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12 Top Ingredients to Avoid in Personal Care Products

12 Top Ingredients to Avoid in Personal Care Products

The average personal care product contains about 12 chemicals. From shampoo and lotion to sunscreen and mouthwash, the products we lather, rub and spray onto ourselves may not be healthy. If you think there’s no cause for concern, you might be wrong–more than one-third of all personal-care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer, and less than 20 percent of the chemicals in personal-care products have been tested for safety. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate or limit the use of chemicals in personal-care products or require that all of the ingredients be listed on the label. Despite this, many manufacturers do list ingredients on product packaging and on their websites. Check the labels on your personal care products; if you see any of these 12 chemicals, it might be wise to avoid it. You can also check for a product’s safety rating on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.

Ingredients to Avoid

Prefixes Ethyl, Methyl, Butyl or Propyl
What It Is: Parabens
Health Risks: Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer
Found In: Lotions and shampoos

Fragrance, DEHP, DHP, DBP 5, Dibutyl Phthalate
What It Is: Phthalates
Health Risks: Sperm damage, infertility
Found In: Nail polish, shampoo, deodorant, lotion

Dyes: Blue 1, Green 3, Yellow 5 & 6, Red 33
What It Is: Coal tar
Health Risks: Carcinogenic
Found In: Hair color, medicated shampoos

Triclosan, Chloro, Phenol, Irgasan
What It Is: Triclosan
Health Risks: Endocrine and thyroid disrupter; promotes antibiotic-resistant bacteria; bioaccumulates in the body
Found In: Antibacterial soap, shampoo, facial cleanser, toothpaste, deodorant

3-(4-methylbenzylidene)-camphor (4-MBC), octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC), octyl-dimethyl-PABA (OD-PABA), bexophenome-3 (Bp-3), homosalate (HMS)
What It Is: Sunscreen chemicals
Health Risks: Estrogenic activity; enhances the potential for pesticides to penetrate the skin
Found In: Sunscreens

Polyethylene glycol (PEG, PPG, Cocoate), propylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene mineral oil
What It Is: Petroleum byproducts
Health Risks: Carcinogen; liver and kidney effects
Found In: Lotions

What It Is: Derivative of petroleum
Health Risks: Endocrine disrupter; carcinogen
Found In: Lotions

Lead acetate, thimerosal, mercurius solubilis, mercurius sublimates, mercurius corrosives, mercuric chloride
What It Is: Lead and mercury
Health Risks: Found in higher levels in women with breast cancer; neurotoxin
Found In: Hair color, wound treatments, artificial tears

What It Is: Propellant made from petroleum processing
Health Risks: Carcinogen
Found In: Moisturizer, shaving cream, foot spray, breath freshener

What It Is: Placenta, placental enzymes, placental extract
Health Risks: Filled with hormones that upset your own balance and increase estrogen
Found In: Skin and hair conditioner

What It Is: Hydroquinone
Health Risks: Can cause a skin disease called ochronosis
Found In: Skin whitener

Nano zinc oxide <100mm
What It Is: Nanoparticles
Health Risks: The safety of nanoparticles has not been tested, but they can cross the blood/brain barrier and move along nerves.
Found In: Sunscreens, lotions

From Top Chemicals to Avoid in Personal Care Products by Kelly Lerner and Alli Kingfisher; from Natural Home & Garden magazine

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-based Shampoos
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Eco-Friendly Shampoo and Conditioner

Read more: Beauty, Health, Holistic Beauty

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Jessica Kellner

Jessica Kellner is the editor of Natural Home & Garden magazine, a national sustainable home and lifestyle magazine. She is dedicated to helping readers create more sustainable, delightful homes that are in tune with the natural world. She is also the author of Housing Reclaimed: Sustainable Homes for Next to Nothing, published by New Society Publishers in autumn of 2011. Email her at


+ add your own
12:23AM PST on Nov 27, 2014

Nice post! We're working hard to make some more natural Personal Care products.

8:41AM PST on Jan 19, 2014

Wonderful concise info. Thank you for simplifying.

10:35AM PST on Nov 9, 2013

lots of labels say organic, gluten free, enriched, low fat. read the ingredients

8:45PM PDT on Oct 19, 2013

i try to stick to all natural ingredients

1:26PM PST on Nov 22, 2012

I am so glad to say that I only use olive oil as a beauty product!!
Thanks for posting, re-shared

11:35AM PDT on Oct 19, 2012

Thanks! It is difficult to avoid them all though

7:05AM PST on Feb 23, 2012

That's the reason I switched to natural (organic) skin care products some years ago. No more chemicals on my body! The amounts may be very little in some cases but still. And yes, even though I buy natural skin care products, I still look at the ingredients list.

12:14PM PST on Feb 11, 2012

Thank you! I don't wear make-up...unless it's special event for few soon as I get home, I always remove make-up!

5:15AM PST on Jan 24, 2012

Good heavens. Who knew? Thanks for the information.

3:15AM PST on Jan 23, 2012

And these chemicals have been in the products for sometime now. We should go for organic beauty products.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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