Contributed by Kim Kasasian

The issues

Canada evaluates chemicals using a risk based assessment approach, i.e., chemicals are evaluated by the level of risk that is posed. The European Union follows a hazard based assessment model, i.e., if there is a known hazard it is more likely to be banned or restricted.

The EU has banned or restricted over 2000 chemicals from cosmetic products, and Canada only around 500 (the United Staes– just 10).

So, in Canada, even if we know a chemical has health risks associated to it, like BPA for example, it can still be used in consumer products if the risk to exposure is considered low enough –despite evidence of possible threats to health.

Excerpted from the David Suzuki Foundation website:

Many chemical ingredients in cosmetics have never been tested for their effects on human health and the environment. Health Canada and Environment Canada are slowly working their way through the assessment of some 4,000 existing substances — including chemicals used in cosmetics — that have been categorized as potentially posing a risk to human health or the environment. Assessment of cosmetic ingredients is often frustrated by a lack of data on exposure and long-term health effects. Moreover, of the handful of chemicals assessed to date and deemed to be toxic, those used in cosmetics generally remain unregulated, with Health Canada opting instead to place them on the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist.

The Hotlist, however, has no legal authority and cannot be enforced. Chemicals that are prohibited or restricted as ingredients may therefore still be present in cosmetics as by-products or impurities.

Cosmetics are one of the only consumer products for which the public’s “right to know” about chemical ingredients is guaranteed in Canada (in contrast, the disclosure of ingredients in household cleaners is voluntary, for example). But cosmetic ingredient lists can be hard to make sense of.

Another limitation of Canada’s cosmetic labelling requirements is that they do not apply to “unintentional ingredients” (e.g., by-products and impurities). For example, “formaldehyde” (a cancer-causing chemical) is rarely listed as an ingredient, although many cosmetics contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.

A similar loophole exists for chemicals used to scent or mask scents in cosmetics. The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on an ingredients list usually represents a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals. Fragrance recipes are considered a trade secret so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients.

For full article go to:

A comprehensive rundown of what is likely to be in each of your personal care products, a list of the most and least toxic makes, can be found here.

How meaningful are the labels?

This is a US website, but the National Resource Defense Council gives a good idea of what you are contending with when reading labels.

Most personal care products are eventually washed down the drain, but water treatment plants do not remove them, so they end up in rivers, streams and oceans.

The Info

At the Skin Deep website – from the Environmental Working Group, you can type any product in the search field and it will rate the toxicity on a scale from zero to ten (best to worst).

Here’s Skin Deep’s list of 12 common toxins in personal care products:

  1. PARABENS – commonly used preservative in cosmetics such as moisturizers, shampoos and conditioners, and many types of makeup. Parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, which is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive fertility. Parabens are linked to is early puberty in children and early menopause in women. Parabens mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors on cells.
  2. PHTHALATES work as softeners in personal care products such as cosmetics and shampoo, as well as flexible plastics like children’s toys. Phthalates are known as endocrine disruptors because they mimic the body’s hormones and have, in laboratory animal tests, been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage. Phthalates are also in products with ‘Fragrance’ as one of the ingredients.
  3. DIETHANOLAMINE (DEA) is used in personal care, laundry detergent and cleaning products to give that foam lather. DEA by itself is not harmful, however DEA reacts in the cosmetic formula to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is absorbed through the skin and has been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers.
  4. PETROLATUM (Mineral Oils & Paraffin) used as the base for creams, baby rash ointment and many other personal care products. They can slow cellular development, creating earlier signs of aging. They’re implicated as a suspected cause of cancer. Plus, they can disrupt hormonal activity.
  5. SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLS) When it’s combined with other chemicals it forms nitrosamines. SLS is found in foaming products (toothpaste, shampoo, laundry, household cleaning, etc.) It was originally made as a pesticide and a heavy duty chemical cleaner for garage oil stains and in car washes! The manufacturing of SLS creates ethoxylation which is contaminated with dioxane, a carcinogen.
  6. PROPLENE GLYCOL is antifreeze. It’s linked to kidney and liver disease. Found in cosmetics, shampoo & conditioners, deodorant, and … ice cream!
  7. ACRYLAMIDE found in many face creams. Acrylamide is an industrial chemical known to increase infertility and neurological problems.
  8. PHENOL (CARBOLIC ACID) found in skin lotion and produced from petroleum. It is corrosive to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. It’s harmful to the central nervous systems and heart and cause dysrhythmia, seizures, and coma.
  9. DIOXANE is a petrochemical solvent found in cosmetics and products that foam, such as bubble bath, baby shampoo, laundry detergent. Dioxane is a contaminant produced during manufacturing, the FDA does not require 1,4-dioxane to be listed as an ingredient on product labels. However, if you look closely you’ll see ingredients such as PEG, polysorbates, laureth, ethoxylated alcohols which are all dioxanes. Dioxane is linked to cancer.
  10. FRAGRANCE – Watch out because this is one of the biggest offenders. It’s what makes your lotion, perfume, deodorant and shampoo smell good. You’ll see it at the bottom of the ingredients list as ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’. Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top five allergens in the world. Toluene which is in fragrances is known neurotoxin that causes loss of muscle control, brain damage, headaches, memory loss, and problems with speech, hearing, and vision.
  11. FORMALDEHYDE is found in nail polish, body lotion, cleansers, shampoo & conditioners, body wash, styling gel, sunscreen and makeup. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. It’s toxic to the immune system and respiratory track.
  12. HEAVY METALS (lead, aluminum, arsenic, nickel, beryllium, mercury, cadmium & nickel) The number one ingredient in most conventional deodorants is aluminum. One or more of these metals is probably in your makeup. Lead is an ingredient so toxic it isn’t allowed in paint or gasoline, but it’s in most lipstick! Watch out for arsenic in eyeliner and cadmium and mercury in mascara!

