Harmful Ingredients List

Updated on 06/24/2013

1,4-Dioxane: 1,4-Dioxane (Dioxane) is a clear, colorless, volatile liquid that readily mixes with or dissolves in water. Dioxane is used as a solvent, foaming agent, and emulsifier. Although frequently confused because of spelling, “dioxane” is not the same thing as the notorious environmental contaminant “dioxin” which is produced from burning fuels such as wood, coal, and oil. The two are totally different and unrelated substances. 1,4-dioxane is generated through a process called ethoxylation, in which ethylene oxide, a known breast carcinogen, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh. This process creates 1,4-dioxane. It is a contaminant produced during manufacturing. Since it is an impurity, the FDA does not require 1,4-dioxane to be listed as an ingredient on product labels. Without labeling, there is no way to know for certain how many products contain 1,4-dioxane and no guaranteed way for consumers to avoid it. That means having to go one step further to avoid any products containing petrochemical ingredients that often come along with 1,4-dioxane contamination. These include the ingredients or partial ingredient names: “PEG,” “polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” “polyoxyethylene,” “-eth-” (such as sodium laureth sulfate), “oxynol” "ceteareth" or "oleth." Most commonly, 1,4-dioxane is found in products that create suds, like shampoo, liquid soap and bubble bath. Environmental Working Group's analysis suggests that 97 percent of hair relaxers, 57 percent of baby soaps and 22 percent of all products may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. The report states that dioxane is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a clear-cut animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program. Research shows that 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin, being skin and lung irritant and continues that dioxane is on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected by the state to cause cancer or birth defects. The California Environmental Protection Agency also lists 1,4-dioxane as a suspected kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant. However, the report fails to reveal the fact that the state of California has assessed consumer exposure to dioxane and determined that there is a “Safe Harbor” exposure of 30 micrograms/day. A simple calculation of the consumer’s potential exposure to dioxane from shampoos, washes and bath products establishes that consumer exposure is well below the very conservative level deemed safe by the State of California. This report sensationalizes the safety information that has been known and addressed by the industry and regulatory agencies for years about the possible occurrence of trace amounts of dioxane in cosmetics and personal care products. The FDA has conducted surveys of raw materials and products for more than 30 years and has determined that it is not necessary to set limits for dioxane. FDA has noted that “If FDA were to determine that a health hazard exists, it would advise the industry and the public, and would consider its legal options for protecting the health and welfare of consumers.” FDA has authority to ban or limit substances in cosmetics and personal care products and take that appropriate regulatory action when it identifies a public health concern. The potential presence of dioxane in cosmetic ingredients is also addressed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. Whenever there is a potential for dioxane to be present in a raw material, the CIR advises that raw material suppliers and manufacturers “…should continue to use the necessary purification procedures to remove these impurities from the ingredient before blending it into cosmetic and personal care product formulations.” 
Dioxane can be removed from ingredients used in cosmetics. Dioxane is a very small molecule and is soluble in water. It is also volatile, meaning it easily evaporates when heated. Since polymers are not volatile, simple heating under reduced pressure (vacuum) removes nearly all of the dioxane. This process is called vacuum stripping. Although 1,4-dioxane can be vacuumed stripped out for pennies, this step is often not taken by manufacturers. Besides vacuum stripping another alternative does exist, manufacturers can skip ethoxylation entirely by using less-harsh ingredients to begin with. Organic standards do not allow ethoxylation at all. A study by the Organic Consumers Association shows that 1,4-dioxane is nonexistent in a variety of cosmetics produced and certified under the USDA National Organic Program, as well as other products, but many companies don't take advantage of that.


Acetamide MEA (Ethanolamine): Acetamide MEA an amide (any inorganic or organic compound derived from ammonia) made from acetamide and monoethanolamine (MEA), also called ethanolamine. It is a clear liquid solvent. Acetamide MEA increases the water content of the top layers of the skin by drawing moisture from the surrounding air. It also enhances the appearance and feel of hair, by increasing hair body, suppleness, or sheen, or by improving the texture of hair that has been damaged physically or by chemical treatment. Acetamide MEA is also used as a foam booster and surfactant (reduces the surface tension of liquids so that the liquid spreads out). Unfortunately acetamide MEA causes adverse reactions, respiratory ailments, is toxic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic.

DMDM Hydantoin or MDM Hydantoin: It’s a preservative. It inhibits the molds and bacteria, which themselves could become toxic in a formulation. Unfortunately DMDM Hydantoin slowly and continuously releases small amounts of formaldehyde into your formula, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies as a known human carcinogen. DMDM Hydantoin may cause joint pain, cancer, skin reactions, allergies, depression, migraine headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and loss of sleep. Exposure may irritate the respiratory system, trigger heart palpitations or asthma, aggravate coughs, and colds.

