What we put on our skin and around our bodies everyday adds up, so it is so important to know what’s in your products. According to the Environmental Working Group, “One of every five adults are potentially exposed every day to all of the top seven carcinogenic impurities common to personal care product ingredients — hydroquinone, ethylene dioxide, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, nitrosamines, PAHs, and acrylamide.” Below we dive into the seven common carcinogens. But know that cleaning products can expose people to these chemicals too! We encourage you to avoid these impurities if you haven’t been already. As always, our goal is to enlighten and empower you to make more educated choices to create a safer home for you and your family!
The EWG’s Skindeep Cosmetics Database and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are two great resources for learning more about harmful chemicals. Each site dissects chemicals of concern, explains how to avoid them, and provides data sources for more information. We used the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, EWG, and the National Cancer Institute to describe the chemicals below, where they can be found and what to look for on labels. We want to especially thank the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for their extensive research and information on these ingredients that we’ve included below.
Hydroquinone – commonly used in skin lighteners and heavily marketed towards women of color. Research shows it is linked to cancer and organ-system toxicity.
- Found in skin lighteners, facial and skin cleansers, facial moisturizers, hair conditioners, finger nail coating products.
- Look for and avoid Hydroquinone or tocopheryl acetate.
Ethylene Oxide – is used primarily to produce other chemicals in a process called Ethoxylation, which can leave residual ethylene oxide in the product and even create small amounts of 1,4-dioxane
- Found in shampoo, liquid soap, bubble bath, hair relaxers. In smaller amounts, it is used as a pesticide and sterilizing agent.
- Look for PPG, PEG, polysorbate and ingredients that end in –eth such as laureth, steareth, ceteareth.
1,4-dioxane – Dioxane is a byproduct of ethoxylation. You won’t find it on ingredient labels because 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant created when ingredients mix together and react to form the compound. It is highly toxic to your brain, central nervous system, kidneys, liver and respiratory system.
- It’s often found in products that create suds (such as shampoo, liquid soap, bubble bath), hair relaxers, others. When you use a laundry detergent contaminated with dioxane, it goes everywhere. It never breaks down. Water filters can’t remove it—and it isn’t biodegradable.
- Look for sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, chemicals that include the clauses xynol, ceteareth and oleth.
Formaldehyde – is considered to be a universal sensitizer by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), which is a chemical that can make a person sensitive to all harmful chemicals if there is a big enough exposure. Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer and allergic skin reactions. More info: 23 Sources of Formaldehyde to Remove from Your Home, Starting Right Now
- Found in manufactured wood products used as building materials such as OSB, plywood, MDF, and particle board. These manufactured wood products are also found in furniture like desks, bookshelves, beds, kitchen cabinets, and more. Formaldehyde is also added to paints, coatings, plastic products, pesticides, cosmetics, mattress ticking, leather goods, adhesives, glues, resins, synthetic fabrics, permanent press bedding, clothing, and drapes. For cosmetics, it can be found in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap, body wash, color cosmetics.
- Look for formaldehyde, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal.
Nitrosamines – Nitrosamines form when certain compounds such as diethanolamine (DEA) or triethanolamine (TEA) are used in products along with preservatives that can break down into nitrates. Nitrosamines are not listed on product labels because they are impurities. Nitrosamines are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and organ system toxicity.
- Found in nearly every personal care product, including mascara, concealer, conditioner, baby shampoo, pain-relief salve and sunless tanning lotion.
- Look for DEA or TEA – which can indicate the presence of nitrosamines
PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) – Tox Town describes PAH’s as a group of more than 100 chemicals that can be released from burning coal, oil, gasoline, trash, tobacco, and wood. You can be exposed to PAHs through ingestion, inhalation or skin contact. According to the National Cancer Institute, PAH’s can be found in coal tar, creosote, roofing tar, pesticides, mothballs, dandruff shampoos, and some medicines. Coal tar is used in food, textiles, cosmetics and personal care products!
- Avoid shampoos, scalp treatments, soaps, hair dyes, and lotions made with coal tar
- Look for coal tar solution, tar, coal, carbo-cort, coal tar solution, coal tar solution USP, crude coal tar, estar, impervotar, KC 261, lavatar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, petroleum benzi
Acrylamide – Repeating molecules of acrylamide can create polyacrylamide, which is used as a stabilizer and binder in many cosmetic products. Acrylamide is linked to tumors and reproductive and developmental toxicity.
- Found in facial moisturizers, anti-aging products, color cosmetics, lotions, hair products, sunscreens, and more.
- Look for polyacrylamide; acrylamide; polyacrylate, polyquaternium, acrylate
Hydroquinone – https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/703041/HYDROQUINONE/
Ethylene Oxide – https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/726229/ETHYLENE_OXIDE/
Formaldehyde – https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/search.php?query=formaldehyde
Nitrosamines – https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/search.php?query=nitrosamines