Today, we will discuss 20 common ingredients to avoid in personal care products.
Because the truth is, your daily toothpaste, deodorant, or body wash might actually be slowly killing you.
And the baby powder and baby shampoo you’re using probably contain chemicals that are known to cause serious illnesses – like cancer!
But you might be thinking:
Why did the FDA allow Toxic Ingredients in Personal Care Products?
The term “personal care product” is not defined by law.
Many of the so-called personal care products, including makeup, shampoos, skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, toothpaste, deodorants, and more, fall under “cosmetics.”
And under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA approval before going on the market.
Hence, the ingredients of many personal care products aren’t thoroughly tested for safety by the FDA before they are released to the public.
This is really scary.
Especially when you consider the fact that, on average, women use around 9 to 20 personal care products daily; men use anywhere between 5 to 10.
It would make you wonder:
How long have we been willingly poisoning ourselves through our personal care products?
And more importantly, what are the nasty chemicals that might have been building up in our bodies over the years?
Today, you will know the answers.
This article will discuss the 20 known toxic and harmful ingredients you should avoid in personal care products.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.
List of 20 Harmful Ingredients You Should Avoid in Personal Care Products
Parabens are synthetic chemicals that are used as preservatives and as antibacterial agents.
They prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus on personal care products.
Parabens are commonly used in shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, makeup, lotions, and other cosmetics.
Unfortunately, parabens are banned by the European Union as it has demonstrated to be carcinogenic.
Furthermore, parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, which is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity.
Parabens can appear as the following in personal product care labels:
- Any other ingredients that have “paraben” on it
(Find 100+ eco-friendly and non-toxic personal care products here)
Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas used in building materials and many household products.
However, you must be more familiar with the substance as an embalming fluid.
But did you know that the same substance is present in many face creams, moisturizers, body lotion, and soap?
Formaldehyde is known to be one of the Human Carcinogens.
It can also make your immune system go weak, which will make your body prone to diseases.
Moreover, formaldehyde can also cause respiratory infections, uneven heartbeat, fatigue, and headaches.
So how do you know that the personal care product you have right now contains this icky and harmful ingredient?
Look out for these ingredients on the product label:
- Formic aldehyde
- Methyl aldehyde
- Methylene glycol
- Methylene oxide
- Benzyl Hemiformal
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
- 1,3-dimethylol-5,5-dimethylhydantoin (DMDM hydantoin)
Quaternium-15 is a quaternary ammonium salt used as a surfactant and preservative in many cosmetics and industrial substances.
It is an ingredient you can often find in hair conditioners, hair styling products, creams, lotions, shaving products, eye drops, contact solutions, and household cleaning products.
Unfortunately, Quaternium-15 is a known skin toxicant and allergen.
It is also a possible eye irritant and a formaldehyde-releasing chemical.
To avoid this harmful personal care product ingredient, check the product label and look for:
- Benzalkonium chloride
- Benzethonium chloride
- Cetrimonium bromide
- Polyquaternium – followed by a number (i.e., polyquaternium-7)
Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the Earth’s crust.
Unfortunately, most red lipsticks today are found to contain harmful amounts of lead and lead compounds.
Lead can cause serious health problems in adults, including an increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage.
Exposure of pregnant women to high lead levels can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and low birth weight.
This ingredient is hazardous, especially to pregnant women and children under the age of six years old.
Other health problems associated with lead ingestion through lipstick are brain damage and behavior abnormalities.
Like lead, aluminum is a naturally occurring metallic element that is the primary ingredient in most antiperspirant deodorants and other personal care products.
It is an ingredient that “blocks” the sweat glands to decrease a person’s sweat.
Unfortunately, a study showed that aluminum poses serious health risks, including Alzheimer’s Disease and breast cancers.
Now, we know at this point you might be thinking:
“Isn’t everything can cause cancer these days?”
Well, we do agree with you.
However, would you also agree that a person’s chance of getting cancer increases significantly by using products with carcinogenic ingredients.