Gather your make up and personal hygiene products and see if they rate poorly on the Skin Deep website, you may be surprised!

The Suzuki Foundation has created a Sustainable Shopper’s Guide to a Dirty Dozen Ingredients to Avoid in your Cosmetics.This wallet-sized shopper’s guide lists a “dirty dozen” chemicals to avoid when shopping for cosmetics. Use it to check the ingredient list on personal care products before you make a purchase.

Also watch out for these problematic additives:

  • ANTIBACTERIALS – (eg triclosan in soap) Overuse reduces their effectiveness when really needed.
  • COAL TAR – can be found in some dandruff shampoo, toothpaste, ant-itch creams, dyes, mouthwash – known carcinogen.
  • NANOPARTICLES – may penetrate the skin, used in cosmetics and sunscreens.
  • PETROLEUM DISTILLATES – possible carcinogen.
  • P_PHENYLENEDIAMINE (aka benzenediamine, phenylenediamine, p-aminoaniline, diaminobenzene, phenylenediamine, aminoaniline) – human skin toxicant or allergen. Human respiratory toxicant. Used in hair dye.
  • HYDROQUINONE – (aka. tocopheral acetate, tocopheral, tocopheral linoleate, other ingredients with the root ‘toco’). Linked to cancer and organsystem toxicity, it is one of the most toxic ingredients used in personal care products. Banned in EU. Found in: Skin lighteners, facial and skin cleansers, facial moisturizers, hair conditioners, nail glue.

The online  Good Guide  provides a rating on any product you search for, as well as listing the top products for health and environmental safety in any category.

Safe is another great resource.

Ecoholic has a list of common “mean” chemicals to avoid.  They also have created the Mean 15 Pocket Guide.

The Greener Options

Many health store products contain the same toxic substances as the more familiar brands, so read the labels. Looking for better options? Start your research here:

This site provides info on less toxic options and has recipes for you to make your own toxinfree personal care products (a great way to avoid excessive packaging).

Toxin-Free Personal Care Products

Naked Soap Works — Local artisan created products. As stated: “naked® products are 100% natural. “We do not use synthetic colours, scents, stabilizers, emulsifiers or preservatives. in fact, naked® ingredient lists look like something you’d find in a gourmet market: essential oils of lemon from Italy, rosemary from spain, and geranium from egypt; ratanjot spice from india; rich callebaut cocoabutter; local honey, and cold-pressed olive oil. we strive for minimal packaging, in fact, our soaps aren’t packaged at all.  being naked® is good for you, good for the environment.”

Conscious Cosmetics create clean, fresh, completely natural and non-toxic cosmetics for the whole family, using ingredients from nature, and the Earth 🙂 “Products are handmade with love & care on Bowen Island, B.C., Canada. Our intention is to produce delicious and beautiful products, that are truly wonderful for the body, our well being, as well as for our environment. All our products are only tested on friends and family.” Click here for the Facebook site.

Saje Personal care products and essential oils that are free of parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) & sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), polyethylene glycol (PEG,)glycols, petrochemicals, synthetic colours and synthetic fragrances. All ingredients are derived from safe and renewable resources. They have not been tested on animals. Packaging is simple, and made of recycled or recyclable materials. Most products are manufactured locally in B.C.

Lush – Lush produces and sells a variety of handmade products, including soaps, shower gels, shampoos and conditioners, lotions etc. Lush uses fruit and vegetables, essential oils, synthetic ingredients, honey and beeswax in their products. In addition to not using animal fats (except lanolin) in their products, they are also against animal testing and perform tests with volunteers instead.

Lush products are made in factories around the world (including Vancouver), and are made in small batches based on orders from individual stores to ensure the freshness of the product. Lush products are 83% vegan, and 60% preservative-free. They also contain more traditional soap ingredients, including glycerine, linalool, and methyl- and propyl-parabens and shampoo containing sodium lauryl sulphate. Lush does not buy from companies that carry out, fund, or commission any animal testing.

The Body Shop was one of the first companies to go ‘Fair trade’, and 85% of their product range contain some Community Fair Trade ingredients (though the percentage of each product that is Fair Trade varies a great deal). The Body Shop has always been against animal testing of its products. They are currently phasing out the use of parabens and sodium laureth sulfate.