Parabens: An estimated 75 to 90 per cent of cosmetics contain parabens (typically at very low levels). It’s a chemical preservative, which prevents your cosmetics to go bad as quickly. They are also used as fragrance ingredients, but consumers won't find that listed on the label. Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets, so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients. Parabens easily penetrate the skin. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed parabens as Category 1 priority substances, based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function. Parabens can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. They have been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions. In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage. Parabens occur naturally at low levels in certain foods, such as barley, strawberries, currents, vanilla, carrots, and onions, although a synthetic preparation derived from petrochemicals is used in cosmetics. Parabens in foods are metabolized when eaten, making them less strongly estrogenic. In contrast, when applied to the skin and absorbed into the body, parabens in cosmetics bypass the metabolic process and enter the blood stream and body organs intact. It has been estimated that women are exposed to 50 mg per day of parabens from cosmetics. More research is needed concerning the resulting levels of parabens in people. Studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did find four different parabens in human urine samples, indicating exposure despite the very low levels in products.
(Related Ingredients) Methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben are some of the most common parabens in cosmetics. Other chemicals in this class generally have "paraben" in their names (e.g., isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, etc.).

PEGs:  PEGs are petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. PEGs are commonly used as cosmetic cream bases. They are also used in pharmaceuticals as laxatives.
Depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies ethylene oxide as a known human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane as a possible human carcinogen. Ethylene oxide can also harm the nervous system and the California Environmental Protection Agency has classified it as a developmental toxicant based on evidence that it may interfere with human development. 1,4-dioxane is also persistent. In other words, it doesn't easily degrade and can remain in the environment long after it is rinsed down the shower drain. 1,4-dioxane can be removed from cosmetics during the manufacturing process by vacuum stripping, but there is no easy way for consumers to know whether products containing PEGs have undergone this process. In a study of personal care products marketed as "natural" or "organic" (uncertified), U.S. researchers found 1,4-dioxane as a contaminant in 46 of 100 products analyzed. While carcinogenic contaminants are the primary concern, PEG compounds themselves show some evidence of genotoxicity and if used on broken skin can cause irritation and systemic toxicity. The industry panel that reviews the safety of cosmetics ingredients concluded that some PEG compounds are not safe for use on damaged skin (although the assessment generally approved of the use of these chemicals in cosmetics). Also, PEG functions as a "penetration enhancer," increasing the permeability of the skin to allow greater absorption of the product including harmful ingredients. Certain PEGs may cause hives, eczema, and have been link to kidney toxicity.

Petrolatum: Petrolatum is mineral oil jelly (i.e. petroleum jelly). It’s virtually odorless, tasteless, colorless or pale yellow semisolid/gel.
(Origins of Petroleum Jelly) Petrolatum is found in crude oil and its by-products. It is believed to have been discovered when a substance was found clogging up the machinery on oil drilling sites. In 1859 a 22-year-old chemist from Brooklyn, NY named Robert Augustus Chesebrough went to Pennsylvania to investigate an oil well. Oil was a burgeoning industry and Chesebrough hoped to profit from it. While investigating the site, Chesebrough observed that oil workers would smear this white gooey residue (that they called "rod wax") from the drills onto burns and cuts on their skin and it appeared to aid in the healing process. Chesebrough took samples back to New York and began experimenting with the substance until he was able to extract what would become petroleum jelly. In 1870 he began marketing his Vaseline product. He marketed it as an oiling product for leather, a lubricant, and for medicinal uses for chapped skin, blisters, burns, sunburns, cuts and for keeping wounds clean by sealing them off. He even marketed petroleum jelly as an aid for rheumatism and as hair pomade (Vaseline Pomade). In the past women used it to beautify the complexion (Vaseline Cold Cream) and on eyebrows and eyelashes believing it would help them grow. (Today some dermatologists suggest that women allergic to mascara use petroleum jelly on lashes to make them appear thicker and longer.) Within ten years Vaseline was in nearly every household.
In later years it was found that petroleum jelly did not actually heal cuts and wounds as previously thought and that it could actually trap bacteria in the skin and therefore should not be used on fresh burns. Other problems have been discovered through the years, including something called lipid pneumonia, when petroleum jelly is used around and inside the nose. Lipid pneumonia is an infection caused by the inhalation of fats.
The concern and safety of petroleum jelly is with impurities in the manufacturing process. Petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies suggest that exposure to PAHs including skin contact over extended periods of time is potentially carcinogenic and have links to breast cancer. A study linking the petrolatum impurity PAHs to breast cancer was completed at Columbia University. The study indicates that breast tissue of women with breast cancer were 2.6 times more likely to have increased amounts of PAHs attached to their DNA than the breast tissue of women without breast cancer. Researchers June K.Dunnick, Michael R.Elwell, James Huff and J.Carl Barrett of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences researched Triangle Park North Carolina also found that PAHs were found in the mutated genes of test animals with mammary gland cancer. Another research at the Herb Research Foundation noted that skin absorbs up to 60 percent of the chemicals in products that it contacts and these chemical move directly into the bloodstream. The Organic Make-up company notes that the petrolatum developed for its cost effective glide in make-up application suffocates the skin by absorbing these chemicals directly into the bloodstream decreasing oxygen absorbed through the skin. Suffocation can cause the death of skin cells and thus premature aging to skin cells. Petrolatum can cause skin photosensitivity or promote sun damage. It may interfere with the body's moisturizing mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping despite its cosmetic use as lip protection. Petrolatum also can cause skin irritations, rashes, allergies, and aggravated acne. According to the Environmental Working Group, petrolatum may be found in one of every 14 products as well as 15 percent of lipsticks and 40 percent of baby lotions and oils.
The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency restricts petrolatum in food to 10 parts per million, and insists that petrolatum used in food packaging or drugs meet governmental standards on impurity restrictions for PAHs.
To avoid petrolatum in products you can look for ingredients listed as petroleum jelly, petrolatum, white petrolatum, mineral oil (which is a petroleum-derived oil) and soft paraffin.

