


 Home-made AlternativesUse the heat from a curling iron to curl your hair.
When your hair is damp, put rollers or pin curls into your hair, or plait it. Release the curls when the hair has dried.



Shampoos frequently contain harsh detergents, chemical fragrances and numerous irritating and carcinogenic compounds. Of particular concern are formaldehyde-releasing preservatives such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidiazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea, which are used in many shampoos and conditioners to kill bacteria and reduce the risk of skin infections. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. Parabens, endocrine disrupting chemicals which have been found in breast tumour tissue, are also used as preservatives in many shampoos and hair products.

In addition, sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, which are used to create foam in shampoos, are also ingredients of concern. Both are irritants, which can be contaminated with ethylene dioxide, a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Ammonium laureth sulfate, sometimes used as a substitute, may also be similarly contaminated. Other potentially harmful ingredients frequently used in conventional shampoos include TEA, which can release carcinogenic nitrosamines,propylene glycol, an allergen and skin irritant, and the preservatives, methylisothiazoline and methylchlorothiazoline, which have shown evidence of being neurotoxic in animal studies. Carcinogenic coal tar may be added as a biocide to some anti-dandruff shampoos.


 Home-made AlternativesCastille Soap Shampoo – Mix 1/2 cup of water with 1/2 cup of liquid castille soap (which is very difficult to find). To make a herbal shampoo, heat water before adding soap and steep herbs, then strain and add soap. Castille will leave a film on hair which can be removed by rinsing hair with 3 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice mixed with 1 cup of water.Egg Shampoo – Beat 2 large eggs and massage into scalp. Leave on a few minutes, then rinse with warm water. To cut film left by the eggs, rinse with vinegar (dark hair), or lemon Juice (light hair). Mix 3 tablespoons of vinegar or juice with 1 cup of water and pour through hair.Use any bar soap listed under “Best” or “Good” in the Soap section to shampoo your hair. Experiment until you find one that works well for your hair.Baking soda mixed with water to the right consistency can be massaged through hair.


Hair Removal

For centuries, women in some cultures have used depilatories, usually liquids or creams, to remove unwanted hair. The term, “depilatory”, means removing hair. Old formulas made with arsenic and quicklime seem barbaric now, but even today’s chemical depilatories can burn skin and eyes and cause severe allergic reactions and pustular outbreaks. Depilatories use high-pH chemicals to dissolve hair below the surface of the skin. An offensive smelling chemical, thioglycolic acid, is commonly used as the active ingredient, sometimes in combination with lye to boost the effectiveness of the product. Other popular methods of removing hair include shaving, tweezing, sugaring, waxing, threading, laser treatments and electrolysis.

Waxes/Sugaring Compounds

Next to shaving and depilatories, waxing and sugaring are the most popular methods of hair removal. Waxes can be made from petroleum (paraffin), rosin or beeswax. Hot wax is spread on the skin and covered in cloth strips which are ripped away when cool, taking the hair with them. Cold wax is also used. Manufacturers of conventional hair removal waxes often add preservatives such as endocrine-disrupting parabens or DMDM hydantoin, which releases formaldehyde, to extend the shelf life of their products. Fragrance is also a common additive.

Sugaring is a centuries-old technique for hair removal. A sugar and water gel is used as in waxing. Unlike wax, sugar does not adhere to skin so pulling off the cloth strips is less painful. Look for natural sugaring kits that contain only sugar, water and sometimes herbs. Both waxing and sugaring can cause skin irritation and infection if the skin is irritated, chapped or sunburned.

Laser treatments are also used to reduce the amount and thickness of hair. Laser treatments can cause blistering, discoloration, swelling, redness and scarring. Sunlight should be avoided while the skin heals. A major concern with laser hair removal is the use of skin numbing anesthetics, which are sometimes applied before a laser treatment. According to the US Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Cosmetics, these products can cause serious side effects, including death, if they are not applied properly.

Nail Products

Nail products are among the most toxic cosmetics on the market. Nails can absorb the chemicals used in polishes, removers and cuticle creams.

Nail Polish

Three of the most harmful ingredients in conventional nail polishes are toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate — dubbed the “toxic trio” by the US Environmental Working Group.

Toluene may comprise up to 50% of the volume in some brands. As a result, high exposure to toluene can occur from home use of nail polish, according to the US Agency for Toxic Substances. Toluene is known to be a neurotoxin and may put pregnant women at risk of having a baby with birth defects or delayed development. The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pollution Protection says that breathing large amounts of toluene for a short period of time can harm kidneys, liver and the heart.

The second chemical of concern is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde, which is also found in nail products, is a known human carcinogen and a sensitizer.

The third one — dibutyl phthalate (DBP) — is an estrogen mimicking plasticizer that may disrupt thyroid function and accelerate sexual development in young girls. Animal studies have found that DBP may result in birth deformities like cleft palate or undescended testicles. DBP has also been linked to lower sperm counts in men.

