The shelves in department stores and pharmacies are full of skin care products that smell nice are packaged in pleasing ways, but are we really using our best judgment when we buy them and start smearing them all over ourselves or shampooing our hair with them?  After reading this you may be more encouraged to read labels to make safer and more educated decisions.

Your skin is your largest organ and is you’re your major defense barrier between you and the outside world. It is also a major immune organ and is involved in eliminating waste and in temperature control through sweating.  What people often don’t realize is that the skin allows many substances right through, especially fat-soluble ones such as hormones and many toxic additives to topical products.  This is why many drugs including hormones are delivered through the skin in patches and creams.

In a typical day, you might be exposed to over 200 chemicals, many of which could cause cancer or endocrine disruption.  Over 25,000 chemicals have not been tested for long-term toxic effects and such chemicals are allowed in products and can be marketed without government approval of ingredients.

With that in mind, here are some common chemicals in products which you may want to avoid.

Propylene glycol: Found in anti-freeze. Commonly used to make extracts of herbs and in many products as solvents (they stop substances from settling out of liquids). Because it penetrates the skin so easily, the EPA warns against skin contact to avoid brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities but there are no warning labels on products. Brain, liver, kidney abnormalities

Endocrine disruption

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate:
 – Detergent found in 90% topical products that foam.

Endocrine reproductive toxicity

Skin irritation

Converts to a carcinogen 1,4 dioxane, a known animal carcinogen.

Monoethanolamine Restricted in Europe due to carcinogenic effects, yet are still used in the U.S. Americans may be exposed 10-20 times per day with shampoos, shaving creams and bubble baths. Dr. Samuel Epstein (Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois ) says that repeated applications of DEA-based detergents result in major increases in liver and kidney cancer. The FDA’s John Bailey says, “the risk is significantly increased for children.”

Risk of liver and kidney cancer

Hormone disrupting chemicals that can form cancer-causing nitrates.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Carcinogenic petroleum ingredient that reduces the skin’s natural moisture. Increases the appearance of aging and leaves you vulnerable to bacteria. Used in spray-on oven cleaners and cleansers to dissolve oil and grease. Skin aging and drying Carcinogen

Triclosan Synthetic “antibacterial” with a chemical structure similar to Agent Orange! The EPA registers it as a pesticide, giving it high scores as a risk to human health and the environment. It is in a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans. Its manufacturing process can produce dioxin, a hormone-disrupting chemical with toxic effects measured in the parts per trillion; that is only one drop in 300 Olympic-size swimming pools! Hormone disruptors can change genetic material, decrease fertility and sexual function, and foster birth defects.  Stored in body fat, it can accumulate to toxic levels, damaging the liver, kidneys and lungs, and can cause paralysis, suppression of immune function, brain hemorrhages, and heart problems. Tufts University School of Medicine says triclosan can force the emergence of ‘super bugs’ that it cannot kill. It is widely used in antibacterial cleansers, tooth pastes and household products. Triclosan is found in Dial Anti bacterial soap and colgates toothpaste and many others…   Alternative: Look for organic products.

Hormone disruption, decreased fertility, birth defects                                                         Carcinogenic

DMDM & Urea (Imidazolidinyl): Two of many preservatives that often release formaldehyde which cause:

Joint pain, skin reactions, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic  fatigue, dizzyness, and loss of sleep.
Exposure also irritates the respiratory system, triggers heart palpitations or asthma, and aggravates heart coughs and colds. Other side effects include weakening the immune system and cancer.

Farmaldehyde Present in hair coloring.  Does all of the above.

Parabens: Banned in Europe. Preservative in skin and hair products: A recent report is questioning the safety of the most common group of cosmetic preservatives called parabens. Studies show that parabens – alkyl hydroxy parabens — alpha hydroxy benzoate (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butyl-paraben) are weakly estrogenic. In other words, these preservatives have the ability to mimic estrogen in the body with butylparaben being the most potent.

Neurologic damage, skin and eye irritation
Breast tumors  – 18 out of 20 breast tumors contained significant amounts of parabens. (Journal of Toxicology, 2004)

Proliferation of breast cancer cells – A study in 2002 showed that parabens can act like estrogen in the body at the strength to cause breast cancer cells to grow and proliferate. (J. Steroid Biochem. 2002;80:49 – 60).

Mineral OilPetroleum by-product that coats the skin like plastic wrap, clogging the pores. Baby oil is 100% mineral oil! Alternatives: Moisture Magnets (Saccharide Isomerate) from beets; Ceramides, Jojoba and other vegetable oils.

Interferes with skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders. Slows down skin function and cell development, resulting in <strong “mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal”=””>premature aging

FD&C Color Pigments Synthetic colors from coal tar that deposit toxins onto the skin.

Skin irritation


Fragrances: Can contain up to four thousand ingredients (including animal urine), many toxic or carcinogenic. Alternatives: Aroma-therapeutic, Organic Essential Oils. Cause headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing, vomiting, and skin irritation. Fragrances affect the nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability     to cope, and other behavioral changes.

Fabric softener and “dryer sheets”  – Although they may make your clothes feel soft and smell fresh, fabric softener and dryer sheets are some of the most toxic products around.

Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer

Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant

Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders

Limonene: Known carcinogen

A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage

Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list

Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders

Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic

Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders

Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

Fragrance – 50x as much fragrance to cover up the pungent smell of the strong fabric softeners.