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The Toxic Twelve: Getting Smart on Skin-Safety

Chemical Free Skin Care Products

Our skin is the largest and also one of the most important organs of our body. It both protects other vital organs, bones, muscles, ligaments, and nerves, as well as acts as an elimination system, detoxifying our bodies through over 4 million sweat glands. It’s also semi-permeable, absorbing up to 60% of what it encounters.

Because the FDA does not regulate skincare, almost any ingredient can be incorporated into a product formula. And sometimes, those ingredients are harmful to our health, especially given that women, on average, use 12 personal care products a day in their daily routines. Many ingredients found in traditional skincare products (face washes, lotions, sunscreen, etc.) have now been linked to health issues such as allergies, eczema, cancer, hormonal disruption, and reproductive problems.

There are so many great resources to help you learn more, but for now, here’s a list of the top ingredients to avoid in your personal care routine -- the so-called “toxic twelve.”

Anything that is synthetic or artificial should always raise a red flag. These are made up of hundreds to thousands of different ingredients not listed on the label, so you are never sure what you are actually being exposed to. Often found in cosmetic and skincare products but also many household products such as candles, air fresheners, and scented trash bags.

Toxic metal that can have oestrogen-like effects in our systems, disrupting the healthy functioning of the endocrine system. Found many personal care product, but especially antiperspirant deodorants.

A petroleum by-product that coats the skin like plastic, clogging its pores. This is harmful because it interferes with skin’s ability to eliminate toxins. Found in creams, lotions, ointments, and cosmetics.

4. DMDM HYDANTOIN & UREA (Imidazolidinyl)
Preservatives that often release formaldehyde which may cause joint pain, skin allergies, headaches, and loss of sleep. Found in skincare products, cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners, and detergents.

5. PARABENS (Methyl, Butyl, Ethyl, Propyl)
Not always labeled, used as preservatives, and may contribute to hormone imbalance. Found almost everywhere, but especially in moisturizers and deodorants.

6. DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), and TEA (triethanolamine)
Clear, colorless, viscous liquids with ammonia-like odors. Usually found in products that foam like facial cleansers and soaps. They are also found in eye makeup, fragrances, hair products, and sunscreens.

A synthetic antibacterial agent that may disrupt thyroid function and can degrade into a form of dioxin, a class of chemicals linked to a broad range of toxicities including cancer.
Usually found in soaps, mouthwash, shaving cream, deodorants, toothpastes, etc.

8. PEG (Polyethylene glycol)
Ingredient that can alter and reduce the skin’s natural moisture factor. It adjusts the melting point and thickens products. Usually found in cleansers to dissolve oil and grease.

Look for ingredients ending in "-siloxane" or "-methicone." Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Suspected endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane).

Detergent that makes products foam, lather, and bubble, found in 90% of personal-care products that foam, and linked to skin irritation.

Chemicals used to increase flexibility and strength of plastics, and not often listed among the ingredients on products. Usually found in cosmetics such as fragrance oils and listed under the term “fragrance".

Gaseous hydrocarbons which in a liquid state act as “surfactant”. They penetrate the skin so quickly and can weaken the protein and cellular structure. Usually used to make extracts from herbs.

We hope this list is eye-opening and informative, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Start by looking at product labels. When possible opt for cleaner ingredients, and overall, try to reduce the number of products that you use. Often the effects of a single cream or shampoo aren’t enough to cause serious harm, but the repeat use of multiple products that are chock-full of these kinds of chemicals can really start adding up. Know that even just by reading this article, you’re one step closer to shopping smarter!


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