Although many companies have removed the “toxic trio” from popular brands, conventional nail polishes may still contain other toxic chemicals such as ethyl acetate, which irritates the respiratory system, benzophenone-1, which is an endocrine disrupting chemical, and triphenyl phosphate, which is neurotoxic. Coal tar dyes are also used in many well-known brands of nail polish to create certain colours. As an alternative to conventional nail polishes, a number of companies have developed water-based nail polishes with few or no hazardous ingredients.


Tip: Rub a bit of olive oil or another natural oil like jojoba or almond into your nails 1/2 to 1 hour before applying water-based nail polish. This makes it easier to remove the polish later and keeps your nails in good shape.

Nail Polish Remover

Conventional nail polish removers contain acetone. When inhaled, this chemical enters the blood and is carried to body organs. Acetone is a neurotoxin, and short-term exposure causes respiratory and eye irritation, headaches, light-headedness, confusion, nausea and vomiting. Long-term exposure may damage the liver, kidneys and nervous system, and may increase the risk of birth defects.

Acetone-based nail polish removers do not work on water-based nail polishes. However, companies, which have developed water-based nail polishes have also developed acetone-free nail polish removers. Some of these nail polish removers, which are less toxic than those that are acetone-based, can be used to remove any type of nail polish.

Artificial Nails

Acrylic and other types of artificial nails are bad news all around, and there are no less-toxic alternatives besides your own well-groomed nails. The chemicals used in artificial nails have numerous short and long-term health effects. Nails need to breathe to stay healthy. Covering them in plastic resin causes nails to become weak, thin and brittle. Fungal infections are a problem when moisture is trapped beneath the artificial nail. In addition, the use of UV nail lamps to cure acrylic and gel nails may contribute to the development of skin cancer on the hands. Finally, removing the nails requires the use of a powerful solvent, usually acetonitrile. This toxic chemical can irritate the respiratory system, and may cause an enlarged thyroid.

Preformed press-on nails from the drug store are not an alternative. The glues used to attach these nails can cause contact dermatitis, eczema, dizziness and headaches.


 Home-made Alternatives
For shiny and smooth nails without nail polish, use a nail buffer such as Sally Hansen Nail Buffer and Groomer or Honeybee Gardens 4 Sided Nail Buffer, and buff your nails so that they look like they have a coat of clear polish on them.


Skin Products

Astringents and Toners

Toners and astringents are designed to get rid of any lingering traces of cleanser and dead skin cells, to remove excess oil and dirt, and to soothe the skin after shaving. Toners are supposed to work by closing the pores and balancing the skin’s pH but many toners produce that tight feeling by using sorbitol and plasticizers like polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP). Astringents generally contain higher levels of alcohol than toners as well as other antiseptic ingredients. They control oily skin with levels of alcohol that can dry even the oiliest skin immediately after use.

Many conventional astringents rely on petroleum-based chemicals for their effect. Some contain salicylic acid as an active ingredient. Salicylic acid, which enhances skin absorption, can be a neurotoxin and irritate skin. Its use is restricted by Health Canada. Benzyl alcohol, another skin irritant and potential neurotxoin, is also used in many astringents. Other common ingredients in toners and astringents are synthetic colours, fragrance and preservatives such as estrogen-mimicking parabens or DMDM hydantoin, which releases formaldehyde. Non-toxic alternatives to mainstream toners and astringents contain ingredients such as witch hazel, aloe vera gel or rosewater.


 Home-made Alternatives
Watermelon Toner for Oily Skin
2 Tbsp distilled water
2 Tbsp witch hazel
liquid from 1 cup of watermelon chunks pureed in a blenderBlend water and witch hazel together with the liquid red juice from the watermelon, stirring thoroughly. Pour mixture into a clean glass jar.Lemon Toner for All Skin Types
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup distilled water
1/3 cup witch hazelCombine all ingredients and pour into a clean bottle. Shake well before using.Apple Cider Vinegar Toner For Acne
Mix equal amounts of water and organic apple cider vinegar. Pour mixture into a clean glass jar.

Herbal Toner for Dry Skin
1/4 cup aloe vera gel
1/4 cup rose hydrosol (rose water)
6 drops rose geranium essential oil
1 drop chamomile essential oil
1 drop jasmine essential oil

Mix aloe vera and essential oils in a glass bottle. Then add hydrosol.

Healing Toner for Sensitive Skin
1/4 cup rose hydrosol (rosewater)
2 tablespoons witch hazel
4 drops rose essential oil
2 drops yarrow essential oil

Mix essential oils with witch hazel in a glass bottle. Then add hydrosol.


Bath Products

The major concern with bath products is the possible presence of contaminants created in the manufacturing process, some of which have carcinogenic properties. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group in the US found that more than 60% of children’s bath products contained formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen.

Formaldehyde is released into bath products from common preservatives such as DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea and imidiazolidinyl urea. 1,4-dioxane is produced during the manufacture of bath products when ingredients, such as PEG-100 stearate, sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene and ceteareth 20, are processed with ethylene oxide. 1,4-dioxane then becomes a contaminant of product ingredients. Because it is a contaminant and not an ingredient, it does not appear on the list of ingredients. Although EWG tested children’s bath products, the same problem ingredients that result in the presence of formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane are used in many commercial bath products for adults as well.

