Personal Care Ingredients to Watch Out For

Why worry about the personal care ingredients that you use?

Simply, because most (as in greater than 90%) of these chemicals have not been tested for safety by any publicly accountable organization.

The average person uses well over 100 different personal care ingredients on their body every day. And the base ingredients in most of these products have serious health effects.

Using safe cosmetics from responsible manufacturers will go along way in boosting your immune system and overall health.

Here are some of the most common harmful personal care ingredients you'll find in shampoos, conditioners, nail polish, makeup, deodorant, toothpaste, body wash, etc.

Go grab some of those bottles and check out that label on the back. Don't be surprised to see:

Diethanolamine (DEA) is a suspected carcinogen. Irritates skin, eyes, and mucous membranes and can be harmful for the liver, kidneys and pancreas. This chemical forms nitrosamines that are known to be highly carcinogenic. It is especially dangerous for children as it is thought to inhibit brain development and maintenance.

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) can be tough to spot as manufacturers do their very best to hide them on the ingredient label (in the U.S. anyway). Look for formalin, Quaternium-15 dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, or 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol). These chemicals are linked to cancer and severe skin irritation.

Parabens are a family of chemicals which are suspected to cause breast cancer and are endocrine disruptors.  A small number of people might also develop skin irritations. They are easy to spot on ingredient labels, just look for the paraben at the end - ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben.

Phenylenediamine (PPD, P-diaminobenzene) is found in all permanent hair dyes including the "natural" and "herbal" hair colors. It is believed to cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, acute leukemia, and bladder cancer in long-term frequent users. PPD causes allergic reaction and scarring in some people.  Sensitization dermatitis is also a concern and can cause lifetime reactions to certain other dyes.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals generally hidden by the ingredient "fragrance." They are endocrine disruptors and can cause birth defects. Phthalates are being phased out of many products in the U.S. and E.U. because of their damaging health effects (but who knows how long that will take).

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) An ingredient found in the vast majority of commercially available shampoos and conditioners. It is an incredibly harsh detergent that causes skin irritation, skin dryness, canker sores, and is suspected by many organizations of causing cancer and reproductive toxicity. 

Toluene is a solvent used in nail polishes and is very similar to benzene. It cannot be removed from the body through the normal pathways of urine, sweat, or stool. It causes damage to the nervous system, liver and kidneys with long term exposure. Inhalation can cause severe neurological harm.

Triclosan is the most common active ingredient in antibacterial soap and other similar "germ-fighting" products. These products do not kill germs any better than all natural soaps and are actually creating bacterial resistance. Triclosan has been linked to cancer, liver toxicity, hormone disturbances, and birth defects. It is also toxic to animals and the environment. It won't necessarily be listed on the label (companies figure it is better to hide it), but products that contain triclosan say things like "fights germs" and "kills bacteria" and "antibacterial."

Two toxic chemicals that are probably in your products, yet aren't listed as a personal care ingredient, are:

1,4-dioxane is a carcinogen found mostly in products that make suds. Close to 25% of all personal products contain this chemical (including over half of all baby soaps). Product testing has shown these body care products have over 1,000 times the amount shown to cause cancer in lab animals. The FDA says it is easy and inexpensive for companies to remove this chemical, yet most have refused to do so.

Lead is a proven neurotoxin that has also been linked to decreased fertility and hormonal changes in both men and women. It is currently legal in the United States for cosmetic products to contain unlimited amounts of lead without any kind of warning to us consumers. The FDA has tested cosmetics for lead, but has refused to name which companies' products contained the highest amounts.

There are many more toxic ingredients that do not have to be listed on the label.

This is mostly because they are not an intended ingredient. Instead they were created as byproducts of the manufacturing process.

The FDA only requires intended products to be listed on the ingredient label. Any unintended ingredients can stay hidden from consumers, no matter how toxic.

And of course another reason is that the FDA doesn't have the time or resources to make sure companies are labeling their products accurately. It really is a jungle out there.

For a list of body care products that I use myself, see this page on non-toxic cosmetics.

Here are more common intended chemicals to avoid that are often personal care ingredients

(please note that there are many many more):

Acetamide MEA


Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)


Ammonium Laureth Sulphate

Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate



Butylene glycol



Cetrimonium Chloride

Coal Tar

Coco DEA

Cocamide DEA

Cocoamidopropyl Betaine

Cocomide DEA



Diazolidinyl Urea

Diethanolamine (DEA)



Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate






Glycereth-7 Cocoate


Hydantoin DMDM

Imidazolidinyl Urea

Isoceteth 20

Isopropyl Palmitate

Lauramide MEA

Lauryl DEA

Methyl Chloroisothiazolinine


Olefin Sulfonate

Oleyl Betaine

Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, etc.)


PEG-150 Distearate

PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate




Propylene Glycol

Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate

Sodium Cyanide

Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate

Sodium Lauryl Carboxylate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate

Sodium Myreth Sulfate

Sodium Oleth Sulfate

Sodium PCA (NAPCA)

Soyamidopropalkonium Chloride

Stearamidopropyl Dimethyl Amine

Stearamidopropyl Tetrasodium EDTA

Styrene Monomer


Triethanolamine (TEA)

Like I said before, there are many more harmful personal care ingredients in products that we use everyday. Isn't it time we demand safe cosmetics from all manufacturers? Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries in requiring cosmetic safety?

We as consumers send a powerful message every time we buy a product. Buying natural and organic body products instead of what you find on the grocery store shelves will be the only way we can change the industry. One bottle at a time.

Please support these companies that are doing right by us and the environment by selecting safe personal care ingredients:

Alteya Organics, Baby Bear Shop, Badger, Brittanie's Thyme, Bubble and Bee Organic, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Indian Meadow Herbals, Intelligent Nutrients, Kimberly Parry Organics, Little Angel, Mercola, Miessence Certified Organics, Nature's Paradise, OGmama and OGbaby,  Organicare, Organic Essence, Origins Organics, Purely Shea, Rainwater Organic Lotion, Rose Tattoo Aftercare, SoCal Cleanse, Sensibility Soaps/Nourish, Terressentials, Trillium Organics, Vermont Soap

And be skeptical of big companies not on this list. And no matter who you buy from - ALWAYS check the personal care ingredient list first. Don't rely on the front of the bottle. The terms organic and natural aren't regulated, and there are a lot of imposters out there trying to make a buck at your expense.

- - Personal Care Ingredients