Let us hear your thoughts on the comment section below.
Fragrance (aka “scent” or “parfum”) is a blend of aromatic extracts from natural and synthetic ingredients.
It is used in many personal care products for women, men, and kids.
But did you know that the “fragrance” in your favorite personal product is not a single ingredient?
The truth is, most fragrances in personal care products are made with various undisclosed chemicals that can harm you and your family.
Fragrances have been linked to various health risks.
They are classified as allergens, hormone disruptors, asthma triggers, neurotoxins, and carcinogens that can pass from your skin and into the blood.
Without knowing the actual ingredients…
Your personal care product’s fragrance can lead to skin irritation, allergies, respiratory distress, dermatitis, and other health risks.
7. Color Dyes
There are commonly two types of color dyes in personal care products: Coal Tar Dyes and Synthetic Dyes.
These dyes are commonly used as a colorant in mascara, makeup, and dark-colored lipsticks.
Coal tar is a mixture of many chemicals derived from petroleum, and as you may have guessed, it is recognized as a human carcinogen.
Risks associated with coal tar dyes include severe allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches, nausea, fatigue, lack of concentration, and nervousness.
This is precisely why you should avoid drinking green beers during St. Patrick’s Day.
To avoid coal tar dyes, keep an eye for FD & C Blue no. 1 on the product ingredients.
Coal tar dyes may also be labeled as:
Meanwhile, synthetic dyes are labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number (e.g., FD&C Red No. 6, D&C Green No. 6).
8. SLS and SLES
Other harmful ingredients to avoid in personal care products are sulfates, commonly known as SLS and SLES.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are widely used as surfactants.
In simpler terms, they act as foaming agents in cleaning products and personal care products like laundry detergents, shampoos, soaps, body washes, and toothpaste.
And while there is no direct evidence linking SLS and SLES to cancer, they are known to irritate your eyes, skin, mouth, and lungs.
It is also widely believed to be a significant contributor to acne (especially cystic acne) around the mouth and chin.
Sulfates might appear in product label as:
- Sodium monododecyl sulfate
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- Dodecyl alcohol
- Sodium monolauryl sulfate
- Sodium dodecanesulfate
- n-dodecyl sulfate sodium
- Sodium coco-sulfate
- Hydrogen sulfate
- Sodium salt
- Sulfuric acid
- Monododecyl ester
Click here for SLS-free shampoos and conditioners that are also kind to the environment.
9. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
PEGs or Polyethylene Glycols are petroleum-based compounds widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers.
Many personal care products such as shampoos, lotions, and facial creams contain PEGs and petroleum-derived ingredients.
However, personal product care companies love to use PEGs on their products because they’re cheap, odorless, and never spoils.
To avoid this harmful ingredient when shopping for personal care products, keep an eye for:
- Propylene Glycol
- Mineral Oil
- Butylene Glycol
- Isopropyl Alcohol
Triclosan is a synthetic antibacterial ingredient commonly used in shampoos, soaps, laundry detergents, and disinfectant gels.
However, the Environmental Protection Agency registers triclosan as a pesticide and a highly toxic chemical to any living organism.
It is known as a cancer-causing chemical that disrupts hormones, affects sexual function, fertility, and may cause congenital disabilities.
The FDA has banned soaps and antiseptic products from using the ingredient.
Unfortunately, you can still find many personal care products today that contain triclosan.
And did you know that triclosan is also classified as chlorophenol and can cause acute and chronic toxic effects on aquatic organisms?
In personal care products, triclosan may appear as:
- Irgasan DP-300
- Lexol 300
- Microban (Triclosan alternative name in plastics and clothing)
Phthalates or phthalate esters are often added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity.
In particular, phthalates are commonly used as softeners for flexible plastics, like children’s toys.
This is why it’s horrifying that phthalates are also present in personal care products such as facial creams, toners, and sunscreens.
And just like parabens, phthalates are also banned in Europe because they are known to be toxins, endocrine disruptors, and pose a breast-cancer risk.
