Are You Aware Of The Toxins In Your Everyday Products?

15 Jun 2010 | Skincare Recipes

Watch this.

So, do you still think that all the products on the supermarket shelves are safe for use after watching this clip by The Everyday Activist?

I admit I was naive. I took for granted that whatever that are on the shelves are safe for me and that I need not worry a bit. It was only until I bought the book, Gorgeously Green by Sophie Uliano. It brought to my awareness the toxic chemicals that exist in our daily personal care products and cosmetics. That includes body and hair shampoos, facial cleansers, moisturizers, body powders, perfumes, shaving cream and a lot more other products. Yes. Men are not spared either. No one is.

It is not that I didn’t notice the ingredient list before. I’m not a chemist, I don’t understand what those ingredients are and I cannot even pronounce the names. Can you? And I am just plain lazy to even question about them. Since they are on the shelves for sale, they should be safe for use, aren’t they?

I was terribly wrong.

Our skin is the largest organ in our body and it is extremely permeable. The skin absorbs whatever it is that we apply on it. How else do you think pain relief creams and Chinese ointments (跌打药) work? It permeates through the skin, gets absorbed into the body and heals the injured area. The chemicals in our daily cosmetics get absorbed into our body in exactly the same way.

Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic (cancer causing), neurotoxin (affect our nervous system), mutagenic (mutate DNA), hormone disruptive, and can cause reproductive issues and a chain of other awful effects.

When you use facial cleansers, shampoos, body wash, moisturizers, after shave cream and other cosmetics on your skin, all good and bad ingredients including toxic chemicals get absorbed and enter our bloodstreams.

Reports have shown that toxic substances are found in the body of adults. It was also discovered that toxic chemicals find their way to the wombs as well, threatening the development and life of the foetus. The Environmental Working Group has tested that up to 232 chemicals are found in newborns. Apart from the products that we use, toxins also get into our body from the food that we eat and the polluted air that we breathe. Personally it was depressing as I research further into this toxic lifestyle that most of us bought into without knowing.

Some chemicals are invented to improve our lives as well as our environments. Some are necessary to aid in medical analysis. So not all man-made chemicals are bad but that’s a separate post altogether.

However, there are some synthetic chemicals that are simply toxic to humans and our environments. Although I believe our body is miraculously capable of self-healing, but with the daily intoxication, the body would eventually give up and start breaking down.

I believe that knowledge is power. To live in a safe environment and lead a healthy life, we need to question and know what is good and what is bad. It is only when we wake up to the fact that we have been fed with toxins and start to demand for natural organic products, only then will the supply of harmful products start to decease.

For a start, you can check the labels on your personal care products and avoid the lists of toxic chemicals. In her book Gorgeously Green, Sophie Uliano did a comprehensive list and I think it is a good starting point.

What to avoid

The content below in italics is excerpted from the book Gorgeously Green by Sophie Uliano:

Red Alert


The Environmental Working Group suggests that consumers should be on high alert for the following seven ingredients (listed in order of danger significance):

  1. Coal Tar: Used in dandruff shampoos and anti-itch creams, coal tar is a known carcinogen. Coal tar-based dyes such as FD&C Blue 1, which are used in toothpastes, and FD&C Green 3, which is used in mouthwash, should be avoided.
  2. Fragrance: This ubiquitous term is used to mask hundreds of ingredients, including phthalates, which disrupt the endorine system and could cause reproductive and developmental harm.
  3. Hydroquinone: Commonly found in skin lighteners and facial mosturizers, it is a neurotoxin and is allergenic.
  4. Aluminium: Often used in eye shadow as a color additive and also used in deodorants, it is listed as carcinogenic, toxic, and mutagenic.
  5. Triclosan: This chemical is used in almost all antibacterial products, including soap, toothpaste, and cosmetics. Triclosan is often contaminated with dioxins, which are highly carcinogenic and can also weaken immune system, decrease fertility, and cause birth defects.
  6. P-Phenylenediamine: This is the chemical that has given a bad name to regular hair dye. It can damage your nervous system, cause lung irritation, and cause severe allergic reactions. It’s also listed as 1,4-Benzenediamine; p-Phenyldiamine and 4-Phenylenediamine.
  7. Lead And Mercury: Lead could appear in toothpaste as a naturally occurring contaminant of hydrated silica. It is a neurotoxin that also appears as lead acetate in men’s hair dye. Mercury is found in a cosmetic preservative called thimerosol.

