Toxic Ingredients Found in Most Products





Our skin is by far the largest organ and the cosmetic and personal-care industry is doing it great harm, using a number of common ingredients that are or can be cancer-causing agents (or just plain dangerous). Because the skin is permeable, such ingredients harm not only the skin itself, but can penetrate into the body, causing internal damage as well.

"Every day we use products that we think are safe - we assume the product has been tested and any dangerous ingredients labeled. The truth is, products are not always safe and manufacturers don't have to tell us so...".  A GAO (Government Accounting Office) document says that "....a cosmetic manufacturer may use an ingredient or raw material and market the final product without government approval."

In 1938, the FDA granted self-regulation to the cosmetics industry, allowing the industry to determine what they are putting in products, regardless of what tests may show. Most of the 25,000 chemicals used have not been tested for long-term toxic and systemic effects (affecting the entire body system). Many are outright toxins or contain toxic byproducts. According to Oregon Senator Roy Wyden, "Even if the FDA suspects that serious adverse health effects are caused by a cosmetic product, they can't require the manufacturer to provide test data to prove the product safety."

During our daily personal care regimen, most of us have exposed ourselves to more than 200 different chemicals, and often the same dangerous chemical in multiple products. A recent surge of media attention reveals new concerns about detrimental ingredients that are affecting our physical health. An article in USA Weekend says: "The EPA is increasing research on dozens of synthetic chemicals (pesticides, plastics, and industrial pollutants) that may be juggling your hormone signals. After reviewing nearly 300 studies, the EPA concluded that ingredients in shampoos, dyes, and other everyday products may be playing havoc with hormones that control reproduction and development".


How about so-called “natural” products?  Since there are no regulations about what is “natural”, the term is often abused and many such alternatives have the same dangerous ingredients as the products they claim to replace.  Consumers must be educated and aware.  Of the hundreds of toxic chemicals used in personal and skin care products, we have chosen some of the “Worst Offenders”.  If you learn about even these few and start reading ingredient labels, you can avoid some of the most serious carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals.  PLEASE TAKE ACTION NOW!!  The health and well-being of you and your family depends on it!


Alcohol ( Isopropyl ):  As a solvent and denaturant (A poisonous substance that changes another substance’s natural qualities), alcohol is found in hair color rinses, body rubs, hand lotions, after-shave lotions, fragrances, and many other cosmetics.  A petroleum-derived substance, it is also used in antifreeze as a solvent in shellac and diluted essential oils.  According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, ingestion or inhalation of the vapor may cause headaches, flushing, dizziness, mental depression, nausea, vomiting, narcosis, anesthesia, and coma.  The fatal ingested dose is one ounce.


DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine):  DEA and MEA are usually listed on the label in conjunction with the compound being neutralized, so look for names like Cocomide DEA or MEA, Lauraminde DEA, and so on.  These are hormone-disrupting chemicals known to form cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines.  They are almost always in products that foam, including bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps and facial cleaners.  On the show “CBS This Morning,” Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor of environmental health at the University of Illinois, said,  “Repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of two cancers – liver and kidney cancers.”  John Bailey, head of the cosmetic division of the FDA, says that the new study is especially important since “the risk equation changes significantly for children.”  Tests at the University of Bologna in Italy found TEA to be the most frequent sensitizer used in cosmetics, gels, shampoos, creams, lotions, etc.


FD & C Color Pigments:  According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients,  “Many (pigments) cause skin sensitivity and irritation…and absorption (of certain colors) can cause depletion of oxygen in the body and death.”  In Home Safe Home, author Debra Lynn Dadd says that “colors that can be used in foods, drugs, and cosmetics are made from coal tar.  There is a great deal of controversy about their use, because animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic.”


