Ingredients to avoid

This will be a work in progress for quite some time. I am hoping to work on an ingredient every week or so, until I feel I’ve covered them all. I hope you find this helpful as you learn to be an ingredient detective as you choose which products to bring into your home.

What I’ve learned in my decade+ of reading labels & trying to decipher them, and this applies to most topics: you can find sources to support both sides of the debate. Often, there are not just 2 sides, it’s not black & white, there are grey areas. So what it boils down to for me is: is there more than a shred of doubt about the safety of x ingredient? Are there acceptable alternatives to x ingredient? Are there products that work well, that do not contain x ingredient? If so, then I’ll go with the alternative. But still, I know many of you have products you love that may contain so-so ingredients. I wanted to put this together, with some of the most legit resources available, as well as my opinion, to help you decide whether you feel the risks outweigh the benefits.

A main point for me is usage & concentration. It is said that the average woman in the U.S uses something like 30ish products/day. Think of it like this.. Take a shower, use shampoo & conditioner, body wash, shave gel. Get out, put on lotion, body spray, hair gel, 10 types of make-up, the list goes on. SO, if each of those products contains something even minimally concerning, I truly feel it has a cumulative effect. Myself, I am a minimalist. I wash my hair every few days, sometimes use conditioner (to tame static), do not wear make-up, occasionally paint my nails. So if someone like me were to have 1 product they love that contains a so-so ingredient, I feel a bit differently about its usage. I hope that make sense. Daily usage + concentration= cause for concern, in my opinion. Also, I make note of ingredients that are cause for concern on our environment. Even if perfectly benign to the human body, if there is concern for aquatic toxicity, and it’s a popular brand that millions of people are using, well, then…. NO!

Also, I know EWG is not the end all & be all on any ingredient/product. But it is one of the most well-known databases that exist on this topic, so I do reference it. I always urge that you look beyond the score of a product and look at the actual ingredients. Some ingredients are given a good score, but have next to no data to back that up. I ALWAYS Google: concerns with X ingredient, and read a variety of resources, in addition to EWG.

Cocamidopropyl betaine:

Products containing this, as listed by EWG: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/701520-COCAMIDOPROPYL_BETAINE

There are an INSANE number of synonyms for this ingredient, as listed by EWG: 1-PROPANAMINIUM, 3-AMINO-N-(CARBOXYMETHYL)-N,N-DIMETHYL-, N-COCO ACYL DERIVS., INNER SALTS, 1-PROPANAMINIUM, N-(CARBOXYMETHYL)-N,N-DIMETHYL-3-[(1-OXOCOCONUT)AMINO]-, HYDROXIDE, INNER SALT, 1PROPANAMINIUM, 3AMINON(CARBOXYMETHYL)N,NDIMETHYL, NCOCO ACYL DERIVS., HYDROXIDES, INNER SALTS, CADG, COCAMIDO BETAINE, COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE, COCAMIDOPROPYL DIMETHYL GLYCINE, COCOAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE, COCOYL AMIDE PROPYLBETAINE, COCOYL AMIDE PROPYLDI METHYL GLYCINE SOLUTION, COCOYL AMIDE PROPYLDIMETHYL GLYCINE, HYDROXIDE INNER SALT 1-PROPANAMINIUM, N-(CARBOXYMETHYL)-N,N-DIMETHYL-3-[(1-OXOCOCONUT)AMINO]-, HYDROXIDES INNER QUATERNARY AMMONIUM COMPOUNDS, (CARBOXYMETHYL)(3-COCOAMIDOPROPYL)DIMETHYL, INNER QUATERNARY AMMONIUM COMPOUNDS, (CARBOXYMETHYL)(3-COCOAMIDOPROPYL)DIMETHYL, HYDROXIDES, INNER SALT 1-PROPANAMINIUM, N-(CARBOXYMETHYL)-N,N-DIMETHYL-3-[(1-OXOCOCONUT)AMINO]-, HYDROXIDE, INNER SALT N-(CARBOXYMETHYL)-N,N-DIMETHYL-3-[(1-OXOCOCONUT)AMINO]-1-PROPANAMINIUM HYDROXIDE, N-(CARBOXYMETHYL)-N,N-DIMETHYL-3-[(1-OXOCOCONUT)AMINO]-1-PROPANAMINIUM HYDROXIDE, INNER SALT, N-COCAMIDOPROPYL-N,N-DIMETHYLGLYCINE, HYDROXIDE, INNER SALT; COCOAMIDOPROPYLBETAINE; N-(COCOAMIDOPROPYL)-N,N-DIMETHYL-N-CARBOXYMETHYL AMMONIUM, BETAINE; N-(3-COCOAMIDOPROPYL)-N,N-DIMETHYL-N-CARBOXYMET, and SALTS

