Have you ever been stuck in an elevator next to someone doused in perfume… when you suddenly get a headache?
Or maybe you felt a little dizzy, nauseous, or irritable after walking through a fragrance cloud wafting from the perfume counter at Macy’s?
Whether for work or play, huffing petrochemicals gets a bad rap these days.
Smog, paint fumes, nail polish… we all seem to understand that breathing these in damages our health.
But what you might not realize is this: the vast majority of popular perfumes and colognes contain toxic petrochemicals, too.
That’s right, even “designer” perfumes from American Eagle, Chanel, Britney Spears Curious and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio are replete with harmful ingredients.
According to our friends at The Environmental Working Group (EWG), many popular body sprays, perfumes, and colognes typically contain a dozen or more potentially hazardous synthetic chemicals.
Due to “trade secrets,” these hidden chemicals are not required to be disclosed on the label.
“A rose may be a rose,” EWG reports. “But that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely, concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer.”
As you’ll see, artificial fragrances do far more than cover up poop-smells in rest stop bathrooms.
In this post, you’ll learn what you need to do about it.
THE STAKES? OVARIAN CANCER AND SPERM DAMAGE
EWG reports that some undisclosed ingredients are chemicals “with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues.”
One example includes diethyl phthalate which is linked to sperm damage in human epidemiological studies. This chemical, diethyl phthalate, has been found in 97% of Americans.
You may have seen the news about Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder causing ovarian cancer. Or how using personal care products, like cosmetics and soap, during pregnancy has been linked to adverse effects in newborns.
Have you ever stopped to consider the sheer number of chemicals in the personal products we use every day: soap, shampoo, antiperspirant, toothpaste, and so on?
The skin is your body’s largest organ and absorbs substances into the body within seconds.
Maybe you eat clean and drink filtered water. But if you’re dousing yourself with a barrage of commercial body and beauty products every day, you’re soaking up chemical toxins.
WHICH INGREDIENTS SHOULD I AVOID?
Personally, Alyson and I do our very best to avoid artificial fragrances and petrochemicals everywhere we can – in food and personal care products alike.Don’t put any product on your skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth. Click To Tweet
As a rule, we avoid all products made with chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan, and petrolatum. These chemicals disrupt hormone function, can cause weight gain, and are linked to a litany of diseases.
So what should you look for instead?
We prefer plant-based or earth-based products like food-grade oil, aloe vera, clay, salt, and other natural products to cleanse, moisturize, and condition the skin.
One of our Fat-Burning Tribe members recently asked what we use at home for shower soap and other body products. (If you want to skip to that, you can find them at the end of this post.)
WHY SMELLING GOOD CAN BE BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH
Did you know that cosmetics and personal care items are the #1 reason for calls to Poison Control?
Most people know that medicines and cleaners are toxic to children and keep them out of reach. But there are also chemicals lurking in toothpaste, lotion and lipstick that can be lethal if ingested by a toddler.
HERE’S OUR #1 TIP: AVOID “FRAGRANCE”
If you want to do just one thing to lower the negative effects of personal care items on your health, choose products with ingredient lists that do NOT include the word FRAGRANCE.
Why? “Fragrance” is a term that reveals nothing about the nature of the ingredient. Fragrances are typically loaded with synthetic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies, and more.
The Environmental Working Group explains:
“When you see ‘fragrance’ on a personal care product’s label, read it as ‘hidden chemicals.’ A major loophole in FDA’s federal law lets manufacturers of products like shampoo, lotion, and body wash include nearly any ingredient in their products under the name ‘fragrance’ without actually listing the chemical.
Companies that manufacture personal care products are required by law to list the ingredients they use, but fragrances and trade-secret formulas are exempt.”
The EWG analyzed laboratory tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and found a total of 38 chemicals not listed on the labels. This was in addition to the 15 chemicals (on average) already listed on the product’s label. Seventeen name brand fragrances—including Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Bath & Body Works, Old Spice, Calvin Klein, and more—were each found to include an average of 14 additional chemicals that were not disclosed on the label.
The report said:
“Among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products.
