Ingredients to AVOID

INGREDIENTS YOU SHOULD AVOID : Most Common Toxic Chemicals
Found in Mass Produced Personal Care Products 

 · Acrylamide: This chemical is found in cosmetic foundations, face lotions, and hand creams. It has been linked to mammary tumors in lab research.

· Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40): see Isopropyl Alcohol (SD-40).

· Alkylphenol Ethoxylates: A group of surfactants that are used for their detergent or oil dispersing properties. This class of toxins is considered endocrine disrupters, which affect the hormonal, neurological, immune and reproductive systems of the body.

· Ammonium Xylensulfonate: This is a solvent used in nail polish. The toxicity is not yet known.

· Anionic Surfactants: Anionic refers to the negative charge these surfactants have. They can be contaminated with nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. Surfactants pose serious health threats. They are used in car washes, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers – and in 90% of personal care products that foam. Anionic Surfactants will be listed on labels as: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS); Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES); Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS); Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES); Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate; Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate; Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate; Potassium Coco Hydrolysed Collagen; TEA (Triethanolamine) Lauryl Sulfate; TEA (Triethanolamine) Laureth Sulfate; Lauryl or Cocoyl Sarcosine; Disodium Oleamide Sulfosuccinate; Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate; Disodium Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate.

· Benzalkonium Chloride: Highly toxic, primary skin irritant. See Cationic Surfactants.

· Butylated Hudroxyanisole (BHA):
Causes contact dermatitis.

· Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): Causes allergic contact dermatitis. Contains Toluene. See Toluene.

· Cationic Surfactants: These chemicals have a positive electrical charge. They contain a quaternary ammonium group and are often referred to as “quats”. These are used in hair conditioners and originated from the paper and fabric industries as softeners and anti- static agents. Prolonged use cause the hair to become dry and brittle. They are synthetic, irritating, allergenic and highly toxic. Oral ingestion can be lethal. Cationic surfactants are identified on labels as: Stearalkonium Chloride; Benzalkonium Chloride; Centrimonium Chloride; Cetalkonium Chloride; Lauryl dimonium hydrolysed collagen.

· Coamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine: This is a synthetic derivative of coconut oil and is used as a secondary surfactant.

· DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine): These toxins are used as emulsifiers or foaming agents. When they are combined with other chemicals they form cancer causing nitrates and nitrosamines. They are hormone disrupting chemicals. The National Toxicology Program (NTP), found in 1998, an association between the topical application of DEA and certain DEA–related ingredients and cancer in lab animals. These chemicals cause allergic reactions, are eye irritants and cause excessive drying of the hair and skin. These chemicals are restricted in Europe due to known carcinogenic effects. Samuel Epstein, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois, reports that repeated skin applications of DEA based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of Liver and Kidney Cancer. DEA will be listed in the following ways: Cocamide DEA, Cocamide MEA, DEA–Cetyl Phosphate, DEA–Oleath–3 Phosphate, Larramide DEA, Linoleamide MEA, Myristamide DEA, Oleamide DEA, Stearamide MEA, TEA–Luryl Sulfate, Triethanolamine.

· Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone: Silicone emollients are occlusive. That means they coat the skin, trapping anything beneath it. These compounds do not allow the skin to breathe; they are much like a plastic wrap suffocating the skin. These cause skin irritation.

· Dioxane: This is a chemical found in compounds known as, PEG, Polysorbates, Laureth, ethoxylated alcohols. A wide range of personal care products including shampoos, hair conditioners, cleansers, lotions, and creams contain detergents or surfactants such as ethoxylated alcohols, polysorbates , and laureths. These ingredients are generally contaminated with high concentrations of the highly volatile 1,4-dioxane, which is both readily inhaled and absorbed through the skin. The carcinogenicity of dioxane was first reported in 1965 and subsequently confirmed in other studies including The National Cancer Institute in 1978; the predominant sites of cancer are nasal passages and liver. Epidemiological studies on dioxane-exposed furniture makers have reported suggestive evidence of excessive nasal passages cancers. These avoidable risks of cancer in numerous personal care, besides other consumer products is inexcusable, particularly since the dioxane is readily removed from surfactants during their manufacture by a process known as “vacuum stripping”. This is a synthetic derivative of coconut oil and is used as a secondary surfactant.

