A closer look at personal care products
How many personal care products do you use daily? Before I became a nutritionist, I never thought about it or cared, really. I was always using whatever new product claimed to make my skin clearer, my hair shinier, my teeth whiter – the list goes on.
Apparently, the average woman applies no less than 15 products per day and, according to Environmental Working Group, between cosmetics, perfumes, personal care products and feminine hygiene products, women in North America apply an average of 168 chemicals to their faces and bodies every day.
While many of the chemicals used in common personal care products are benign, some are known carcinogens, neurotoxins or reproductive toxins. Others are endocrine disrupters, which can upset the body’s hormonal balance, which may be linked to lead to weight gain, irregular periods and other hormone-related health issues. Unfortunately, Health Canada doesn’t require pre-market testing of chemicals used in cosmetics. So it's up to you the consumer – that’s you – to decide what's safe.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation. Here are the top 12 ingredients that you should avoid when buying personal care products:
1. BHA and BHt
Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer (BHA). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
2. Coal tar dyes: p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as "CI" followed by a five digit number
Look for p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as "CI" followed by five digits in in hair dyes and in other products. Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.
3. DEA-related ingredients
Used in creamy and foaming products, such as moisturizer and shampoo. Can react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Look also for related chemicals MEA and TEA.
4. Dibutyl phthalate
Used as a plasticizer in some nail care products. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Used in a variety of cosmetics. Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer.
Used in a variety of cosmetics as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disrupters and may interfere with male reproductive functions.
7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
Any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics — even in some products marketed as "unscented." Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some are linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some are harmful to fish and other wildlife.
8. PEG compounds
Used in many cosmetic cream bases. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Also look for related chemical propylene glycol and other ingredients with the letters "eth" (e.g., polyethylene glycol).
Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lip sticks and moisturizers.
Look for ingredients ending in "-siloxane" or "-methicone." Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
11. Sodium laureth sulfate
Used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Look also for related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the letters "eth"
Used in antibacterial cosmetics, such as toothpastes, cleansers and antiperspirants. Suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Harmful to fish and other wildlife
Tips to limit the exposure to chemicals in personal care products:
Buy natural products and check your labels. Just as with food, try to buy organic whenever possible and avoid products that have a ton of ingredients that you don’t understand. Also, avoid products that contain these dirty dozen ingredients listed above.
Avoid coloured or heavily scented products.
Simplify your beauty routine. Try cutting back on the number of products you are using. Chances are that you don’t need all of them. I love Dr. Bronner’s Castille soap. You can also dilute it with water which makes it last longer. I use it as hand soap, face wash and body wash.
Check out Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep cosmetic safety database here.
I’m not suggesting that you throw out everything out in your bathroom cabinet that might contain some of these ingredients, though I’ve almost done this myself. Take baby steps and slowly start to incorporate more toxic-free products into your life. Keeping in mind that making the switch to greener products is not only better for you, but also the environment.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite stores in Toronto that carry natural organic beauty products. They also ship if you live outside the city.