It can be confusing trying to find safe personal care products. The truth is there’s no truth in most marketing. Seeing the words organic, natural or plant based on the front of a product means close to nothing because there’s either no regulatory requirements OR because it doesn’t mean they’re non-toxic.
How Your Skin Works
Your skin is the first line of defense that your body has. It’s a physical barrier that allows and limits passage of water, chemicals and minerals out of the skin. Anything smaller than 500 daltons can be absorbed into the skin and go straight into the bloodstream before being metabolized by the liver. So, what you put on your skin can matter when it comes to your toxic burden.
Over 12,000 Chemicals in Personal Care Products
There are over 12,000 chemicals approved for use in personal care products in the United States . Sadly, 89% of the 12,000 plus chemicals used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety. The ones that have been evaluated for safety, have been by a group funded by the cosmetics industry which is completely self regulated.
According to the Environmental Working Group, the average woman uses 12 products per day containing 168 different chemicals.
There’s a lot of discussion about the dose that makes the poison. However, not all chemicals work the way you might think. In other words, not all chemicals become more toxic as you increase the concentration. In some cases, a very small amount of a chemical can make the poison.
The good news is that many of these chemicals are not lipophilic (fat loving) and so can leave the body relatively quickly. So, to reduce your toxic burden, it’s a matter of eliminating exposures.
Common Personal Care Product Chemicals to Avoid
These are a class of chemicals that might begin with Diethyl, Dimethyl and Di-n-butyl. This class of chemicals are under that 500 dalton  size so they can go into the skin. The all encompassing and mysterious “fragrances” can be up to 50% phthalates. There are over 300 different fragrance ingredients and over 3,000 trade secret fragrances to choose from!
- Cause early onset puberty
- Increase breast cancer risk
- Lower testosterone in male babies
- Suppress the thyroid
- Lead to increased allergies
- Increase occurrence of autism
- Cause developmental issues in children (autism, reproductive issues, obesity, insulin resistance)
Phthalates, happily, are not fat soluble, so they can be metabolized in a day or two.
Parabens are in 70-90% of all personal care products. These tend to be between 100-200 daltons and so can easily penetrate the skin. The EU has banned 5 types of parabens and limits the amount permitted of more commonly used products.
- Alter the menstrual cycle
- Increase cancer cell growth
- Increase breast cancer driven by estrogen
This has been used in place of parabens lately, so when you see “paraben free” on the front packaging of your favorite products, this is likely the replacement. This preservative is a cyto and genotoxic chemical.
These are chemicals such as DEA, MEA and TEA and are used as foaming agents but can be found in other products as well. These chemicals are associated with skin cancers in animal studies. Cocamide DEA has been added to Prop65 in California as a possible carcinogen.
Laurel and Laureth sulfates are detergents and penetration enhancers. You’ve likely seen products with “Sodium Laureth Sulfate Free” on the front of the packaging. These chemicals strip away protective oils and can cause dermatitis. Sodium Laureth Sulfate can often have a byproduct called 1,4 dioxane which is a carcinogenic contaminant.
How to Choose Safe Personal Care Products
I’m a big believer in looking at all the ingredients of anything I purchase. But it can be an exhausting task. So, I love that these organizations make it a bit easier to understand which personal care products are safe.
The Environmental Working Group is a research and advocacy non-profit that has developed a number of helpful databases. More recently they created EWG Verified. These are products that have gone through their vetting process. Now, you can find EWG Verified products here.
Made Safe Certified
Made Safe is a more recent non-profit organization focused on identifying and certifying non-toxic products. This database is a bit smaller than EWG Verified however they have a really solid certification system that I like to support. You can find Made Safe Certified products here.
Would you like to learn how how you can reduce toxin exposures in other areas of your life and home environment?
Learn about additional chemicals I avoid in personal care products here.
To learn more about chemicals in sunscreens and how to choose safer sunscreens, check out Ashley Daniels’ article here.
To learn how to use essential oils in your cleaning routing, click here.