· Dioxin: A carcinogen that is 500,00 times more deadly than DDT.

· DMDM (Hydantonin) and Urea (Imidazolidinyl), Diazolidinyl Urea: Commonly used preservatives (trade name Germall 115) that release formaldehyde. These chemicals cause skin irritation (American Academy of Dermatology) as well as irritation to the respiratory system. In many it can cause skin allergies (contact dermatitis), headache, chest pain, dizziness and depression. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) list the toxicology of these chemical substances as harmful by inhalation, ingestion and through
skin absorption. This toxin is 17.7% formaldehyde.

· Ethoxylated Surfactants: These are widely used in cosmetics as foaming agents, emulsifiers and humectants. As part of the manufacturing process the toxic chemical 1,4 dioxane, a potent carcinogen is generated. On labels they are identified by the prefix “PEG”, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyxyeth, or polyoxynol. See Dioxane

· FD&C Colour Pigments / Artificial or Synthetic Colours / Dyes: Synthetic colours are made from coal tar to make personal care products look “pretty”. Studies suggest the possibility that these chemicals are carcinogenic. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C followed by a colour and a number. For example, D&C Red 33 or FD&C Yellow 5.

· Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (causes cancer). Causes allergic, irritant or contact dermatitis, headaches and chronic fatigue. The vapour is extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat (mucous membranes).

· Fragrance: Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4000 separate ingredients, many toxic or carcinogenic. Symptoms reported to the FDA include headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discolouration, violent coughing, sneezing and vomiting, and skin irritation. Clinical observation proves fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, and irritability.

· Glycol Stearate: Widely used as a base in cosmetics and can cause allergic reactions.

· Imidazolidinyl Urea: The trade name for this chemical is Germall 115. Releases Formaldehyde, a carcinogenic chemical into cosmetics. Highly Toxic. See Formaldehyde.

· Isopropyl Alcohol (SD-40): This is a solvent derived from petroleum and is extremely drying and irritating to the skin. It will strip the skin’s natural immune barrier and accelerates the penetration of other harmful chemicals into the skin. It will promote brown spots and premature aging of the skin.

· Lanolin: Any chemicals used on sheep will contaminate the lanolin obtained from the wool. The majority of lanolin used in cosmetics is highly contaminated with chlorinated pesticides like DDT.

· Liquidum Paraffinum: An exotic sounding way to say Mineral Oil! See Mineral Oil.

· Methylisothiazolinone & Methylchloroisothiazolinone: These are synthetic preservatives used in place of Parabans.

· Methenamine: Made from ammonia and formaldehyde and is considered a culprit in skin irritations. These are derived from petroleum and coal. These chemicals coat the skin like plastic, clogging pores and decreasing the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins. These toxins accumulate and can cause acne and other disorders of the skin. They also induce premature aging by slowing cellular development.

Mineral Oil: petroleum derived hydrocarbons; used as inexpensive base in some products (less today that in the past). Is moderately comedogenic. Mineral oil may also interfere with normal perspiration and other skin functions.

· Nano-particle technology: The long term risks to the body have not been determined. Early studies indicate there are problems associated with this technology.

· Nitrosating Agents: The following chemicals can cause nitrosamine contamination, which have been determined to form cancer in laboratory animals. There are wide and repeated concerns in the USA and Europe about the contamination of cosmetics products with nitrosamines. It is wise to avoid products containing these chemicals: 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol; Cocoyl Sarcosine; DEA Compounds; Imidazolidinyl Urea; Formaldehyde; Hydrolysed Animal Protein; Lauryl Sarcosine; MEA Compounds; Quaternium – 7, 15, 31, 60, etc.: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate; Ammonium Laureth Sulfate; Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate; TEA Compounds.