ABOUT this ingredient, from EWG: Cocamidopropyl betaine is a surfactant; it has been associated with irritation and allergic contact dermatitis, reactions that could be due to the ingredient itself or to impurities present in it, such as 3-dimethylaminopropylamine. It is suspected to be an environmental toxin.

From a PubMed study: The increasing rates of sensitization led to CAPB’s being named Allergen of the Year in 2004. Related impurities rendered during the manufacturing process (such as amidoamine and dimethylaminopropylamine) are thought to play a role in sensitization. Chemical of the Day article: The biggest problem that cocamidopropyl betaine has is that its processing aids, amidoamine and 3-dimethylaminopropylamine, can remain in the product.  These chemicals can cause contact dermatitis, eye irritation, and other allergic reactions.

Scientific Facts:  Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Lauramidopropyl Betaine and the other related amidopropyl betaines are similar in chemistry. These ingredients share the presence of two manufacturing by-products (3,3-dimethylaminopropylamine [DMAPA] and fatty acid amidopropyl dimethylamine [amidoamine]). DMAPA and amidoamine are both known skin allergens (sensitizers). Therefore, manufacturers keep the levels of DMAPA and amidoamine in ingredients like CAPB and Lauramidopropyl Betaine as low as possible through manufacturing controls and continual quality monitoring.
Resources:

https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/701520-cocamidopropyl_betaine

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2013/8/12/cocamidopropyl-betaine.html?currentPage=3

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18627690

https://cosmeticsinfo.org/ingredient/cocamidopropyl-betaine-0

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DIMETHICONE:  a silicone based polymer.

EWG listed products containing this ingredient: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/702011-DIMETHICONE

Synonyms: DIMETHICONE, DIMETHICONE COPOLYOL, DIMETHYL SILICONE, DIMETHYLSILOXANE, POLY(OXYETHYLENE OXYPROPYLENE) COPOLYMER; ETHOXYLATED, PROPOXYLATED SILICONE OIL, HIGHLY POLYMERIZED METHYL POLYSILOXANE, METHYL POLYSILOXANE, POLY[OXY(DIMETHYLSILYLENE)],A -(TRIMETHYLSILYL)-W -METHYL-, SILICONE L-45, and SILOXANES AND SILICONES, DIME, HYDROXYTERMINATED, ETHOXYLATED PROPOXYLATED

EWG: Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive): classified as expected to be toxic or harmful. Ecotoxicology: suspected to be an environmental toxin.

Functions, via Truth in Aging (full article link below in resources): One of the most widely used ingredients in cosmetics, dimethicone works as an anti-foaming agent, skin protectant and skin & hair conditioner- it prevents water loss by forming a hydrating barrier on the skin. Like most silicones, this ingredient has a unique fluidity that makes it easily spreadable. When applied to the skin, its known for creating a subtle gloss that feels smooth and silky to touch. It also acts a mild water repellent by forming a protective barrier on the skin, and can fill in fine lines/wrinkles on the face, giving it a temporary “plump” look.

The Cosmetic Ingredient review (CIR) Expert Panel reviewed the data surrounding dimethicone, and assessed it as safe to use in personal care products. They determined that because of the large molecular weight of silicone based polymers such as dimethicone, it would be very unlikely for it to penetrate past the surface of the skin.

I’ve always appreciate the research shared by Irma of I read labels for you, and I found that she is in favor of this ingredient after her research. Her article is linked to in the resources below. I appreciate that she noted this: “I want to emphasize that this research pertains to a pure form of dimethicone, not the hybrid Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer used in the Beautycounter foundation or PEG-10 Dimethicone used in Bare Minerals foundation.  I do not recommend these products.”

