10 Chemicals in Personal Care Products to Avoid

self-care Jan 05, 2018

by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée


There are over 82,000 chemicals registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, with one in seven being used in personal care products.(1)

That means over 11,700 chemicals are used in personal care products. Whoa! That’s a lot of chemicals.

So many personal care products are applied to our skin: deodorant, makeup, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, feminine care products, perfume or colognes. Chemicals in personal care products can enter our bodies by penetrating our skin and being inhaled throughout the day. Once they enter the body, these chemicals may cause havoc that can contribute to cancer and disrupt various systems (like reproductive, immune, nervous, and endocrine systems).

While we can’t address all 11,700 chemical found in personal care products, here’s a snapshot of 10 chemicals to avoid, courtesy of Sophia Ruan Gushee’s A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures.

10 Chemicals in Personal Care Products to Avoid

1. Formaldehyde

Used as a preservative and found in embalming fluid (to preserve corpses), formaldehyde is often an ingredient in conventional personal care products! Okay, perhaps it’s not an exciting statement, but it's true. Nail polish, shampoos, body and hand soaps, cosmetics, hair sprays, and children’s personal care products can contain formaldehyde. Among the living, it potentially affects the immune system, respiratory system, nervous system and may be cancer causing.

2. Methylene chloride

This chemical emits a mild and sweet odor. Unfortunately, it’s a type of solvent and in the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) family that may contribute to cancer. It may also affect sight, hearing, and motor functions controlled by the nervous system. Methylene chloride can be found in aerosol deodorant, hair spray, and other aerosol spray products.

3. Phthalates

A study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found phthalates in each of the 289 men and women tested. These test subjects were average Americans: people like you and I. Possible health effects of phthalates include liver and kidney abnormalities, birth defects, cancer, allergies, and asthma. Phthalates can be found in shampoos, body soaps, hand soaps, cosmetics, shaving creams, aftershaves, moisturizers, nail polish, and fragrances.

4. Triclosan

Common in antibacterial and disinfectant soaps, triclosan is an ingredient intended to reduce or prevent bacteria. It’s been found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be equally as effective as soap and water. Why choose products without triclosan? It may affect thyroid and reproductive systems, and may be harmful to the liver and immune system. Triclosan can be found in toothpaste, acne products, body wash, nail polish, antiperspirant and deodorant.

5. Fragrance

Scented products get their smell from fragrance, often made from synthetic chemicals. Companies don’t have to list the specific chemicals by claiming that the formula is a “trade secret”. According to the Environmental Working Group, there are over 3,100 standard chemicals used to make fragrances.(2) Fragrance chemicals have been linked to cancer, asthma, muscle weakness, irritation, depression, and may be affecting hormones, glands, and the nervous system. While fragrances can pretty much be found in any product these days, personal care products that often contain them include feminine care products, facial cleansers, anti-aging products, dental floss, lotions, shampoos, soaps, antiperspirants, perfumes, colognes, and body washes.

6. Glycols

Glycols help keep moisture in the skin. While well-intended, they may cause skin rash, irritation, birth defects, kidney damage, and damage to the reproductive system. Glycols can be found in lotions, shampoos, anti-aging products, body washes, facial cleansers, cosmetics such as mascaras and foundations, and sunscreen.

7. Sodium Benzoate

Preserving personal care products with sodium benzoate may be contributing to hyperactivity in children. Sodium benzoate can be found in joint and muscle pain products, mouthwashes, sunless tanning agents, toothpastes, facial cleansers, conditioners, hair bleach and hair color, insect repellants, and nail polish.

8. Parabens

Here’s another chemical that the CDC has found in nearly all Americans participating in studies: Parabens have been linked to potential health disruption of the reproductive system, nervous system, hormones and glands, and could contribute to cancer.

They can be found in moisturizers and lotions, powders, anti aging products, feminine care products, scrubs, toothpaste, cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, antiperspirants,, and deodorants.

9. Synthetic Colors

Color with caution. Products with labels listing FD&C or D&C with a number after it could be causing cancer. Synthetic colors can be found in cold medicine, vitamins, cosmetics such as eye shadow, blush and eye liners, cleaners and soaps, mouthwash, toothpaste, moisturizer and many more products.

10. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

Known for producing foam and cutting grease, SLS is a commonly used type of sulfate that removes moisture from the skin and may be causing hair loss, allergic reactions, and hormone disruption. SLS can be found in foaming soaps, shampoos, and mouthwash.

Steer clear of these chemicals by choosing personal care products with natural ingredients that you recognize and finding healthier products.  You can also use these two, free online resources to help identify products are healthier options:

While the over 11,700 chemicals in personal care products is a large number, the remaining 70,300+ are in other types of products that are commonly found in homes across the U.S. Enroll in the D-Tox Academy to learn more about chemicals in a variety of products including personal care products, furniture, children’s stuff, food, cleaning products, and more.

The D-Tox Academy gives subscribers access to specific brands of products, and tips for how to use and maintain products. The academy includes short videos and check lists that are helpful when making healthier changes.


(1) A to Z-of-D-Toxing, Works Cited Parts 3 and 4

(2) EWG 

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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