Toxic products- what are you using on your body?

What’s in your products? The good, bad and ugly.

 Kandis Lock,ND

According to Environmental Defence Agency, over 1,700 cancer-causing, hormone disrupting, and allergy-inducing substances have been banned or restricted in European personal care products. But, many of these same harmful substances can still be found in Canadian products. This number relates to both home care and personal care products. (

Here are some considerations regarding toxic home and body care products:

  • Industrial chemicals are basic ingredients in most personal care products. There are 10,500 unique chemical ingredients in personal care products. They contain carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants.
  • No premarket safety testing required. For industrial chemicals, the government approves an average of seven new chemicals every day. Eighty percent are approved in three weeks or less, with or without safety tests.
  • Everyone uses personal care products. Exposures are widespread, and for some people, extensive. A survey done by the environmental working group showed that more than a quarter of all women and one of every 100 men use at least 15 products daily.
  • Many ingredients will be absorbed through the skin and air.  People are exposed by breathing in sprays and powders, swallowing chemicals on the lips or hands, or absorbing them through the skin. Studies have found cosmetics ingredients – like phthalate plasticizers, paraben preservatives, the pesticide triclosan, synthetic musks, and sunscreens – as common pollutants in men, women and children. Many of these chemicals are potential hormone disruptors (Gray et al. 1986, Schreurs et al. 2004, Gomez et al. 2005, Veldhoen et al. 2006). Products commonly contain penetration enhancers to drive ingredients deeper into the skin. Health problems in people exposed to common fragrance and sunscreen ingredients include elevated risk for sperm damage, feminization of the male reproductive system, and low birth weight in girls (Duty et al. 2003, Hauser et al. 2007, Swan et al. 2005, Wolff et al. 2008).
  • Natural and organic products are not always safer. Products labeled natural or organic often contain synthetic chemicals, and even truly natural or organic ingredients are not necessarily risk-free. Some products certified as organic can contain as little as 10% organic ingredients by weight or volume (Certech 2008).
  • Don’t assume you are protected by legislation. Testing in Canada uses less stringent methods than does Europe or the USA. Re-evaluation of substances occurs only every 15 years or so. Consider this: Asbestos was once considered safe and even used in toothpaste. The more you can get away from chemical ingredients, the healthier you will be.

The David Suzuki foundation ( did a cosmetics survey and found some staggering results regarding personal care products. Here is the summary:

  • Total number of products analyzed: 12,550
  • Products containing at least one offending ingredient: 80 per cent
  • Average number of offensive ingredients per product: 1.9
  • Products with more than one: 57 per cent
  • Most commonly occurring ingredient: fragrance/parfum (in 56 per cent of products entered)

What are the offending agents?


The Problem: Triclosan is a synthetic antibacterial/antifungal agent that has been connected to cancer and endocrine disruption. It penetrates human skin and has been found in the breast milk of mothers. It also has potential links to the development of allergies and dermatitis, and it is known to interfere with the production of the thyroid hormone that may have a depressant effect on the central nervous system.

Found in? Triclosan is used in a wide variety of personal care products including shaving creams, hair conditioners, deodorants, liquid soaps, hand soaps, facial cleansers and disinfectants. It is the active ingredient in most antibacterial products, but it is also used in some products that don’t claim to be antibacterial, like toothpaste. An easy way to avoid triclosan is to steer clear of products labeled as “antibacterial”. Check ingredient list for either triclosan, or Microban, which is a brand name (often indicated on the front of the package).

Note of interest: Use of widespread antibacterial products may also increase antibiotic resistance overall. The Canadian Medical Association has called for a ban of these products that contain triclosan (” The Globe and Mail, August 21, 2009)

AVOID:            “Anti bacterial”

Antibacterial soap, Colgate toothpaste and Mouthwash, Deodorants that contain antibacterial properties, Jason Natural Cosmetics, Revlon color stay lip shine, Merrell Shoes, Dickies Socks,
Fruit of the Loom Socks, JCloth towels

            CHOOSE:        ANY Non-antibacterial cleansing agent (good old hand washing with plain soap and water)


The Problem: Exposure to parabens from personal care products occur through the skin. When parabens enter the body this way they are not metabolized as they would be when coming from food products. As the parabens are absorbed through the skin they go straight into the blood stream and organs intact. Parabens have been found to mimic estrogen, which can lead to increased risk of breast cancer. Additionally, parabens can affect male reproductive functions. Parabens are also immune system and organ toxicants; and also an allergen, linked to dermatitis and have been shown to cause cancer in animals.

Found in?  Many beauty care products such as soaps and shampoos, sunscreens, etc.

AVOID: Shampoo, moisturizer, shaving cream, cleansing gels, personal lubricant, deodorant and toothpaste with paraben listed as an ingredient.

CHOOSE: Safer versions of these with brands such as Dr. Bronners, Green Beaver, Giovanni, Prairie Naturals


The Problem: Phthalates are a known carcinogen. The inclusion of “fragrance” on ingredient lists usually suggests a variety of hidden chemicals, which do not have to be disclosed because they are considered trade secrets. Hidden within these trade secrets are often high levels of phthalates. Phthalates are endocrine disrupting and have been linked to breast cancer and birth defects. Fragrance is also linked to allergies, immune system toxicity, headaches and dizziness.

Found in? “Fragrance”

AVOID:  air fresheners and candles containing synthetic fragrance, nail polishes, perfumes that are synthetic

CHOOSE: beeswax candles, natural essential oils, products that list fragrance from natural essential oils.