Propylene Glycol: Propylene Glycol and Polypropylene Glycols attract water and function as moisturizers to enhance the appearance of skin by reducing flaking and restoring suppleness. Propylene Glycol is also used as a solvent and to help stabilize formulations. Propylene glycol is a thick clear, colorless and hygroscopic (capable of easily absorbing moisture) liquid. Propylene glycol is a related chemical that, like PEGs. It functions as a penetration enhancer, which alters skin structure allowing harmful ingredients to be absorbed more readily through the skin, increasing the amounts of other chemicals that reach the bloodstream. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) considers Propylene glycol so toxic it requires protective gloves, clothing, goggles and disposal by burying. EPA warns against skin contact to prevent brain, liver, kidney, reproductive, respiratory abnormalities. It can also cause allergic reactions. There is NO warning label on products where concentration is greater than in most industrial applications.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate is typically used as a cleansing agent. It’s a penetration enhancer, surfactant (makes it bubbly and foamy), has emulsifying properties (clean the skin and hair by helping water to mix with oil and dirt so that they can be rinsed away.), and act as a skin conditioning agent. Depending on manufacturing processes, sodium laureth sulfate may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. The International Agency for Research on Cancer ethylene oxide as a known human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane as a possible human carcinogen. Ethylene oxide can also harm the nervous system and the California Environmental Protection Agency has classified it as a possible developmental toxicant based on evidence that it may interfere with human development.  1,4-dioxane is also persistent. In other words, it doesn't easily degrade and can remain in the environment long after it is rinsed down the shower drain. 1,4-dioxane can be removed from cosmetics during the manufacturing process by vacuum stripping, but there is no easy way for consumers to know whether products containing sodium laureth sulfate have undergone this process.
The industry panel that reviews the safety of cosmetics ingredients notes that sodium laureth sulfate can irritate the skin and eyes (though approving of its use in cosmetics). It’s can also damage the immune system by causing layers to separate, inflame and age. There is also a possibility of hair loss.

TEA (Triethanolamine): Triethanolamine helps to form emulsions by reducing the surface tension of the substances to be emulsified so that water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients can be blended together. They are also used to control the pH of cosmetics and personal care products, and surfactant (foam booster). It’s a chemical compound delivered from ammonia. Triethanolamine is easily absorbed through skin to accumulate in body organs, even the brain. Repeated use resulted in major increases of liver and kidney cancer. Triethanolamine can also irritate your skin and eyes and causes contact dermatitis. It might be the cause of breakouts.

Urea (Imidazolidinyl): Urea is a preservative, its colorless or white crystalline powder; it can also occur in the form of small white pellets. Urea minimizes the change in the acid/base balance of a product when other ingredients are added to that product. It also slows the loss of moisture from a product during use. When used in the formulation of skin care products, Urea increases the water content of the top layers of the skin. Urea is a concern because they slowly and continuously release small amounts of formaldehyde, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies as a known human carcinogen. Formaldehyde may off-gas from cosmetics containing these ingredients and be inhaled (most of the cancer research on formaldehyde has focused on risks from inhalation). Off-gassing of formaldehyde from building products is already a concern for indoor air quality and Health Canada recommends the reduction or elimination of as many sources of formaldehyde as possible. Laboratory studies suggest that formaldehyde in cosmetics can also be absorbed through the skin. Formaldehyde may cause joint pain, cancer, skin reactions, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and loss of sleep. Exposure may irritate the respiratory system, trigger heart palpitations or asthma, and aggravate coughs and colds.

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