Conventional bath products also contain synthetic fragrance, FD&C colours from coal tar, and benzyl alcohol. These ingredients can cause allergic reactions. Mineral-based bath salts are sprayed with synthetic dyes and scents, and can contain other ingredients irritating to skin and mucous membranes. Bubble baths are also full of dyes, colours, scents and preservatives, as well as sodium lauryl sulfate used to create foam. Fragrance masking ingredients, such as coumarin which is an immune system toxin, are often used to mask the scent of other fragrance ingredients. Parabens, which mimic estrogen, are also common preservatives in bath products, in addition to the formaldehyde-releasing preservatives listed above. As well, soaking in hot water with bath oils, salts or bubbles increases the skin’s permeability and, therefore, increases exposure to harmful chemicals.


 Home-made AlternativesEpsom Salts Bath – Follow package directions.Soothing Bath – Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to bath water.Milk Bath – Add one quart of milk to tub, or 2 cups of instant powdered milk.Basic Recipe for Homemade Bath Salts

Start with about 4 cups of sea salt, kosher salt or epsom salts (or a combination of any of them). Mix in several drops of essential oils or skin-safe fragrance oils very slowly so that they do not dissolve the salts. If you wish, add dried fragrant plants, such as lavender or eucalyptus. Other optional ingredients include baking soda, dried milk, liquid glycerin soap, dried mint leaves or oatmeal.



Tip: To moisturize dry skin, soak in tub for at least 10 minutes to open pores, then add oil to bath water. Any oil — coconut oil, purified castor oil, almond oil or jojoba oil — will help retain moisture in the skin.


Body and Massage Oil

As part of the trend toward more “natural” beauty products, body oils have become a popular item for nourishing dry skin, keeping scar tissue soft, massaging, bathing and for shaving. Many of the best body oil products are based simply on natural oils such as jojoba, olive, almond and wheat germ, or the more recent arrivals, argan and sea buckthorn. In some products, pure essential oils are added.

Many mainstream commercial products, however, contain mineral oil, a petrochemical product, or silicone. Both these chemicals coat the skin and do not allow it to breathe. Commercial oils also use synthetic fragrances, which may contain numerous toxic ingredients, to create more heavily perfumed products. Some fragrance ingredients in body oils, such as limonene, lilial and geraniol, which are derived from natural sources, can cause allergies and contact dermatitis. Preservatives like parabens or imidiazolidinyl urea are also often used in conventional body oil products to prolong their shelf life.

Body Powder

Body dusting powders are used to absorb sweat and odours and to soothe irritated skin. Conventional body powders often contain talc or amorphous silica, both of which can cause lung irritation when inhaled. Studies have shown that women using talc in the genital area and on sanitary napkins have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Powders used for body dusting frequently contain chemical fragrances, and fragrance ingredients also used as masking agents. These include lilial, lyral, eugenol, coumarin and citral, all of which are skin irritants. Parabens, which are endocrine disruptors, and other preservatives are also widely used in body powders. Alternative powders use ingredients such as cornstarch, tapicoa flour, rice flour, kaolin and arrowroot powders in place of talc and silica.


 Home-made AlternativesAura Cacia’s Recipe for Body Dusting Powder (no longer available)
1/4 cup arrowroot
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 Tbsp. fine clay powder (such as French green or white)
Mix powders together. If you like, personalize the powder by adding your favourite essential oils (such as jasmine or peppermint), starting with 5 drops and adding 1 drop more until you achieve your desired result. Store in glass container.Lavender Bath Powder
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup rice flour
1/4 cup lavender flowers, finely crushed
4 drops lavender essential oilMix well. Let sit 24 hours minimum. Store in glass jar.

Spice Bath Powder
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg

Mix dry ingredients. Add oil and stir well.


Cleansers and Body Washes

Commercial cleansers rely on alcohol and petroleum products to dislodge dirt and clean the skin. However, these ingredients also remove natural oils and cause drying. To counteract this, manufacturers may add mineral oil (a petroleum product) to make the skin feel soft. Other chemicals used in cleansers allow them to spread more easily and create foam. The chemicals that create foam include sodium laurel sulfate, ammonium laurel sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate and myreth sulfate. These chemicals are known skin irritants, and may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Another chemical used for foam is cocamide DEA. Cocamide DEA is also a skin irritant, and may be contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds, such as PEG-7 and PEG-200, are added to many body washes and cleansers to help them retain water. PEG compounds may be contaminated with the known carcinogen, ethylene dioxide, and 1-4 dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Common preservatives in cleansers include parabens, which can disrupt the hormone system, and methylisothiazoline and methylchloroisothiazoline, which are immune system toxins. Cleansing creams and body washes may also contain TEA, a skin allergen, potentially toxic FD&C colours, and antibacterials such as triclosan. Many also have fragrance, which generally includes phthalates. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive problems.