Orange Alert

Some of the following chemicals can create the formation of carcinogenic chemicals called nitrosamines, so I strongly suggest avoiding them:


  • Cocamide DEH
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Triethanolamine (TEA)
  • Diethanolamine (DEA)
  1. Mineral Oils: They coat the skin like plastic, so it cannot breathe. They can slow down the skin’s natural functions and cell development, resulting in premature aging. Mineral
  2. Parabens (methyl-, ethyl, propyl, butyl, isobutyl-): Parabens are chemical preservatives that have been identified as estrogenic and disruptive of normal hormone function. Estrogenic chemicals mimic the function of the naturally occurring hormone estrogen, and exposure to external estrogens has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.
  3. Phthalates: These horrid little synthetic chemicals are known to cause a broad range of birth defects and lifelong reproductive impairment in lab animals exposed during pregnancy and after birth. They are also hormone-mimicking chemicals, many of which disrupt normal hormone processes, raising concerns about implications for increased breast cancer risk. They are often hidden under the term “fragrance.” Dibutyl and diethylhexyl have been banned in the European Union but not in the United States.
  4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES): This ingredient is a foaming agent that is derived from coconut oil. It is used in brake fluid and antifreeze and also in a huge variety of skin care products, including toothpaste, shampoo, bubble bath, and soap. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding SLS, aas many feel that it is not only a proven skin irritant but also could be carcinogenic. The Environmental Working Group considers it to be a carcinogen; others say that it is prone to contamination by a probable carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane, which is used for its foaming ability. Many other groups blame the hype on the natural skin care industry, who want to make a buck or two flogging their SLS-free products. I’m not a great risk taker when it comes to my health, so I’m choosing to go SLS-free for now.
  5. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): PEG is a potential carcinogen that is typically used as a grease-dissolving cleaner and a thickener for skin care products. These chemicals are deemed to be so toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency that workers have to wear protective clothing when handling them. They can easily penetrate your skin, causing brain, liver, and kidney malfunctions. Also look out for propylene glycol, isopropyl alcochol, and butylene glycol.
  6. Formaldehyde-Producing Preservatives: Some preservatives can become formaldehyde donors, in that they release small amounts of formaldehyde into the skin. Many preservatives are cellular toxins. Formaldehyde can cause many health issues including joint discomfort, chest pains, and chronic fatigue. Examples are hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and diazolidinyl urea.
  7. Talc: Found in baby products, underarm deodorants, and cosmetic powder products, talc contains chemical that is similar to asbestos and can increase the risk of certain ovarian cancers.
  8. Acrylates and Methacrylates: Found in nail products, these products can cause dermatitis.
  9. Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40): This additive is very common in cosmetics. It is a drying agent that strips off the outer layers of skin, exposing you to bacteria and other toxins. It can also promote brown spots and even accelerates aging – ugh!
  10. Tocopherol Acetate: This may sound innocent, but it is a synthetic version of vitamin E, which is a suspected carcinogen and causes dermatitis.
  11. Phenonip: This is a preservative blend that contains the aforementioned parabens: phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, proylparaben, and isobutylparaben.
  12. Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats): The oddly named “Quats” are used as preservatives. They are the primary cause of contact dermatitis. They will be listed on your ingredients as benzalkonium chloride, cetrimonium bromide, quaternium-15, and quaternium 1-29.
  13. Cationic Surfactants: These little guys can be found in your hair conditioner. They were originally used int he paper industry but, ironically, can make your hair dry and brittle after a long-term use. They are also allergenic and toxic. Look out for these ingredients: stearalkonium chloride, benzalkonium chloride, cetrimonium chloride, cetalknoium chloride, and lauryl dimonium hydrolyzed collagen.
  14. Benzyl Alcohol: Look out for this on your ingredient list, as it is a petrochemical that can be a severe irritant to your eyes and your respiratory system.
  15. Silicone Derived Emollients: These chemicals coat your skin like plastic wrap – and even worse, can accumulate in your liver and lymph nodes, which can promote the tumor growth. These emollients include: dimethicone, dimethicone copolyol, and cyclomethicone.
  16. Carbomer 934, 940, 941, 960, 961C: This chemical is used as a stabilizer and thickener in creams, cosmetics, toothpaste, and bath products. It is a known allergen that causes eye irritation.

What are the ingredients on your product labels?

Are you familiar with the previous lists of chemicals? If not, knowing them just might be your first step towards a toxic free lifestyle. Too ambitious a thought? Yes. But it’s a start.

I remembered immediately checking my body shampoo label after going through the lists. Out of 32 ingredients in just a bottle of this body shampoo, a number of chemical names matched. Some of them are carcinogenic and some are allergens. Gosh… and to think that I have used them for years.

Below is the ingredient list on my bottle of body shampoo, as well as some information that I have gathered for each ingredient.

