Although you probably associate your personal care products with cleanliness and pleasant smells, the uncomfortable truth is that many of these apparently innocuous purchases contain surprisingly toxic chemicals. Here is everything you need to know about the dangers posed by ten of the worst of these ingredients.
1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
You can find SLS in almost all personal care products that foam or remove oil, ranging from shampoo to toothpaste. However, SLS can damage your body in several different ways. Firstly, animal testing shows that it can cause everything from eye damage to mood disorders and respiratory distress. It even irritates the skin so much that it is standardly used to test healing products!
Meanwhile, several studies link it to an increased risk of cancer, as it appears to react with other common ingredients to create carcinogenic dioxins and nitrates that then pass through your skin and enter your bloodstream. Further, toothpaste containing SLS is more likely to cause gum sores and mouth dryness.
2. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)
MIT is a preservative that is commonly added to shower gel, shampoo, and cosmetics, but this biocide has attracted some bad press for its potentially neurotoxic influence. For example, there is suspicion that MIT is linked to some forms of dementia, and some research even suggests that MIT could increase the risk of a pregnant woman’s unborn baby developing brain damage. Until more conclusive results are available, MIT is best avoided.
Virtually any personal care products with a lovely scent could be hazardous to your health. The problem is that companies are currently only required to print ‘fragrance’ on a label, regardless of how many additional ingredients were necessary to create a product’s characteristic smell. The hundreds of different chemicals that can be used to produce popular scents are linked to a dramatic range of physical reactions. Common examples include skin swelling, rashes, migraine headaches, coughing, mood swings, and dizziness. The Environmental Working Group scores fragrance as an eight out of ten on a scale of dangerousness.
A pesticide with antimicrobial properties, triclosan may be in your toothpaste or hand soap. This chemical is an endocrine disruptor that is particularly adept at influencing estrogen production in women, consequently spiking the risk of breast cancer. Meanwhile, there is ongoing research investigating triclosan’s potential to cause weight gain, reduce energy levels and increase the risk of depression by interfering with thyroid hormone production. It’s also worth noting that antimicrobial ingredients like triclosan and alcohol only serve to help stronger, antibiotic-resistant bacteria evolve.
5. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
Classified by the National Toxicology Program as highly likely to be carcinogenic, BHA is found not only in personal care products but also in food and packaging. BHA is proven to damage the stomach and liver, and there is mounting evidence suggesting negative impacts on reproductive function. This common preservative can also cause noticeable changes in skin pigmentation, creating lighter patches.
6. DEA and TEA
Diethanolamine (DEA) and its derivative triethanolamine (TEA) are quickly and easily absorbed through the skin after application, and studies connect them to cancers of the kidneys and liver. Meanwhile, some scientists are investigating DEA’s potential to damage the development of memory cells of unborn babies.
Parabens (like methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben) are preservatives that make their way into shampoos, toothpaste, body washes, and soaps to extend their shelf life. Capable of mimicking estrogen, they have the potential to interfere with the female reproductive cycle and may promote breast cancer. Parabens are also a common cause of skin irritation, causing local reactions involving itching, red rashes, and swelling.
A particularly common ingredient in toothpaste, salicylates come with a significant risk of allergic reactions (ranging from mild to deadly). You might have no idea that you are sensitive to these chemicals until you try personal care products containing them and subsequently experience blinding headaches, rashes or breathing difficulties.
People with chronic health problems are especially vulnerable to serious reactions after salicylate exposure. Further, salicylates have blood-thinning properties that can make uncontrolled bleeding more likely in those who take anticoagulant or anti-platelet drugs like warfarin or clopidogrel.
9. Boric acid
Used to inhibit bacterial growth in personal care products, boric acid is particularly harmful to the male reproductive system, potentially lowering sex drive and sperm count. Animal studies have shown testicular damage as a result of boric acid exposure, and EU law ensures that labels are placed on boric acid products to warn consumers to avoid its use on damaged skin.
10. Blue Dye No. 2
Finally, FD&C Blue Dye No. 2 is a food dye that might be in bright blue products like toothpaste. However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest cautions that it could cause severe allergic reactions and make children more likely to develop ADHD. Meanwhile, rats often develop cell abnormalities and brain tumors after exposure.