14 Toxic chemicals to avoid in skin care and hair care products (including organic!)

shampoo-manDo you know that manufacturers can put practically any chemical they want into skin care and hair care products, even if it is a hazardous chemical listed in the RTECS database of toxicity and even if it is considered a toxic waste chemical by the EPA? 90% of the ingredients in these products have not been assessed for safety by the government or even by the cosmetics industry’s own safety panel. The FDA allows all sorts of chemicals to be used in these products, including chemicals that are known carcinogens and that are linked to developmental/reproductive toxicity, nervous system disorders, allergies/immunotoxicity, liver failure, etc.

Think twice about what you’re rubbing into your skin or scalp if your products include any of the following ingredients:

1. Cocoamide DEA (diethylalomine) TEA, MEA,– detergent in most shampoos, moisturizers and more Studies also show that DEAs (including cocamide DEA) directly inhibits fetal brain development in laboratory studies by blocking the absorption of choline, a nutrient required for brain development and maintenance.

2. Propilene Glycol - industrial antifreeze – in deodorant, shampoos, shaving gels, and moisturizers.

3. Sodium lauryl sulfate and flouride garage floor cleansers, detergents – in shampoos and toothpastes.

4. Benzaldehyde (in perfume, cologne, hairspray, laundry bleach, deodorants, detergent, Vaseline lotion, shaving cream, shampoo, bar soap, dishwasher detergent).

  • Narcotic
  • Sensitizer
  • Local anesthetic
  • CNS depressant
  • Irritates the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs and GI tract
  • Causes nausea and abdominal pain
  • May cause kidney damage

5. Benzyl acetate (in perfume, cologne, shampoo, fabric softener, stickup air freshener, dishwashing liquid and detergent, soap, hairspray, bleach, after shave, deodorants)

  • Carcinogenic
  • Linked to pancreatic cancer
  • Can be absorbed through the skin causing systemic effects

6. Benzyl alcohol (in perfume, cologne, soap, shampoo, nail enamel remover, air freshener, laundry bleach and detergent, Vaseline lotion, deodorants, fabric softener)

  • Irritates the upper respiratory tract
  • Causes headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and drop in blood pressure
  • CNS depressant
  • Death in severe cases from respiratory failure

7. Ethanol (in perfume, hairspray, shampoo, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid and detergent, laundry detergent, shaving cream, soap, Vaseline lotion, air fresheners, nail color and remover, paint and varnish remover)

  • Is on the EPA Hazardous Waste list
  • Irritates the eyes and upper respiratory tract
  • Causes initial stimulatory effect followed by drowsiness, impaired vision and ataxia
  • Causes central nervous system disorder

8. Ethyl acetate (in after shave, cologne, perfume, shampoo, nail color, nail enamel remover, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid)

  • Is on the EPA Hazardous Waste List
  • Narcotic
  • Irritates the eyes and respiratory tract
  • May cause headache and narcosis
  • May cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to the liver and kidneys

9. Linalool (in perfume, cologne, bar soap, shampoo, hand lotion, nail enamel remover, hairspray, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, Vaseline lotion, air fresheners, bleach powder, fabric softener, shaving cream, after shave, solid deodorant)

  • Narcotic
  • Causes respiratory disturbances in some cases leading to death
  • Causes central nervous system disorder

10. Methylene Chloride (in shampoo, cologne, paint and varnish remover)

  • Banned by the FDA in 1988
  • Is on the EPA Hazardous Waste list
  • Carcinogenic
  • Causes headaches, irritability, fatigue and tingling in the limbs
  • Causes central nervous system disorder

Are you sure that organic cosmetics is safer than the conventional varieties? Not necessarily. When shopping for organic cosmetics there are specific ingredients that should not be on the label. These are:

11. Grapefruit Seed Extract. It derives its antimicrobial properties not from grapefruit seed, but from toxic chemicals, primarily benzethonium chloride, and to a lesser extent from triclosan and parabens.

12. Cocamidopropyl Betaine. It is toxic to the immune system and can cause dermatitis and other allergic reactions.

13. Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein. Anytime you see something that is hydrolyzed there is a hidden source of MSG that is absorbed into your bloodstream when it comes in contact with your skin.

14. PEG – Studies have shown that any ingredient that contains PEG in its name can be contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical 1,4-dioxane.

Unfortunately, these hazardous chemicals are going to remain quite legal in the use of personal care products for many years to come, as manufactures care about their convenience and profit, not about your health. But you do not have to expose yourself to toxic chemicals! Protect yourself by learning the truth about the products that you use (you can find a lot of useful info at Cosmeticsdatabase), and switch to products made with safer ingredients.

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14 comments to 14 Toxic chemicals to avoid in skin care and hair care products (including organic!)

