Ingredients to avoid, A-K

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.

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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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Fragrance: I think this is one most of us intuitively know is just not good. Unless the product states it is scented with essential oils, or even flavor oils, you can pretty much guarantee the scent is synthetic and you want to avoid it. EWG gives this an 8, which is very rare to see. Many of the ingredients I choose not to use only get a 3 from EWG. 8 (out of 10 being the worst), is reallllly bad. EWG says: The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. EWG lists these concerns: KNOWN human immune system toxicant or allergen. One of more human case studies show significant immune or allergenic effects. Ingredient not fully labeled- identity unknown. Moderate evidence it is a human respiratory irritant.

It’s interesting to see my kiddos reactions to artificially scented products. They’ve grown up with products containing EO’s, and their nose totally knows the difference. We recently purchased a soap bar felting kit, it came with a bar of Dial soap, and both kids went EWWWWW as soon as they sniffed it.

From an “Ask EWG article”. Q: Question: Is it true that the cosmetics industry can put any chemical into a product’s “fragrance” without showing it on the ingredients list? What do they put in there? A: It’s true. When you see “fragrance” on a personal care product’s label, read it as “hidden chemicals.” A major loophole in FDA’s federal law lets manufacturers of products like shampoo, lotion, and body wash include nearly any ingredient in their products under the name “fragrance” without actually listing the chemical.

EWG lists a short list of synonyms for this one (as opposed to some ingredients which list 20+ synonyms!): AROMA, FRAGRANCE, and PARFUM.

I don’t feel a whole lot more needs to be said about this ingredient. Avoid it. If you need more convincing, Google or go to PubMed & search: concerns with fragrance in personal care and/or cleaning products, and you’ll find hours of reading.

Resources:
https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/702512-FRAGRANCE
https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2007/12/ask-ewg-what-fragrance

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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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