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  • Nina Fischer

Five Toxic Ingredients To Avoid In Your Personal Care Routine

The Five Toxic Groups (And Their Secret Names) You Don't Want In Your Skincare Products

Checking the labels of your personal care products is a very easy first step to a less toxic life. Obviously closely followed by eating huge amounts of broccoli. But let’s get stay focused.

Did you know that your skin absorbs about 90% of what you put on it - from shower gels to moisturisers? (That’s how patches for nicotine addiction and birth control work.) And things that enter your skin also enter straight your blood stream. After that your liver and kidneys have to deal with any nasties, like chemical preservatives, heavy metals, synthetic oestrogens, etc. If there’s a lot of them, some will just end up being stored in your cells for years. Not a nice thought, right?

How about this: drinking your skincare would actually be safer because then at least your stomach acid can deal with it before it enters your blood stream in your gut. Isn’t that a crazy thought? Yet we apply and apply and apply often without giving much thought to what exactly is in our lotions and potions and how much of it will end up inside our body causing havoc.

Unfortunately, those glorious claims we rely on to navigate the safety zones of the skincare industry are not regulated. The EU is a bit ahead of the US in this respect, with many substances being prohibited and animal testing having been banned since 2004.

Still, if a product claims that it is “natural” and “chemical-free” can we be sure to trust that it’s safe? The safest route is, like so often in life, to question product claims and put your detective hat on to avoid anything that contains the following five toxic groups.


1. Parabens

Parabens are widely used preservatives in hair, skin, and body care products. They can disrupt your hormone balance by mimicking oestrogen. The possible negative consequences of that disruption include a heavy, irregular, or painful periods, indigestion, constipation and diarrhea and acne during or just before your period. Not fun. Common parabens include butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutyl and isopropyl paraben, methylparaben, propylparaben and really anything including the word “paraben”.

2. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is commonly used in making building materials such as pressed-wood products, glues, and insulation materials. Does that sound like it's safe to put on your skin? In personal care products formaldehyde is used as a preservative. It is, however, a carcinogen and can cause skin irritations, watery eyes and nausea. It’s often listed on labels by other names including formalin, formic aldehyde, methanediol, methanol, methyl aldehyde, methylene glycol, methylene oxide and paraformaldehyde.

Some other chemicals used as preservatives can release formaldehyde including benzylhemiformal, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, diazolidinyl urea, 1,3-dimethylol-5,5-dimethylhydantoin (or DMDM hydantoin), imidazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and quaternium-15.

3. Phthalates

Phthalates are chemicals often used as solvents or to make plastics more flexible. Are you a piece of plastic though? They can disrupt your hormones and damage your reproductive system. Common phthalates and their abbreviations to watch out for on labels are DBP (dibutyl phthalate), DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate), DiNP (diisononyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate), DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate), DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate), DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate), DMP (dimethyl phthalate) and DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate).

Bisphenol A (BPA) is another plasticizer that has similarly negative health effects and is often used in the packaging of your personal care products. So it won’t be listed on the ingredients, but the packing will state BPA free if it doesn’t contain any - and that's what I would suggest going for.

4. Petrochemicals & Sulfates

Petrochemicals are derived from crude oil. Petroleum-based ingredients such as petrolatum, mineral oil, and paraffin (derived from non-renewable sources!) form a barrier when you apply them to your skin not allowing it to breathe and clogging your pores. Yuck.

Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl and sodium laureth, are harsh detergents that give cleansers, soaps, and shampoos their latherability. Often derived from petroleum, sulfates can also come from coconut and other vegetable oils that can be contaminated with pesticides. Sulfates can cause eye irritation and skin rashes. Ain't nobody got time for that.

5. Heavy Metals

This is a pretty obvious one, but especially in makeup you have to watch out for heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and aluminum. They might make your eye shadow sparkle, but they can damage your kidneys and nervous system. I don't want that for you.

Other Toxic Ingredients To Avoid In Specific Personal Care Products

  • Soap & body wash: octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane, ethanolamines, triclosan

  • Body creams & moisturisers: butylated hydroxytoluene, benzophenone, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, octinoxate, ethanolamines

  • Nail polish: hydroquinone

  • Make up: galaxolide, tonalide, ethanolamines

  • Hair spray and dyes: hydroquinone, m- and o-phenylenediamine.

Next time you buy personal care products make sure to carefully read the labels. The Environmental Working Group has a great database where you can analyse your existing skincare products and if necessary find less toxic alternatives:

Supporting companies that value transparency and don’t use any of the above is also a great way to go. Leave a comment below with your thoughts, favourite non-toxic products and let me know whether you would like to know some of my personal favourites.

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Nina Fischer Nutrition Headshot.jpg

Hi, I'm Nina. I'm a Nutritional Therapist, millenial-corporate-bee-turned-working-mum and your personal focus & energy coach.

I teach busy people like you how to eat and live to be healthier and feel better. 



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