Irma did state this regarding environmental concerns, and I do hold this as a concern. Being non-biodegradable is a concern for me. As she noted, “sludge” isn’t always properly treated/disposed of. So this remains a concern for me regarding this ingredient: “While it is non-biodegradable, it is eliminated from the sewage water because it is absorbed by sewage sludge.  The reason it ends up in the oceans is that sewage sludge is often dumped into the oceans.”

I appreciate what this blogger wrote (full article= Be Well, linked to below), it sums up my thoughts: “For me, though, this is not a good ingredient to be using in your daily skin care. Like petroleum products, silicone oils can actually make dry skin worse over time. Instead of sinking into your skin and nourishing it from the inside out, like healthy ingredients do, it forms a sort of plastic-like barrier on the outside of skin.

Why Dimethicone is Bad for Your Skin

That artificial coating on the outside of skin causes several issues:

  • It traps everything under it—including bacteria, sebum, and impurities—which could lead to increased breakouts and blackheads
  • The coating action actually prevents the skin from performing its normal activities—like sweating, temperature regulating, sloughing off dead skin cells, etc.
  • Prolonged exposure to dimethicone can actually increase skin irritation, due to the coating property and because dimethicone is listed as a possible skin and eye irritant
  • Those with sensitive or reactive skin are at risk of an allergic reaction to dimethicone
  • On top of all this, dimethicone is a non-biodegradable chemical—bad for the environment

I also believe that using these types of ingredients on your skin can actually exacerbate skin aging. Why?

  • You’re inhibiting skin’s natural processes
  • You’re creating a dependency on the coating product, disrupting the skin’s own hydrating processes, which in the end increases dryness, making fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable
  • The coating properties may increase breakouts, particularly if you’re susceptible to acne, which will lead to scars and older-looking skin
  • You’re doing nothing to boost the health and vitality of the skin, thus letting aging take its toll

Much better to use nourishing ingredients that help keep your skin hydrated naturally!”

Steph from Chemical of the Day’s opinion:

Risk/Safety Info:

According to the MSDS sheet found Here, Dimethicone:

  • May bioconcentrate in aquatic organisms
  • May cause eye irritation
  • May cause skin irritation
  • May be harmful if absorbed through the skin.
  • May cause irritation of the digestive tract; harmful if swallowed
  • May cause respiratory tract irritation.  May be harmful if inhaled.
  • Adverse reproductive effects have been reported in animals.
  • Animal studies have reported the development of tumors.

Steph’s Opinion:
It is unknown if the reproductive effects and tumor growth animal studies are based on external application or ingestion (typically there are ingested in those types of studies).  However, “may be harmful if absorbed through the skin” is a pretty clear clue to avoid this ingredient.

**Conclusion, as with all ingredients being highlighted, you can find articles to support their use, as well as raise concerns. My goal is to highlight what the concerns are, so you can make a more informed decision for your family.

Resources:

EWG: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/702011-dimethicone

https://ireadlabelsforyou.com/dimethicone-belong-toxin-free-makeup/

https://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/dimethicone

https://www.bewell.com/blog/the-truth-behind-the-common-cosmetics-ingredient-dimethicone/

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2009/6/29/dimethicone.html

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Grapefruit Seed Extract: 

Synonyms: CITRUS GRANDIS (GRAPEFRUIT) SEED EXTRACT, CITRUS GRANDIS SEED EXTRACT, CITRUS PARADISI SEED EXTRACT, CITRUS SEED EXTRACT, EXTRACT OF CITRUS GRANDIS SEED, EXTRACT OF GRAPEFRUIT SEED, EXTRACT OF GRAPEFRUIT SEEDS, GRAPEFRUIT SEED EXTRACT, GRAPEFRUIT SEEDS EXTRACT, and GRAPEFRUIT, EXT.