Also in the ranks of undisclosed ingredients are chemicals with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues. These include diethyl phthalate, a chemical found in 97% of Americans and linked to sperm damage in human epidemiological studies, and musk ketone, a synthetic fragrance ingredient that concentrates in human fat tissue and breast milk.”
If there's one thing to avoid in personal care products, make it fragrance. Click To Tweet
BE SUSPICIOUS OF THESE MARKETING PHRASES
Marketers are sneaky. Watch out for these marketing terms that make a product seem healthy, even when it may not be:
Fragrance-Free / Unscented: According to the Consumers Union’s eco labels project, these terms, for which the FDA has set no guidelines, can actually mean that fragrances have been added in to neutralize other scents. While there are products that claim to be unscented and in fact don’t have fragrance chemicals added in, don’t rely on the front label alone. Be sure to read the ingredients and make sure it does not contain “Fragrance.”
Hypoallergenic / Sensitivity Tested / Non-Irritating / Allergy Tested / Dermatologist Tested: These are all meaningless labels, according to the Consumers Union.
Natural / All-Natural: Toxins such as heavy metals, lead, and mercury are all “natural” in origin. So is petroleum, from which synthetic chemicals are made. When you see the phrase “natural” on a product—whether it’s food, cosmetics, lotion, shampoo, or anything else—read extra closely. It usually means there are unnatural things hiding in the ingredients.
BE CAREFUL: HOW 100% ALOE VERA GEL TRICKED US
Alyson: I was recently rubbing Aloe Vera gel on my face when I did a double-take at the label.
Here’s a picture of the front of the bottle:
Great, yeah, it’s pure, no color added, and it’s 100%… wait, “100% Gel*”? What does that mean?
“Fruit of the Earth advanced research proudly presents… 100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel… Fragrance-Free… Ingredients: Aloe Vera Gel, Triethanolamine, Tocopheryl Acetate, Carbomer, Tetrasodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea.”
What? Triethanolamine? What’s that?!
Here’s some information on these additional sneaky ingredients…
Triethanolamine is produced by reacting ethylene oxide (considered highly toxic) with ammonia (another known toxin). It is used in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products, including eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases and foundations, as well as in fragrances, hair care products, hair dyes, shaving products, sunscreens, and skin care products.
The CIR determined that Triethanolamine was “safe for use in cosmetics and personal care products designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin. In products intended for prolonged contact with the skin, the concentration of Triethanolamine should not exceed 5%.”
There is strong evidence that Triethanolamine is a human skin, immune system and respiratory toxicant, and has been shown to cause bladder and liver cancer, as well as changes in testicles. According to OrganicConsumers.org, Triethanolamine can cause allergic reactions including eye problems, dryness of hair and skin, and could be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time. It can cause itching, burning, scaling, hives, and blistering of skin, all symptoms which may increase with higher concentrations.
The “tocopheryl” part is vitamin E, but the “acetate” comes about when the vitamin E is mixed with acetic acid. The resulting ingredient can actually irritate your skin more than help repair or heal it.
Carbomer is used in lotions and other cosmetic formulas as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier. Carbomer does not actually refer to one particular molecule, but is a generic term for a series of polymers primarily made from acrylic acid.
Tetrasodium ETDA, made from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde (a known carcinogen according to the National Cancer Institute), and sodium cyanide (which is made from the toxic gas hydrogen cyanide).
It gets worse. This ingredient is also a penetration enhancer. That means it breaks down the skin’s protective barrier, making it easier for other potentially harmful ingredients in the formula to sink deeper into your tissues and perhaps even into your bloodstream.
You’ll find it in moisturizers, skin care and cleansing products, personal cleanliness products, bath soaps, shampoos and conditioners, hair dyes, hair bleaches, and many other products. It’s also cleared for use in packaged foods, vitamins, and baby food. Yum.
DMDM Hydantoin is used in skin, body and hair products, antiperspirants and nail polish.
It’s a derivative of formaldehyde, which is what scientists and morticians use to preserve corpses and body parts. Remember the smell of dissecting frogs in school? These chemicals are linked to allergies, chest pain, chronic fatigue, depression, dizziness, ear infections, headaches, joint pain, loss of sleep, and can trigger asthma. They can weaken the immune system, and can cause cancer.
