What Chemicals Should You Look Out For In Your Personal Care Products?

Personal Care Products

This list was taken from my book REVIVE: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again (2009) (previously called SPENT)

DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), TEA (Triethanolamine)
These three chemicals are hormone-disrupting chemicals that can form cancer-causing agents — research indicates a strong link to liver and kidney cancer. They are commonly found in shampoos, soaps, bubble baths and facial cleansers.

Phthalates and Parabens

Banned by the European Union in 2003, phthalates and parabens are a group of chemicals commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. They keep hairsprays sticky and bacteria and fungus out of things like nail polish and perfume. Both have demonstrated themselves to be carcinogenic and particularly linked to breast cancer.

FD&C Color Pigments

Most FD&C color pigments are made from coal tar and studies show that almost all of them are carcinogenic. Many of these pigments cause skin sensitivity and irritation, or even oxygen depletion in the blood. FD&C Red #4 is no longer available for use in foods because of a known threat to the adrenal glands and urinary bladder.


“Fragrance” is a euphemism for nearly 4,000 different ingredients. Most “fragrances” are synthetic and are either cancer-causing or otherwise toxic. Exposure to fragrances has been shown to affect the central nervous system. “Fragrances” are found in most shampoos, deodorants, sunscreens, skincare and body care products.

Imidazolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin

These are formaldehyde donors, which means that they are derivatives of the formaldehyde, which is what scientists and morticians use to preserve corpses and body parts. Remember dissecting frogs in school? These chemicals are linked to allergies, chest pain, chronic fatigue, depression, dizziness, ear infections, headaches, joint pain, loss of sleep, and can trigger asthma. They can weaken the immune system, and, surprise surprise, cause cancer. Imidazolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin are used in skin, body and hair products, antiperspirants and nail polish.


Quarternium-15 commonly causes allergic reactions and dermatitis, and breaks down into formaldehyde. Quarternium-15 is used as a preservative in many skin and hair care products.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl Alcohol is used in hair color rinses, body rubs, hand lotion and aftershave lotions as well as in your car’s antifreeze and shellac! Scientists believe that it has the ability to destroy intestinal flora, leaving the body’s major organs open to parasites, and thus to cancers. Beyond attacking the intestinal flora, isopropyl alcohol can cause headaches, dizziness, mental depression, nausea, vomiting, and coma.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a petroleum derivative that coats the skin like saran wrap, which prevents the skin from breathing, absorbing and excreting. It also slows the skin’s natural cell development, causing the skin to age prematurely. Note that baby oil is 100% mineral oil – and 100% bad for your baby’s sensitive skin.

PEG (Polyethylene Glycol)

PEG’s are most commonly used in spray-on oven cleaners and in many hair and skin products. PEG’s main fuctions are to dissolve oil and grease. Thus, on the body, they take the protective oils off the skin and hair, making them more vulnerable to other toxins.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol is the active ingredient in antifreeze. It is also used in makeup, toothpaste and deodorant. Stick deodorants have a higher concentration of PG than is allowed for most industrial use! Direct contact can cause brain, liver and kidney abnormalities. The EPA requires workers to wear protective gloves, clothing and goggles when working with it. And yet, the FDA says we can put it in our mouths!!

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are the most toxic ingredients on this list. When used in combination with other chemicals, they can form nitrosamines, a deadly class of carcinogen. They are used to clean engines, garage floors and at car washes. AND still the most popular ingredients for makeup, shampoo and conditioner and toothpaste. Exposure causes eye damage, depression, diarrhea and many other ailments.


A synthetic antibacterial ingredient that has been compared to Agent Orange. The Environmental Protection Agency registers it as a pesticide, highly toxic to any living organism. It is also classified as a chlorophenol. In other words, it is in a cancer causing chemical class. Triclosan disrupts hormones, can affect sexual function and fertility and may foster birth defects. Triclosan has been linked to paralysis, suppression of the immune system, brain hemorrhages, and heart problems. It is widely used in antibacterial cleansers, toothpaste, and household products.