EWG listed products containing it: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/701433-CITRUS_GRANDIS_GRAPEFRUIT_SEED_EXTRACT

This ingredient is one of those that sounds safe enough. But there are some serious concerns with it… From the Chemical of the Day site, which I’ve cited for many years in pointing to my concerns with its usage. While yes, this article is from 2010, it still is the single best source I turn to when looking to cite concerns with this ingredient: “The big controversy that’s been going on for years with Grapefruit Seed Extract lies in its potential to be contaminated with benzalkonium chloride, parabens, and triclosan.  Numerous studies have tested samples of commercially produced GSE and found these contaminants to be present.  (See HereHereHere and Here.)  The biggest contaminant found is benzalkonium chloride, a chemical that rates a 7 in the cosmetics database that’s a known immune system toxin, skin toxin, and possible cancer risk. Some studies have shown that without these contaminants, a truly natural extract of grapefruit seed and pulp in ethanol or glycerin, had no antibacterial properties.  However, GSE apologists claim that GSE can be effective without these contaminants… GSE is clearly not a natural extract, but a synthetic ingredient, considering it goes through 7 steps of processing and the extract doesn’t retain the original compounds present in grapefruit.”

*Conclusion: there is enough controversy over this ingredient to make me want to steer clear of it!

Resources: http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/most-controversial/2010/1/27/the-truth-about-grapefruit-seed-extract.html

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Japanese Honeysuckle: LONICERA JAPONICA (JAPANESE HONEYSUCKLE) EXTRACT, a preservative.

EWG listed products containing it: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/703619-LONICERA_JAPONICA_JAPANESE_HONEYSUCKLE_EXTRACT

Synonyms: EXTRACT OF LONICERA JAPONICA, JAPANESE HONEYSUCKLE EXTRACT, LONICERA (HONEYSUCKLE) EXTRACT, LONICERA EXTRACT, LONICERA JAPONICA (JAPANESE HONEYSUCKLE) EXTRACT, LONICERA JAPONICA EXTRACT, and LONICERA JAPONICA FLOWER EXTRACT

Like Grapefruit Seed Extract, this ingredient sounds 100% natural & harmless. But it serves as a good reminder that just because it might be natural, doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry risks. The Truth in Aging article cites one of my go-to sources as well: “Honeysuckle, so pretty and seemingly innocent, contain parahydroxy benzoic acid, which behaves in a very similar way to synthetic parabens. And so a heated debate has been going on about whether the honeysuckle preservative (marketed under the name of Plantservative) is, indeed, a paraben and, if so, whether this is potentially harmful. The first question – is it a paraben – is fairly straight forward. Some excellent sleuthing by Chemical of the Day, established that parahydroxy benzoic acid (PHBA) present in all grades of Plantservative. The compound parahydroxy benzoic acid is found in lots of plants, not just Japanese honeysuckle. Its molecular structure is similar to parabens (methyparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben). It isn’t identical but it does have a “benzene ring.” According to Chemical of the Day:  “Anything with a benzene ring has the potential to be an endocrine disruptor. Because our body’s hormones are made up of complex structures of benzene rings, our hormonal receptors are made to “fit” these benzene rings. These benzene rings enter the estrogen receptors in the body and can “clog” them up so they don’t function properly or overstimulate them.”

“Until recently it was thought that Parabens where safe due to their low toxic profile. However, new research has shown that the build up of Parabens in the body and their interaction with other commonly used chemicals may lead to hormone disruption and can lead to an increased cancer risk. It is very difficult to conclusively say whether Parabens are harmful. Any definitive study would likely take 10-20 years and would have to study the interactions of Parabens with a vast number of other synthetic chemicals. ”

Resources: https://www.truthinaging.com/review/honeysuckle-preservatives-and-parabens

https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/more-parabens-greenwashing-honeysuckle-extract

https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/703619-LONICERA_JAPONICA_JAPANESE_HONEYSUCKLE_EXTRACT

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METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE AND METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE:

Synonyms listed by EWG: 2-METHYL- 3(2H)-ISOTHIAZOLONE, 2-METHYL-2H-ISOTHIAZOL-3-ONE, 2-METHYL-3(2H)-ISOTHIAZOLONE, 2-METHYL-4-ISOTHIAZOLIN-3-ONE, 3(2H)-ISOTHIAZOLONE, 2-METHYL-, 3(2H)ISOTHIAZOLONE, 2METHYL, METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE225METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE SOLUTION, and METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE/ 3(2H)ISOTHIAZOLONE, 5CHLORO2METHYL, 4-ISOTHIAZOLIN-3-ONE, 5-CHLORO-2-METHYL-, 5-CHLORO-2-METHYL- 4-ISOTHIAZOLIN-3-ONE, 5-CHLORO-2-METHYL-2H-ISOTHIAZOL-3-ONE, 5-CHLORO-2-METHYL-4-ISOTHIAZOLIN-3-ONE, METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE, and METHYLCHLOROTHIAZOLINONE/

EWG listed products containing it: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/703935-METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE

https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/703924-METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE

A preservative found in liquid home & personal care products. In my opinion, this ingredient & any company using it should be avoided at all costs. This is not a so-so ingredient, but a big, fat, NO!