Several studies have found that phthalates might have some effects on hormones.
Two phthalate studies that attracted a lot of media attention were conducted by Shanna Swan, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Both studies focus on how phthalates exposure in pregnant women could potentially affect their unborn sons.
Personal care products that contains phthalates will have one of these on its label:
- DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
- DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
- DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
- DEP (diethyl phthalate)
- BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
- DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
- DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
- DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
12. Dioxane (1,4-dioxane)
1,4-dioxane is a carcinogen linked to organ toxicity.
It can be found in many personal care products today, including in many bath products for kids.
However, you won’t find dioxane written on a product’s ingredient labels.
This is because 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant created when product ingredients react to each other.
According to Safe Cosmetics, 1,4-dioxane is generated through a process called ethoxylation.
This is a process where ethylene oxide (a known carcinogen) is added to other chemical ingredients to make them less harsh.
For example, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is often converted to the less-harsh chemical Sodium Laureth Sulfate (the “eth” denotes ethoxylation) by mixing it with ethylene oxide.
Unfortunately, the conversion process can lead to contamination of this ingredient with 1,4-dioxane.
And if you really think about it, this just doesn’t make sense.
The solution to harsh ingredients in products is adding a carcinogen to it?
Anyways, other common ingredients that may be contaminated by 1,4-dioxane include PEG compounds and chemicals that have the clauses “xynol,” “ceteareth,” and “oleth.”
If you see any ingredients on the product that contain the letters “eth,” then that is an indicator of the presence of 1,4-dioxane.
- Polyethylene glycol
- Sodium laureth sulfate
13. Retinyl Palmitate
Retinyl Palmitate is a vitamin A derivative that you’ll see in some lotions, sunscreens, and creams.
This substance is also commonly advertised to have anti-aging properties.
However, a study published by the National Toxicology Program found that mice exposed to retinyl palmitate developed an alarming number of tumors after exposure to sunlight.
Furthermore, German and Norwegian governments have cautioned that retinol and other vitamin A ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products can be toxic.
What’s even worrying is that this substance is also found in baby lotions and shampoos!
If you want to avoid personal care products that contain this ingredient completely, look out for:
- Vitamin A
- Retinyl palmitate
- Retinyl acetate
- Retinyl linoleate
- Retinoic acid
14. Behentrimonium Chloride
Behentrimonium chloride is a yellow wax-like organic compound present in conditioners, hair dye, and mousse.
It works as a conditioning agent, emulsifier, and preservative agent in personal care products.
But it is commonly found in hair care products because it keeps your hair frizz-free, manageable and soft.
However, behentrimonium chloride is considered toxic in concentrations of 0.1% and higher.
It is also suspected to cause skin and eye irritations.
May appear in product labels as:
- Docosyltrimethylammonium chloride
- Docosyl-trimethylammonium chloride
Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines.
However, it is also present in cosmetics and personal care products such as facial creams and mascara.
Thimerosal can be readily absorbed through the skin.
They can accumulate in your body and may cause allergic reactions, skin irritation, or neurotoxic manifestations.
Now, before we move on, why don’t you pause right here for a moment.
Grab your facial products real quick and see if it contains thimerosal.
It may appear on the product label as:
- Ethyl (2-Mercapto Benzoato-S)
- Mercury, Sodium Salt
- Sodium Ethyl Mercuri Thiosalicylate
- Ethylmercury Sodium Salt
16. Butylated Hydroxyanisole
Butylated Hydroxyanisole or BHA is another ingredient to avoid in personal care products.
It is a waxy solid substance used as a preservative you can usually find in lipsticks, mascaras, and eye shadows.
The FDA considers butylated hydroxyanisole to be a GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe additive.
However, the National Toxicology Program classifies butylated hydroxyanisole as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” alongside formaldehyde and lead.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole is also included in The Proposition 65 List of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals known to cause cancer, congenital disabilities, and other reproductive harm.
