Common Hazardous Ingredients in Personal Care Products (Page 4 of 4)

Copied with permission from:  Environmental Health Association, Nova Scotia


Natural soap is easy to make and today 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, and an alkali such as lye. Mainstream soap contains perfumes, dyes, mineral oil and other petroleum-based chemicals that clog pores, irritate, and dry skin. Seventy-six percent of liquid soaps and 30% of bar soaps now contain anti-bacterials.

Many people pick up anti-bacterial soaps without even realizing it. Others choose anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners because advertising implies that using them will help protect your family against colds and flus. But colds and flus are viruses, and anti-bacterials have no effect on them at all.
In fact, anti-bacterials soaps and cleaners are an unhealthy choice for several reasons.

  • In addition to being unnecessary, they expose us to harmful chemicals. The two most commonly used anti-bacterial chemicals are triclosan and chloroxylenol (or PCMX). Triclosan is a suspected immunotoxicant, and a suspected skin or sense organ toxicant. Triclosan is classified as a high volume chemical: over a million pounds are used annually in the US. Triclosan is a derivative of the herbicide 2,4-D. Triclosan creates dioxin, a carcinogen, as a by-product. A Swedish study found high levels of this bactericide in human breast milk. Chloroxylenol is also a suspected immunotoxicant and skin or sense organ toxicant, as well as a gastrointestinal or liver toxicant.
  • Not all bacteria make people sick. Some are beneficial. Anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners kill both beneficial and harmful bacteria. By killing the beneficial ones, they actually leave us more vulnerable to the harmful
    ones we encounter. Children especially need exposure to some germs, to develop their immune systems.
  • Scientists are concerned that the widespread use of anti-bacterials contributes to the development of resistant bacteria, ie bacterial that will only be killed by different or stronger doses of chemicals. So when we need to kill harmful bacteria, like strep, staph and e-coli, it will be more difficult.
  • Anti-bacterial soaps may be more irrititating and drying to skin.

The US Center for Disease Control says that anti-bacterial soaps are not necessary. They recommend that the simplest and most effective thing people can do to reduce the spread of infectious disease is to use effective handwashing, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Proper handwashing means rubbing hands under running water for 15 seconds.

Sun Protection

With the thinning of the ozone layer, protection from the sun’s rays has become more important. There are two kinds of sunscreen – one works as a physical block, the other is a chemical block. The best known physical blocks are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, naturally occurring minerals more effective than some chemical sunscreens. They work as a barrier against sun damage.

Chemical blocks work by absorbing ultraviolet rays before they reach the skin’s surface. PABA used to be the most popular sunscreen but it proved to be so harsh that most manufacturers no longer use it. Newer chemical sunscreens use benzophonones and cinnamates. Few studies have been published on the safety of chemical suncreens and their use is controversial. One study showed that significant amounts of oxybenzone, a common sunscreen ingredient, appeared to penetrate the skin.

Two University of California scientists believe that the rise in skin cancer is linked with increased use of chemical sunscreens. They say chemical sunscreens offer a false sense of security resulting in excessive sun exposure. A study by the European Institute of Oncology shows that most people do not apply enough sunscreen to reach the level of protection indicated on the label. They say, in fact, an SFP-50 sunscreen applied at a typical less-than-recommended rate yields a practical SPF of only 2.

After evaluating studies on sunscreen use and cancer, Marianne Berwick, an epidemiologist at the Memorial Sloan-Kittering Cancer Centre in New York concluded there is no evidence that sunscreens actually prevent skin cancer. In an article published in Preventative Medicine, Dr. G. Ainsleigh proposes that sunscreen use causes more cancer deaths than it prevents. He says more cancer deaths could be prevented by regular but moderate sun exposure instead of relying on the heavy use of sunscreens.

A new study from University of Zurich in Switzerland examined six commonly used chemical sunscreens for hormone-disrupting activity. Scientists discovered that five of the six chemicals, including benzophonones and cinnamates, seemed to mimic estrogen and recommended more studies to look at possible long-term effects. The Cancer Prevention Coalition, headed by Dr. Samuel Epstein, lists cinnamates and benzophonones as hormone disruptors.

Some studies suggest sunscreen interferes with the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D and can cause hives and contact sensitivity.

Until all of the evidence is in, it would seem prudent to cover up, or minimize sun exposure between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. in the summer. Limit sunbathing and choose a mineral-based sunblock.

Conventional sunscreens can also contain fragrance, dyes, mineral oil and other petrochemicals.