Seventh Generation, a popular brand perceived by many as eco-friendly, uses methylisothiazolinone in just about all their products. Other “eco-friendly” (perceived) brands that have products that contain these harsh preservatives: Mrs. Meyers, Earth Friendly Products, Method. It’s in many mainstream brands like Dawn, Ivory, Glade, there’s a HUGE list (see attachment at bottom).

The argument in favor of these ingredients is often this: it’s in a very low concentration. That may be so, but it’s my opinion that when you get a brand as popular as Seventh Generation, who sells millions of bottles of products annually, those concentrations are greatly multiplied.

EWG Cleaning Database gives it a D, with concerns such as the LC50 value is very toxic to aquatic life. What does LC 50 mean: LC50 (lethal concentration) is the concentration of the compound in feed (or water in case of fish) that is lethal for 50% of exposed population. Additional concerns, as listed by EWG: skin sensitizer, skin irritation, allergic contact dermatitis, inherently biodegradable, listed by the EPA as “unknown if this substance is carcinogenic”.

So a reminder, while I primarily consider concerns to humans regarding ingredients in personal care & cleaning products, environmental concerns should be viewed as equally concerning. I live on the banks of a river. I will never, ever use a product containing this ingredient for that reason alone.

One comment that came in on this topic: This is what wrecked my hands, from using Seventh Generation dish soap 3 times a day. I tried all the creams and balms with no luck. When I finally switched out the dish soap, my hands were fine and have been so ever since. I had no idea!

Summary from Steph of Chemical of the Day:

Why is it a risk?

  • Methylisothiazolinone is a known neurotoxin.  In 2004, the European Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for Consumers (SCCNFP) suggested that companies limit the maximum concentration to 0.01% (100 ppm).  However, US companies are not required to follow this guideline.
  • It is known to be absorbed through skin.  A study at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine concluded that “Prolonged exposure to low levels of MIT and related compounds may have damaging consequences to the developing nervous system.”
  • Is a developmental toxin.  (Source)
  • Is a known contact allergen.  (Source)

Resources: https://www.ewg.org/g…/substances/3596-METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE

http://www.safecosmetics.org/…/chemi…/methylisothiazolinone/

https://www.ewg.org/…/ingredie…/703935-METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2014/9/29/methylisothiazolinone.html

 

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Phenoxyethanol: a preservative used in cosmetics and personal care products.

EWG listed products containing this ingredient: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/704811-PHENOXYETHANOL

Synonyms: 2-HYDROXYETHYL PHENYL ETHER, 2-PHENOXY- ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXYETHANOL, 2-PHENOXYETHYL ALCOHOL, ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXY-, ETHANOL, 2PHENOXY, ETHYLENE GLYCOL MONOPHENYL ETHER, PHENOXYETHANOL, and PHENOXYTOL

Deciding on the safety of this ingredient. For me, I go with this rationale: is there more than a shred of doubt that this ingredient is 100% safe? If yes, and if I can avoid it, then why use it? I like the way this article summed up the safety aspect (from the safety article linked to in resources at the end of this ingredient post):

Deciding whether or not you want to use products with this chemical is a complicated decision. There’s conflicting data about its safety. Most of the concern stems from recorded incidents of bad skin reactions and nervous system interaction in infants. The FDA currently allows the use of this ingredient in cosmetics, and as an indirect food additive. An expert panel from The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) first reviewed all available data on this chemical in 1990. They deemed it safe when applied topically in concentrations of 1 percent or lower. In 2007, the panel reviewed newly available data, then confirmed their former decision that it’s safe for adults to use topically in very low concentrations. The European Commission on Health and Food Safety also gives this chemical a “safe” rating when used in cosmetics at a 1-percent or less concentration. However, this report notes that using several products all containing a low dose could result in overexposure.”