· Nonylphenol: Is a surfactant of great concern because it mimics estrogen. It is found in some plastics, shampoos, hair colours and shaving creams.

· Parabans/Parabens (Methylparaban-Ethylparaban-Propylparaban-Butylparaban-Isobutyl Paraban), also known as Alkyl parahydroxy benzoates: These are synthetic preservatives used in most personal care products. Parabans have been found to have hormone-disrupting qualities, such as the ability to mimic estrogen. Currently, this is of major concern to researchers since parabans have been found in breast cancer tissue. Parabans penetrate the skin and appear in the blood.

· Parrafin Wax/Oil: Parrafin Wax is Mineral Oil Wax. Please see Mineral Oil.

· PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil: A solvent and plasticizing agent that has been shown to cause cancer.

· Petrolatum: This is used by cosmetics manufacturers because it is unbelievably cheap. This mineral oil and jelly can produce photo-sensitivity leading to sun damage. It interferes with the body’s natural moisturizing process leading to dry skin and chapped lips. Products containing petrolatum create and exacerbate the very conditions they claim to alleviate.

· Phthalates: This chemical is stored in the body fat where it can damage the kidneys, liver and reproductive organs, especially the developing sex organs in males. These are especially dangerous to pregnant women’s fetuses. It can also disrupt hormonal processes and increases breast cancer risk. These chemicals are widely used in beauty products such as lipsticks, hair sprays, perfume and nail polishes.

· Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): These synthetic compounds are used in many personal care products as a binder or a solvent. PEG is potentially carcinogenic and may cause allergic reactions. It may alter the skin’s moisture barrier, therefore leaving you more vulnerable to bacteria. These compounds are also commonly used in spray on oven cleaners.

· Propylene/Butylene Glycol (PG): This is used in personal care products as a moisture carrying ingredient. PG will strip the skin’s natural barrier and is easily and rapidly absorbed, leaving the immune system vulnerable. The PG used by the cosmetics industry is also used by the automotive industry in the manufacture of anti–freeze and automotive brake fluid. In 1992, the FDA proposed a ban on propylene glycol. Propylene Glycol may also be listed as Butylene Glycol and Ethylene Glycol.The EPA warns against contact with skin; however there is not a warning label on products such as stick deodorants, where the concentration is greater than in most industrial applications.

· PVP/VA Copolymer: This is a petroleum derived chemical used in hair sprays, wave sets, and other cosmetics. It can be considered toxic since particles may contribute to foreign bodies in the lungs of sensitive people.

· Quaternium–7, 15, 31, 60, etc: This chemical breaks down in products into formaldehyde and causes the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines under certain conditions. See Nitrosating Agents.

· Silicone Derived Emollients: Silicone emollients are occlusive – that is they coat the skin, trapping anything beneath it, and do not allow the skin to breathe (much like plastic wrap). Recent studies have indicated that prolonged exposure of the skin to sweat, by occlusion, causes skin irritation and blemishing. Some synthetic emollients are known tumour promoters and accumulate in the liver and lymph nodes. Look for Silicone derived emollients listed on ingredient labels as: Dimethicone; Dimethicone Copolyol; and Cyclomethicone.

· Sodium Laurel or (Lauryl) Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): This harsh detergent is found in car washes, engine degreasers, and garage floor cleaners as well as in over 90% of the personal care products. It is used for its foaming action. It causes eye irritations, skin rashes and allergic reactions. SLS breaks down the skin’s moisture barrier and easily penetrates the skin allowing other chemicals to easily penetrate the skin as well. When combined with other chemicals, SLS can be transformed into “nitrosamines”, a potent class of carcinogens. The American Journal of Toxicology states that SLS stays in the body up to 5 days. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural personal care products as “comes from coconut”. It is believed to cause hair loss and scalp irritation similar to dandruff.