The Problem: Petroleum Jelly is a virtually odourless and tasteless gel that helps to smooth and soften skin. It creates a barrier that helps prevent moisture leaving the skin. Because it is a petroleum product, it could be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies have indicated that exposure to PAHs is associated with cancer. Additionally, PAHs can cause skin irritations and allergies.

Found in: Skin creams for eczema or diaper rash, lip balms

AVOID: Vaseline based products and barrier creams

CHOOSE: Natural oils (olive, castor oil, grape seed oil) to put on skin as a barrier cream or hydrator


The problem: FRA’s are immune system toxicants, skin irritants and probable carcinogens. Chemicals that release formaldehyde are found in hair care products, hair colouring, moisturizers, eye shadow, mascara, foundation, blush and nail products.

Found in: Make up!

AVOID ingredients with these names: DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Methenamine, Quaternium-15 and Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate.

CHOOSE: make up companies such as Weleda, RMS,


The Problem: petroleum based ingredients that are added to personal care products to act as detergents and foaming agents (i.e. to make your shampoo foamy!). They may be contaminated by 1,4-dioxane, which is an eye and respiratory tract irritant and is also a possible carcinogen. Additionally, Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl can affect the brain and nervous system, cause endocrine system disruption, have reproductive effects and are carcinogenic. They can also dry and irritate the scalp because of their degreasing nature.

Found in: shampoos, shower gels, cleansers, toothpaste and bubble baths.

AVOID: Body cleansing products with this ingredient

CHOOSE: Green beaver, Giovanni, Prairie Naturals, etc.


The problem: Siloxanes are a group of chemical compounds that are used in products to make hair and skin appear smooth. Siloxanes are primarily generating concern due to their detrimental effects on the environment though there are reasons to be apprehensive of effects on human health as well. Siloxanes are absorbed by dermal exposure through personal care product use. Siloxanes can contribute to irritation and acne when on the skin. Furthermore, there have been several animal studies linking siloxane exposure to carcinogenicity and endocrine disruption. Siloxanes are also possible human reproductive or development toxins.

Found in: “anti frizz” products

AVOID: hair conditioner that increase softness and lessen frizz, colour-correcting hair products to increase shine and glossiness. Read label to check for cyclomethicone, cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), cyclopentasiloxane (D5) and cyclohexasiloxane (D6), or any ingredients with the suffix “siloxane”.

CHOOSE: Prairie Naturals Moonshine serum for anti frizz (product contains natural silica, different than a siloxane)


The Problem: P-phenylenediamine and colours labeled “C.I.” or FD&C” or “D&C”

P-phenylenediamine is a probable carcinogen and neurotoxin. Furthermore, there is evidence of connections between personal hair dye use and certain types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, acute leukemia, and bladder cancer. There have also been links made between exposure to p-phenylenediamine and allergic contact sensitization and dermatitis, acute dermatitis, and severe facial oedema. There have also been concerns expressed around negative health effects from long-term exposure. Some common short-term reactions are itching, burning, scalping, hives and blistering of the skin. In Canada, eye make-up is prohibited from having these in it, but not other cosmetic products.

Found in? Hair coloring products and food colouring (and many other colouring agents)

AVOID: Artificial dyes, food coloring

CHOOSE: Dyes and colouring that is plant derived

BHA and BHT:

The problem: carcinogenicity, endocrine disruption, development toxicity and allergies. BHA and BHT can also induce allergic reactions in the skin. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies BHA as a possible human carcinogen.

Found in: personal care products such as lipstick, eye shadow, concealer and moisturizers. In foods they are often found as food preservatives (typically food that contain fat or oil)

AVOID: processed foods and products with BHA or BHT on label

CHOOSE: whole foods, natural cosmetics


The problem PFOA’s are linked with cancers and obesity. Levels are detected in almost 98% of the population and are almost impossible to get out of the body. This is found in non-stick cook ware (Teflon). The compound is also used in insulators for electric wires, fire fighting foam, products with “stainmaster” and “scotchguard” and outdoor clothing (gore-tex)

AVOID: Non stick cookware

CHOOSE: Cast iron or stainless steel products.


The problem: exerts hormone-like effects in the body. It exerts estrogen like effects and has been linked to an increase in breast and prostate cancer. Statistics Canada reported that measurable levels of BPA were found in the urine of 91 per cent of Canadians aged six to 79 (Stats Can, 2010). BPA was banned in Canada in baby bottles only.  It is still pervasive in our homes and environment.

Found in? plastics, canned foods, cash receipts

AVOID: Plastic containers and water bottles, foods canned in metal jars lined with plastic, plastic shower curtains

CHOOSE: Metal or glass containers and foods canned in glass


The problem: PBDE’s are derived from Bromine and are flame-retardants that accumulate in our fat tissues. This substance has been tested by the National Cancer Institute in the USA and was shown to be a cause of cancer (a stronger agent than cigarette smoke).

Interesting Side Note: Bromine manufacturing originally came into fruition as an additive do leaded fuel. When it was phased out the few manufacturing facilities were looking for a new way to sell their product. It was first tried as a pesticide but was too damaging to the environment. Next it was considered as a flame retardant.

AVOID: Children’s pyjamas that are fire proof

CHOOSE: Newer furniture often does not contain PBDE’s. IKEA and Montreal’s  Essential are PBDE free. Opt for wood furniture or re-upholster old furniture. Electronics-wise Sony, Panasonic, Samsung are all PBDE free. Clothing: opt for cotton, hemp and natural fibers.


Resources for further information

Canadian: Environmental Defence

Canadian: David Suzuki Foundation

US: Environmental Working Group

US: Environmental Protection Agency

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