Is it possible that the products we are using on our bodies might be causing more harm to our long term health than what we are eating? I say yes - unequivocally. That's why it's incredibly important to be aware of what we use in our cleaning and primping sessions, and be aware of these 13 important ingredients to avoid in personal care products.
Research by the Environmental Working Group shows that the average woman uses 12 products with 168 chemical ingredients daily, while men use 6 products that contain about 85 ingredients. All together, 12.2 million adults are exposed to ingredients that are considered known carcinogens every single day because of their personal care products. The common ingredients in lotions and potions are considered safe in small amounts. But our exposure is never small, and eventually that adds up. A lot.
If you wouldn't eat it, do you really want it on your skin? Just because you may not taste it when it goes on your skin, you are eating it - our skin is our largest organ and it absorbs everything we slather on it.
If you're looking to boost your health and your family's health, cleaning up your personal care products is a crucial place to start. Here are my top 13 ingredients to avoid in personal care products.
Ingredients to Avoid in Personal Care Products
Products that use it: Triclosan is an anti-bacterial and antifungal found in soaps, body washes, hand sanitizers, toothpaste and cosmetics.
Health Effects: Triclosan is linked to skin sensitivity, liver damage, hormone disruption and may cause cancer. Increasingly, research is showing that those antibacterial soaps aren't the miracle product everyone thought - the chemicals in them disrupt our microbiome (which is essential for gut health), impact antibiotic resistance and simply aren't more effective than regular 'ol soap and water.
Big Win On The Triclosan Battle
In the United States, the FDA has banned triclosan in soaps and body wash (products we 'wash off"), though it is still permitted in hand sanitizers and other applications. Hopefully other countries will follow suit.
Products that use them: Parabens are preservatives used in cosmetics, skin care products, soaps, cleaning products and baby products to extend shelf life.
Health Effects: Parabens can cause skin and allergic reactions, but they are most worrying for their impact on our endocrine system. Researchers have found that parabens collect in breast tissue and can stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. And it isn't just the ladies that need to be concerned - parabens can impact male reproduction too. Finally, parabens can potentially damage our DNA.
Products that use them: Phthalates are another preservative used in soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, beauty and skin care products, and cleaning products.
Health Effects: Phthalates are another group of chemicals that enormously impact our endocrine system, particularly reproduction and male fertility. They can alter sperm quality and sperm count, as well as damage the testes.
4. SODIUM LAURYTH (OR LAURYL) SULFATE (SLS)
Products that use it: SLS and other sulfates are lathering agents that make our soaps sudsy and frothy. It's used in a wide variety of soaps, body washes, beauty care products and cleaning products.
Health Effects: SLS can cause severe skin irritation and can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen. It can also build up easily in the brain, heart, lungs and liver.
Products that use it: This is an umbrella term for thousands of chemicals that are untested and potentially unsafe. Fragrance is used in soaps, shampoos, beauty care and skin care products, and cleaning products.
Health Effects: Fragrances trigger allergic reactions, respiratory issues like asthma, headaches and hormonal disruptions. You can read an extensive report on the health risks of fragrance, including assessments of popular products, right here. The Canadian version is here.
6. Propylene glycol
Products that use it: Propylene glycol is used for hydrating in soaps, shampoos, cleansers and other beauty products.
7. Coal Tar Dye
Products that use it: This colouring agent is used in dandruff shampoos, bubble bath, toothpastes and hair dyes
Health Effects: Coal tar dye is a known human carcinogen and is linked to allergic reactions, dermatitis, asthma attacks, headaches, nausea, fatigue, nervousness, lack of concentration, and a possible increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma and Hodgkin's disease.
8. DEA (diethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine) and MEA (monoethanolamine)
Products that use them: These solvents and emulsifiers are found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, shaving gels, bubble bath and skin creams
Health Effects: They can can cause allergic reactions, and may be linked to cancer.
Products that use it: Formaldehyde functions mainly as a preservative in shampoo, nail care, baby products, deodorants, toothpaste, cleaning products, hairspray and cosmetics.
10. Mineral Oil
Products that use it: Mineral oil is a byproduct of the petroleum industry and is used in liquid foundations, blush, skin creams and baby oil to make skin feel smooth.
Health Effects: It coats the skin like a plastic film, clogging pores and preventing the skin from eliminating toxins, which can lead to acne and other skin disorders. It may increase our cancer risk as well.
Products that use it: Talc absorbs moisture in baby powders, feminine powders and blush; it's also used as a lubricant on condoms.
Health Effects: Talc is linked to cancer, especially when inhaled or applied topically on our genitals. Scientific studies have shown that routinely applying talcum powder to the genital area may be linked to the development of ovarian cancer.
Products that use it: Aluminum is mainly used in antiperspirants to prevent sweating, and it's found in some cosmetics.
Health Effects: It affects central nervous system function and is linked to Alzheimer's disease.
13. Fluoride (Sodium fluoride)
Products that use it: Toothpaste, whitening agents and mouthwash
Health Effects: Fluoride accumulates in the body and can inhibit thyroid function, contribute to bone disease and is a known carcinogen.
What Should I Use Instead?
There are great alternatives to conventional personal care products. For homemade beauty care inspiration, you can check out these 20 edible beauty care recipes to get you going.
Personal care products should support our health, not cause more harm after we use them. It's simple to swap out toxic personal care products with natural alternatives. Start with one product at a time to ease the transition and work your way down the line. Once you make the switch, you'll be one step closer to good health.