The Toxic List

There are many toxic ingredients lurking in your beauty products. The laws governing these products are so limited that known cancer causing chemicals are legally allowed in US-sold products. Many of these chemicals have been banned in other countries, but our government is lagging behind.

We need to be our own advocates for our health and that of our families.  An informed consumer is a smart consumer.  Let your money do the talking and choose nontoxic products. Here is a list of known toxic chemicals that are widely used in personal care products.

I will constantly be changing and updating this list to reflect the most current information available. It is a mind numbing list with lots of unpronounceable words.  Don’t feel that you need to read it through in its entirety.  I am putting it here and will be linking posts to it when I am referring to these chemicals.  Feel free to peruse at your leisure!

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a detergent and surfactant. It is what makes your shampoo lather. This means it reduces the surface tension by increasing its spreading and wetting abilities. It allows for more even penetration and dispersion.  It is one of the most common causes of chronic allergic skin reactions, such as rashes and dermatitis. It is considered a penetration enhancer, which means it has such small molecules that it is able to cross the membranes of your body’s cells.  This allows other toxins to enter the cells once they are compromised.  It can be listed as SLS,  ammonium laurel sulfate (ALS), monododecyl ester sodium salt sulfuric acid, sodium dodecyl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), sodium salt sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt, A13-00356, akyposal SDS, aquaria ME, or aquaria methyl.

Parabens are a group of compounds that are known as endocrine disruptors because they mimic human estrogen.  They are used as preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria. They are absorbed through the skin and tiny pores around our eyes. They are linked to dry eyes, reproductive toxicity, early puberty, and breast cancer. Many scientific studies have shown that parabens have been widely found in urine samples and in the tissue of human breast tumors. They take on many forms in the ingredient list such as butylparaben, ethylparaben, and propylparaben.

Propylene Glycol  and Polyethylene Glycol are known as “nontoxic antifreeze.”  They are  actually different from ‘ethylene glycol’ which is what is actually used in antifreeze.  PG and PEG are a mixture of compounds that have been bonded together.  They are used as emollients and emulsifiers and they alter the structure of the skin to help other chemicals penetrate more deeply. They are linked to respiratory problems, eczema, allergic reactions, and damage to your central nervous system. They hide in the list as 1,2-dihydroxypropane, 2-hydroxypropanol, methyl ethyl glycol, 1,2-propanediol, propane-1,2-diol, and PEG.

Phthalates are used to soften plastics and to make ingredients adhere to surfaces. They are known to disrupt the body’s hormones. They have been linked to birth defects, asthma, obesity, and fertility issues.  Studies have shown a link to an increase in risk for premenopausal breast cancer. They have been banned in toys, but are still allowed in perfumes and skin care products.  They can be listed as dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), and benzylbutyl phthalate (BzBP).

Aluminum Powder is a toxic metal that is used to give mascara its color.  It is a known neurotoxin that interferes with cellular and metabolic processes in the central nervous system (think brain).  It has been linked to breast cancer and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. It can affect your body’s ability to excrete mercury. A build up of mercury and aluminum in your body can result in symptoms as mild as irritability and fatigue to headaches, hearing loss, hallucinations and even death. It can be listed as LB Pigment 5 or pigment metal.

Retinyl Acetate is a synthetic form of vitamin A that changes cell function and signaling and can even cause mutations in your genes. It has been linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity.

1, 4-dioxane is a chemical byproduct that is a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor. It is generated through a process called ethoxylation, in which ethylene oxide, a known breast carcinogen, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh.  You won’t find it listed on a label, but it contaminates other ingredients such as PEGs, triclosan, sodium laurel sulfate, chemicals that end in -xynol, ceteareth, and oleth and is commonly found in non organic tampons.

Benzalkonium Chloride is a preservative that is well documented to be toxic specifically to the eye area.  It can be disguised as BAK, quaternium-15, or guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride.  Try to say that after a glass of wine!

