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Soap Ingredients to Avoid

The following is a list of ingredients we recommend avoiding in body care products. Some are suspected or known carcinogens, others are toxic, will not biodegrade or simply have a strong potential to cause irritation and allergic reactions. Regardless of what the front label of some soap and body care products may say about being natural, if any of these ingredients are included on the back of the label, you might want to save your money (and your body).

Avoid these Ingredients in your Soap & Body Care


Antibacterial cleansers (Triclosan, Benzethonium chloride) - the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that use of these may contribute to development of allergies by interfering with our natural immune system antibodies and that their use may reduce resistance to infections. What is worse, these cleansers don't necessarily do a better job than regular soap and water. These are bioaccumulative--they build up in wildlife and humans due to multiple exposures without breakdown--and are found in treated water supplies. These readily react with the chlorine in municipal water treatment to form chlorinated byproducts like chloroform and are acutely toxic to aquatic life. Click here for more information on antibacterial soap.


Artificial colorants (FD& C Yellow 5, for example) - found in anything from hair dyes to toothpastes to food, these often contain heavy metals such as lead acetate or "coal tar" chemicals. Many are carcinogenic or contain impurities that are.


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) - this group of antioxidants is used in everything from lipstick to toothpaste to baby sunscreen--you can even find it in some foods. Its use in food is banned in many other countries. These are toxic to the immune, respiratory, liver and neurologic systems.


Cocamidopropyl - this surfactant and emulsifier often contains impurities like nitrosamines (see DEA/TEA below) which can combine with other ingredients to form carcinogenic compounds. It can cause some contact dermatitis.


DEA/TEA (Diethanolamine/Triethanolamine) - these are used as wetting and lathering agents in shampoos and lotions. They can react with other compounds in the products to form a carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). In 1979, the FDA ordered the cosmetic industry to eliminate NDEA from formulas, but when cosmetic products were tested in 1980 for NDEA, 42% came up positive.


Dimethecone (silicone derived emollients) - used as an emollient because of its ability to "seal" the skin, it does not allow the skin to breathe and can trap harmful bacteria. It is derived from silicone, the same infamous substance used in breast implants. It is non-biodegradable, so the impact on the environment is negative.


Formaldehyde releasers [DMDM hydantoin diazolidinyl urea, Imidazalidol urea Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, N-(Hydroxymethyl) glycine, monosodium salt, and quaternium-15] - some of these are used as preservatives, namely as a paraben replacement. They release formaldehyde as they break down. Formaldehyde was classified as a human carcinogen in 2004. In addition, anything with "urea" in the name is generally used as a "penetration enhancer" - something used to help active ingredients in a product penetrate the skin more deeply. These also release formaldehyde as they break down and are suspected blood, neurologic and liver toxins. Do we really want all these toxins getting pushed further into our epidermis?


Parabens (methylparaben, polyparaben, ethylparaben, etc.) - these are widely used preservatives which mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen. Found in nearly all commercial body care products (liquid soaps, shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes, lotions, diaper creams, etc.), it is extremely hard to find paraben free products to avoid accumulating lots of micro-exposures as you use layers of these products daily. Parabens have been found in breast tumor tissue, though a causal relationship has not been determined.


PEG ingredients (anything with PEG followed by a number representing molecular weight) - these are used as detergents and foaming agents. They are suspected kidney and skin toxins and are often contaminated with volatile carcinogens dioxane and ethylene oxide.


Petrolatum (liquid paraffin) and mineral oil- - this one speaks for itself, but in case there is any confusion...fossil fuel anyone? These substances are refined from crude oil. They do not allow skin to breathe and have been banned from the EU since 2004 for probable carcinogenic impurities unless the refining manufacturer can demonstrate that the product is free from impurities.


Propylene glycol - this solvent is used in anti-freeze, de-icing chemicals, nail polish, latex paints, artificial smoke (as used in theatrical productions), deodorant and adhesives. The process for making this chemical is heavily fossil fuel dependent.


Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (almost anything containing the words "lauryl" or "laureth") - this is a surfactant and foaming agent that is found in most soaps, shampoos and laundry detergents. Can be extremely irritating to skin and is a leading culprit in exacerbation of eczema.

Synthetic fragrances - many are petroleum derived and contain phthalates, a group of bioacculmulative industrial chemicals linked to endocrine and hormone disruption, prostate cancer, liver, kidney and lung damage and male reproductive defects. The European Union (EU) has banned most phthalates and there are proposed bills banning certain phthalates in California.


Talc - this is used in powders and as a filler in pharmaceutical tablets. Can be toxic if inhaled and was found in up to 75% of ovarian cancer tumors in one study.

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