What Are We Feeding Our Skin?

Speaker: Jenise Lee (Certclean)Written by: Sheena Jain & Esha Jain

We all use skin care products as part of our daily regimen. Whether it is the body wash we use in the shower, the lotion we lather on ourselves every morning or the soap we use while washing our hands. We unconsciously use these different substances on ourselves, but do we really know what is actually in the products we are exposing our skin to?

Many times when we are purchasing skin care products, we see labels that say natural, or organic, and are under the impression that we are safe from exposing our skin to any harmful agents. What a lot of us as consumers are unaware of is the fact that in order for companies to include the terms “natural” or “organic” on labels, all it takes is at least one natural ingredient such as water or the presence of one organic ingredient to be contained inside of the product. What is also astonishing is that many labels include the word “*fragrance” as part of the ingredient list. According to the breast cancer foundation this term encompasses hundreds of toxic agents that manufacturing companies are not required to specify. One of the many toxins that make up “fragrances” is phthalates which are found to disrupt essential hormones within our bodies and cause reproductive problems.

When comparing the manufacturing laws, it has been found that Europe has more stringent and stricter laws compared to Canada. This is because Europe uses a hazard based assessment process where as Canada uses more of a risk based approach. The hazard based assessment process refers to restricting use of a chemical if it is found to be potentially harmful until more information is known about that chemical. The risk based approach considers a certain level of exposure to be acceptable without taking into account synergistic effects of the same toxin being present in other products. For instance the risk based approach may allow the use of certain shampoos even if they contain some harmful chemicals, reasoning that since shampoo is a product that gets washed off, it has less time for large quantities to penetrate into the body and have detrimental effects. However it does not take into account, the same chemical existing in other products like in body washes, and the additive effects of both products containing the same toxic agents.

Some harmful ingredients to avoid include:

  • BHA & BHT: potential endocrine disruptor and carcinogen
  • Parabens/Methylparabens: carcinogens
  • Petrolatum: contaminated with carcinogens
  • DEA/MEA/TEA: potential carcinogens
  • Fragrance/Parfum: potential carcinogen & endocrine disruptor
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate: laced with carcinogens
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG): carcinogen, developmental toxicant

To determine how safe your skin care products are, you can visit: www.ewg.org/skindeep. This is a cosmetic database, where you can type the name of a skin care product and get a list of harmful ingredients in the order of highest to lowest concentrations contained within it. Each product is also given a 1-10 rating based on its detrimental effects. The scores can be deciphered as follows:


  • 1–2: Low hazard
  • 3–6: Moderate hazard
  • 7–10: High hazard


You will also find that there is an inconsistency of ratings among different products of the same brand. Often times we are loyal to certain brands, assuming that if one their product’s is safe then all products affiliated with that brand name will equally be as safe, but most times that is not the case.

            The ultimate goal is to educate the public in a tactful and effective manner, so that they are willing to take precautionary measures to ensure that what they expose their skin to is in fact safe. In many cases there is a stigma attached to the term “non-toxic”. Hearing that a product is non-toxic is associated with the misconception that it must be inadequate in comparison to standard products. A more effective approach is to inform the public about which “non-toxic” products are proven to work successfully. As a way to implement this technique, Cert Clean is in the process of establishing a website where individuals can review and search for safer skincare products that are certified by Cert Clean, North America’s largest certification for non-toxic products. Creating an avenue where individuals who have utilized these products can provide testimonies including their thoughts on the effectiveness of these certified products, will be more beneficial in allowing consumers to make better skincare choices.

Discussion Questions

1)   What are some natural household products that can be used as personal care products?

Natural Household Product Use
Pure Emu Oil & Coconut Oil - Facial moisturizer

- Body moisturizer - Hair conditioner (coconut oil)

Oregano Oil - Speeds up healing of skin breakout - Prevents acne scarring
Mild Soap (without Triclosan) & Water

                          OR Baking Soda mixed with Water

- Natural deodorant

2)   What specific personal care products is each individual toxin typically present within?

