A big part of living a nontoxic lifestyle is avoiding harmful chemicals in personal care products. Just as we focus on buying organic food whenever possible, thinking about the daily products that your body comes into contact with is crucial to limiting toxic exposure, preventing disease, and helping you feel like your best on a daily basis. In this post, we are running through a cheat sheet of 12 common ingredients to avoid in your personal care products. This way when you’re shopping, you know exactly what to be on alert for!
It seems everywhere we turn these days there are more and more options for “paraben free” shampoo and “natural” toothpaste, but when you turn over a product and read the ingredient label, what shit should you actually avoid? You might see certain words and have no idea what they mean, let alone how they react in your body when they are absorbed into your bloodstream through the skin.
I’ve talked about why you should switch to clean beauty in this post here and even came out with a full Clean Beauty Guide to help walk you betches through this big transition. It’s so hard to narrow down a list of ingredients to avoid. But here are 12 common ones I’d recommend watching out for. Get the full list of 27+ most toxic ingredients to avoid in my Clean Beauty guide e-book!
12 Ingredients to Avoid In Your Personal Care Products
Usually listed as “parfum” and is a blend of specific chemicals. In fact, brands are not required by law to disclose what those chemicals are. Fragrance is in air fresheners and scented candles (ps I have a post on clean burning candles here), face wash, soap, lotion, makeup, and so much more.
Used as preservatives in products so they have a longer shelf life. Linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and also reproductive toxicity.
3. Sulfates (Sodium Lauyrl/Ether, SLS/SLES)
Sulfates used to be used as industrial degreasers. But nowadays, they are used to make soap foamy.
4. Phthalates (Dibutyl Phthalate)
These are plasticizers and are present in fragrance, perfume, deodorant, and also lotions. Phthalates are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, as well as liver, kidney, and lung damage.
5. PEG/ceteareth (polyethylene glycol, polysorbate)
PEG is a penetration enhancer so products absorb into the skin better. It’s often contaminated with known carcinogens (aka cancer causing stuff) 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide.
6. Triclosan and Triclocarbon
Triclosan and triclocarbon are in antibacterials like hand sanitizers. AGAIN linked to cancer and endocrine disruption.
7. Toluene/ BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
Toluene is usually found in exfoliants, perfume “fragrance”, nail polish, and hair products. In addition, it is carcinogenic and harmful to the reproductive system, thyroid function, and has shown to have neurotoxin effects.
8. Formaldehyde, Formalin/ formaldehyde releasers
More carcinogens! This is a big one. Formaldehyde is in nail polish, hair dye, fake eyelash glue, shampoo, etc. It’s also a home building chemical. Be on watch for words like bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15. They are cosmetic preservatives that slowly form formaldehyde.
Talc is similar to asbestos. You will find talc in baby powder, eye shadow, blush, deodorant, etc. In fact, Talc is linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory problems. So if you’re not familiar with the J&J Baby Powder Cancer Case Study you have got to give it a read asap.
10. Petroleum (Mineral Oil, Petroleum distillates, Petrolatum, Petroleum jelly)
Mineral oil is literally leftover shit from oil rigs. Petroleum is in baby oil, moisturizer, styling gel, and the list goes on. It creates a film that impairs the skin’s ability to release toxins. Also watch out for petroleum distillates in mascara.
11. Coal tar (aminophenol, diaminobenzene, phenylenediamine)
Another known carcinogen. As you can probably tell throughout this post, all this stuff is cancer causing. Coal tar is in dry skin treatments, anti-dandruff shampoo, etc. On ingredient labels, it looks like color plus number. Ex: FD&C, Red No. 6
12. Heavy Metals
Heavy metals are things like lead, mercury, arsenic, aluminum, zinc, chromium, and iron. Included in lipstick, nail polish, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner, foundation, sunscreen, moisturizer, etc. You will not find heavy metals on ingredient labels because they are only contaminants and not an actual ingredient. In this case, look for ingredients listed as lead acetate, chromium, thimerosal, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, and sodium hexametaphosphate.
(It’s important to note that some metals play important roles in normal functions of the body. For instance, iron is necessary for blood oxygenation. However, when these metals accumulate there is research to suggest they may have serious negative effects.)
Don’t worry! There are SO many amazing resources out there that help simplify making the transition to less toxic products. Start with getting the full list of 27+ most toxic ingredients to avoid in my Clean Beauty guide e-book! This e-book also includes a step by step transition checklist, a list of trustworthy clean beauty retailers, and my favorite go-to safe brands.
So, have you spotted any of these chemicals in your personal care products?