Toxic Talk and Labels

Top Seven Cancer-Causing Cosmetic Ingredients

+ Pamela Friedman

You’ve probably heard about some of the dangerous chemicals that may be lurking in your shampoos, body washes, and skin moisturizers. Still, all the information flying around out there can get confusing, so we’ve narrowed it down to 7-seven ingredients that have been linked to cancer. Look for these on your label ingredient decks, and if the product has it, don’t buy it!

Phthalates: Chemicals produced from oil to make plastic, phthalates are also used as solvents in cosmetic products like nail polishes, perfumes, and hair sprays. They’ve been found in animal tests to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system. The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled phthalates as probable human carcinogens. Human studies have found developmental abnormalities in male infants correlating with high phthalate levels in their mother’s bodies. Look for abbreviations like “DBP,” “DEP,” “DEHP,” “BzBP,” and “DMP.”

Parabens: Preservatives used in a variety of personal-care products, parabens have been found in breast tumors by scientists, and are known to disrupt normal hormone function in the body. Avoid words like “methyl,” “propyl,” “butyl,” and “ethyl” parabens.

Talc: Found in baby powders, talcum powders, and genital deodorant sprays, talc has been linked with ovarian cancer. A meta analysis in 2003 found a 33% higher risk of ovarian cancer among talc users.  Plain talc has shown in some rodent studies to be carcinogenic, with tiny particles that can get into the lungs. Avoid talc-containing products and use ointments instead of powders for diaper rash.

Fragrance: Synthetic fragrances can contain as many as 200 unknown chemicals. Since companies aren’t required to list those chemicals, you have no way of knowing what you’re putting on your skin. According to a 1986 report, 99% of the chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes and other known toxic ingredients capable of causing cancer. If you see “fragrance” on the ingredient list, avoid the product. Choose instead alternatives that list essential oils and other natural fragrance alternatives.

Formaldehyde: A colorless gas, formaldehyde is listed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program as “reasonably anticipated to cause cancer.” It can cause allergic reactions, contact dermatitis, and headaches, and is listed in the European Union as toxic and carcinogenic. You may find it in nail hardeners and nail polishes, and it can also be a by-product in the manufacturing of bath products. To avoid this chemical, ask about formaldehyde content before purchasing pressed-wood products like cabinetry and furniture, and purchase organic personal-care products.

Petrolatum: Listed as mineral oil, liquid paraffin, toluene, or petroleum, petro products have been banned or restricted for use in cosmetics in other countries. Researchers conducting animal studies have theorized that petroleum-derived ingredients in moisturizers may promote skin-cancer tumor growth. EWG also found that many petroleum-based cosmetic ingredients can be contaminated with a dangerous by-product called 1,4-dioxane. Avoid these ingredients and choose natural moisturizers like shea butter and jojoba oils instead.

1,4 dioxane: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 97% of hair relaxers, 82% of hair dyes, 57% of baby soaps, 43% of body-firming lotions, 36% of facial moisturizers, and 34% of body lotions contain 1,4-dioxane-a chemical by-product produced in cosmetics manufacturing and a known carcinogen. To avoid it, watch for words like “PEG,” “xynol,” “ceterareth,” and “oleth.”

Are you avoiding these seven ingredients? Let us know how you’re shopping toxin-free.

Photo courtesy Nele en Jan via