Talc has been linked to ovarian and testicular cancer. It can be found in makeup, baby and adult powders and foundation.


Petrolatum is a petrochemical that contains two well-known carcinogens: Benzo-A-Pyrene and Benzo-B-Fluroanthene. As you might imagine from a petroleum derivative, petrolatum prevents the skin breathing and excreting.

  • guest

    And where on earth can you find anything that doesn't have either Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate in it!

  • There are more and more options becoming available
    Check out http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ will be helpful

  • Strager33

    If I don't make my own products, I look for baby products in health food stores. There are many brands out there…just gotta read labels and do the research! ewg.org, the Environmental Working Group is a phenomenal resource for finding out the toxicity of your products. I highly recommend taking a look at that site.

  • Double Blind

    Lots of vague 'linked to' statements- can we have some references to relevent scientific research please?

  • VancouverSue

    Knowing that the public was getting wise to the sulfate sisters, many manufacturers began substituting formaldehyde byproducts.  I was reading the label on a shampoo called “Pure & Natural” the other day and it contained at least a half-dozen known carcinogens!  I also received a tube of chapstick as a promotional gift from a cancer treatment center.  It contained both propylparaben and methylparaben, two known carcinogens.  Kind of like the dentist handing out free candy for a good check-up!

  • Maggie

    Dr., I believe you could have provided a better service by explaining that the sources, purity and quantity/amount of so many of these dangerous toxins have a definite bearing on the hazards.  Many things are dangerous — even arsenic from apple seeds —  but it’s the amount of the toxin that is harmful that should concern us.  So many in the media wave red flags and forget about the rest of the story!

  • Everybody uses personal care products, there’s no doubt about it. But the truth is that only a small part of them are indeed healthy. Most products contain such chemicals which rather create problems for the human skin than help take care of it. Other products are useful for skin, but affect our body in other ways. Choosing the right products is really a challenge.

  • I’ve been meaning to post a blog about these chemicals to watch out for in personal care products for quite some time. You did an excellent job so now I won’t have to. Thank you!

  • susan yassa

    Hulda Regehr Clark, Ph.D., N.D. writes in her book THE CURE FOR ALL DISEASES (ISBN: 978 189 003 5013), there are “ONLY TWO HEALTH PROBLEMS … pollutants and/or parasites.”

  • susan yassa

    That is such a good question! I would to find a better shampoo … but where?

  • Jane

    I find it hard to believe that parabens are banned in the EU, given how prevalent they are in personal care products there… Go to any supermarket in France, Germany, Italy, and you will find parabens.

  • Katie

    We make ethical soaps and shampoo bars at Clear Conscience Soap Co. in Australia – http://www.clearconsciencesoapcompany.com/product-category/hair-care/ No nasties :)

  • Sarah Harvey

    Living nature !! 100% natural , made in New Zealand,
    reasonably priced, And lovely to use :)

  • Bek

    I use Arbonne!!!! None of the following: Mineral oil, petroleum, waxes, formaldehyde, acetone, toluene, phthalates, dyes, parabens, PABA, animal products or by-products, harmful levels of chemicals and chemical frafences. These are vegan certified and botanically based.
    Check out “Bek Brown Arbonne” on Facebook.

  • Braydich Beauty

    Philip Pelusi products are the safest on the market!!!! All-Nutrient color is the safest on the market!!!! They are the only products I use on my clients.

  • Braydich Beauty

    Philip Pelusi and All-Nutrient Color

  • Braydich Beauty

    Philip Pelusi and All-Nutrient Color

  • Kim

    I love Ava Anderson Non Toxic! You won’t find any of the above ingredients in their products or any other toxic chemicals! It is 100% safe and they work amazing!!!!!!! http://www.AvaandersonNonToxic.com

  • Dee

    You just named my all time favorite!! “Arbonne” !
    To people who argue knowing the truth about
    what’s in their cosmetics, look up the first
    5 ingredients in the new, clinically tested,
    Doctor recommended , repairs & firms,( buzz words)
    that the EPA hates by the way,
    product you just bought & then
    tell us what you think.
    I for 1 am throwing some pricey cosmetics away
    then writing some long over due letters to some companies.