 Home-made AlternativesOatmeal Cleanser
Process rolled oats in a blender until fine. Massage a small amount into wet skin, then rinse.Citrus Cleansing Milk
1/2 cup plain yoghourt
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon jojoba oil (or other oil)Blend yogurt and lemon juice. With blender running, slowly add oil. Pour into jar and add essential oil. Massage a small amount into skin and rinse.


Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Deodorants and antiperspirants both fight body odour. Deodorants work by inhibiting the growth of bacteria that cause odour. Antiperspirants actually stop perspiration by blocking the sweat ducts.

Most conventional antiperspirants rely on aluminum compounds, such as aluminum trichlorohydrex gly, as the active ingredient. The use of aluminum in personal care products is the subject of considerable controversy. The effects of widespread, long term and increasing use of aluminum compounds are unknown. There is evidence that many aluminum compounds are toxic to the nervous system. As well, British scientists at the University of Reading have expressed concern about aluminum interfering with estrogen and playing a role in the rising incidence of breast cancer. They have shown the presence of aluminum in breast cancer tumours and breast tissue in research published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry.

Although there have been very few studies on the relationship between breast cancer and the use of deodorants and antiperspirants, a 2003 study of breast cancer survivors published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found that women who began to shave their underarms and use underarm products before the age of 16 had been diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age than those who began these habits later. Until this issue is settled, some people choose to avoid the use of products containing aluminum. Aluminum-based compounds are also one of the main causes of skin irritation in antiperspirant users.

Crystal deodorants are a popular alternative to conventional deodorants and antiperspirants. They typically use either potassium alum or aluminum alum, which are also aluminum salts. It is believed that they react differently than the other aluminum compounds and are less likely to penetrate the skin and be absorbed. Potassium alum is a naturally occuring salt while ammonium alum is synthetic. Some crystal deodorants are crystal rocks, which contain no other ingredients. Liquid deodorants based on crystal may contain other ingredients of concern.

Another ingredient of concern in deodorants and antiperspirants is the antibacterial agent, triclosan. Triclosan is suspected of disrupting the endocrine system and has been shown to harm the thyroid system in animal studies. Other toxic ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants include: synthetic fragrances containing phthalates that may cause reproductive harm, benzyl alcohol, a skin irritant, BHT, a fragrance masking agent that can contribute to allergic reactions, and ceteareth that may be contaminated with toxic impurities such as 1,4-dioxane. Parabens, also endocrine disrupting chemicals, are used as preservatives in deodorants and antiperpirants, and have been detected in breast cancer tumours. Talc is also an ingredient in some deodorants and antiperspirants. If talc is used in roll-on or solid products, it is not a problem but it may cause lung irritation if it is used in aerosol products. Isobutane, a gas which can be contaminated with carcinogenic butadiene, is often used as a propellant in aerosol sprays. Aerosol sprays break chemicals into minute particles. Minute particles can be more deeply inhaled than larger particles and this may increase their harmful effects.


 Home-made AlternativesDab well-steeped black tea onto skin.Deodorant Powder Recipe
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup baking soda
3/4 teaspoon pulverized lavender flowers
15 drops pure lavender essential oilMix lavender oil with the pulverized lavender flowers. Mix with the other 2 ingredients. Allow mixture to sit in an airtight container away from light for a day or two. To use, lightly dust the underarm using a shaving or blush brush. Apply to any other areas of the body that you wish to feel fresh. (adapted from www.naturalnews.com)For an unscented deodorant powder, omit the lavender flowers and lavender essential oil. Although essential oils limit the bacteria that cause odour, essential oils may irritate the skin and many people are sensitive to essential oils. Essential oils are not appropriate for scent-free environments.


Exfoliants and Scrubs

Unlike normal cleansers, scrubs contain exfoliating ingredients that remove dead skin. They are also used to unclog pores and moisturize the skin. As an exfoliating agent, many conventional scrubs use “microbeads”, which are actually fine granules of polyethylene plastic and are listed as “polyacrylamide” on the list of ingredients. Conventional scrubs also contain a variety of chemicals of concern, including potentially carcinogenic coal tar colours (FD&C), harsh alcohols and detergents, the surfactant TEA that can be contaminated with cancer-causing nitrosamines, the skin irritant sodium lauryl sulfate and the anti-bacterial triclosan. They are also likely to contain harmful preservatives like hormone-disrupting parabens, methylizothiazilone and methylchloroisothiazilone, both of which are immune system toxins or imidiazolinyl urea that can release the carcinogenic formaldehyde. Synthetic fragrance, which often contains phthalates, is also a common additive in conventional scrubs.

Natural scrubs use non-synthetic alternatives like ground nuts, seeds, fruit and salt to help exfoliate the skin and improve the complexion.


