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Why Choose Non Toxic Personal Care Products?

Choosing non toxic, or at least less toxic, personal care products is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals.

Choosing non toxic, or at least less toxic, personal care products is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. Because your skin is one of three ways that toxins enter your body.

Ingestion and inhalation are the other ways. Some of the toxins you absorb, ingest and inhale can’t be avoided because they come from your air, water and soil. But, by switching to nontoxic personal care products, you’re taking control over a lot of what gets absorbed into your skin.

Your Skin Absorbs Toxins

Many experts believe that toxins you absorb through your skin are more dangerous to your health than those you ingest. Because once they’re absorbed through your skin they go right into your bloodstream, bypassing detoxification by your liver.

Skin is your body’s largest organ. It has a layered structure that performs many functions that protect your body from outside influences. Whether or not your skin will absorb something depends on a lot of factors, including skin health and thickness.

The skin around your eyes is the thinnest and absorbs substances the easiest. Your hands and the soles of your feet have the thickest skin.

The type of substance that your skin is exposed to is another factor that determines how much your body absorbs. An important characteristic of chemicals that travel quickly through the skin are that they are easily dissolved in fat.

And many toxic chemicals are fat soluble, making them easily absorbed. Plus, some of the chemicals in personal care products, especially creams and lotions, are added just to enhance skin absorption.

Who Protects You From the Toxins in Personal Care Products?

The cosmetics industry is the least regulated industry under the jurisdiction of the FDA. The FDA can make recommendations but it has very little power to enforce them.

It also relies heavily on manufacturers claims that the chemicals in their products are safe. Colgate is still defending its use of triclosan in its toothpaste based on its research, even though countless independent studies have proven triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and accumulates in your body.

Plus, even when a chemical is tested and determined to be safe for use in cosmetics, the testing is not done in the context of the chemical’s use. Let’s say that a safe exposure level was determined for chemical A. Chemical A is added to a lotion and a soap that you use.

You have now been exposed to double the amount that is considered safe. Using nontoxic personal care products will decrease this unsafe exposure.

The safety of chemical mixtures are also not considered. And that’s a real concern because some chemicals in products can interact to create more toxins.

An example of this is the chemical cocamide DEA, used as a foaming agent in cosmetic products. It is a potential carcinogen in its own right but when combined with other chemicals it also produces cancer-causing nitrosamines.

What this all means is that consumers are Guinea pigs. You and I are exposed to toxic chemicals considered safe until proven otherwise.

A Realistic Approach To Less Toxic Personal Care

When I first adopted a less toxic lifestyle more than 30 years ago, it was tough to find nontoxic, safe personal care products. So I had to make my own.

Now, there are a lot of great, nontoxic options.  But, for some types of products the less toxic versions don’t provide the same benefits.

And by that I mean it takes a lot of toxic chemicals to make eyebags and wrinkles disappear. Less toxic hair dye doesn’t usually perform as well as regular hair dye. And if you expect your hair care products to completely transform your hair, you might be out of luck with less toxic options.

But even if you can’t find less toxic options for some of the products you use, that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce your exposure to the toxic chemicals in personal care products.

Nontoxic and less toxic skin cleansers, sunscreens, deodorants, shampoos, lotions and hand sanitizers are just as effective as the options full of toxic chemicals. And many feminine care products are unnecessary.

So pick your battles. If you can’t part with your wrinkle cream, reduce your exposure to toxins by switching to nontoxic lotions and cleansers. If toxic hair dye is a must, than switch to less toxic shampoo and conditioner.

To make the switch to safer personal care products you’ll want to avoid chemicals that are endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, formaldehyde releasers, plus nanoparticles and siloxanes.

The Toxic Chemicals To Avoid in Personal Care Products

There are a lot of harmful ingredients lurking in personal care products. They run the gamut from carcinogens like BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), used as a preservative, to endocrine disrupting chemicals like Propylparaben, also used as a preservative and an ingredient in fragrance.

Endocrine Disruptors

Multiple types of endocrine disruptors can be found in one personal care product. If you use multiple products on your skin, you’re then exposed multiple times to multiple endocrine disrupters.

Now you may be wondering, why is this a problem and is the small amount of these chemicals found in personal care products worth worrying about? When it comes to toxins that mess with your endocrine system, the answer to both questions is yes.

So Avoid Products with

  • Parabens – used as preservatives in many personal care products. Commonly used types include methylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben. Check the label for anything ending in paraben or products labeled “paraben free”.
  • Phthalates - Used to make fragrance and soften plastics. Low molecular weight phthalates like DBP and DEP can be absorbed through your skin. And these are the types of phthalates used in personal care products. Phthalates don’t appear on the label so look for products labeled “phthalate free”

  • Fragrance Chemicals - The use of synthetic fragrances, found in thousands of personal care products, is a huge toxin concern. Considered to be trade secrets, the chemicals used to make fragrances are not disclosed to you on the labels. But some of the commonly used fragrance chemicals, like lilial, are endocrine disruptors.