  • Reads Books

    It is kind of amazing you can post straight lies and get away with it. Maybe research before writing an article and misleading people? Ethylene glycol is the main ingredient in antifreeze. Propylene glycol is the non-toxic relative which is why it is approved for use by the FDA. FDA also outlines amounts allowable in products. Disgusting that you can post lies and pseudo-science, “Dr.” (in sociology maybe?) And all you are doing is perpetuating the ignorance of your readers. You should be ashamed.

  • Anonymous

    Although Propylene Glycol is less toxic than Ethylene Glycol, we still don’t recommend it (despite being approved by the FDA!).
    -Laura, Be Well Health Coach

  • SwamiMami

    Can any one point me to scientific literature/studies about the danger of SLS?

  • Veit Mehler

    the FDA approved GMO’s as safe, despite being linked to a lot of health issues.

    The FDA approved Aspartame as safe, despite 92 known side-effect, including harming embryos in the womb.

    I don’t think you can rely on FDA labelling and regulations for your health.

    If something is “non-toxic”, then you shouldn’t need to outline allowed amounts. If you outline allowed amounts, it means that it IS toxic.

    For which person in which age and in what state of health were these amounts “safe”? for baby’s, for elderly, or again only for 25-34 year old males in top health?

  • monte

    ethylene glycol is the main ingredient of antifreeze, not propylene glycol. frank need to do some better fact checking.

  • Christopher Saxon Whittle

    Complete rubbish. Water is toxic when ingested to a certain level.

    Many other ‘natural’ substances are toxic when taken in excessive amounts too.

    If something is ‘toxic’ it means that a very small amount of it will have adverse effects on you.

  • Stefania

    Parabens banned in EU in 2003? I don’t think so! I had to refuse an antibiotic drug in 2010 in UK which contained propylparaben and others, and I am 100% sure that in Italy and Greece, cosmetic products containing parabens are still sold today. Perhaps parabens have been banned in 2013, not 2003, but the products haven’t been retired and are still sold today, full priced, because the products on the shelves are quite old, and this is a very common situation here!

  • Realistic

    People seem to be missing the whole point of this. Yes, stuff is toxic. Yes, it depends on how much you are exposed to it on the toxic effects. The average woman is exposed to 515 chemicals just by getting ready in the mornings before she even steps out the door to begin her day. Then however many times hand lotion or hand sanitizers are applied throughout the day. Then come home and use the washes/cleansers and nightly routine. Most products have at least several of the ingredients listed above in them that is used daily -and sometimes multiple times a day. People usually apply lotions and hand sanitizes several times a day. So think of it this way – for EVERY time that someone applies one product to their skin that contains just one ingredient from the list above in each product they use – they are in reality going to be exposing themselves to easily over 10 times the so called “safe amount/small amount” in a course of just ONE day. But then since we are creatures of habit this is happening day after day after day. Are you seeing the problem here? Not to mention the majority of the skin care/cosmetics/ect products contain multiple ingredients listed above.

    So yes it does have to do with the amounts. But when the same ingredients are in multiple products used on a daily basis and sometimes used multiple times a day is where the problem is. Not just that this ingredient is contained in this ONE product and it is a “small amount” so it is ok to use. When you start layering that one small amount of that one ingredient in product after product multiple times a day – day after day is where the issues are at.

  • Great article I’ve been on the hunt to find face products with less damaging chemicals in them, I will definitely look out for these ingredients. Thanks!