Preservative and known human carcinogen/irritant/allergen used in some nail and hair products, including dyes, and present as a contaminant in nearly all other types of personal care products.
Instead of using “100% Aloe Vera Gel” on your skin, get an aloe vera plant for a few bucks, slice into it and use the gel straight from the plant.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
Here are some other ingredients you should avoid in your personal care products:
Aluminum Starch / Octenylsuccinate: An anti-caking agent and fragrance found in lipsticks, lotions, sunblocks, eye makeup, powders, and FD&C blue, red, and yellow colors; linked to cancer and development/reproductive harm.
Antibacterials / Antimicrobials (such as Triclosan): Found in deodorants, moisturizers, toothpaste, liquid hand soaps, and body wash; suspected of contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Coal Tar Colors: Found in dandruff shampoos, psoriasis and eczema treatments, hair dyes, and makeup; includes FD&C and D&C colors, especially blue 1 and green 3; suspected carcinogens
Cocamidopropyl Betaine: A sudsing agent; can produce allergic reactions.
Ethoxylated Chemicals (the “PEGs” and “eths”): Sudsing/moisturizing agents made by adding ethylene oxide to fatty acids so they’ll become more water soluble; process can create carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane. Watch out for: PEG-80 sorbitan laureate, PEG-6 methyl ether, polyethylene glycol, PEG-20, sodium laureate sulfate, sodium coco sulfate (from coconut), ceteareth-20 and -30, and many more substances with “PEG” and “eth” in their names.
Formaldehyde: Preservative and known human carcinogen/allergen used in some nail and hair products, including dyes, and present as a contaminant in nearly all other types of personal care products; look also for diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, and quaternium compounds, which are also strong irritants.
Fragrance: Widely found in lipstick, skin lotions, perfume, cologne, shampoo, deodorant, and the vast majority of personal care products. It can also be added to mask other scents in so-called “fragrance-free” products. Fragrance is a catch-all term, it can include phthalates, isoeugenol, cinnamal, BHT, or any number of the 3,100 or so stock chemical ingredients used by the fragrance industry. It’s linked to cancer and developmental/reproductive harm, and allergies.
Heavy Metals: Neurotoxins that include lead and mercury. Lead has been found in several brand-name lipsticks, and mercury has been found in eye makeup and mascaras. These heavy metals can cause nervous system and brain damage.
Hydroquinone / Resorcinol: Used in in acne treatment, skin lighteners, and as a “developer” in hair dyes and bleaches; linked to cancer and allergies.
Nano Particles: Possible brain damage, cancer risks.
Oxybenzone / Benzophenone: Found in sunscreens. Risk of cancer, hormone disruption.
Parabens: Synthetic preservatives known to interfere with hormone production and release.
Petroleum Distillates: Widely found in mascara, wart removers; suspected carcinogens.
Phthalates: Another synthetic preservative that’s carcinogenic and linked to reproductive effects (decreased sperm counts, early breast development, birth defects), and liver and kidney damage.
Polyethylene: A plastic used as a film, binder, or stabilizer in lipsticks, mascaras, and other makeup. It is ethoxylated and may be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane.
P-Phenylenediamine (PPD): Found in hair dyes and bleaches; possible risk of cancer, developmental/reproductive harm, and allergies.
Preservatives: Include BHA, methylparaben, and other parabens, which have been found in breast cancer tumors and which stimulate growth of breast cancer cells in the lab.
Salicylic Acid: Found in acne treatments, dandruff shampoos, moisturizers, astringent/toners, and face wash. Linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive harm.
Silica: Anti-caking agent. A risk mostly when used in powders that can be easily inhaled. NOTE: mica and talc are also used in powders and are less risky, although talc is listed as a moderate hazard by EWG because it can be contaminated with fibers similar to cancer-causing asbestos.
Synthetic Musks: These are linked to hormone disruption and are thought to persist and accumulate in breast milk, body fat, umbilical cord blood, and the environment.
WHAT CAN I BUY?
