12 Toxins to Avoid in Personal Care Products is a follow-up to “Greenwashing: Know your Ingredients” 

Are There Really Toxins to Avoid in Personal Care Products?

Personal care products are part of our daily self-care routines, and we commonly use them without hesitation. But what if you knew that those same products might actually be putting you and your family at risk?   These formulations are used directly on our skin and in turn their ingredients can be easily absorbed into our bodies where they come into direct contact with sensitive tissues and organs.

Granted when you look at a single application, the amounts of toxins in shampoo, conditioner and body wash are fairly negligible.  But we usually use many different products and are exposed to a variety of other environmental toxins in our air, water, food and other sources every day. Day after day, year after year our toxin load adds up!

Don’t Be Misled by Greenwashing Labels

Many of us are health-conscious consumers and tend to read the ingredient list on the prepared food products we purchase for our families.  We try and stay away from what we recognize as chemical additives and preservatives, choosing all natural or organic options when available.  Similarly, there is a growing awareness regarding the other products that we come into intimate contact with such as personal care products.

Due to the practice of greenwashing, we cannot rely on manufacturers’ labels that use terms such as “all natural” or “green” to determine which products are safe for our families.  Instead, the responsibility falls upon us to become educated about those ingredients that should be avoided.

In 2010, The David Suzuki Foundation published the results of a study that they conducted, a survey of chemicals in cosmetics (What’s Inside? That Counts). They looked for the so-called “Dirty Dozen”, a set of chemicals linked to health and environmental concerns. Of the thousands of personal care products that were surveyed, about 80% contained at least one of the chemicals of concern and more than half contained multiple such ingredients.

Toxins to Avoid in Personal Care Products

The chemicals of concern as chosen by that survey are suspected in the development of a variety of illnesses and have also been the focus of many governmental regulatory groups.  Becoming familiar with these groups of chemicals will allow you to make informed choices regarding what you choose to use in your family.


Triclosan is used as a preservative in a variety of cosmetics, cleansers and antiperspirants.  Although one may think that being an antibacterial agent is a good thing, this particular chemical can be absorbed through the skin and has been implicated in hormone disruption.


Siloxanes are silicone based so they work to soften and smooth skin and are used in cosmetics and moisturizers.  Unfortunately, they may also interfere with hormone function, may result in fertility issues at higher doses and have been linked to uterine tumors.

Parfum (Fragrance)

Parfum (Fragrance) is a nonspecific and vague term that can refer to a mixture of any number of thousands of chemicals without having to disclose the actual composition.  Many of these substances can cause allergies, skin reactions or aggravate asthma.


BHA and BHT are not only used in foods as preservatives but in personal care products as
well.  They are suspected in a variety of health issues including allergic reactions, reproductive and hormonal problems and even cancer.

Coal Tar Dyes

Coal Tar Dyes are derived from petroleum and used as color in cosmetics and hair products.  The primary concern with this mixture of chemicals is its potential to cause cancer.

Phthalates (DBP)

Phthalates (DBP) made news headlines when there was evidence linking these chemicals to liver and kidney failure in young children who were exposed to them by sucking on the toys or other products containing these substances.  They’ve since been banned in these products but can still be found in others such as nail polish. Phthalates can be absorbed through the skin and have been thought to also cause hormonal disruption, fertility issues and by enhancing the effects of other chemicals, may even result in genetic mutations.

Saudium Laureth Sulfate

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is what makes shampoos and other cleansers foamy.  This commonly found chemical can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may be linked to cancer.

Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives

Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives (sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, DMDM hydantoin, methanamine etc.) are used in many cosmetics.  These chemicals themselves can cause allergic reactions as well as skin and eye irritation.  Also, they can release formaldehyde, which is a known human carcinogen.


Parabens (methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben) are widely used as preservatives in cosmetics.  Of concern is the fact that they are easily absorbed through the skin and may be associated with hormonal and reproductive health problems as well as certain cancers.


DEA (cocamide DEA and lauramide DEA) are chemicals that make suds in shampoos, soaps and cleansers.  They have also been linked to liver cancer and pre-cancerous changes in the skin and thyroid.


Petrolatum is a mineral oil jelly and is used to add shine to hair and moisturize skin.  Unfortunately, it can also be contaminated with PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) which is not only associated with allergies and skin irritation but cancer as well.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)

PEGs (polyethylene glycol) are derived from petroleum and are used extensively in cream-based cosmetics to thicken and maintain moisture.  They too may be contaminated with the suspected human carcinogen 1.4 – dioxane and because they soften the skin, they make it easier for other potentially harmful chemicals to be absorbed.

Keep Up to Date with Other Toxins to Avoid in Personal Care Products

Keep in mind this list is by no means exhaustive.  There is very little known about the thousands of chemicals that we come into contact with on a daily basis let alone their effects following prolonged exposure or how they interact with each other and the resulting health implications.

It certainly is no easy task to keep track of all those ingredients to avoid and it may in fact be easier instead to actually recognize those components that we know to be natural.  And until there are universal regulations that require manufacturers to adhere to specific labeling and disclosure guidelines, we must take the role of being educated consumers very seriously in order to protect the health of ourselves and most importantly our families.

Image courtesy of photoexplorer / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


by Soania Mathur, MD

Dr. Soania Mathur is a family physician living outside of Toronto, Ontario who had to resign her practice as a result of her Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease a full twelve years after her diagnosis at age 27.  Now she is a dedicated speaker, writer, educator and Parkinson’s advocate. She speaks passionately about the challenges of adjusting physically and emotionally and the coping strategies available to patients.

Recently, Dr. Mathur launched a new company Hippylicious  (www.myhippylicious.com) which is dedicated to providing parents with all natural, non-toxic personal care products.