  • Mia
  • Mia

    Five are now banned in all of the EU (Denmark has had its own ban since 2011). All products for sale will have to comply by July 2015. http://chemicalwatch.com/19141/eu-bans-five-parabens-restricts-triclosan-in-cosmetics

  • NaNette Michael Bucek

    Our goal is to get safe products into the hand of EVERYONE! thetruthisinside.beautycounter.com

  • Claudia

    If you live in the UK you should get the ‘Pure’ shampoo and conditioner by Waitrose, it’s got DMDM Hydantoin, which is bad, but that’s the only thing, and it’s only on the conditioner which you can live without :) it’s done wonders for my hair and it’s 97% of natural ingredients

  • Odysseus

    Amazing! You take your time to write something to help people, and they attack you for your effort. Thank you Dr. Frank for providing the information. I take two showers a day but only with water. That’s right: for two years I haven’t used soap or shampoo or deodorant with no adverse effects. My skin and hair is healthier and stronger. I do not stink, and I have witnesses who will back that claim up. Science is proving that the bacteria on our skin and our acid mantle is actually healthy for us. Stripping the acid mantle, lipids, and bacteria from our skin makes our skin absorb the above chemicals more readily, makes us more prone to diseases, and makes our bodies over produce oils to compensate. The Human Microbiome Project is making great strides in this area http://www.hmpdacc.org. Once we stop attacking our skin and hair with these chemicals, our skin reaches a homeostasis, repels chemicals, balances good and bad bacteria, and stops over producing oils, which all produces healthy skin. People have been conditioned through advertising and secondhand knowledge to think that they need to slather soap, shampoo, and deodorant, not to mention lotions, shaving creams, conditioners, and a plethora of other chemical laden products all over their bodies every day. However, the people harm their bodies and health with these chemicals, unnecessarily, and the companies that sell them laugh all the way to the bank.

  • Tanya

    Hi Style Weaver. About 2 & a half months ago a caring friend put me onto the Timeless Skin Renewal System by Sisel. No toxins whatsoever & my skin quality has improved considerably! (I was previously using products designed by a local plastic surgeon, believing I was doing the right thing by my skin. Propylene glycol, mineral oil, lanolin … I had no idea!) I’m so impressed with my new range that I’ve actually become a Sisel Brand Partner! I can be contacted at http://tanyab.mysisel.com to oblige with further details (& my “before” & “after” photos – Oct vs Nov 2014). Sincerely, Tanya.

  • Barb Pistella

    anyone know of a facewash that has Salicylic acid without other toxins- is that okay to use and if so what brand has it without the other above toxins??? thanks!!

  • Chelsey Jones

    SheaMoisture products, Karen’s Body Beautiful and Camille Rose Naturals, etc.,

  • Chelsey Jones

    SheaMoisture products, Karen’s Body Beautiful and Camille Rose Naturals, etc.,

  • Matt Gersper

    Frank, great article… I’ll be referencing it in a post for my company, Happy Living, this Wednesday… Our mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of the world, one person at a time… Thank you for raising awareness about chemicals in the daily products we use…

  • Jeanette Stubbins

    There are many products that don’t contain these chemicals, Arbonne do some great shampoos conditioners , bath and shower and skincare and cosmetic products which are all safe and beneficial.

  • Eve Leinonen


  • Eve Leinonen

    I signed on as a consultant with them last week because I’ve been so happy with their products!

  • Debbie G

    I have been using non-toxic, SLS free products with amazing results. My hair is no longer falling out, my scalp is not itching and my skin feels great. You do have a choice! http://www.us.ylscents.com/excitingoils/Shop/bodycare and http://www.us.ylscents.com/excitingoils/Shop/haircare,

  • Debbie G

    I completely agree!! Small amounts add up to big problems!! I switched immediately and have no regrets!

  • Debbie G

    I agree – awareness is critical! I changed immediately

  • Debbie G
  • Jeanne K. Worrick

    Ava Anderson non toxic products have none of these harmful chemicals.

  • Atlanta plaza

    Ava Anderson Non-Toxic! I love all of their products they work well and I have tried a lot of what claims to be “organic” products and they do not work and are still dangerous! I struggle with my health and my doctors are happy to hear I switched to non toxic products!

  • Fat Albert

    The trouble with “professional sheeple” like YOU double-blind, is that no amount of evidence ever constitutes “proof”! You’ll never see enough evidence to be CONVINCED of anything! Man, I cannot STAND egotistical little “brainiacs” like you! You think you know EVERYTHING! Then, you go and criticize someone merely for trying to WARN you about something really dangerous!!! Please quit being such an irritating little “smarty pants.”

