The Dirty Half Dozen: The Top 6 Chemicals to Avoid in Beauty & Personal Care Products

Who would have thought that those pretty floral, pink, leaf strewn or hip and cool silver bottles in your bathroom would contain carcinogens and could impact your fertility?  Oh, but it has to be safe – they test all of this stuff, right?  Wrong-O!  Over 800 chemicals are introduced in the United States each year and of those, only a very small percentage are adequately tested, if they are tested at all.  If you want to stay healthy, avoid cancer, reduce allergies, avoid fertility or other endocrine problems, and protect your kids, read on.  These are my top 6 Chemicals to avoid in personal care and beauty products.  Read the packaging carefully.  Even seemingly eco-friendly companies like Burt’s Bees produce products that contain some questionable ingredients.

1. “Fragrance” can be one or more of 200 chemicals. Companies don’t have to disclose the actual components of each fragrance, under the guise that their fragrances are trade secrets.  Fragrance has been known to cause many side effects, including headaches and allergic reactions.  In addition, fragrance frequently contains phthalates which are suspected endocrine disrupters (which means they can cause estrogen related cancers) and worse they could make you fat, as high levels are associated with metabolic disruption and obesity.  High levels of phthalates in children have also been linked to ADHD.  To be fair, phthalates are found in much higher concentrations in things like PVC (don’t ever buy a plastic shower curtain again) and the main source of phthalates comes from fatty animal foods.  The bottom line is that if it says fragrance, it’s not your friend.  If you simply must have fragrance, then look for fragrance from natural sources such as essential oils.

2. Methylparaben, or anything ending in “paraben.” These preservatives act like estrogen in the body, throwing off hormonal balance. Parabens have been shown to accumulate in cancerous breast tumors.  Since 2000, thirteen studies have shown that parabens display estrogenic activity.  Other studies have also shown that parabens have accumulated in breast cancer tissue.  Although paraben supporters claim that the body breaks the chemical down quickly, these studies show that complete parabens accumulated in the tumors, not being broken down at all.   It has been proven that excess estrogen does lead to reproductive cancers (like breast and uterine cancer), and it has been proven that parabens act like estrogen and accumulate in the body.  The dots haven’t been officially connected by the FDA, but the case for parabens looks pretty grim.  The European Journal of Cancer Prevention reported that “Frequency and earlier onset of antiperspirant/deodorant usage with underarm shaving were associated with an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis.”  It is possible that the parabens (and other chemicals) in the antiperspirant are to blame for this.

3. Tetrasodium EDTA is a preservative that’s made from the known carcinogen, formaldehyde and sodium cyanide.  It is also a penetration enhancer, meaning it breaks down the skin’s protective barrier, going right into your bloodstream. Many companies trying to be “natural” will use Tetrasodium EDTA instead of parabens to preserve their products.  Some believe that Tetrasodium EDTA is just as bad.

4. Diazolidinyl Urea readily breaks down in the product or on the skin and releases formaldehyde. It’s an endocrine disruptor, a possible neurotoxin, a known immune system toxicant, and has a possible link to cancer. Even supposedly natural companies such as Shikai and Blue Lizard use the ingredient.

5. Propelyne Glycol, among other things, is a penetration enhancer, meaning it’s a carrier for other chemicals, bringing them into your skin and your bloodstream. It’s a known skin irritant, it has been shown to cause cancer in lab tests, a possible endocrine disruptor, and a possible neurotoxin. You can find it in over 3000 products, including lotions, deodorants, sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner and body washes.

6.  The Evil Twins:  Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.  SLS is a known skin irritant, it pollutes the groundwater and is toxic to marine life, it is actually a pesticide and an herbicide (they won’t let organic farmers use it because of its polluting properties), it emits toxic fumes when heated, it has corrosive properties and has been found in engine degreasers and garage floor cleaners, it is a penetration enhancer.  It is not recognized as a carcinogen, but any ingredient containing “eth” is made using a process called ethoxylation the byproduct of which is 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen.

With special thanks to Stephanie Greenwood of Bubble & Bee for some of the useful information below.  Bubble & Bee’s products contain none of the Dirty 6.

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5 Responses to The Dirty Half Dozen: The Top 6 Chemicals to Avoid in Beauty & Personal Care Products

  1. Thanks for this. I have recently been trying to ‘green’ my beauty products and didn’t really know what I was looking for. You have made my change easier!

  2. Pingback: Girls Hitting Puberty at Age 7 – Is Fake Estrogen the Culprit? | This Green Earth

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