· Sodium PCA: This is a naturally occurring substance in the skin; however the synthetic version used by many cosmetics companies dries the skin and can cause severe allergic reactions.

· Stearalkonium Chloride: This chemical is used in hair conditioners and creams. It can cause allergic reactions. It was developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener and is much cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulae than proteins and herbals. It is considered toxic.

Synthetic Colors: Whether synthetic colors are completely safe or mildly damaging in the long run is unknown. Since they serve no useful purpose, they are best avoided (except perhaps when avoiding them means foregoing an otherwise great product). They are labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number, e.g. FD&C Red No. 6 or D&C Green No. 6.

· Synthetic Fragrances: This is the leading cause of allergic reactions from cosmetics use and is possibly carcinogenic. These are usually petroleum based synthetics and can have as many as 4000 ingredients. The possible problems associated with synthetic fragrances are dizziness, skin irritation, hyperpigmentation and flu-like symptoms. Look for terminology such as “natural fragrance”.

· Talc: Talc is closely related to the potent carcinogen asbestos. Talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in the ovaries and lungs of cancer victims. For the last 30 years, scientists have closely scrutinized talc particles and found dangerous similarities to asbestos. Responding to this evidence in 1973, the FDA drafted a resolution that would limit the amount of asbestos–like fibers in cosmetic grade talc. However, no ruling has ever been made and today, cosmetic grade talc remains unregulated by the federal government. This inaction ignores a 1993 National Toxicology Program report which found that cosmetic grade talc, without any asbestos–like fibers, caused tumors in animal subjects. Numerous studies have shown a strong link between frequent use of talc in the female genital area and ovarian cancer. Talc particles are able to move through the reproductive system and become imbedded in the lining of the ovary. Researchers have found talc particles in ovarian tumors and have found that women with ovarian cancer have used talcum powder in their genital area more frequently than healthy women. Clearly with or without the asbestos–like fibers, cosmetic grade talcum powder is a carcinogen. Scientific studies have shown that routine application of talcum powder to the genital area is associated with a three–to–fourfold increase in ovarian cancer.

· Toluene: Poison! Danger! Harmful or Fatal if Swallowed. Harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Vapour Harmful! Flammable liquid or vapour. May affect kidneys, liver, blood system, or central nervous system. Causes irritation to skin and respiratory tract. Chronic exposure can result in anemia, decreased blood cell count and bone marrow hypoplasia. Liver and Kidney damage may occur. Repeated or prolonged contact has a defatting action, causing drying, redness, and dermatitis. Exposure to Toluene may affect the developing fetus.

· Triclosan: This is a very strong antibacterial preservative used in many personal care products. It is used to prevent infection, but according to microbiologist Laura McMurray and other researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine, “triclosan is capable of forcing the emergence of ‘superbugs’ that it cannot kill”. It is found in anti–bacterial soaps. It is registered as a pesticide with the FDA.


1. A Consumers Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients: Ruth Winter, 1994: Crown Publishers, Inc.

2. Health and Science Correspondent. Nutri Team Common disinfectant could breed superbugs: Maggie Fox, 08/19/98.

3. Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy – FDA Reform and Cosmetic Preemption:
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, 1997.

4. Beauty To Die For: The Cosmetic Consequence: Judi Vance, 2000 Excel Press.

5. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS): Informational sheets designed to provide workers with proper procedures for handling or working with a particular substance.

6. OCA List of 10 Synthetic Chemicals to Avoid in Body Care Products: T.J. Banes, 09/05/2004: The Indianapolis Star.

7. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: This is a coalition of public, educational, religious, labour, women’s, environmental and consumer groups whose goal is to protect the health of consumers and workers.

8. All Natural Beauty: Debbie Bilezikian, “Natural”: Sorting Through the Mess.