 Home-made AlternativesHomemade Sugar Body Scrub
2 cups turbinado (raw sugar) or light brown sugar
1/2 cup (or slightly less) avocado, sesame or jojoba oil
1/4 cup (or slightly less) apricot or peach kernal oil
a few drops of essential oil or flavourings such as ginger powder and vanilla extract (optional)
honey for smoothing the texture if the scrub is too dryMix oils slowly into the sugar stirring to keep the consistency smooth, and stop when you can form the mixture into a slightly wet ball without it dripping through your fingers. Add the essential oils last, since they are for fragrance not moisture, and you will only need 2 or 3 drops to get the aroma strong enough. Note: different sugars will give different skin smoothing results. If you use turbinado, you may need more oil because turbinado has a coarser texture than light brown sugar. If you use brown sugar, keep a careful eye on the liquid ingredients so that your scrub doesn’t dissolve into a thin paste. Use honey only if the scrub is too dry, or increase the amount of oil if you prefer.Homemade Salt Body Scrub
2 cups coarse pickling salt or kosher salt
1/2 cup avocado, sesame or jojoba oil
1/4 cup apricot or peach kernal oil
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla extract
honey for smoothing the textureFollow the directions for the sugar body scrub, substituting pickling or kosher salts for sugar. Vary the ingredients to create your own favourite scents, using cocoa and coffee for a mocha body scrub, or using essential oils such as skin-friendly rose, rosemary, lemon, lavender and chamomile instead of vanilla. (recipes adapted from www.freebeautytips.com)


Facial Masks and Steam Baths

The ingredients in facial masks vary considerably from product to product. Some alternative products can be as simple as clay and honey powder. More conventional masks, however, can contain numerous toxic ingredients. These include synthetic fragrance, one of the most common ingredients in facial masks, parabens, preservatives that are hormone-disrupting, TEA, a fragrance ingredient and surfactant that can cause allergic reactions, DMDM hydantoin, a preservative that may release carcinogenic formaldehyde, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, a neurotoxin used as an anti-caking agent that may be contaminated with heavy metals, the preservatives methylchloroisothiazalone and methylisothiazalone that are skin irritants, the foaming agent sodium laureth sulfate and ceteareth, both of which may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen, and ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. Triclosan, an antibacterial and possible endocrine disrupting substance, is also added to some facial masks.


 Home-made AlternativesAlmond Yogurt Honey Mask
6 oz. plain yogurt
1/4 oz. finely crushed almonds
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. wheat germ oilMix all ingredients into a smooth paste. Apply and massage into skin and keep on for 20 minutes. Rinse with warm water. (from ww.benefits-of-honey.com)Clay Mask
1 1/2 tsp. green clay (French is preferred)
1/2 tsp. kaolin clay
1 1/2 tsp. aloe vera gel
1 tbsp. rosewater
2 drops of essential oil (optional)Mix green and kaolin clays together. Add in the aloe vera gel, rosewater and oils. Spread on face and leave for 10 to 15 minutes. Then cleanse. Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 4 weeks. (from www.beauty.about.com)

Oatmeal and Honey Mask
1/2 cup oatmeal
2 tsp. honey

Mix oatmeal with water and cook according to package directions. Allow to cool and mix with honey. Leave on face for 30 minutes. Rinse with warm water. (from www.ehow.com)


Facial Mists

Facial mists can contain synthetic fragrance, potentially carcinogenic coal tar colours, and hormone-disrupting preservatives such as parabens. When these chemicals are present in a product used as a mist, they are more easily inhaled into the lungs and transferred to the blood stream.

Lip Gloss, Balms and Protectors

Mainstream lip glosses and lip balms may contain synthetic waxes and oils like mineral oil, petrolatum, glycerin and lanolin. Just as lipstick is readily ingested, so too are lip glosses and balms. According to Health Canada research, many glosses contain traces of lead, as do many lipsticks.

Colour in conventional lip balms and lip glosses come from a variety of coal tar dyes, which have different toxic properties. Artificial flavours are also popular additives. The ingredients in these flavours and their potential effects are almost completely unknown. Preservatives such as the endocrine-disrupting parabens and toluene-based BHT are also common in lip glosses and balms. Fragrance is often added to conventional products. Lip balms may also contain phenol, particularly if they are advertised as “medicated” or for cold sore relief. Phenol is an antimicrobial agent that can be absorbed by the skin, and is believed to be a neurotoxin. Health Canada prohibits its use in cosmetics sold in Canada.

Many conventional cosmetics manufacturers add chemical sunscreens to lip products to absorb ultraviolet rays. A lip gloss or balm may contain as many as 3 different chemical sunscreens. The most common are benzophenones, such as oxybenzone, and cinnamates, such as octinoxate. Both are hormone disruptors and may cause skin that is exposed to the sun to be sensitized. Retinyl palmitate, another sunscreen agent, is also present in many lip balms and glosses. In sunlight retinyl palmitate can break down to produce free radicals and potentially promote the development of skin cancer. Using conventional lip balms with a chemical sunscreen on a routine basis results in unnecessary and potentially risky chemical exposures. (See sun protection for more information on lip balms with safe sunscreen ingredients).


Health Alert: Avoid using lip balms with chemical sunscreen except when you need the sunscreen protection. When sun protection is needed for lips, choose a product containing a safer sunscreen.



