Editor’s Note: The following ingredients were chosen by the author based on her own research. However, we’re happy to share that we support that research. All products sold in One Twine are free of these ingredients, and many of the brands mentioned below are offered by One Twine. To see more ingredients worth avoiding in your everyday products, check out One Twine’s list of avoided ingredients.
Reading the label on the food I buy has become second nature. But lately I’m also checking the labels on soaps, shampoos, sunscreen, hair care products, and other toiletries. After all, there are plenty of nasty ingredients to avoid in these products — chemicals that can be carcinogenic, can disrupt hormones and development, or have other detrimental effects. Even though products might contain just a small amount of these ingredients, the possibility of additional exposure lurks when we release them into the environment. They can wash into our water or bioaccumulate in the animals we eat.
But of course reading the label for safe ingredients in, say, a bottle of shampoo, is much more difficult than sussing out the safest bottle of salad dressing. Pretty much every ingredient is an unwieldy chemical name, and who’s to know which ones are toxic and which are safe?
Here are five common chemicals to avoid. Memorize or jot down their names so you’ll know to check for them before you buy.
Found in soap (especially liquid and antibacterial soap), toothpaste, and shaving cream, among other items, this chemical is added to reduce bacterial contamination. But the FDA is reviewing this ingredientbecause it has been shown to alter hormone regulation in animals and may also contribute to making bacteria strains resistant to antibiotics. The Environmental Working Group classifies it as being toxic or harmful to organs.
Better Choices: Triclosan-free products, like Crest toothpaste and Dr. Bronner’s soaps.
One of the major ingredients in sunscreen, and also sometimes found in aftershave, oxybenzone is thought to be present in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans. The Environmental Working Group considers it to be a highly hazardous ingredient, and believes it disrupts hormones, contributes to endometriosis, and has a high rate of skin allergy.
Better Choices: Mineral sunscreens such as Nature’s Gate.
Look for formaldehyde in nail polish, polish remover, and hair straighteners. The National Cancer Institute says it is a known human carcinogen. It is often found by other names in the ingredient list, such as bronopol or hydroxymethylglycinate.
Better Choices:3-free nail polish brands like Zoya, formaldehyde-free straighteners like Rusk Thermal Shiny Str8 Permanent Straightener.
Many cosmetics contain parabens, chemicals used to prevent bacteria growth. Look for ingredients that contain “-paraben”, such as methylparaben or propylparaben, as a suffix. Researchers have discovered that they are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with our hormones. While the FDA says the chemical is safe at low levels, it has been linked to malignant breast cancer tumors.
Better Choices: Aveda products, Sebamed products (which are also gluten free).
Used as a solvent, phthalates can be found in some soaps, shampoos, hair sprays and nail polishes. The CDC says phthalates affect the reproductive systems of laboratory animals, and phthalates linger in the bodies of most people. Women have been found to have higher levels of phthalates in their bodies, most likely because of their exposure to phthalates in personal care products. We don’t yet know how this chemical might be affecting our health, which is particularly troubling when exposure is so widespread. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics contends that phthalates cause hormone disruption and exposure to pregnant women could affect their babies. The presence of “fragrance” or “parfum” as a listed ingredient might indicate the presence of phthalates.
Better Choices: Fragrance-free toiletries, 100 Pure, the recommended brands from Breast Cancer Action, Weleda products.