WHEN's smart, informative community helps you to connect the dots between the action we can take to protect our health, and what we can do to change the system.

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Dirty Secrets

Learn about what the makers of commonly used personal care products don't tell you

Sexy Alternatives

Find out where you can get or make alternatives that are toxic free

Safer Disposal

Discover how you can safely dispose of toxic-filled products

Tell Our Government

and the industry to remove toxic substances from personal care products

Dirty Secrets

Each year millions of Canadians and their families are affected by cancer (carcinogens), reproduction issues (endocrine disruptors), and childhood neurological disorders (lead, mercury). Unaware of the toxins that pollute our environment, consumers pay billions of dollars for products that are not properly tested and made with little consideration for the long term health and environmental impacts. Using the precautionary principle, your best way to prevent health risks to avoid using these products, and there are healthier alternatives.

So What Should I Avoid?

WHEN wants to help you make sense of the information challenge and avoid toxins in your everyday household, bath and beauty products.

Parabens are a class of chemicals widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Parabens are effective preservatives commonly labelled as Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Methylparaben Propylparaben but also seen as benzyl, ethy, methyl, ethyl, propyl p-hydroxybenzoic acid. They are endocrine disrupters and suspected carcinogens.

Phthalates are commonly used as plastic softeners, or solvents in perfumes. Three phthalates, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) are classified in the European Union as reproductive toxicants.

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent used in many bath; deodorant, shaving creams, currently, under review by the FDA due to likely carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting properties. It is found in toothpaste, deodorants, mouth wash, hand sanitizers.

BHA and BHT are used mainly in moisturizers and makeup (such as lipstick) as preservatives. They are suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer (BHA) and are harmful to fish and other wildlife.

Sodium laureth sulfate is used in many foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos and bubble bath. Is a harsh skin irritant and can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer.

Fragrance and Parfum are a mysterious mixture of chemicals that are allowed into products without disclosure to the public due to loopholes in regulation. They are in many personal care products, often to mask other scents.

PEGs (Polyethylene Glycol Compounds) are used in some cleansers to dissolve oil and grease and act as a foaming agent. They are potential carcinogens and can dry out the skin.

DEAs are used in some skin lotions, shampoo, and sunscreens to create a rich lather or thick consistency. These compounds seem to inhibit brain development in baby mice. They have also been shown to cause spontaneous abortions in pregnant mice.

Petrolatum is an emollient, used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lip sticks and moisturizers. It can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.

Coal tar dyes are used in some hair dyes and dandruff treatments. They have the potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.

Sources: Wikipedia, Annares Natural Health, Phthalates.com, Health Canada, Environmental Working Group, the Suzuki Foundation.

What should I do?

  • Do It Yourself! – there are recipes and workshops available to help you use everyday materials to replace the chemicals found in household cleaners and many bath and beauty products. Consider using grapefruit seed extract for an antioxidant agent or tea tree oils or wild oil of oregano as antibacterial agents. Try baking soda, white vinegar, oxygen bleach, hydrogen peroxide, borax, lemon juice, or mild soaps as multi-purpose non-toxic cleaners. (Interested in a workshop hosted by WHEN, click here for more information.)

  • Read the label – do some research when you are shopping and avoid products with toxic chemicals. As there is no standardization of naming reading the labelling of ingredients sometimes just serves to confuse. Use products which are lead and synthetic colour/fragrance free (not unscented). Use organic cotton balls and feminine hygiene products. Learn more about what ingredients to avoid here.

  • Shop wisely – Where you do want to purchase products, look into alternatives and be careful, something marketed as “green” product may not always be “green”. There are great resources out there that help you evaluate what the risks and benefits are from the alternatives on the market. Wherever possible, purchase organic, all-natural, non-toxic, biodegradable products. The following websites can also help you make better shopping choices:EWG’s Cosmetic Database, GoodGuide,and HealthyStuff.

Suggested Readings:

  • Gillian Deacon's There's Lead in Your Lipstick: Toxins in Our Everyday Body Care and How to Avoid Them

  • Stacy Malkan’s Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry

  • Julie Gabriel’s The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup and Fragrances

  • Ruth Winter’s A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients: Complete Information About the Harmful and Desirable Ingredients Found in Cosmetics and Cosmeceuticals (7th ed.)

  • Siobhan O'Connor’s No More Dirty Looks: The Truth about Your Beauty Products and The Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics


WHEN’s Cancer Prevention Safer Disposal Program

As we start to see the environmental risks to our heath and make better individual choices, there is also a concern about the safe disposal of those chemicals in the personal care and household products we’ve already purchased.

Examining the full lifecycle of consumer products, WHEN piloted a new collection program, which raises awareness of the impact that discarding products containing parabens, phthalates, triclosan, propylene glycol and other toxic chemicals that are carcinogens and endocrine disruptors have on our health and on our environment. Working with South Riverdale Community Centre, we introduced collection bins in 2010 in local health food stores and the Centre for Social Innovation.

On average, we collected 62 pounds of unwanted products. The following types of products were collected:

  • Personal care products such as lipstick, deodorant, shampoo, hair dye, body lotions

  • Household products such as cleansers, drain cleaners, dishsoap

What can you do?

We hope to broaden safe disposal programs, and encourage municipal collection of these products as part of their "household hazardous waste" programs.

In the meantime, bring your toxic-filled personal care and household products to your local City of Toronto's Community Environment Day


Sign up for government action!

The government needs to step in! It can't be every consumer's responsibility to keep their communities safe!

WHEN, along with other active organizations, would like to see Canada follow the European Union's lead and move quickly to phase out the use of chemicals that are known or probable human carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or mutagens in personal care products.

Have your voice heard, along with thousands of other Canadians. All it takes is two easy steps!

1. Cut and Paste the email message below into your email browser, or click here

I am concerned about fragrances and other unsafe chemicals in personal care products. I urge you to strengthen Canada’s approach to regulating chemicals in cosmetics.

As a consumer, I urge you to follow the European Union's lead and phase out the use of fragrances and other unsafe chemicals in personal care products that can harm to human health and the environment and do not belong in products we use on our bodies.

We, as Canadians, need to be leaders on cancer prevention (not symptom management) and need to ban chemicals that may increase human cancers.

Warning labels should be mandatory on body care products with chemicals that are harmful to our health.

Thank you.

2. Send your email to the following addresses to reach both the Ministry staff who advise on law and policies as well as the Minister herself