That last part: using several products all containing a low dose could result in overexposure… That’s my feeling on so many of these products. Sure, product A has a tinnnnnny bit of a terrible ingredient. The average woman in the U.S uses something like 30+ different products daily on her body. So if each of those have something iffy, well… And if a brand is super popular, and millions of people daily are using their product, and said products have environmental concerns, again, well, it adds up!

EWG gives it a 2-4. According to EWG, these are the synonyms: 2-HYDROXYETHYL PHENYL ETHER, 2-PHENOXY- ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXYETHANOL, 2-PHENOXYETHYL ALCOHOL, ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXY-, ETHANOL, 2PHENOXY, ETHYLENE GLYCOL MONOPHENYL ETHER, PHENOXYETHANOL, and PHENOXYTOL

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: “Phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative in cosmetic products and also as a stabilizer in perfumes and soaps.[1]  Exposure to phenoxyethanol has been linked to reactions ranging from eczema[2] to severe, life-threatening allergic reactions.[3]Infant oral exposure to phenoxyethanol can acutely affect nervous system function.[4] Skin exposure to phenoxyethanol has been linked to allergic reactions ranging from eczema and hives[7]to anaphylaxis.[8] A 2015 study found that Doppler ultrasound gel mostly caused skin inflammation, but there were rare reports of anaphylaxis, or life-threatening reactions. Mixtures of phenoxyethanol and parabens found in Doppler ultrasound gel may lead to more severe allergic reactions than phenoxyethanol alone.[9]  Eczema is also a common allergic reaction to skin exposure of products containing one percent or more phenoxyethanol. Reactions only occur in the area of application and eczema subsides after avoidance of the product causing irritation.[10]  Acute nervous system effects (infants): In 2008, the FDA warned consumers not to purchase Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream. Phenoxyethanol, found in the cream, was depressing the central nervous system and causing vomiting and diarrhea in breast feeding infants.[11] Symptoms of a depressed nervous system include a decrease in infant’s appetite, difficulty waking the infant, limpness of extremities and change in skin color. There is no known health risk to the mother. [12]  VULNERABLE POPULATIONS: Individuals allergic to phenoxyethanol and breast-feeding infants.”

Above info taken from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics database.

Steph from Chemical of the Day’s opinion, which I greatly value: “Made out of carcinogenic and toxic compounds, phenoxyethanol is an ingredient that I would suggest avoiding. Oftentimes it’s found in “natural” products. They’ll use phenoxyethanol as the preservative and then tout that they’re “paraben-free.” In addition it’s commonly used as a fragrance ingredient. Many of the natural companies still use synthetic fragrance. They’ll tout that they’re “phthalate-free” but still contain phenoxyethanol. So, just because something’s “phlalate-free” or “paraben-free” doesn’t mean it’s safe. Any time you see “fragrance” listed, phenoxyethanol could be present, along with any number of harmful synthetic chemicals. Phenoxyethanol is structurally similar to parabens on a chemical level, so its toxicity to the reproductive system is not surprising.  Also note: some companies may claim that their phenoxyethanol is extracted from natural sources.  So, while this is better because it lessens the risk for ethylene oxide contamination, it is still the same chemical structurally, and would pose the same risks. ”

As always, you can find articles in support of using it. There are numerous “green” companies that use it, Honest Company is one, this is what they say: We use phenoxyethanol in a very low concentration as a preservative in 5 of our products (Stain RemoverMulti-Surface SprayDish SoapHand Soap & Laundry Detergent) because the most accessible alternatives for these types of formulas include parabens and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Both are classes of chemicals with demonstrable evidence of potential health risks, whereas phenoxyethanol is very safe at low levels. It’s been tested on the skin and eyes and it is non-irritating and non-sensitizing at levels of 2.2% or lower while being effective at only 1% concentrations. The European Union and Japan both approve its use up to that 1% level and our formulas fall well below the recommendation at 0.5% or less (depending on the specific product). Even better, phenoxyethanol doesn’t react with other ingredients, air or light. This kind of stability makes it an especially effective preservative.

