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ChemPendium of Chemicals To Avoid Part II

These compounds used in chemical sunscreens, have been shown to disrupt endocrine activity, cause sensitivity, allergies and irritation. These chemicals are able to absorb UV light and convert it to heat which may damage growing cells. Oxybenzone is also able to generate free radicals which damage DNA, cause accelerated aging and increase disease risk. Also be sure to avoid products containing phenyl-methanone, octyl-methoxycinnamate, homosalate and octinoxate, as they are all synonomous chemical sunscreen agents.

Include methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl parabens that are used as preservatives and antimicrobials in skin care products. Parabens are hormone disruptors that can mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors in our body. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed parabens as Category 1 priority substances, based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function. In one study, parabens were detected in human breast cancer tissue which raised questions of the link between parabens and cancer. They also have the potential to alter male reproductive functions.

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) and PPG (polypropylene glycol) are petrochemical-derived and are used as humectants in skin care products. They help to seal in moisture, but are also known to cause dryness, irritation and eczema. The concern with PEG compounds and other ethoxylated ingredients that end in -eth is their contamination with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen.

Petrochemicals include mineral oil, liquid paraffin, paraffin oil and petroleum oil that are all used as emollients in skin care products. They coat the skin and block pores which impedes detoxification, leads to acne and interferes with the skin’s moisturizing capability. They have no nutrient value for the skin and may be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are linked to skin irritation, allergies, and cancer. Petroleum-derived products slow cellular development and turnover rates which results in premature aging.

Solvents and plasticizing agents that are used to make products more pliable and enable fragrances to bind to the skin. They include the ingredients dibutyl phthalate (DBP), butylbenzylphthalate (BBP), and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and can cause developmental abnormalities and have been linked to genotoxicity and reproductive abnormalities in males.  Look out for products with ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ as ingredients as they often contain hidden phthalates.

The synthetic form of vitamin A that is used topically in moisturizers, foundations and anti-aging creams. It is readily absorbable into the skin and can cause genotoxicity when exposed to UVA radiation. It can also speed the growth of skin tumors.

Silicone is derived from silica and is used as an emollient to soften and moisturize the skin. Various forms include cyclotetrasiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, and the combination of all three, cyclomethicone. Silicone derivatives are occlusive, meaning they coat the skin and block natural respiratory and detoxification mechanisms. They are suspected endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxicants (cyclotetrasiloxane).

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are strong foaming detergents that are used in various cleansing products. They are known to cause skin irritation and inflammation, dermatitis and eczema. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of ethoxylation.

A petrochemical solvent used in many nail polishes, also known as benzene, methybenzene or toluol. It irritates the skin, eyes and lungs and is a reproductive toxicant. Toluene affects the nervous system and can cause fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and headaches.

An antibacterial and antifungal agent present in many personal care products. It is an endocrine disruptor and due to its extensive use in consumer products, can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Triclosan has also been linked to reproductive toxicity and birth defects. In the environment, triclosan can react to form dioxins, which bioaccumulate and are toxic.

Environmental Working Group (EWG)
David Suzuki Foundation
Campaign For Safe Cosmetics