Triethanolamine and Diethanolamine are emulsifiers, surfactants, and pH adjusters. They are known carcinogens that are already banned in Europe.  They can be listed as TEA and DEA. As an added bonus, nitrosamines are impurities that are often found in TEA and DEA.  They are carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and can lead to organ system toxicity.

Triclosan is a toxin used to decrease bacterial and fungal growth in products and is associated with hormone disruption and antibiotic resistance.  It has recently been banned by the FDA from soap, but it can still be found in toothbrushes, deodorant, cutting boards, cosmetics, toys and plastic food containers.  It may appear on labels as triclocarban, Mircoban, Biofresh and Cloxifenolum.

Formaldehyde is another form of preservative. It is a known carcinogen linked to liver toxicity, skin cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, and skin irritation. It won’t be listed clearly on the label (surprise!).  What are listed are the formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.  Look for DMDM, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, methenamine, bronopol, hydantoin, or hydroxymethylglycinate.

Coal Tar Dyes are artificial coloring agents. They are derived from burning coal. They are known carcinogens, particularly skin tumors, and cause neurological damage. They are linked to hyperactivity, ADHD, and learning difficulties in children. They can be listed as P-phenylenediamine, naphtha, benzine, carbon black, acetylene black, lamp black, thermal black, or by a 5 digit color index number.  They may also be listed as FD&C or D&C followed by color name and number.

Phenoxyethanol is the new paraben.  Companies have learned that consumers are becoming more informed about the toxins hidden in our makeup, particularly parabens, so they are switching to this preservative and stabilizer.  It can lead to reproductive and developmental complications, skin irritation, and central nervous system toxicity.  It is particularly toxic to infants and can affect their nervous system function.  It may show up as Phenoxyethanol, 2-Phenoxyethanol, Euxyl K® 400 (mixture of Phenoxyethanol and 1,2-dibromo-2,4-dicyanobutane), or PhE.

Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, is a derivative of petroleum and is used as a moisturizing agent.  It is very thick and can literally suffocate our healthy living cells by covering them up and preventing oxygen and circulation to occur.  If it is properly refined, it does not have any health concerns. However, often it is not refined fully and can be contaminated with the toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs.  PAHs are known carcinogens.  The US does not have any requirements on petroleum refinement or the amount of PAH in personal care products. They are listed as Petrolatum, Petroleum Jelly, Paraffin Oil, Mineral Oil, and White Petrolatum (refined version and safe for use).

Fragrance is a general term that is allowed on labels and is often used to mask the smell of other toxic compounds. Companies are not required to disclose what  chemicals constitute the fragrance, so this could be anything. Sometimes, phthalates are disguised under this ubiquitous ingredient.  Beware of the generalized ingredient listed as fragrance, perfume, essential oil blend, or aroma.

Octinoxate filters UV-B rays from the sun.  It is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen and can also affect thyroid function. It can be listed as Octinoxate, o methoxycinnamate (OMC), parsol, parsol MCX, parsol MOX, escallop, and 2-ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate.

Butylated Compounds are used as preservatives.  They are linked to endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, cancer, respiratory irritation, and developmental and reproductive toxicity.  Look for BHA or BHT on the label.

Siloxanes are used to smooth and soften the skin.  They are hormone disrupters which interfere with fertility and libido.  They will be listed as -methicones.

Acrylates act as adhesives.  They are linked to cancer, organ toxicity, skin, eye and throat irritation, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cellular and neurological damage. Look for ethyl acrylate: Acrylic acid ethyl ester, ethyl propenoate, EA; ethyl methacrylate: ethyl methacrylate, ethyl ester, methacrylic acid, ethyl ester, ethyl 2-methyl-2-propenoate,EMA;methyl methacrylate: Methacrylate monomer, Methyl ester of methacrylic acid, methyl-2-methyl-2-propenoate, MMA

Great websites to check out for resources are safecosmetics.org, ewg.org, and breastcancerfund.org.

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