Resources: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/phenoxyethanol/

EWG: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/704811-PHENOXYETHANOL

https://www.healthline.com/health/phenoxyethanol#is-phenoxyethanol-safe

https://www.honest.com/blog/wellness/ingredients/what-is-phenoxyethanol/4553.html

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2011/2/28/phenoxyethanol.html

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Potassium Sorbate: a potassium salt of sorbic acid, a naturally occuring antimicrobial compound; used as a preservative

Synonyms: 2,4-HEXADIENOIC ACID, POTASSIUM SALT, 2,4HEXADIENOIC ACID, POTASSIUM SALT, POTASSIUM SALT 2,4-HEXADIENOIC ACID, and POTASSIUM SORBATE

EWG products listed that contain it: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/705225-POTASSIUM_SORBATE

EWG lists this as one concern: Human skin toxicant or allergen – strong evidence

From Stephanie at Chemical of the Day:

What are its risks:

  • Potassium sorbate can cause allergic reaction in repeated high amounts or in certain individuals. (Source)
  • Can be a skin or eye irritant when used in high concentrations.
  • Found to be genotoxic to human lymphocytes. In other words, it has been found to alter or destroy the DNA within human white blood cells. (Source)
  • Derived from petroleum (Source) This itself doesn’t make it harmful, unless there are impurities that are not filtered out in processing (polyaromatic hydrocarbons.)

Steph’s Opinion: 

Potassium sorbate has longbeen considered one of the “safer” options when it comes to preservatives, with the biggest risk it was thought to carry being potential for allergy. However, with new information shedding light on its genotoxicity, it is now on my “avoid” list.

From The Honest Company, who uses it as an ingredient:

Why we use it:

Potassium sorbate is a food-grade preservative that has been effectively used for decades and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) to preserve food products (1). Studies using dilutions similar to what’s used in body care products found it’s practically non-irritating and non-sensitizing (2). In fact, the toxicity of potassium sorbate is pretty close to that of table salt (3,4)!

Some words that stand out to me in the above info from The Honest Company: “practically” non-irritating, “pretty close” to that of table salt…. I believe that any company can diminish the risks associated with an ingredient if they truly want to. My conclusion:  after sodium benzoate this is the next “safest” preservative. It is found in SO many products. As I state over, and over. If you’re using it in 20 products/day, I would be concerned about concentration. If you’re using it in 1 product/day, I would be less concerned. If you’re able to find products that do not contain it, as I have, I would choose those!

Resources:

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2014/8/13/potassium-sorbate.html

https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/705225-potassium_sorbate

https://www.honest.com/blog/wellness/ingredients/what-is-potassium-sorbate/4774.html

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Sodium Benzoate: A preservative, a salt of Benzoic Acid.

EWG listed products containing this ingredient: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/705989-SODIUM_BENZOATE

Synonyms: BENZOIC ACID, SODIUM SALT, SODIUM BENZOATE, and SODIUM SALT BENZOIC ACID

EWG lists several hundred products that contain this ingredient, and I’m confident there are many thousand out there on the market. The site lists “limited evidence of sense organ toxicity, classified as not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful, and classified as a low human health priority”. This is all good. So, what ARE the concerns?

From the various sources I’ve read, the main concerns seem to come from its use as a preservative in food. Again, as I state in my opening thoughts, and throughout my commentary, I feel like the use of these ingredients is cumulative. If it’s in a bunch of food you’re eating daily, as well as preserving a variety of your personal care products, I have reason for concern vs if you’re using it in 1 product that you use on a minimal basis…

From the Truth in Aging Article: “Sodium Benzoate is a controversial ingredient because of its potential to interact with Ascorbic Acid (a Vitamin C derivative) and benzene, a known carcinogen. According to the International Programme on Chemical Safety, Sodium Benzoate is not a toxin or carcinogen on its own, and large amounts of this ingredient would have to be consumed, not applied topically, for adverse effects to be seen. The Cosmetics Database still found concerns regarding cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation and biochemical cellular changes with Sodium Benzoate as an ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products. One or more animal studies showed brain and nervous system effects at moderate doses, broad systemic effects at low doses, and in vitro tests on mammalian cells showed positive mutation results. One or more animal studies showed biochemical changes at high doses where the human health implications are not yet well understood, and animal studies showed skin irritation at high doses as well. Although Sodium Benzoate itself is considered a relatively safe ingredient, it is often found in formulas combined with any Vitamin C ingredient, benzene can be created, and it is known that heat, light and shelf life can also affect the rate at which benzene is formed”