 Home-made AlternativesPlain vegetable or nut oils like olive oil, almond oil. cocoa butter or shea butter.Easy Lip Balm
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. shea butter or cocoa butter
1/2 tsp. honey
flavoured oil to taste (optional)
1 Vitamin E capsule (optional)Melt the oil, honey, wax and butter over low heat. Allow a few minutes to cool; then add the flavouring and the contents of the Vitamin E capsule. Stir to blend, and then pour into container. For a firmer lip balm, grate a little beeswax into the ingredients (adapted from www.bellecitysoapworks.com).Non-Petroleum Jelly
2 ounces of beeswax or way of your choice
1 cup of oil of your choice

Melt the beeswax in a double boiler or a microwave. Stir in the oil. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir until it is cool. This easy-to-make natural formula can do anything that petroleum jelly does, but without any harm. You can use it to heal scrapes and rashes or protect and add a little gloss to your lips. (adapted from www.care2.com)


Lotions, Creams and Moisturizers

Lotions are basically a mixture of water and oils, with an emulsifier added to keep the product from separating. A variety of other chemicals are added to this mixture as moisturizing agents, thickeners and preservatives.

Mineral oil and petrolatum, both petroleum products, are widely used as oils in lotions to keep the skin moist and smooth by locking moisture in. Both mineral oil and petrolatum can be contaminated with potentially carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Propylene glycol and lanolin are also used for the same purpose. Propylene glycol is a recognized neurotoxin and is known to cause contact dermatitis at very low concentrations. Lanolin is an animal product that can be contaminated with pesticides. It may also cause allergies. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds, such as ceteareth, are often used in lotions to create a smooth liquid film on the body. PEG compounds can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Polysorbate 60 and 80 are also used in lotions, and they may also be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. TEA, a skin irritant and immune system toxicant, is also a common ingredient in lotions.

Preservatives like DMDM hydantoin, which is used in many moisturizers, and quaternium-15 can release carcinogenic formaldehyde. Estrogen-mimicking parabens, usually methylparaben and propylparaben, are also common preservatives in lotions and moisturizers. Retinyl palmitate, which is supposed to reduce wrinkles, is an ingredient in many facial creams and anti-aging products. Retinyl palmitate can produce free radicals and damage skin DNA. It can increase the risk of skin cancer when skin is exposed to UV light. Fragrance is added to most lotions, creams and moisturizers. Fragrance contains many toxic ingredients including asthma triggers and hormone disrupting phthalates. Fragrance ingredients such as limonene, lilial and geraniol may also be added both as fragrance and to mask chemical smells. These ingredients are known skin irritants.

Hand lotions are often just thicker versions of facial moisturizers. They work mainly by covering dry skin with oil, which can clog pores. Plant-based lotions like shea butter or cocoa butter can nourish the skin and provide long-term benefits.


Tip: Shea Butter is especially good for dry skin and skin high in melanin (colour).Recipe for Basic Unscented Moisturizer1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cup distilled or spring water
1/4 cup emulsifying waxFill a small saucepan with water and set it on medium low heat to use as a water bath. Combine the oil and wax in a heat-proof 1-cup measuring cup and melt the mixture in the water bath. Boil 1 1/4 cups of water and pour it into a 2-cup measuring cup. When the oil/wax mixture has melted, pour it into the measuring cup filled with water. Your lotion should now have the consistency of skim milk. Let it cool slightly. Stir with a spoon or chopstick and pour into a bottle while it’s still warm and pourable. Leave the cap off to let it cool completely. Cap it occasionally and give it a shake to help blend the mixture.

To vary the recipe, substitute 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the water with glycerin or rosewater for extra moisturizing action. Substitute or combine other oils — avocado oil for dry or aged skin, peanut or sesame oil for oily skin. Sweet almond oil and apricot kernel oil are good for all skin types. Add any essential oils — about 2 drops for each fluid ounce of lotion. (adapted from www.wabisabibaby.com and www.livestrong.com)

Note: Do not use borax in home-made lotions.



Many personal lubricants are preserved with parabens. Because parabens mimic estrogen and may disrupt the endocrine system, they should be avoided in all cosmetics, but particularly in personal lubricants. Propylene glycol, which may irritate skin and cause contact dermatitis, is also an ingredient in many lubricants. It enhances skin absorption, which enables other potentially toxic ingredients to be more easily absorbed. Other ingredients that are hazardous but much more rarely used in conventional lubricants include TEA, polyethylene glycol, FD&C Yellow 5, retinyl palmitate, BHT, cinnamol and fragrance.

Personal lubricants may be oil-, water- or silicone-based. It is important to know that lubricants, which are oil-based such as petroleum jelly, may cause sensitivity in some individuals. Also, petroleum and mineral oil in lubricants can cause latex to weaken and deteriorate.

Shaving Creams

Conventional shaving creams are usually based on water and a combination of synthetic chemicals. These include chemicals that can be contaminated with traces of carcinogenic residues like the surfactant TEA, which can be contaminated with nitrosamines, and PEG 90-M, a binding agent that can be contaminated with ethylene dioxide, a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen.

