Can you imagine soaking a cotton ball in formaldehyde and rubbing it on your face? How about antifreeze? Let’s add a bit of that to the baby’s bathwater!

You might be surprised to find that your skin is by far the largest organ in your body, and what you put on it affects your mind and body in ways you can’t always see immediately. Many ingredients found in popular cleaning and personal care products are, or can be, cancer-causing agents (or just plain dangerous). Because your skin is permeable, such ingredients harm not only the skin itself, but can penetrate into your body, get into your blood stream, and cause all sorts of internal damage

As we go through our daily routine, many of us have exposed ourselves to more than 200 different chemicals, and often the same dangerous chemicals in multiple products. A recent surge of media attention reveals new concerns about the way many common ingredients are affecting our health. An article in USA Weekend says:

“The EPA is increasing research on dozens of synthetic chemicals (pesticides, plastics, and industrial pollutants) that may be juggling your hormone signals. After reviewing nearly 300 studies, the EPA concluded that ingredients in shampoos, dyes, and other everyday products may be playing havoc with hormones that control reproduction and development.”

Recently, I was in the grocery store and noticed a popular poultry brand labeled their whole chicken as “natural.” There was no indication that the bird was organic, free-range, or hormone and antibiotic-free; but, I wonder how many consumers were fooled by the term “natural.” The same is true in personal care products. Since there are no regulations on what is “natural,” the term is often abused. Many of these products simply have a higher price tag, but still have the same dangerous ingredients as the products they claim to replace.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Consumers must be educated and aware.  Of the hundreds of toxic chemicals used in personal and skin care products, here are a few of the “worst offenders”.  If you can learn and memorize with your children these few ingredients, and start reading ingredient labels, you can avoid some of the most serious carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals.

Alcohol (Isopropyl):  As a solvent and denaturant (a poisonous substance that changes another substance’s natural qualities), alcohol is found in body creams, colognes, hand lotions, after-shaves, and many other cosmetics.  A petroleum-derived substance, it is also used in antifreeze, as a solvent in shellac, and in low-quality diluted essential oils.  According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, ingestion or inhalation of the vapor may cause headaches, flushing, dizziness, mental depression, nausea, vomiting, narcosis, anesthesia, and coma.  The fatal ingested dose is just one ounce.

DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine):  DEA and MEA are usually listed on the label in conjunction with the compound being neutralized, so look for names like Cocomide DEA or MEA, Lauraminde DEA, and so on.  These are hormone-disrupting chemicals known to form cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines.  They are almost always in products that foam, including bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps, and facial cleaners.  On the show “CBS This Morning,” Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor of environmental health at the University of Illinois, said,

“Repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of two cancers – liver and kidney cancers.”

John Bailey, head of the cosmetic division of the FDA, says that the new study is especially important since “the risk equation changes significantly for children.”  Tests at the University of Bologna in Italy found TEA to be the most frequent sensitizer used in cosmetics, gels, shampoos, creams, lotions, etc.

FD & C Color Pigments:  Most of us know the health risks associated with ingesting food dyes, but what about the dyes we put on our skin? According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients,  “Many [pigments] cause skin sensitivity and irritation…and absorption [of certain colors] can cause depletion of oxygen in the body and death.” In Home Safe Home, author Debra Lynn Dadd says that

“Colors that can be used in foods, drugs, and cosmetics are made from coal tar.  There is a great deal of controversy about their use, because animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic.”

Fragrances:  Many people choose fragrance-free products because of the way synthetic fragrances either give them a headache, irritate their skin, or cause an allergic reaction. Most deodorants, shampoos, sunscreens, skin care, body care, laundry soaps, and baby products contain fragrance.  While therapeutic grade essentials oils smell good and promote healthy skin, many of the compounds in synthetic fragrances are carcinogenic or otherwise toxic.

“Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients.  Most or all of them are synthetic.  Symptoms reported to the FDA have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation.  Clinical observation by medical doctors has shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope and other behavioral changes.”  (“Home Safe Home”, author Debra Lynn Dadd)

Mineral Oil:  Used in many personal care products (Baby Oil is 100% mineral oil ! ).  This ingredient actually coats the skin just like a plastic wrap, disrupting the skin’s natural immune barrier and inhibiting its ability to breathe and absorb the Natural Moisture Factor (moisture and nutrition).  As the body’s largest organ of elimination, it is vital that the skin be free to release toxins.  But mineral oil impedes this process, allowing toxins to accumulate, which can promote acne and other disorders.  It also slows down skin function and normal cell development, resulting in premature aging of the skin.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG):  This is used in cleansers to dissolve oil and grease as well as to thicken products.  A number after “PEG” refers to its molecular weight, which influences its characteristics.  Because of their effectiveness, PEGs are often used in caustic spray-on oven cleaners, yet are also found in many personal care products.  Not only are they potentially carcinogenic, but they contribute to stripping the skin’s natural moisture factor, leaving the immune system vulnerable.

Propylene Glycol (PG):  As a surfactant or wetting agent or solvent, PG is actually the active component in antifreeze.  There is no difference between what’s used in industry and what’s used in personal care products.  Industry uses it to break down protein and cellular structure (what the skin is made of), yet it is found in most forms of make-up, hair products, lotions, after-shave, deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste and is even used in food processing.

Because of its ability to quickly penetrate the skin, the EPA requires workers to wear protective gloves, clothing and goggles when working with this toxic substance.  PG’s Material Safety Data Sheets warn against skin contact because PG has systemic consequences such as brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities.  But there isn’t even a warning label on products such as stick deodorants, where the concentration is greater than that in most industrial applications.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES):  Used as detergents and surfactants, these closely related compounds are found in car wash soaps, garage floor cleaners, and engine degreasers, yet are even more widely used as major ingredients in cosmetics, toothpaste, hair conditioners, and about 90% of all shampoos and products that foam.  In the article “Dangerous Beauty”, Mark Fearer shares that:

“In tests, animals that were exposed to SLS experienced eye damage, along with depression labored breathing, diarrhea, severe skin irritation and corrosion, and even death….according to the American College of Toxicology.”  Children’s eyes are also at risk:  Studies indicate SLS kept young eyes from developing properly by possibly denaturing (dissolving) the proteins and not allowing for proper structural formation.  This damage was permanent.”

Still other research has indicated SLS may be damaging the immune system, especially with the skin.  “Skin layers may separate and inflame due to its protein-denaturing properties.”  One of the most dangerous of all ingredients in personal care products, research shows that “SLS combined with other chemicals can be transformed into nitrosamines, a potent class of carcinogens that cause the body to absorb nitrates at higher levels than eating nitrate-contaminated food.”

According to an American College of Toxicology report, SLS stays in the body for up to five days.  Other studies show that SLS easily penetrates the skin and enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, the lings, and the brain. This poses questions of its being a serious potential health threat through its use in shampoos, cleansers and toothpaste.

Urea (Imidazolidinyl) & DMDM Hydantoin:  These are just two of the many preservatives that release formaldehyde (called “formaldehyde donors”).  According to the Mayo Clinic, formaldehyde can irritate the respiratory system, cause skin reactions and trigger heart palpitation.  Exposure to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and loss of sleep.  It can also aggravate coughs and colds and trigger asthma.

Other possible side effects include weakening the immune system and cancer.  Formaldehyde-releasing ingredients are very common in nearly all store brands of skin, body and hair care, anti-perspirants, and nail polish.  A more complete list of products that contain formaldehyde can be found in the book by Doris J. Rapp M.D. entitled, Is This Your Child’s World?

TRICLOSAN is the largest rage in the arsenal of anti-bacterial chemicals, included in detergents, dishwashing liquids, hand-washes, soaps, deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, creams, and even toothpaste.  In 1998, Americans snatched up $540 million of these products, without proof they even do what they claim (Good Housekeeping Institute Report,  Good Housekeeping Magazine, March 1999).