A summary, regarding the formation of benzene (from the Derm Review, full link below in resources): “One potential problem with sodium benzoate is if this ingredient is formulated with vitamin C. When sodium benzoate is combined with vitamin C, a chemical reaction occurs that forms benzene. Benzene has been identified as a carcinogen. According to a publication in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, benzene-induced cancer in humans was first reported in the late 1920s.

The reaction between sodium benzoate and vitamin C was first discovered in the early 1990s. The major concern about this reaction was mostly focused on the presence of these two ingredients in soft drinks. In fact, 2.5% of 200 soft drinks with vitamin C and sodium benzoate were found to have levels of benzene above allowable levels, according to the FDA.

So is the presence of sodium benzoate and vitamin C in a skin care product a major concern? The answer is unclear. This is because there are ways of formulating products that can prevent this reaction from occuring. For instance, according to FutureDerm, benzene does not form at all if you use beauty products with a very high concentration of vitamin C and a low concentration of sodium benzoate. This is because higher amounts of vitamin C cause it to act as a free radical scavenger instead of reacting with sodium benzoate. In addition, products formulated with a pH of 3 or above are safer than those with a pH of 2 or less. And above a pH of 7, no benzene forms at all. Lastly, protecting products from light or heat exposure can limit the chances of benzene formation. Manufacturers that follow safe practices can effectively prevent benzene in their products.”

*Conclusion: all of this being said, I feel like this is one of the lesser preservatives of concern. While I’m able to avoid it, if I had a product I loved that contained it, I’d feel better about it than any other preservative out there.

Resources:

EWG: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/705989-SODIUM_BENZOATE

https://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/sodium-benzoate

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sodium-benzoate#dangers

https://thedermreview.com/sodium-benzoate/

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Sodium Lauryl Sulfate:

EWG listed products containing this ingredient: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/706110-SODIUM_LAURYL_SULFATE

Synonyms: MONODODECYL ESTER SODIUM SALT SULFURIC ACID, SODIUM DODECYL SULFATE, SODIUM DODECYL SULPHATE, SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE, SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE, SODIUM SALT SULFURIC ACID, MONODODECYL ESTER, SULFURIC ACID MONODODECYL ESTER SODIUM SALT, and SULFURIC ACID, MONODODECYL ESTER, SODIUM SALT

I put this one on my so-so list, not the worst out there, but I choose to avoid it. EWG cleaning database gives it a C, listing many low level concerns such as eye & skin irritation, low toxicity to male reproduction. There is “some concern” for chronic aquatic toxicity, moderate aquatic toxicity to fish, dermal hyperplasia in mice, The moderate concern listed is: acute dermal LD50 of 200 mg/kg body weight in rabbits, as well as acute oral LD50 of 290 mg/kg body weight.

EWG skin deep database says: Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful, medium human health priority. Suspected to be an environmental toxin. But determined safe for use in cosmetics, subject to concentration or use limitations. They rate it a 1-2 (on a scale of 10 being the worst).

The article I’ll post at the end of this comment debunks the notion that it is a dangerous ingredient. It is important to remember that you can find info on both sides of the safety debate. As I state in comments on other ingredients, I also take environmental concerns into account. This ingredient is used in a LOT of products, from shampoos, to toothpaste, to cleaning products. When you get millions of people using an ingredient on a daily basis, and it ends up in your local waterway, I have serious concerns about those effects. Therefore, I choose to not use products containing this ingredient.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Purpose: denaturant, surfactant – cleansing agent, cleansing, emulsifying, foaming, and surfactant

SLS can be derived from natural sources like coconut and palm kernel oil and can also be manufactured in a laboratory setting (synthetic).

Resources:
https://www.ewg.org/guides/substances/5605-SODIUMLAURYLSULFATE
https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/706110-SODIUM_LAURYL_SULFATE
https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/sodium-lauryl-sulfate/

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