Propylene glycol, which acts as a moisture carrying ingredient in many skin products, is used in shaving creams. It is a known skin irritant, as are the two most popular gases, isobutane and isopentane, used as propellants in aerosol shaving creams. Isobutane, the more widely used of the two, can be contaminated with the carcinogen, butadiene. Shaving creams are often preserved with hormone-disrupting parabens, or BHA, classified by the US National Toxicology Program as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen”. Potentially toxic fragrance and FD&C colours are also common additives in shaving creams.

After Shave

Aftershaves are designed to soothe irritated skin. They are usually based just on water and denatured alcohol, but are heavily fragranced and serve as perfumes for men. Many individual ingredients in fragrances are irritants, and some have been associated with neurotoxicity and cancer. One example is diethyl phthalate or DEP, used to prolong the scent of products. It is suspected of interfering with the endocrine system and causing reproductive problems. A 2007 study, published in Human Reproduction, found that DNA damage to the sperm of 379 men seeking care at an infertility clinic, was correlated with exposure to DEP and another phthalate, DEHP.

The ingredients in fragrances do not have to be disclosed, and they are listed on labels only as “fragrance”, “parfum” or “aroma”. In addition, other fragrance ingredients derived from natural sources, such as limonene from citrus rind or eugenol from clove oil, are now being added to many aftershave products. These ingredients are known to be strong skin irritants. Propylene glycol, another skin irritant, is used as a skin conditioning agent in many aftershaves. Conventional aftershaves are also often coloured with potentially toxic FD&C colours such as FD&C Yellow 5, FD&C Green 3 and D&C Violet 2./p>


 Home-made Alternatives
Aloe Vera Gel – Replace aftershave with 100% aloe vera gel. Purchase commercial aloe vera gel, or use aloe vera gel from your houseplants. Cut open leaf and rub on skin.Annie Berthold-Bond’s Basic Bay Rum Aftershave 2 to 4 cups dried bay leaves
a few sprigs of rosemary (optional)
rum to coverBreak the dried bay leaves in half. Fill a quart or pint mason jar with as many leaves as will fit to about 3 inches from the top. Add a few sprigs of rosemary, if desired. Add enough rum to come a good 2 inches above the leaves. Screw on the cover, and let sit for 1 month. Strain. As a variation, add a bit of grated organic orange peel, cloves or ginger root. Keeps indefinitely.Alcohol-Free Softening Aftershave
2 cups witch hazel extract
2 ounces rosewater
2 ounces aloe vera gel
1/2 ounce vegetable glycerin
a few drops of essential oil, if desired (such as peppermint or eucalyptus)Combine the ingredients in a jar, and shake to blend. Pat on the face after shaving. (adapted from www.care2.com/greenliving)



Natural soap is easy to make. There is a tremendous variety of good soap available, much of it produced locally by small crafters. Natural soap is made from either animal or vegetable fat, with an alkali such as lye. Mainstream soaps contain perfumes, dyes, mineral oil and other petroleum-based chemicals that clog pores, irritate, and dry out skin. Bar soaps generally contain fewer harmful ingredients than liquid soaps.

Antibacterial chemicals are now common ingredients in conventional soaps, particularly in liquid hand soaps. Many people pick up anti-bacterial soaps without even realizing it. Others choose anti-bacterial soaps and cleansers because advertising implies that using them will help protect their families against colds and flus. However, colds and flus are caused by viruses, and anti-bacterial soaps have no effect on them at all. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the US Centres for Disease Control say that simply washing your hands with any kind of soap is just as effective as using soap containing an antibacterial. Proper handwashing means rubbing hands under running water for 15 seconds. It is especially important before preparing food and after using the bathroom.

As well as being unnecessary, the chemicals in anti-bacterial soaps and cleansers are harmful. The two most commonly used are triclosan and triclocarban. Triclosan is a chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbon like PCBs or DDT. It is suspected of being an endocrine disrupting chemical, and it has been shown to harm the thyroid system in animals. Triclocarban is also a suspected endocrine disrupting chemical and has been shown to cause reproductive effects in animals. A 2006 Swedish study found high levels of triclosan in the breast milk of women who used personal care products containing antibacterials. Women who did not use personal care products with antibacterials also had antibacterials in their breast milk, but at lower levels.

The Canadian Medical Association has asked the federal Government to ban triclosan in consumer products because it may cause bacterial resistance — the development of bacteria that can only be killed by different or stronger doses of chemicals. When bacteria become more resistant, it becomes more difficult to kill harmful bacteria, like strep, staph and e-coli, when we really need to. The CMA resolution echoes concerns raised by the American Medical Association as far back as 2000, regarding the lack of studies on the health and environmental effects of triclosan’s widespread use.

It has also been shown that mixing triclosan in tap water can lead to the production of chloroform, a carcinogen and nervous system depressant. As well, triclosan can be transformed into cancer-causing dioxins in the presence of heat and sunlight. Anti-bacterial soaps may be more irritating and drying to skin than regular soaps.

Although our lists of best and good soaps include a wide range of soaps, it is not an exhaustive list, and you will find many small companies producing high quality soaps for sale at local markets or health food stores.

