How To Find Safe Personal Care Products

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July 5, 2011

All moms want safe personal care products that are affordable, make their skin and hair look as if they weren’t up all night with the baby, and keep their children clean. That shouldn’t be too much to ask. With so many new studies coming out about the health risks from the chemicals found in our beloved products, finding a safe alternative is becoming more important and more difficult. So we’ve put together the below list of top five chemicals to avoid.

The ingredients used in personal care products are not required to be tested for safety before being sold in the U.S. In fact, more than 80 percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have never been adequately tested for safety (or purported product benefits) and government agencies have little recourse even when ingredients are proven health hazards.

On the other hand, you might not realize that there is also no legal standard for the “organic” or “natural” labels on personal care products. Many of the claims made by companies that make these products are simply marketing tactics often called “greenwashing.” They are taking advantage of the increased number of people seeking safer alternatives for themselves and their families.

It is frustrating for consumers to have to navigate through all the information, and misinformation, about the chemicals that go into our personal care products. Unless you have a background in chemistry, it is difficult to understand just what the product labels really mean, what all those ingredients really are, and how they may be harming your health.

There are many companies out there doing it right. Those that are transparent in their ingredient lists, proudly label what toxic chemicals they do NOT include, and welcome questions from consumers are providing that safer alternative.

The good news is that by avoiding just a few key toxic ingredients, you can greatly reduce your exposure to the toxic chemicals that can cause some very serious health problems for you and your family. Start slowly and consider eliminating just one chemical at a time to keep from getting too overwhelmed. Small steps forward really will have a great impact on your health and the environment.

Top Five Chemicals To Avoid:


Rarely listed on any ingredient list, but is found in many baby lotions and soaps. 1, 4-dioxane is a contaminant that is created during a manufacturing process, called ethoxylation, to make other ingredients less harsh.

Health concerns: 1, 4 dioxane penetrates the skin and is considered a probably carcinogen by the EPA. Also a known eye and respiratory tract irritant, and can cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys.

Look for: Look for ingredients that create the contaminant. These include myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth or any other “eth”; PEGs; ingredients with dashes followed by a number. You can also look for USDA Organic certified products which are free of 1, 4-dioxane.


Formaldehyde is found in many personal care products either as an ingredient or from a formaldehyde-releasing preservative.

Health concerns: Even low levels of formaldehyde exposure have shown to have toxic effects. This year formaldehyde was upgraded from a probable human carcinogen to a known human carcinogen. It causes cancer. It also causes asthma, dermatitis, damage to the nervous system, and is especially harmful to the developing child.

Look for: Formaldehyde, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, and quaternium-15.


Parabens are actually a group of four chemicals used as preservatives in a large number and variety of products. The CDC has detected parabens in almost all Americans surveyed.

Health Concerns: Parabens are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and are toxic to the reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. The greatest concern for many researchers is the estrogen-mimicking properties that increase the risk for breast cancer. In fact, in one small study, parabens were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied.

Look for: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.


Phthalates are used are used to bind fragrance and color to a wide variety of products. This is another toxic chemical that is rarely listed on ingredient lists, but is often there all the same.

Health concerns: Hormone disruption leading to early puberty in girls, impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, and genital defects and reduced testosterone production in boys; testicular cancer; infertility.

Look for: Any ingredient listed as fragrance or phthalate, as well as DEP, DEHP, dibutyl, or diethylhexyl. Be careful about “unscented” products as they often still contain a fragrance to mask the base odor.


Triclosan is an antibacterial pesticide used in antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, deodorant, and other products with antibacterial properties. Antibacterial soap has not proven any more effective at preventing infection than plain soap or water. Triclosan is wreaking havoc on wildlife as it accumulates in our waterways.

Health concerns: Triclosan disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones. It creates carcinogenic dioxins when mixed with chlorine, as is found in tap water. Low concentrations are even suspected of triggering antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Look for: Triclosan.

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