The good news is, there are a growing number of companies that are leading the movement in creating safe products free of untested chemicals. Here’s a handy resource that can help you find safe products for your skin: EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database
How to Use This Website: If you want to know what deodorants are the safest, for example, follow these steps…
1. Mouseover “Skin Care” in the top menu, then click on “Antiperspirant/Deodorant” under Personal Care. This will bring up a database list of products.
2. The products on the first page of this list will have the lowest (or safest) rating. If you click on the last page in the list, you’ll see likely see ratings as high as 8 or 9.
3. Click on a given product. This will bring up a breakdown of the product, including overall hazard, cancer risks, developmental and toxicity concerns, allergies, immunotoxicity concerns, and a detailed list of ingredients concerns.
This is a handy resource to not only find safe products to use, but also to search out concerns regarding the products you’re already using.
WHAT DO WE USE AT HOME?
Alyson and I get a lot of questions about which products we use ourselves. So we put a list of what we have in our cabinets right now…
- Facial Products: Annmarie Gianni makes Alyson’s favorite face cleaner and face oil. Be sure to check out the list of ingredients—this stuff is awesome.
- Acne Care: Acnutrol is great if we feel a skin blemish coming on. This is our go-to product for stopping it in its tracks.
- Body Soap: Alaffia African Black Soap can be used as a body wash, hand soap, shaving soap, shampoo, facial cleanser, and even as a general household cleaner. It’s rich and creamy.
- Bar Soap: South Austin People and Zum Bar Soap are 2 brands we like.
- Lotion: Simply using olive oil, shea butter, coconut oil, or argan oil are great ways to moisture the skin. Or this Citrus Sunrise Body Butter has a “decadent texture, and bright yummy smell” (Alyson’s words, not mine).
- Scrub: Acure Brightening Facial Scrub is a great scrub, but it’s pretty coarse. We tend to use it on our chest and back, and use Annmarie Gianni facial scrub which is more gentle.
- Hair Mask: Here’s a trick from Alyson—put straight argan oil or olive oil in your hair and let it sit for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. In the morning, shampoo and condition your hair. Makes beautiful, shiny, healthy hair. Note: Argan oil does have a bit of a weird smell, but you can add a touch of your favorite essential oils to give it a scent you like.
- Shampoo & Condition: I’m not that picky with hair stuff, but Alyson really likes Acure shampoo and conditioner.
- Makeup: Mineral makeup is a good option, but watch out for the ones that use nanoparticles. Nanoparticles, which are smaller than a billionth of a meter, have shown an ability to penetrate the skin entering the bloodstream. A recent study found that toxins and toxic chemicals can “piggyback” on nanoparticles, getting carried deeper into the body. So how do you avoid nanoparticles? While there’s no requirement that labels disclose nanoparticles, the word “micronized” means the particles are larger than 100 nanometers—a safer size. According to EWG, particles in the 20-60 nanometer range are most easily absorbed by skin or inhaled deep into the lungs. As a general rule, choose opaque rather than sheer mineral makeup—because the particles are so visible they’re likely to be larger than 100 nanometers.
Here’s another tip from Alyson: Apply coconut oil all over your body right before you jump in the shower. The water will bead up on your skin and the coconut oil should create enough of a barrier that you can use a razor to shave your legs without soap. Coconut oil is an anti-fungal, so you’ll be cleansing your skin at the same time. When you get out of the shower and dry off, your skin will be silky smooth.
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SAMPLE KIT GIVEAWAY FROM ANNMARIE GIANNI
You’ll also get their Toxic Free Home Guide to help you get started eliminating harsh body, beauty, and cleaning products from your home. We checked it out, and it’s handy guide that includes a 21-day plan with lots of tips, recipes, and exercises to boost your mood, increase confidence, and take great care of your skin.
Here’s the scoop on Annmarie’s products:
- Natural, organic and wildcrafted ingredients
- All ingredients are Non-GMO
- Made with proven and effective skin repairing herbs
- Formulated to even skin tone, reduce sun spots and make skin look more vibrant
- Cruelty free and no animal testing
Note: Each kit is $10 and when you get one, you’ll get free shipping and a $10 coupon for a future purchase.
- Do One Green Thing by Mindy Pennybacker
What are your favorite natural personal care products? Share them with us in the comments below!