  1. Water: Alright, this is safe
  2. Sodium Laureth Sulfate: A foaming agent known to cause eye or skin irritation.
  3. Glycerin: Safe for use. Usually derived from plants, a humectant that pulls moisture to the skin.
  4. Cocamidopropyl Betaine: A potential irritant for those whose skin is highly sensitive to chemicals. Harmful to aquatic organisms.
  5. Cocamide DEA: Used to thicken up the shampoo, body wash etc. It is suspected to cause cancer & miscarriages.
  6. Coco-Glucoside: Has cleansing and foaming properties. Raises no health concern.
  7. PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil: Safe for use, subjected to concentration and dosage.
  8. Benzyl Alcohol: A skin irritant that can also affect the eyes and respiratory system.
  9. Fragrance: A category that hides a list of unknown chemicals.
  10. Phenoxyethanol: A preservative primarily used in cosmetics and medications. It can depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
  11. Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil: Safe for use.
  12. Citrus Nobilis: Chemical name for Mandarin Orange. No concern raised.
  13. Methylparaben: A Paraben. A preservative used as an anti-fungal agent. It is easily absorbed through the skin. Side effects could be contact dermatitis and skin sensitivity. It is also said that it has some endocrine-disrupting effects which have the ability to lead to weight gain.
  14. PEG-55 Propylene Glycol Oleate: May be linked to breast cancer.
  15. Propylene Glycol: A strong skin irritant, can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage.
  16. Benzophenone-4: Relatively easy to be absorbed into the skin and have been shown in some studies to promote generation of potentially harmful free radicals.
  17. Limonena: Skin and respiratory irritants.
  18. Hexyl Cinnamal: An irritant in concentrations higher than recommended.
  19. Disodium EDTA: A cumulative, persistent, environmental pollutant. It has also been noted to cause reproductive and developmental effects.
  20. Citral: A skin irritant. The substance is toxic to aquatic organisms. It is strongly advised that this substance does not get released into the environment.
  21. Butylparaben: A Paraben. A preservative commonly used in shaving creams, moisturizers, shampoos, lubricants. It has alleged links to breast cancer.
  22. Ethylparaben: A Paraben. A human endocrine disruptor. Toxic to lungs and mucous membranes.
  23. Isobutylparaben: Another Paraben. Linked to breast cancer. High levels of this substance are detected in breast tumors.
  24. Propylparaben: A Paraben, also linked to breast cancer.
  25. Citrus Reticulata Oil: An essential oil expressed from Mandarin Orange.
  26. Linalool: It is used as a scent in perfumed hygiene products, may cause allergic reactions such as eczema in susceptible individuals
  27. Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil: Sweet Orange essential oil expressed from the fresh peel.
  28. Sodium Dehydroacetate: A skin irritant.
  29. Citronellol: Also a skin irritant. Toxic to aquatic organisms, may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.
  30. Geraniol: An allergen.
  31. Orange 4: A colorant. Reported mutagenic for mammalian somatic cells.
  32. Yellow 6: Have shown to cause cancer.

When checking your product labels, make an effort to know the ingredients. Are they natural or synthetic? Are they harmful? Will they lead to cancer, DNA mutation, hormone disruption or reproductive issues? What could be the negative effects in the long run?

The key is to start questioning. To rethink about what is being sold to us. In this information age, there is a wealth of information available to us everywhere, be it online, books or sometimes just by talking to others.

The issues on toxic chemicals have long been questioned, discussed and debated in forums. And there are numerous books published to bring awareness to the public.

From my own research, I have noticed that there seems to be 2 schools of thought. One takes the strong stand to avoid any suspected toxins. The other says there is less evidence to support the persistent belief of its alledged side effects, and that the chemicals are safe for use if it does not exceed a certain level of concentration. Personally, I wouldn’t want to take any risk. I would rather err on the safe side and avoid ambiguous chemicals.

Having read so far, are you hit by the toxic fact yet? Perhaps this might not sink in right now because the negative effects have yet to be experienced by you. The devastating results are not immediate but the effects of the toxins will reveal itself in time to come.

Some useful websites for your research and further reading

Skin Deep
A database of information on chemicals and their hazard ratings. You can search either by their chemical name, brand name or product name.

Listings of chemicals, recognized and suspected, that cause health impacts.

The Green Guide
The Dirty Dozen Chemicals in Cosmetics

Get yourself updated with the latest reports on health and environmental impacts.

Earliest Exposures
A detailed study reveals that the foetus spend their first nine months in an environment that exposes them to known foreign toxins.

Washington Toxic Coalition
How we are exposed to chemicals that are toxic. Why should we be concern and what we can do to protect ourselves from toxins.

Environmental Working Group
Updates on new findings and guides to buying safe consumer products.

Safe Cosmetics
What is in your products?

Organic Consumer Association
Not all products labeled ‘organic’, ‘pure’ or ‘botanical’ are safe to use. Learn more of the organic fraud in body and cosmetic products.

What to do next

You might be thinking what you should be doing next to protect yourself and your family from these toxins. Well, there are a number of safe and organic products out there which you can use. Alternatively, you can even make your own. Maybe a remedy for Acne and Black heads using tomatoes? How about prepping your very own Aloe Vera gel?

For a start, you can check out the list of buying guide on personal care products below.
Personal care and cleaning products safety guide
Directory of USDA Certified Body Care Products (Please note that not all of the products provided by the following companies are USDA Organic.)

Even though a product is labeled organic, I would advise that you check on the ingredients listed again.

If you are interested in making your own natural body care, you can check out the following site:
Gorgeously Green TV (Step by step videos and clear instructions on making your own natural body care.)

With awareness comes action

I always feel it is really a matter of awareness and taking action. After reading this post, I hope that you are better informed now than before and are aware of the danger that is surrounding us. I choose to learn and protect myself and my loved ones against the toxic chemicals constantly revolving around us.

How about yourself? Will you start to take action and do something about it today to protect your family and yourself or will you sit back and wait for something unfortunate to happen?

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