Sun Protection

There are two reasons why people use sun protection: to protect against sunburn, and to protection against skin cancer. As the ozone layer thins, it’s important to avoid sunburns and skin damage, especially for children, as too much sun is a risk for skin cancer.

Sunscreens work in two different ways. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing ultraviolet rays before they reach the skin’s surface. Mineral blocks work by physically blocking the sun’s rays from reaching the skin. There are questions about the effectiveness and the health impacts of both types of sunscreen.

The most common ingredients in chemical sunscreens are oxybenzone, cinnamates and retinyl palmitate. To achieve a high sun protection factor, they are often combined as active ingredients in chemical sunscreens. PABA used to be the most popular chemical absorber, but it proved to be so harsh that most manufacturers no longer use it or the PABA ester, Padimate O.

Oxybenzone, also listed as 4-MBC or benzophenone 3, is now the most widely-used sunscreen chemical. Because it can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, there are serious concerns about its safety. Not only can it disrupt the body’s hormones, oxybenzone can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. As a result, it shows up in the bodies of almost everyone who’s been tested. For some people, it also increases sensitivity to the sun.

Cinnamates, which are often used in waterproof sunscreens, are also a concern. They too can disrupt the body’s hormones, cause allergies and may be toxic to the immune system. Retinyl palmitate, a synthetic form of Vitamin A, is another popular sunscreen ingredient. Acording to a US Food and Drgu Administration study, retinyl palmitate is suspected of increasing skin cancer risk when skin is exposed to sunlight.

The most common mineral blocks are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These naturally occurring minerals are generally safer and more effective than chemical sunscreens. They create a barrier against sun damage by scattering or reflecting the ultraviolet rays of light, and they are less likely to penetrate the skin. However, the introduction and widespread use of nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens raises new concerns.

Nanoparticles are very small particles, a tiny fraction of the size of normal particles. There are concerns that, because of their tiny size, they have significantly different properties than their large scale counterparts. The use of nanoparticles in sunscreens and other personal care products is relatively recent. Few studies have investigated the safety of nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Friends of the Earth reviewed existing research and found that in test tube studies, nanosized zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can produce free radicals, which can damage DNA and cause cell toxicity, especially when exposed to ultraviolet light.

Most companies have adopted nanotechnology in mineral sunscreens so that no white residue shows on the skin after sunscreen is applied. Even many companies using natural and organic ingredients now use nanoparticles in their formulations. Nanoparticles are usually defined as being less than 100 nanometers, although toxic properties of manufactured nanomaterials have been observed at up to 300 nanometers, according to Friends of the Earth. When ingredients are listed on a label, there is no way of knowing whether an ingredient is nano-size. Some ingredient labels will say “micronized”. Although a micron is 1,000 nanometers, sunscreens with “micronized” ingredients generally contain the smaller nanoparticles less than 100 nanometers in size.

Other hazardous ingredients to avoid in all sunscreens are synthetic fragrances, which include phthalates and other hazardous chemicals, dyes, and parabens. Spray sunscreens should be avoided because aerosol sprays create small particles that are easily inhaled.

At this point, evidence indicates that sunscreens alone are not a reliable protection against skin cancer. Sunscreens do provide protection against sunburn. However, the incidence of skin cancer continues to rise, even as sunscreens are more widely used. Researcher Marianne Berwick, an epidemiologist at the University of New Mexico, found that people who use sunscreens seem to have a lower rate of squamous cell carcinoma, the least serious type of skin cancer, which is usually treated easily by surgery. She also found that sunscreen users seem to have a higher risk of melanoma, the more deadly skin cancer. Berwick believes this may be because that sunscreen users stay out in the sun longer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recommends that sunscreens not be the first choice, or the only way, of protecting yourself against the sun. The safest bet is to wear sunglasses, a hat and shirt, stay in the shade as much as possible, and even use a sun umbrella. Time your activities to avoid the sunniest times of day or year. For short periods in the sun, shea butter, cocoa butter, avocado oil and sesame oil all provide mild amounts of sun protection if you prefer to avoid commercial sun protection products.

Many factors, including your health history, skin type and whether you have to be outside in direct sun will determine personal choices about sunscreens. When sunscreens are needed, the best choice is a sunscreen with a mineral block but without nanoingredients although they are difficult to find. If you do use sunscreen products, it’s best to wash them off when you are inside.


Health Alert: Tanning beds and spray tans create an unnecessary health risk. A 2010 study by University of Minnesota researchers found that tanning beds increased the risk of melanoma for users by 74 per cent. Spray tans have been found to contain lead, mercury and arsenic, heavy metals which are toxic to the brain and other organs.


Lip Balm with Sun Protection


 Home-made AlternativesBeeswax Sunscreen 1 cup olive oil or natural oil
1 ounce beeswax
2 tablespoons pure zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (available in drug stores)Heat the oil over a low flame in a double boiler. Add the beeswax and stir until beeswax melt completely. Continue stirring and add the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide gradually while stirring. Put into a small container and cool.(adapted from www.iloveindia.com)