Fragrances:  Most deodorants, shampoos, sunscreens, skin care, body care, and baby products contain fragrance.  Many of the compounds in fragrances are carcinogenic or otherwise toxic.  “Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients.  Most or all of them are synthetic.  Symptoms reported to the FDA have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation.  Clinical observation by medical doctors has 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", author Debra Lynn Dadd)


Mineral Oil:  Used in many personal care products (Baby Oil is 100% mineral oil ! ).  This ingredient actually coats the skin just like a plastic wrap, disrupting the skin’s natural immune barrier and inhibiting its ability to breathe and absorb the Natural Moisture Factor (moisture and nutrition).  As the body’s largest organ of elimination, it is vital that the skin be free to release toxins.  But mineral oil impedes this process, allowing toxins to accumulate, which can promote acne and other disorders.  It also slows down skin function and normal cell development, resulting in premature aging of the skin.


Polyethylene Glycol (PEG):  This is used in cleansers to dissolve oil and grease as well as thicken products.  A number after “PEG” refers to its molecular weight, which influences its characteristics.  Because of their effectiveness, PEGs are often used in caustic spray-on oven cleaners, yet are also found in many personal care products.  Not only are they potentially carcinogenic, but they contribute to stripping the skin’s Natural Moisture Factor, leaving the immune system vulnerable.


Propylene Glycol (PG):  As a surfactant or wetting agent or solvent, PG is actually the active component in antifreeze.  There is no difference between what’s used in industry and what’s used in personal care products.  Industry uses it to break down protein and cellular structure (what the skin is made of), yet it is found in most forms of make-up, hair products, lotions, after-shave, deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste and is even used in food processing.  Because of its ability to quickly penetrate the skin, the EPA requires workers to wear protective gloves, clothing and goggles when working with this toxic substance.  PG’s Material Safety Data Sheets worn against skin contact because PG has systemic consequences such as brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities.  But there isn’t even a warning label on products such as stick deodorants, where the concentration is greater than that in most industrial applications.


Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES):  Used as detergents and surfactants, these closely related compounds are found in car wash soaps, garage floor cleaners, and engine degreasers, yet are even more widely used as major ingredients in cosmetics, toothpaste, hair conditioners, and about 90% of all shampoos and products that foam.  In the article “Dangerous Beauty”, Mark Fearer shares that, “In tests, animals that were exposed to SLS experienced eye damage, along with depression labored breathing, diarrhea, severe skin irritation and corrosion, and even death….according to the American College of Toxicology.”  Children’s eyes are also at risk:  Studies indicate SLS kept young eyes from developing properly by possibly denaturing (dissolving) the proteins and not allowing for proper structural formation.  This damage was permanent.”  Still other research has indicated SLS may be damaging the immune system, especially with the skin.  “Skin layers may separate and inflame due to its protein-denaturing properties.”  One of the most dangerous of all ingredients in personal care products, research shows that “SLS combined with other chemicals can be transformed into nitrosamines, a potent class of carcinogens that cause the body to absorb nitrates at higher levels than eating nitrate-contaminated food.”  According to an American College of Toxicology report, SLS stays in the body for up to five days.  Other studies show that SLS easily penetrates the skin and enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, the lings, and the brain.  This poses questions of its being a serious potential health threat through its use in shampoos, cleansers and toothpaste.


Urea (Imidazolidinyl) & DMDM Hydantoin:  These are just two of the many preservatives that release formaldehyde (called “formaldehyde donors”).  According to the Mayo Clinic, formaldehyde can irritate the respiratory system, cause skin reactions and trigger heart palpitation.  Exposure to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and loss of sleep.  It can also aggravate coughs and colds and trigger asthma.  Other possible side effects include weakening the immune system and cancer.  Formaldehyde-releasing ingredients are very common in nearly all store brands of skin, body and hair care, anti-perspirants, and nail polish.  A more complete list of products that contain formaldehyde can be found in the book by Doris J. Rapp M.D. titled, Is This Your Child’s World?


TRICLOSAN is the largest rage in the arsenal of anti-bacterial chemicals, included in detergents, dishwashing liquids, hand-washes, soaps, deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, creams, and even toothpaste.  In 1998, Americans snatched up $540 million of these products, without proof they even do what they claim (Good Housekeeping Institute Report,  Good Housekeeping Magazine, March 1999).