But is triclosan safe?  The EPA registers it as a pesticide, giving it high scores as a risk to both human health and the environment (US Environmental Protection Agency / Webpage  –, and the USP recently proposed a new monograph for the specific testing of triclosan.  It is a chlorinated aromatic, similar in molecular structure and chemical formulation to some of the most toxic chemicals on earth:  dioxins, PCBs and Agent Orange ( James Menoutis and Angela I Parisi-Menoutis.  Triclosan and its Impurities.  Technology Review Series  –  Quantex Laboratories).

Its manufacturing process may produce dioxin, a powerful hormone-disrupting chemical with toxic effects in the parts per trillion;  one drop in 300 Olympic size swimming pools ( website). Hormone disruptors pose enormous long-term chronic health risks because they interfere with the way hormones perform, such as changing genetic material or fostering birth defects.   (Debra Lynn Dadd.  1990.  Non-Toxic. Natural and Earthwise.  Jeremy P. Tarcher).

Triclosan is a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans.  Externally, it causes skin irritation, but since “phenol can temporarily deactivate the sensory nerve endings….contact with it often causes little or no pain.”  (Linda Mason Hunter. 1980.  The Healthy Home.  Pocket Books). “Internally, it can lead to cold sweats, circulatory collapse, convulsions, coma and death.”  (Debra Lynn Dadd. 1992.  The Non-Toxic Home and Office.  Jeremy P. Tarcher). Stored in body fat, it can accumulate to toxic levels, damaging the liver, kidney and lungs and can cause paralysis, sterility, suppression of immune function, brain hemorrhages, decreased fertility and sexual function, heart problems, and coma.  (Debra Lynn Dadd. 1990. Non-Toxic Natural and Earthwise.  Jeremy P. Tarcher).

All these chemicals are persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

“They are chlorinated, persist in the environment, and accumulate to higher and higher concentrations with each step up in the food chain…Once absorbed into the body fat, it is almost impossible to eliminate POPs.  (World Wildlife Fund.  Reducing Your Risk:  A Guide to Avoiding Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals).  “Employing a strong anti-biotic agent such as triclosan for everyday use is of questionable value as it takes a shotgun approach to killing all microscopic organisms while destroying the beneficial bacteria in the environment and in our bodies.  These so-called friendly bacteria cause no harm and often produce beneficial effects such as aiding metabolism and inhibiting the invasion of harmful pathogens.”  (M. Angela McGehee, PhD. In Biology and Marine Sciences, Personal Correspondence).

Boston-based microbiologist Laura McMurray and colleagues at the Tufts University School of Medicine say that:

“Triclosan is capable of forcing the emergence of “superbugs” that it cannot kill.  And experiments have shown that it may not be the all-out germ killer scientists once thought it was….Using triclosan daily in the home  –  in products ranging from children’s soaps to toothpaste to “germ-free) cutting boards  –  may be unwise.”  (Maggie Fox.  Common Disinfectant Could Breed Superbugs.  Health and Science Correspondent).

“Public health officials have blamed the indiscriminate prescription of antibiotics by doctors for the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.  The Tufts study suggests the recent widespread use of anti-bacterial agents in everyday products might have similar results.”  (Joseph B. Verrengia.  New Products Feared Breeding Tougher Germs.  AP Science Writer).

Other Harmful Skin Care Ingredients Include:

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (Glycolic, Lactic, AHA, etc.), Aluminum, Benzophenone, Benzalkonium, Chloride, Butylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl urea, Ethylparaben, Methyparaben, Petroleum, Polyquatemiums, Prophlparaben, Polyvinylpyrrolidone.

Hat tip to Linda Chae and the Toxic Free Foundation

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By the way, I am not a doctor – just a mom who uses essential oils in her own family. Please know that any information provided on The Common Scents Mom is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to prescribe, diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, nor replace current medical treatment or drugs prescribed by your healthcare professional. The statements made have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is your responsibility to educate yourself and address any health or medical needs you may have with your physician. Please seek professional help when needed.