Is it possible that the cleaning and personal products we use every day are causing harm to our health?
The answer is yes.
According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, “In the United States, the average person is exposed to more than one hundred chemicals from cosmetics, soaps, and other personal care products before leaving the house in the morning.”
More than one hundred chemicals. How do we even begin to know which chemicals are safe and which ones are toxic?
While labels may portray these products as safe, their chemical ingredients are mainly untested and wildly unregulated, with known carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals still found in some formulations.
Fortunately, there are several websites and apps that allow you to research the names of ingredients and products that could be harmful to you and your family’s short-term and long-term health.
Below is a shortlist of common toxic ingredients in every day products with recommendations for safer alternatives:
Ammonia can be found in household cleaners and boxed hair color. One of the most common toxic household chemicals is irritating, corrosive, and easily recognized by its pungent smell. Ammonia fumes immediately irritate the nose, lungs, and throat, especially in close quarters.
Long-term exposure can cause damage to mucous membranes and the cardiovascular system.
2-Butoxyethanol is also a common toxic ingredient found in household cleaning products. This chemical is a clear, colorless, and flammable liquid that is used as a solvent. It is part of a chemical family called “glycol ethers“.
Short-term exposure to high levels in humans is associated with pulmonary edema and severe liver and kidney damage.
Long-term exposure in humans is associated with neurological and blood effects, such as nausea, tremor, and anemia.
Safe Alternative: Electrolyzed water brands like Force of Nature.
Talc can be found in certain makeup, loose or pressed powders, as well as body powder. It is restricted in Europe-and; anything prohibited in some part of the world is cause for pause.
Long-term exposure can cause severe breathing problems and lung inflammation as well as cancer.
Safe Alternative: Corn, tapioca, and rice starch (Oryza Sativa). Choose clean brands like Honest Beauty who do not use talc, among a long list of other toxic ingredients in beauty products.
Lead is found in nearly 65% of lipsticks!
Other heavy metals, including chromium, cadmium, aluminum, manganese, AND lead, have also been found in lipstick. Even though the amount is small, it is the cumulative and long-term exposure that adds up. Especially chemicals like lead can build up in the body.
Long-term exposure can cause fertility issues, hormone disruption, and neurotoxicity, which can contribute to learning and behavioral problems.
Safe Alternatives: Plant-based waxes like Carnauba Wax and Candelilla Wax. Choose clean cosmetic brands like ILIA Beauty.
Formaldehyde is not added to products directly but a byproduct made by many other preservatives mixing together. Bronopol, Quaternium-15, and Diazolidinyl urea are chemicals that release formaldehyde as they decompose. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen.
Long-term exposure is linked to leukemia, pancreatic cancer, and skin cancer.
Safe Alternatives: Proteins like sericin and keratin. Food extracts like lemon, apple, green tea, and honey. Choose cleans brands for hair smoothing treatments like Cezanne Hair.
So sneaky, and yet extremely common. Fragrance formulas are protected under a federal law classification of ‘trade secrets’ and are undisclosed. Through this loophole, companies essentially use the term ‘fragrance’ so they don’t have to list the possible thousands of harmful chemical ingredients in their product. Fragrance is perhaps one of the most important ingredients to avoid in skincare and beauty products.
Long-term exposure can cause allergies, hormone disruption, and cancer.
Safe Alternatives: Essential oils, fragrance-free products, or buying from companies who disclose their fragrance sources.
Oxybenzone is a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens. It reduces the impact of UVA/B rays on the skin. This is another relatively weak one, but when combined with other chemicals, it is more harmful. Oxybenzone can mimic estrogen and is also considered a hormone disruptor.
Safe Alternative: Mineral sunscreens. Choose clean brands like Coola Skin and Suncare
DEA/TEA/MEA are abbreviations for diethanolamine, triethanolamine, and monoethanolamine, all of which are ethanolamines, which are ammonia-based compounds used as foaming agents in shampoos, soaps, body washes, shaving creams, etc. These are also sneaky in that it’s the reaction to other chemicals in personal care products that form carcinogens.
Long-term exposure can cause organ toxicity, hormone disruption, and cancer.
Safe Alternative: Ingredients deriving from coconuts.
9. Sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate (SLS, SLES)
SLS and SLES are commonly used in products like face/body wash and shampoos to enhance a product’s spreading and wetting properties, making them foam and lather – therefore one of the most common potentially toxic ingredients in skincare. Both are considered irritants and can create carcinogens when mixed with other chemicals.
According to the International Journal of Toxicology “had a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties.”
Similarly, SLES cannot be metabolized by the liver and lasts longer in the body.
Long-term use has been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation, and endocrine disruption.
Safe Alternative: Jujube Bark Extract. Choose clean brands like Prose, a Certified-B corporation.
Another preservative used since the 1920’s. Commonly used in cleansers, lotions, body washes, deodorant, and makeup.
Long-term use is linked to breast cancer, endocrine disruption, and hormonal imbalance.
Safe Alternatives: Essential oils like thyme, oregano, tea tree, rosemary, and neem extracts are protective against some strains of bacteria and rancidity. However, they don’t protect from all forms of bacteria and fungi.
The Dr. Lana Wellness Team’s goal is to empower you with information to make decisions about your health and lifestyle.
Download the EWG’s Healthy Living app here and search, browse, or scan to their database with more than 130,000 ratings on personal care, cleaning, and food products.
Common Toxic Ingredients in Skincare, Beauty, & More is written by Lana Butner for www.drlanawellness.com