But is triclosan safe?  The EPA registers it as a pesticide, giving it high scores as a risk to both human health and the environment (US Environmental Protection Agency / Webpage  -, and the USP recently proposed a new monograph for the specific testing of triclosan.  It is a chlorinated aromatic, similar in molecular structure and chemical formulation to some of the most toxic chemicals on earth:  dioxins, PCBs and Agent Orange ( James Menoutis and Angela I Parisi-Menoutis.  Triclosan and its Impurities.  Technology Review Series  -  Quantex Laboratories).  Its manufacturing process may produce dioxin, a powerful hormone-disrupting chemical with toxic effects in the parts per trillion;  one drop in 300 Olympic size swimming pools ( website). Hormone disruptors pose enormous long-term chronic health risks because they interfere with the way hormones perform, such as changing genetic material or fostering birth defects.   (Debra Lynn Dadd.  1990.  Non-Toxic. Natural and Earthwise.  Jeremy P. Tarcher). 


Triclosan is a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans.  Externally, it causes skin irritation, but since “phenol can temporarily deactivate the sensory nerve endings….contact with it often causes little or no pain.”  (Linda Mason Hunter. 1980.  The Healthy Home.  Pocket Books).  Internally, it can lead to cold sweats, circulatory collapse, convulsions, coma and death.”  (Debra Lynn Dadd. 1992.  The Non-Toxic Home and Office.  Jeremy P. Tarcher). Stored in body fat, it can accumulate to toxic levels, damaging the liver, kidney and lungs and can cause paralysis, sterility, suppression of immune function, brain hemorrhages, decreased fertility and sexual function, heart problems, and coma.  (Debra Lynn Dadd. 1990. Non-Toxic Natural and Earthwise.  Jeremy P. Tarcher).


All these chemicals are persistent organic pollutants (POPs).  “They are chlorinated, persist in the environment, and accumulate to higher and higher concentrations with each step up in the food chain…Once absorbed into the body fat, it is almost impossible to eliminate POPs.  (World Wildlife Fund.  Reducing Your Risk:  A Guide to Avoiding Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals).  “Employing a strong anti-biotic agent such as triclosan for everyday use is of questionable value as it takes a shotgun approach to killing all microscopic organisms while destroying the beneficial bacteria in the environment and in our bodies.  These so-called friendly bacteria cause no harm and often produce beneficial effects such as aiding metabolism and inhibiting the invasion of harmful pathogens.”  (M. Angela McGehee, PhD. In Biology and Marine Sciences, Personal Correspondence).


Boston-based microbiologist Laura McMurray and colleagues at the Tufts University School of Medicine say that “Triclosan is capable of forcing the emergence of “superbugs” that it cannot kill.  And experiments have shown that it may not be the all-out germ killer scientists once thought it was….Using triclosan daily in the home  -  in products ranging from children’s soaps to toothpaste to “germ-free) cutting boards  -  may be unwise.”  (Maggie Fox.  Common Disinfectant Could Breed Superbugs.  Health and Science Correspondent).  “Public health officials have blamed the indiscriminate prescription of anti-biotics by doctors for the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.  The Tufts study suggests the recent widespread use of anti-bacterial agents in everyday products might have similar results.”  (Joseph B. Verrengia.  New Products Feared Breeding Tougher Germs.  AP Science Writer). 


Special Note on Chlorine:  Although chlorine isn’t found in personal care products, most such products don’t protect against chlorine’s damaging effects.  Exposure to chlorine in tap water, showers, pools, laundry products, cleaning agents, food processing, and sewage systems can contribute to asthma, hay fever, anemia, bronchitis, circulatory collapse, confusion, delirium, diabetes, dizziness, irritation of the eyes, mouth, nose, throat, lung, skin, and stomach, heart disease, high blood pressure, and nausea.  It is also a possible cause of cancer.  ("Is This Your Child’s World?"  Doris J. Rapp, M.D.)


Other Harmful Skin Care Ingredients Include:

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (Glycolic, Lactic, AHA, etc.), Aluminum, Benzophenone, Benzalkonium, Chloride, Butylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl urea, Ethylparaben, Methyparaben, Petroleum, Polyquatemiums, Prophlparaben, Polyvinylpyrrolidone.


**This information is compliments of Linda Chae  and  THE TOXIC FREE FOUNDATION**