Chemicals/Toxins Personal Care Product Chemical is found in
Aluminum Chlorohydrate Topical antiperspirant & topical body deodorants
Ammonia Hair dyes & bleaches
Coal Tar Dry skin treatment, anti-lice shampoo & anti-dandruff shampoo
DEA/TEA/MEA Used as Emulsifiers & Foaming agents for:

Shampoos, body washes & soaps

Ethoxylated Surfactants &


Body washes, lotions, “natural” & “organic” brand shampoos

(by-product of ethylene oxide)  

Formaldehyde Nail products, hair dye, mascara, eyeshadow, false eyelash adhesives & shampoos
Fragrance/Parfum Creates synthetic scents for many products
Hydroquinone Skin lightening/bleaching agents
Lead Lipstick, hair dye & cleansers

(Lead is a contaminant not an ingredient)

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) Shampoos
Mercury Mascara, some eyedrops & certain imported skin-lightening creams
Mineral Oil Baby oil, moisturizers & styling gel

(By-product of petroleum)

Oxybenzone Sunscreens
Parabens Deodorants, antiperspirants, shampoos, conditioners, spray tans, lotions, sunscreen, make-up & other cosmetics
Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) Hair products & dyes
Phthalates Fragrances, perfumes, deodorants, lotions, nail polish, nail polish remover, hairspray, lipstick, mascara, hairspray & shampoo
Placental Extract Some skin & hair products
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Skin conditioning agents, cosmetic moisturizers & shampoos
Silicone-derived Emollients Makes products feel soft
Sodium Lauryl (ether) Sulfate (SLS, SLES) Used as a Foaming agent: shampoos, scalp treatments, liquid hand soaps, body washes, bath oils/bath salts, cleaners, laundry detergent & toothpastes.

Hair colour & bleaching agents & make-up foundations

Talc Baby powder, eye shadow, blush & deodorant
Toluene Nail & hair products as well as synthetic fragrances
Triclosan Antibacterial products: hand sanitizers, deodorants, soaps, body washes, cleansers & toothpastes. Cosmetics

3) What specific illnesses and conditions are associated with the presence of these toxins in personal

    care products?

Chemicals/Toxins Associated Illnesses/Conditions
1,4-dioxane Carcinogen, neurotoxicant, kidney toxicant & respiratory toxicant
Aluminum Chlorohydrate Neurotoxin that alters function of the blood-brain barrier.

Associated with Alzheimer’s disease & cancer

Ammonia Releases caustic, pungent gases that irritate eyes & respiratory tract
Coal Tar Carcinogen
DEA/TEA/MEA Carcinogen
Dibutyl Phthalate Birth defects & harms male reproductive organs
Formaldehyde Carcinogen, nausea, coughing, asthmatic symptoms as well as burning sensations in eyes, nose & throat
Fragrance/Parfum Headaches, dizziness, asthma & allergies
Hydroquinone Carcinogen, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxin & skin sensitizer.

In high concentrations, can cause skin disease known as ochronosis, resulting in irreversible blue-black lesions

Lead acetate Carcinogen, developmental toxicity & neurotoxin
Mercury Impairs brain development
Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) Allergenic, cytotoxic as well as harmful effects on brain & nervous system
Oxybenzone Allergies, hormone disruption, cellular damage & low birth weight
Parabens Endocrine disruptor.

Estrogen mimicking effects: development of breast cancer, reproductive toxicity & urogenital abnormalities.

Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) Toxic to skin & immune system
Phthalates Carcinogen, endocrine disruption, liver/kidney/lung damage, birth defect in males, low sperm motility in adult men, testicular atrophy & structural abnormalities.  
Placental Extract Endocrine disruption
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Carcinogen, may inhibit cell growth, kidney/liver problems, irritant & allergic contact dermatitis as well as contact urticaria.
Silicon-derived Emollients Tumour growth & skin irritation
Sodium Lauryl (ether) Sulfate (SLS, SLES) Carcinogen, skin & eye irritation, organ toxicity, developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruptor, as well as biochemical/cellular changes
Talc Ovarian cancer & respiratory problems
Triclosan Carcinogen, endocrine disruptor, heart disease, heart failure, as well as impaired muscle & skeletal muscle contractility

Overuse can lead to drug-resistant super bacterial strains

Toluene Nervous-system toxicity, impairs breathing, nausea, immune system toxicity, blood cancer (i.e. malignant lymphoma) endocrine disruptor & disrupts fetal development.

Chronic Exposure: affects kidneys/liver, cause birth defects, anemia & lowered blood cell count


1)    "Hidden Dangers in Personal Care Products Infographic." Mercola.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016. (http://www.mercola.com/infographics/personal-care-products.htm)

2)    Martinko, Katherine. "20 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid When Buying Body Care Products and Cosmetics." TreeHugger. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016. (http://www.treehugger.com/organic-beauty/20-toxic-ingredients-avoid-when-buying-body-care-products-and-cosmetics.html)

3)    "Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database | EWG." Skin Deep Home Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.(www.ewg.org/skindeep)

4)    Treehugger, Team. "Everything You Need to Know about Natural Skin Care." TreeHugger. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016. (http://www.treehugger.com/htgg/how-to-go-green-natural-skin-care.html)