Home-made Alternatives

Oatmeal and Honey Mask
1/2 cup oatmeal
2 tablespoons honey

Facial Masks and Steam Baths

These products can contain numerous toxic ingredients including synthetic fragrance and carcinogenic coal tar dyes (FD&C colours), parabens (hormone disrupting preservatives), propylene glycol (neurotoxin, irritant, liver and kidney damage), and PEG (may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane).

Home-made Alternatives
Dab well steeped black tea onto skin.

Deodorant and Antiperspirant

Deodorants and antiperspirants both fight odour. Deodorants work by inhibiting the growth of bacteria which cause odour. Antiperspirants actually stop perspiration by blocking the pores. In the United States, deodorants are classed as cosmetics. Antiperspirants are considered over-the-counter drugs because they change the way the body works. Much controversy surrounds the use of aluminum in most conventional antiperspirants. Aluminum may be involved in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. 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. Triclosan, an anti-bacterial agent used in many deodorants, can be absorbed through the skin and has caused liver damage in some lab animals. Some health advocates argue that blocking pores prevents the body from eliminating toxins and can cause ill-health, but this theory remains unproven and controversial.

Other toxic ingredients include: FD&C colours, BHT, DEA. TEA, quaternium 18 (a sensitizer that can cause rashes beyond the area of application.) Talc is also used in many products, although if used in roll-on and solid products it is not a problem. Aerosol products containing talc and other toxins can be inhaled. Prolonged inhalation of talc can cause inflammation of the lungs, bronchial irritation and the development of fibrous lesions.

 Home-made Alternatives
Epsom Salts – follow package directions

Milk Bath – Add one quart of milk to tub, or 2 cups of instant powdered milk.

Soothing Bath – Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to bath water.

Bath Oils – any of the following
1/2 tsp. coconut oil
1 –2 tsp. purified castor oil

Nail Products

Nail products are among the most toxic cosmetics on the market, and nails can absorb the chemicals used in polishes, removers and cuticle creams. Toluene, a neurotoxin, is one of the most dangerous ingredients in nail polish. It can comprise 50% of the ingredients in some brands. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pollution Protection and Toxics says that breathing large amounts of toluene for a short period of time can harm kidneys, liver and the heart. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the US Department of Health and Human Services says high exposure to toluene can occur from home use of nail polish. Formaldehyde, a carcinogen and sensitizer, is also found in nail products. Some companies have removed these two toxins but another commonly used chemical has emerged as a hormone disruptor – DBP, a phthalate. This estrogen mimicking plasticizer may accelerate sexual development in young girls. Animal studies have found DBP is responsible for birth deformities like cleft palate and undescended testicles.

Nail Polish Remover

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

Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails are bad news all around, and there are no less-toxic alternatives besides your own well-groomed nails. There are numerous short and long-term health effects from the chemicals used in these nails. 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. 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.

Skin Products

Astringents and Toners

Toners and astringents are designed to get rid of any lingering traces of cleanser and dead skin cells. Toners are supposed to work by closing the pores and balancing the skin’s pH. But many toners produce that tight feeling by using placticizers like sorbitol and polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) that can remain in the body for months. Astringents control oily skin with high levels of alcohol that can dry even the oiliest skin immediately after use. But used daily, astringents actually increase oil production. Astringents can contain salicylic acid and boric acid, both toxic when used on skin. Other common ingredients are talc, synthetic colours, fragrance and preservatives.

Home-made Alternatives
Mix equal amounts of water and organic apple cider vinegar.

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
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.

Chamomile Astringent for Acne
1 cup witch hazel
20 drops tea tree oil
1/2 cup chamomile tea

Mix oil and witch hazel in a glass bottle. Add chamomile tea.

Bath Products

Conventional bath oils contain synthetic fragrance, as well as colours, alcohol and lanolin which can all cause allergic reactions. Other chemicals, like TEA and sodium lauryl sulfate, can form carcinogenic nitrosomines. 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 and parabens. They have been implicated in many cases of bladder, urinary tract and kidney infections. Soaking in hot water increases skin permeability and exposure to harmful ingredients.

 Home-made Alternatives
Epsom Salts – follow package directions

Milk Bath – Add one quart of milk to tub, or 2 cups of instant powdered milk.

Soothing Bath – Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to bath water.

Bath Oils – any of the following
1/2 tsp. coconut oil
1 –2 tsp. purified castor oil
1-2 tsp. almond oil or other oil of your choice


To moisturize dry skin, soak in tub for at least 10 minutes, then add oil to bath water. This will help retain moisture in skin.

