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Toxic Skincare and Beauty Products

Toxic Skincare and Beauty Products
Renata Trister DO
The skin absorbs about 60% of what we put on it and what is applied to the skin might be an even greater risk for toxin exposure than what you put in your mouth. When you eat, a vast system of digestion and excretion breaks down what’s ingested and flushes it out of the body. However, chemicals on the skin are absorbed into the bloodstream without such filtering.

The average woman uses 12 different personal care products contain 170 different ingredients everyday. An astounding number of personal skincare ingredients are linked to cancers, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive issues. Understanding labels and finding alternatives is important. This article will discuss some of the most toxic ingredients to avoid and provide some alternatives.


Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent found in hand sanitizer, but is also added to soap, shampoo, and even tissues! It can be absorbed through the skin, and has been detected in human urine, serum, and breast milk. Triclosan hand sanitizer is probably THE MOST important ingredient to avoid. Hand washing with plain soap is healthier for you and everything around you.

Recent focus on the importance of our micro biome and the growing threat of drug resistant bacteria, the widespread use of unnecessary antibacterial agents has come under question. Studies as early as 2006 have expressed concern over bacterial resistance to triclosan, as well as the greater fear of triclosan-induced resistance to clinically important antimicrobial drugs. Just think of it this way by killing the 99.9% of bacteria (as some bottles claim) the resistant .1% get a greater chance to survive & multiply.

A study was released linking triclosan exposure to liver cancer in mice. In the study, triclosan acted as a cancer promoter, meaning it increased susceptibility to cancer and accelerated tumor formation after long-term exposure.

Triclosan has also been suspected as an endocrine disruptor, although a recent review of the literature concludes that triclosan exposure through the use of personal care products is unlikely to adversely affect endocrine function in humans (although this review was funded by the Colgate-Palmolive Company) and although there’s limited or no evidence that triclosan exposure through personal care products has harmful effects in humans, several studies have shown triclosan to adversely affect thyroid and reproductive function in rats.

Finally, triclosan antibacterial soaps do not provide any benefit over regular soap for preventing the spread of disease! There is no reason to use this and triclosan should be avoided all together.

Phthalates and Parabens

Phthalates and parabens are found in a variety of personal care products, although phthalates are more common in lotions because they act as moisturizers and enhance skin penetration of other compounds. Parabens are absorbed through the skin intact. Both chemicals have been detected in breast milk, urine, and plasma.

Phthalates and parabens increase the risk for breast cancer. An increased concentration of phthalate metabolites in the urine was associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, and intact parabens have been detected in breast cancer tissue. Phthalates have also been implicated in reproductive and endocrine disruption, although like triclosan, the evidence is preliminary.

Sulfates and Fragrances

Sulfates, such as sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, fragrances, and petroleum by-products are some of the other chemicals commonly used.

Sodium lauryl sulfate, SLS is a detergent and a surfactant (it breaks surface tension and separates molecules in order to allow better interaction between the product and your hair and skin). This in turn creates a lather which makes products such as shampoo and toothpaste more effective cleaners. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is found in a number of industrial cleaning agents such as engine degreaser. SLS is also widely used as a skin irritant when testing products used to heal skin conditions.

The term “fragrance” is vast, they’re a common cause of contact dermatitis. Fragrances are poorly regulated, and “fragrance” on an ingredient label could mean just about anything. Many dangerous ingredients can be manipulated and categorized as a fragrance. Initially, perfume companies fought the law to list their ingredients so that the secret recipes are not stolen. Thus the term fragrance was born. Now, however dangerous chemical can be classified as a fragrance to avoid getting listed as an ingredient.

Non-toxic alternatives

There are many safe soap options. Just look for soap that only contains oils and other recognizable ingredients.

Oils like coconut, jojoba, and even olive oil are great for your skin and widely available.

Shampoo can be a little harder to eliminate. There is an adjustment period. Simple ingredients such as bentonite clay, apple cider vinegar, and honey can clean and condition hair.

A simple 1-time use shampoo can be made with raw honey! (1tablespoon RAW honey with 3 tablespoons water. You may add 2 drops of carrot seed oil and 2 drops of essential oil such as Rosemary or lavender – the oils are optional). Many online resources are available; this is a good example –

Another option would be to forgo soap and shampoo entirely. This might sound extreme research has shown that like our gut, the skin has a micro biome. This micro biome acts as a built-in cleanser, deodorant, anti-inflammatory and immune-booster. The chemicals in skin care can disrupt this micro biome.

In fact, new companies now offer a product that contains Nitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB). AOBs are commonly found in soil and are the reason why animals take “dirt baths” by rolling in the soil. These bacteria were once commonly found on our skin but are easily washed away with soap and shampoo. AOBs, convert the urea and ammonia in sweat—which is abrasive to the skin, causing acne and irritation—into nitrite, which fights most bad bacteria, and nitric oxide, which has anti-inflammatory properties. The idea is that these bacteria will help restore our skin’s natural protective, moisturizing and cleansing abilities, thus reducing or eliminating the need for skin care products.

A growing number of people have chosen to eliminate soaps and shampoos. Although this may be a bit radical for some, check out this article in the New York Times for a good summary and explanations.