  • Melissa Chartan

    I agree with you Odysseus that reaching a homeostasis naturally is optimum for our skin, but there are great forms of natural soap too! Eg, soapnuts – a berry, with natural soap like qualities in the shell. Our ancestors would have used such things. Also, the pH of water, especially hard treated water like most places have, can disrupt the skin’s acid mantle, as it is more alkaline. Simmering the soapnuts and then using the tincture might work well as a once a day wash :)

  • L. Naipo

    Live Pure Product – Clean, Pure, Safe and Non-Toxic. Free of all chemicals. Crafted in Utah. Get $10.00 off your first purchase to compare their products to the ones you are using. Great deal. I got the Shampoo for free at livepureproduct.com

  • alk

    Assuming that a request for sources is an attack reveals quite a disturbing mindset. If the author is claiming there is evidence, why not ask for it? The author’s research presumably took a great deal of time, so why not share it?

  • ADistractedSociety

    Asking for sources isn’t an attack on the author. Anyone who knows better would want to know where the author found all this information from. I doubt that Dr. Frank himself went to a lab and conducted experiments on all of these chemicals.

    There are people who don’t just eat up whatever information is thrown at them. The claims made here are vague and it really doesn’t seem like such a sin to be skeptical about them. There is simply no evidence, no source link, no article, no study title, no book title, no nothing, that the author redirects us to to show us how he got the information to compile this list.

    Citing sources not only make a research credible, but it also gives credit to those people, in this case the scientists, who actually go through the trouble of experimenting on the chemicals listed above.

  • SUPRA luca

    No, water isn’t toxic even when ingested in large levels… it’s just that our bodies can’t take too much and our kidneys get overloaded.

  • SUPRA luca

    The UK isn’t part of the EU.

  • Susan Wilson

    My name is Susan Wilson aka *Suzie Homemaker’s* all natural and arometherathy cosmetic crafter and seller found at [email protected]. anyway, i began making my own hair and skin beauty cosmetics a few years ago. It began with a sugar , I completely paid good money for, but when I begang reading the ingredients, I thought to myself, why does sugar scrubbing my skin have to have such confusing and complex ingredients? So I began researching the stage words and I was SHOCKED! I continued to research, I even went found myself reading about Greek times and essential oils. It didn’t sound too complicated (thank you to my chemistry high school teacher btw) so, I made my own…about a year later all sudden, (long story short) I began making money! I now make completely 100% natural essential oil, and butters hair and skin care cosmetics! Using BTMS-50, cetyl alchol, stearic acid and optiphen. I understand there is no such thing as “all natural ” to which I mean selling cosmetics without a preservative. So , as far as I know, these are the best I can use, along with beeswax occasionally. At first I used phenonip, until reading one day parabens were not a good choice, so whe optiphen became available, I began using that, and am alot happier with my results too! As well as my clients, but or course they don’t know what that is, they are just enjoying the natural aromatherapy and luxury of essential oils and pure butters and aloe vera, and I myself have never been so calmed and soothed by simply even a home crafted shave cream! I have done EXTENSIVE expieriencing and research, and I must say I find your website educational amazing, surprising for sure, and most but not least refreshing. Thank you for assuring me that I do not and NEVER used any of those preservative’s. I’m glad I even prefer natural foods, as opposed to ones that decorate shelves! Thank you again, sincerely a happy learner and reader :)

  • Devika B S

    Now it has become really difficult to live. Maybe we should all live like early human beings (in caves with only natural substances). Human beings, believed to be the most intelligent of all species have discovered and invented so many things which after further study are proving to be harmful for themselves and the environment.

  • Alphya

    They aren’t known carcinogens. Where did you get that information from?

  • Alphya

    It’s down to scaremongering, there has been no study with conclusive evidence that certain parabens are carcinogens.

  • Alphya

    The UK is part of the EU.

  • Janette

    Hi Barb, did you find what you’re looking for? I’ve been using what you’re looking for in the Arbonne range and receive it at a lower price. Let me know if you would like to know more? Regards.