Body and Massage Oil

Conventional body oils can contain chemical fragrance, dyes and preservatives. They are often based on mineral oil, a petroleum derivative which can clog pores.

Home-made Alternatives
Any plain vegetable or nut oil can be used.

In a glass jar, combine 30 grams of fresh or dried herbs with 2 cups of oil (almond, jojoba, avocado, safflower, etc). Set out in sun on a warm day or warm on low heat for several hours. Strain. Or, add 4 to 8 drops of essential oil to 1 litre of oil. Let stand for 2 weeks, shaking daily.

Body Powder

Conventional body powders are based on talc which is carcinogenic when inhaled. Powders may also contain chemical fragrance and dyes. A 1982 study published in Cancer found that women who use talc on their genitals and sanitary napkins had a three-fold risk of ovarian cancer.

Home-made Alternatives

Deodorizing Powder
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cornstarch
1/2 cup arrowroot powder
8 drops peppermint essential oil

Combine baking soda, cornstarch and arrowroot. Add essential oil and stir well. Let sit 24 hours minimum. 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 oil

Mix 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.


Commercial cleansers rely on alcohol and petroleum products to dislodge dirt and dead skin. But 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. Cleansing creams and lotions may also contain TEA, MEA, FD&C colours (carcinogenic), hormone disrupting parabens, carcinogens, antibacterials, irritants and sensitizers.

Home-made Alternatives

Oatmeal and Honey Mask
1/2 cup oatmeal
2 tablespoons honey

Mix together. Leave on face at least 30 minutes.

Astringent Blemish Mask
Drop oil into clay powder, mix well. Add vinegar. Make a smooth paste. Immediately spread on face and leave for 15 to 30 minutes.

Meringue Mask
2 egg whites
1 Vitamin E capsule

Combine ingredients and whip until stiff. Spread on face, allow to dry, rinse.

Facial Mists

Facial Mists can contain synthetic fragrance, carcinogenic FD&C colours, and carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting preservatives. These chemicals can be inhaled into the lungs and transferred to the blood stream.

Facial Scrubs

Conventional facial scrubs contain carcinogenic coal tar colours (FD&C), harsh alcohols and detergents, DEA, TEA, sodium lauryl sulfate, fragrance and preservatives like hormone-disrupting parabens.

Lip Gloss/Balm/Protector

Mainstream lip gloss and balm may contain synthetic waxes and oils. Lip balm commonly contains phenol, a poisonous chemical also used as a pesticide, that can be absorbed by the skin. Reactions include vomiting, nausea, convulsion, paralysis, and even death. Very small amounts can cause rashes, swelling, pimples and hives. Lip gloss and balm also may contain plasticizers like microcrystalline wax and polyisobutane, an allergen. Phthalic anhydride is made from naphthalene, the pesticidal active ingredient in moth balls. Short-term skin exposure to naphthalene can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion and convulsions, and is linked to liver and kidney damage. Lip gloss for children often contains toxic ingredients like carcinogenic coal tar colours, parabens which are hormone-disrupters and allergens, and artificial flavour.

Sunscreens are frequently added to lip products, especially the benzophenones. Benzophenones and cinnamates are hormone disruptors and may cause hives and contact sensitivity.

Home-made Alternatives
Plain vegetable or nut oil.

Lotion, Cream, Moisturizer

Lotions are basically a mixture of water and oil, with an emulsifier added to keep the product from separating. PEG is the most common emulsifier in hand lotions. It can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen. TEA is also used and has been found to be a frequent sensitizer, and cause of contact dermatitis. TEA, DMDM hydantoin and quaternium-15 can release carcinogenic formaldehyde. Parabens are commonly used as preservatives. Lanolin is often found in lotions. An animal product, it can be contaminated with pesticides and some people are sensitive to it.

Hand lotions are often just thicker versions of facial moisturizers. These petroleum-based products are unlikely to do little more than glue down dry flaky skin calls with oil, unlike plant-based products which can provide long-term benefits to skin.

Shea Butter is especially good for dry skin and skin high in melanin (colour).



Petroleum-based lubricants can cause sensitivity in some individuals.

Shaving Products

Conventional shaving creams are usually based on synthetic chemicals that have carcinogenic, hormone disrupting and irritating potential. Toxic ingredients include: TEA, DEA, solvents, mineral oil, propylene glycol, DMDM hydantoin, lanolin, FD&C colours, synthetic fragrance and a host of other ingredients. PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone) a contact allergen, is often used to give the cream or gel body.

Home-made Alternatives
Use skin cream in place of shaving cream.

Aloe Vera Gel – Replace shaving cream 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.

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