Some of the chemicals in personal care products are known to or suspected of causing cancer. Carcinogens to avoid include:

  • BHA/BHT - BHA is anticipated to be a human carcinogen, while BHT has been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Check the label for butylated hydroxyanisole, antioxyne b; antrancine 12, Butylated hydroxytoluene.
  • Coal Tar - a complex chemical mixture derived from burning coal. (Yes, you read that right). It includes a number of suspected and known carcinogens, such as benzene, toluene, and naphthalene. Check the label for: Coal tar, tar, coal, coal tar solution, crude coal tar, estar, impervotar, lavatar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, 

  • Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA). - Used as foaming agents in shampoos and cleansers. Check labels for: ingredients that end in DEA or TEA (example- Cocamide DEA)

  • Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are common sunscreen ingredients. Oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin in significant amounts. It contaminates the bodies of 97% of Americans. Check labels for: oxybenzone, octinoxate,  benzophenone, phenylmethanone; phenylmethanone; methoxybenzophenone; 4-methoxy-2-hydroxybenzophenone,  ingredients that end with methoxycinnamate.

Also, some of the chemicals in personal care products can be contaminated with carcinogens. Contaminates are toxic residues left behind from the manufacturing process.

A common cancer causing contaminate is 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane is an impurity in almost half of all cosmetics and can be absorbed through your skin in toxic amounts. It’s an unwanted byproduct of a processing method called ethoxylation used to reduce the risk of skin irritation from petroleum-based ingredients.

Check labels for:  sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene glycol (PEG)-polypropylene glycol (PPG), Polyoxyethylene, dimethicone and chemicals that include the clauses xynol, ceteareth and oleth.

Formaldehyde Releasers

In personal care products, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, can be added directly to the product to preserve it. But more often, the preservatives in these products release small amounts of formaldehyde over time so the product doesn’t “spoil”.

The amount of formaldehyde that preservatives release into your personal care products depends on the type of preservative. For example, diazolidinyl urea releases the most formaldehyde of any preservative.

Also, the amount of formaldehyde released increases the longer products are stored and the higher the temperature that they're stored at.

There are 42 formaldehyde-releasing preservatives used in personal care products. The most common ones to avoid are:

  • DMDM hydantoin, 
  • imidazolidinyl urea, 
  • diazolidinyl urea, 
  • polyoxymethylene urea, 
  • sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 
  • quaternium-15, 
  • bromopol
  • glyoxal.

Citrus and pine based fragrance chemicals, like limonene and pinene are also formaldehyde releasers. Because they actually create it by mixing with the ozone in your home’s air. To avoid go “fragrance free”.


It’s been estimated that using personal care products exposes you to 307 milligrams of siloxanes every single day. The most common types of siloxanes used in personal care products are octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (D4), decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5) and dodecamethylcyclohexasiloxane (D6). Overall, deodorants/antiperspirants and liquid foundations have the highest concentrations of all three.

Little is known about the toxic effects of long-term exposure to low concentrations of siloxanes, as they first emerged as a priority environmental pollutant in 2010. But it is known that the least safe are cyclic siloxanes like D4, D5 and D6

These are also the most studied siloxanes.  D4, D5 and D6 are known to have both direct and indirect toxic effects. Research finds that D4 and D5 are persistent in the environment, meaning they don’t break down or decompose. That means they can accumulate in your body.

Animal tests link D4 to reproductive impairment, liver changes, and benign uterine tumors, and show it may be an endocrine disruptor. D5 is associated with uterine cancers and adverse reproductive, neurological, and immune effects. AlthoughD6 doesn’t appear to accumulate in your body, It’s linked to liver and thyroid enlargement, and reproductive issues.

Check labels for the following:

cyclotetrasiloxane, cylcopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxan and any other ingredients that end with the word “siloxane”.  Other synonyms for siloxane include: siloxanes and silcones, antifoam FD 62, DIME, DC 35A, DC 360, dimethyl siloxane, Dow Corning 200, Dow Corning 561, dimethylpolysiloxane, KO 08, or PMS 1.5


Nanoparticles are particles less than 100 nanometers (nm) in size. To put that into perspective, one hair on your head is 80,000nm thick.  Nanosize particles act differently than larger size particles of the same substance. 

Many personal care products now contain them. Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) are used for UVA and UVB protection in lotions and sunscreens.

Hair product are being produced using nanotechnology for shinier, smoother and healthier hair. Sericin nanoparticles are used in shampoos and conditioners to repair damage

But, these nanosize particles can cause much more damage to your body. Nanoparticles in products you put on your skin can be absorbed into your body.  

They can also be inhaled and inhalation exposure to nanomaterials is a serious health concern. When they are released from the products you use they can enter your respiratory system as free nanoparticles, clumps of nanoparticles, and nanoparticles within or attached to larger particles.

Powders and spray products with nanoparticles pose the greatest inhalation threat. Unfortunately, it’s tough to avoid them in personal care products.

Look for terms like” nanodelivery systems,” and “micronized” ingredients, nano-scale “wire cages” or fullerenes. Many products that contain nanoparticles are listed on the Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory

To learn more about nontoxic options for personal care products check out these posts. You can also find recipes to make your own here and by joining the Non Toxic For Health community.