There are approximately 82,0001 different ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, moisturizers, cosmetics, toothpaste, shaving cream, sunscreen, etc. One in eight of these ingredients are toxic industrial chemicals.1 The average adult uses 9 different products daily, exposing themselves to 126 unique chemical ingredients.2
The Auditor General of Canada recently conducted a report on the chemicals in household consumer products and cosmetics. It concluded that Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety Program may not be protecting Canadians from the dangers of chemicals found in these products. Yikes! You can read the report here.
So, what can you do?
How to Stay Safe - Toxic Ingredients to Avoid
So, if Health Canada’s program isn’t able to protect you, how can you protect yourself? The key to avoiding these harmful chemicals and toxins is to become educated and to know what to look for and avoid. You need to read your labels and be able to identify the toxic ingredients. Trusting label claims is not enough.
These chemicals cause various effects in the body and are generally categorized as carcinogens (cancer-causing), endocrine disruptors (affect hormone function causing adverse effects in the body), allergens, irritants or reproductive toxins (affect fertility).
Here is a list of some of the more harmful chemicals you want to avoid that are commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products:
BHA / BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene)
Coal Tar -
usually seen on labels as FD&C or D&C followed by a colour and a number
(i.e. FD&C Blue
Parabens (metyhlparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben)
Phthalates (DBP, DEP, DEHP, DMP)
Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
Parfum (fragrance) - The ingredients that form this mixture do not have to be disclosed on labels.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate:
Many products also claim to reduce the signs of aging, yet the chemicals and toxins found in these products may contribute to free radical damage, a significant factor in the aging of the skin. So, is the product helping or harming you?
Babies and children are also more vulnerable to the harmful effects of industrial chemicals as their detoxification organs are still developing, leaving them with a reduced ability to detoxify. Studies conducted by the Environmental Defence and the Environmental working group found high levels of toxins in the umbilical cords of babies, indicating prenatal exposure through the mother.3,4
We need to avoid these chemicals to reduce our toxic exposure and minimize their harmful and potentially deadly effects. More and more companies are realizing that consumers are aware of these harmful chemicals, and are actively looking for products that use safer, more natural, alternatives. As a result, you will notice that certain ingredients, such as parabens and phthalates, are being removed from some products. Supporting companies that use fewer chemicals will help move the entire industry toward safer ingredients.
The Beneficial Ingredients
Naturally based personal care products can be just as, if not more, effective than their chemical counterparts, but also offer the benefit of nourishment and reduced toxic exposure. Their ingredients are rich in fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help nourish and repair the skin and fight free radical damage. They are typically made with the following ingredients:
Carrier Oils: Generally used as a base in skincare, offering most of the moisturizing properties and are restorative and soothing. Rich in fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants to protect from free radical damage. Some oils also have a natural SPF factor. Examples are avocado oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, rosehip oil and sweet almond oil.
Butters: Used to create a creamy and thick texture in balms, lotions, soaps and creams. Also rich in fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and offer excellent conditioning for the skin. Examples are cocoa butter, kokum butter, mango butter and shea butter.
Herbs and Botanicals: Herbs and flowers generally used in the dried form and added for their healing and curative properties. Many are soothing to the skin and have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Examples are yarrow, marshmallow root, burdock root, calendula, goldenseal and comfrey.
Waxes: Used to emulsify and thicken skincare and offer protection for the skin. Examples are beeswax, carnauba wax, candelilla wax and emulsifying wax.
Essential Oils: Concentrated extractions from various plants including flowers, grasses, fruits, leaves, roots and trees. They are very aromatic and can be used to add scents to skincare that can be uplifting, energizing or calming, for example. Many are also anti-microbial, antiseptic and contain healing properties. Examples are lavender, chamomile, clove, eucalyptus, sweet orange, ginger and peppermint.
Natural Preservatives: Used to extend the shelf life of products and prevent rancidity. Examples are vitamin E, rosemary extract and grapefruit seed extract.
Other ingredients that may be found in natural skincare include aloe, arrowroot powder, baking soda, clays, floral waters, honey, sea salt, sugar, witch hazel and zinc oxide.
There are many products on the market today that are solely based on these types of ingredients and don’t contain any synthetic or toxic ingredients. The best way to determine which products are safe is to become educated, read labels and avoid those toxic ingredients.
Makeababy.ca now carries Of Earth and Nature’s Belly Butter and Nursing Balm, for pregnant and nursing women - although they also work well as a diaper cream or lotion! Of Earth and Nature is a natural skincare company based in Barrie, Ontario. Their products are made with natural ingredients, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter and locally sourced beeswax. They are free from toxic ingredients. For more information on their products, visit makeababy.ca or ofearthandnature.ca.
1. David Suzuki Foundation. ‘Dirty Dozen’ cosmetic chemicals to avoid.
2. Environmental Working Group. Exposures add up – Survey results. Available online at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2004/06/15/exposures-add-up-survey-results/
3. Environmental Defence. 2013. A report on the toxic substances in the umbilical cord blood of Canadian newborns.
4. Environmental Working Group. 2005. Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns.
David Suzuki Foundation. 2010. Dirty Dozen Backgrounder.
NIEHS. 2010. Endocrine Disruptors. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Research Triangle Park, NC. http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/endocrine_disruptors_508.pdf
Sathyanarayana S, Karr CJ, Lozano P, Brown E, Calafat AM, Liu F, Swan SH. 2008. Baby care products: possible sources of infant phthalate exposure. Pediatrics. Feb;121(2):e260-8.
Calafat AM, Valentin-Blasini L, Ye X. 2015. Trends in Exposure to Chemicals in Personal Care and Consumer Products. Current Environmental Health Reports. Dec: 2(4):pp 348-355.
Danielle Senkerik is a Registered Holistic NutritionistTM and the founder of Of Earth and Nature, a natural skincare company based in Barrie, Ontario. Of Earth and Nature’s products are free of toxins such as parabens, synthetic ingredients, artificial preservatives and petrochemicals. Danielle leads a natural, holistic lifestyle, which includes natural skincare and cleaning products. As a mother to two young children, and a Nutritionist, she realizes the importance of reducing our toxic load to ensure health and longevity.
You can find the following Of Earth and Nature products at Make-A-Baby Belly Butter Nursing Balm
For more Of Earth and Nature products check out the website http://ofearthandnature.ca