Body Products Are Full of Toxins?

February 6, 2010

For the past few days I have been researching what is in all the body products I use. The first ingredient I learned about was parabens, and what I learned disturbed me. However, I have since learned that parabens aren’t the only ingredient I should be worried about. There are, in fact, several ingredients that are quite toxic. Parabens were just the beginning!

In addition to parabens, I have also learned about propylene glycol, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate (SLS/SLES), phthalates, petrolatum, artificial fragrances, and artificial colors/dyes. Trust me when I say these ingredients are not good, and they are in EVERYTHING.

Propylene glycol [1] is used as a humectant (moisture stabilizer) and carrier in the cosmetics industry.  I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what it even is (a derivative from natural gas?), but it is a known skin irritant, and can cause both kidney and liver damage.[1] Yet somehow it’s widely used by the cosmetic industry. Did I mention it’s also used by the automotive industry? It’s used as a solvent in anti-freeze and brake fluid. I’m sorry, but the cosmetics and auto industries should not be using the same ingredients.

Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate (SLS/SLES) [2] is a detergent and surfactant. It is used in body products as a foaming agent (in shampoo, toothpaste, etc). SLS is used by the cleaning industry, in garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers. Yuck! So it’s no surprise that it also strips hair and skin of protective lipids. It is also used in labs for clinical testing – as a skin irritant. Chemists will use SLS to purposely irritate the skin, so they can then determine how well other ingredients work as healing agents. And yet it’s a common ingredient in body products. And SLES is commonly contaminated with dioxane, which is a carcinogen.  

Phthalates [3] are a group of industrial chemicals that are used to make plastics more pliable. They are also used as solvents in personal care products. I’m not sure why they’re even used in body products, but they have been shown to adversely affect the endocrine system, immune system, reproductive system, brain and nervous system, organ function, as well as contributing  to birth and development defects, and liver cancer. Both the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have listed phthalates as a “possible human carcinogen”, and they were found in 97% of Americans tested by the Center for Disease Control. Not something I want in my shampoo!

Petrolatum [4] comes from a crude oil – petroleum (the same crude oil gasoline is made from.) It is used in products like Vaseline and petroleum jelly, that form a nice, thick, protective layer over the skin. Ooops, did I say protective? I meant, smothering. As in, suffocating. Remember, your skin is an organ, and it needs to take in oxygen, and release carbon dioxide. You don’t want this process suffocated. It is used in body products because it holds water in the skin. The problem is, in addition to holding in water, it creates a seal that also holds in toxins and waste, that would otherwise be released. It also is listed as a “possible carcinogen”.

Artificial fragrances [5] (or parfum, as it may be listed) are sneaky, because they are listed as one ingredient item, when in reality they are made up of a combination of over 3,000 synthetic chemicals that are used in the fragrance industry.  Fragrance is produced three ways – they are derived from petroleum, created through chemical synthesis, or extracted from natural, raw materials (least common). The fragrance industry is not regulated by the FDA, so companies do not have to list or disclose which chemicals are used in their “parfum” combinations. This is especially scary since 66% of the chemicals used in fragrance have not even been tested for safety. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, along with the EWG (Environmental Working Group), analyzed a wide range of perfumes, and the results were shocking. Chemicals that are known neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, allergens, and carcinogens were common ingredients. These chemicals are inhaled, absorbed through the skin, and many accumulate in the body. Not good!

Artificial color/dyes [6] used to be made from coal tar, but now are made from petroleum (cause that’s so much better!) They are listed as FD&C and then a color. The FD&C means they are permitted by the FDA to be added to food, drugs and cosmetics. FD&C colorings are listed as GRAS – Generally Recognized As Safe. Again, so reassuring! The reality is artificial dyes are not safe. They contain the contaminants arsenic, lead, mercury, and certain carcinogens, like benzidine – but of course, in low, “healthy” levels. Another red flag is that the law requires manufactures pay the FDA a “user fee”, for each pound of color additive they certify (not just examine). So the FDA gets paid for each pound of color additive they pass. Talk about a conflict of interest.

I’m sure there are several other ingredients I should be looking out for, but this is about all I can handle for now. I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed by this discovery, as it is. I just had no clue there are so many toxins in body care products.


References: [1] [2],, [3], [4] [5], [6]

Image Source: Oxlock. “Danger.” Image ID 23421136.

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