Personal care products and cosmetics are filled with toxic, harmful chemicals that can cause allergies, disrupt your hormones, and are even linked to cancer. Here's a cheat sheet to the 10 most important toxic beauty, personal care, and skincare ingredients to avoid.
UPDATE: This post was originally published in November 2015 and has been updated.
A number of years ago, I made the switch to eating only real, whole foods, and buying organic, grass-fed and free-range as much as I could possibly afford. After reading dozens of books and watching a handful of documentaries about the dangers of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and other toxic chemicals found in our food, I truly felt like I had no other choice if I cared at all about my health (and the welfare of animals, for that matter). I had to make what I put in my body a priority.
Meanwhile, I was shampooing my hair with Pantene, slathering St. Ives lotion all over my skin, spritzing D&G Light Blue on all my pulse points and was generally unconcerned about what I was putting on my body. Or rather, I assumed that because most of my makeup was high-end and from Sephora, and most of my skincare was simple, dermatologist-recommended products that I was safe.
Oh, how wrong I was.
It all started when I heard about Skin Deep, the Environmental Working Group's guide to safe, non-toxic beauty products. The more I learned about the cosmetic industry in the U.S., the more disgusted and terrified I became.
I couldn't believe the known carcinogens, hormone disruptors and skin irritants mainstream companies were intentionally putting into the same products I was coating myself with every day. I was shocked at how little those products are regulated in America, how misleading product labels and claims could be and how few people seemed to care or even know that this was going on…myself included.
Here I thought I was this conscious consumer, but in reality, I had been unknowingly putting toxic chemicals on my skin, in my hair and all over my body for decades.
Even worse: everything you put on your skin is immediately absorbed into your bloodstream. And according to the EWG, the average woman uses 12 products containing 168 different ingredients daily, many of which are known to cause cancer, make us infertile, mess with our hormones and/or irritate our skin and our lungs.
So what are we supposed to do? Fear not! I researched and I read and I watched and I learned as much as I could about personal care ingredients and now I am here to share my findings with you. Herewith, a cheat sheet to the top 10 most toxic skincare ingredients to avoid.
The Most Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid
*Fragrance Note: Recent research from EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, many of which are toxic. Unfortunately, federal law doesn’t require companies to disclose what’s in their fragrance mixture, as it’s considered a trade secret, so none of these chemicals are listed on the ingredients label. Even “unscented” products often contain fragrance, so your safest option is to avoid any products with Fragrance in the ingredients list.
To learn more about what's hiding in your personal care products, check out this video by The Story of Stuff Project and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. It's a bit cheesy, but it's really eye-opening:
How to Swap to Safer Skincare Products
I hope that you'll see just how important it is to toss those toxic products and swap them for safe, natural alternatives. Don't feel like you have to do it all at once. Next time you run out of an item, try replacing it with a safe substitution and slowly you can rebuild your toiletry cabinet.
Start reading the labels on all of the products you use and check them against EWG's Skin Deep Database, which awards a score to nearly 72,000 products and over 2,200 brands based on their toxicity and potential for harm.
We've also written tons of content about the best, safe beauty and skincare products and brands–check out these posts for guidance on natural beauty products that ACTUALLY work!
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Prefer to DIY? We've got you covered too with tons of DIY beauty recipes here!