This list is issued by OEHHA (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment).
This ingredient may appear on your care product label as any of the following:
- Butil Hidroxitolueno
- Butylated Hydroxytoluene
- Dibutylated Hydroxytoluene
17. Ethanolamine and Ethanolamine Compounds
Ethanolamines and ethanolamine compounds such as DEA (Diethanolamine) and MEA (Monoethanolamine) are personal care product ingredients commonly used as emulsifying agents, fragrances, and pH adjusters.
They are often found in soaps, shampoos, sunscreens, hair conditioners, dyes, lotions, shaving creams, and other personal care products.
However, diethanolamine is banned in the European Union as it has been linked to developing liver tumors, cancer, hormone disruption, and organ toxicity.
Meanwhile, airborne MEA is an irritant to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract.
These ingredients can appear on the product label as any of the following:
- DEA-cetyl phosphate
- DEA oleth-3 phosphate
- Cocamide DEA
- Cocamide MEA
- Lauramide DEA
- Linoleamide MEA
- Myristamide DEA
- Oleamide DEA
- TEA-lauryl sulfate
- Stearamide MEA
Triethanolamine is a highly alkaline substance used to balance the pH in various mascara, body lotions, and other cosmetics.
Put simply, triethanolamine stabilizes and increases the pH of products to improve how they feel and interact with your skin.
But despite its widespread use, triethanolamine is considered moderately dangerous and should never be used long-term.
The continuous usage of personal care products containing this ingredient puts you at risk of absorbing this toxic chemical to the immune and respiratory systems.
Meanwhile, people who are allergic to triethanolamine might experience short-term side effects such as watery eyes, itchy skin, and brittle hair.
How can you avoid contact with triethanolamine?
Avoid products that have any of the following ingredients:
- Alkanolamine 244
- CCRIS 606
- Caswell No. 886
- EINECS 203-049-8
- EPA Pesticide Chemical Code 004208
- Ethanol, 2,2′,2′-nitrilotris-
- HSDB 893
- NSC 36718
- TEA (amino alcohol)
- Thiofaco T-35
- Triethylamine, 2,2′,2”-trihydroxy-
19. DMDM Hydantoin
DMDM hydantoin is an odorless, white, and crystalline substance.
It works as an antimicrobial agent and preservative in many cosmetics and personal care products.
However, it is a formaldehyde-releasing preservative.
If DMDM Hydantoin is in your personal care product, there’s a good chance that it contains formaldehyde.
Moreover, DMDM Hydantoin is an irritant for eyes and skin, and while there’s no evidence that it is a carcinogen, formaldehyde is.
If you want to avoid this ingredient in any personal care product, look out for:
- 1,3-dimethylol-5,5-dimethyl hydantoin
- 1,3-Bis (hydroxymethyl)-5,5-dimethyl-2,4-imidazolidinedione butyl carbamate
- Dimethylol dimethyl hydantoin.
- Dantoin DMDMH
- Mackstat DM
- Nipaguard DMDMH
Talc (Talcum) is a powdered mineral present in many baby powders, cosmetics, and other skincare products.
It helps absorb moisture and acts as a drying agent, making it essential for keeping your skin dry, preventing rashes.
However, talc is a known lung irritant if inhaled in excessive amounts.
Worse, talc is also listed as a potential carcinogen.
A victim sued Johnson & Johnson, claiming that its talc-based powder had caused her ovarian cancer.
The company lost the case and paid the woman and her family more than $29 million.
So, is your baby powder talc-free?
While many personal care products contain harmful ingredients and toxic chemicals, they are already an integral part of our daily lives.
It would be near impossible to get rid of them.
Imagine taking a bath without soap or shampoo and brushing your teeth without toothpaste.
But with this article, we hope you are now familiar with the most common ingredients to avoid in personal care products.
So the next time you shop, you’ll know exactly which products you need to stop buying.
And if you know other harmful ingredients in personal care products that aren’t on this list, let us know, and we will add them here.