  • Dan Boise

    Great read! Thank you….I will make sure to watch for those products….

  • Chiropractor Saint Paul

    very good its interesting article i really enjoyed alot its too much informative and helpful Thank you

  • Rosebelle

    What an eye opener on these ingredients! I have switched over to using organics for some time now and love the results!! I noticed how much little my hair fall out after I started using organic shampoos compared to the non-organic ones that I used in the past.

  • FLT

    so what i found to so interesting, is Melaleuca’s claim to have natural products with no hazardous ingredients. they say that their products are safe, yet they have these ingredients in them. can anyone enlighten me on why i should continue to purchase these products?

  • Lindsey Whitehead

    So, which brands are free from all these chemicals? Anyone know any really good moisturisers that don’t have these evils in them?

    • Natalia Golubkoff

      Hi Lindsey, I love “green” moisturizers from Pangea, Weleda, Dr. Hauschka, Green Beaver, Himalaya, Aubrey Organics, Earth Science. Cheers :)

  • Mona

    Very highlighted and informative essay, thank u for awaring us from such chemical but these chemicals are all most present in every product at least one of them is present . Can u tell us few product for dry skin, thin rough hair .. All products should be free from harsh chemical , thank you i’ll be great help if u rply my comment

  • A scientist

    (If you are reading this, then congratulations to the company / blog-writer for being brave and democratic to allow all views to be shared.)

    I am sorry to say, but this article is terribly unscientific and fundamentally flawed. As a manufacturer of green cosmetic products, the vast amount of scaremongering information published is just that. People talk about chemicals without realising the entire universe including their own bodies is 100% chemical. It is just going back to the dark ages to talk in these terms.

    It is true that Grape Seed Extract contains parabens and that is important to point out as Organic companies make huge profits from scaremongering that parabens are dangerous. In fact there is little agreement in the scientific community that parabens are dangerous. I therefore only wish to underline that comment because the whole organic movement is based on scare tactics and misinformation (usually by unintentional).

    The reality is that companies would never want to harm their customers – why do people think they would. “for profits?” well there is as much profit in selling product with so-called safer ingredients. Its total nonsense that manufacturers are out to harm their customers. Real people. Real scientists dedicate their lives to making great products. It is just ridiculous that the public would believe such nonsense.

    Lastly, where there is some valid debate (science is a debate on evidence not hysteria)on the safety of chemicals eg. parabens, companies do need time and clarity from regulators. Its not easy to service dozens of international markets based on the musing of ill-informed beauty journalists that jump from one scare story tot he next. Formulae (due to safety legislation) take years to modfy and manufacture.

  • A scientist

    last point

    i take scientific exception to the comments on the jobs of detergents like sodium laurel sulfate, where the article states that it is used as a garage floor cleaner. Why is this relevant? is it only put in to scare and confuse and whip up misunderstantding. With organic companies, its there to sell their own wares.

    SLS is often hyped as a car engine degreaser as well as a garage floor cleaner. Why not say it is used to wash the bodies of dead and decaying rabid dogs? Or it is used to wash up contaminated sea water from oil spills?

    It is a detergent. It cleans things by being attracted to both oil and water. Just like any soap or washing power or washing up liquid. All these products contain the identical detergent chemicals.

    Propylene glycol is used as an antifreeze because it doesn’t freeze at the temperature of water yet it mixes with it. Whats the problem with that? Jojoba oil could be used as an anti-boiling agent but you are not scared of that. Steam is a cleaner?

    I give up!

  • I see the scientist’s point, sometimes it feels weird to see the exaggeration as a marketing tactic of some organic companies. Yet, I’m not naive enough to believe companies only care for their consumers – they of course value them, try to understand and reflect their needs, but they all define success in their P&L tables. Nor I do understand the statement about chemicals intelligent scientific people use- Of course everything is made up of chemicals, do these people think others don’t know this? What is meant in these articles are the chemicals with possible toxic effects on the body!!! I do refuse to be the guinea pig of the industry and wait until the law makers and regulators collect enough data/evidence and overcome the companies and their lobbyists for the maximized profit, efficacy and minimized cost! As a chemical engineer, an ex-marketing person who worked years in personal care industry in multinational companies and now a health coach working towards my MS in Nutrition, I would opt out most of the chemicals mentioned here and thank Natalia for spreading the info. So there would be more investigating consumers out there to push the caring companies and regulators forward for faster actions!

  • Hari Ohm

    i actually use shielo’s hydrate line of shampoos (which are sulfate free) to wash my hair. It doesnt have any of those harmful ingredients. I used to have the worst hair, and now I ALWAYS get complements when using the shielo shampoo. Worth the price. . .

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