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Are Your Personal Care Products Making You Sick?

Are Your Personal Care Products Making You Sick?

November 30, 2015 | Author: Susan Silberstein PhD
Personal Care Products - Beat Cancer Blog

Chocolate mint chip. Decades ago, it was my favorite ice cream. But it recently came to me in the form of natural deodorant, a gift from Ava Anderson NonToxics representative Janice Polderman. (Coincidentally, the package arrived while I was in California, giving a talk sponsored by one of my Holistic Cancer Certification graduates, Brenda Young, a natural skin care expert who endorses the same product line!) I invited Janice to write the following article about toxins in personal care products, and what I learned was really eye-opening.

Toxic Chemicals in Our Everyday Products

By Janice Polderman

Have you ever wondered how many toxic chemicals you come into contact with on any given day? When you think of your normal routine, how many products do you use per day? Shampoo, lotion, dish soap, glass cleaner, toothpaste – it really adds up! The average person uses 15-30 products per day and it is estimated that each product contains 10-20 chemicals; that’s a whole lot of chemicals being infused into our skin. Our skin, which is the largest organ of our body, absorbs these toxins and they can reach our bloodstream in as little as 26 seconds.

According to Dr. Samuel Epstein, former head of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and author of the book Toxic Beauty, “It’s more dangerous to put a product on your skin than to eat it.” When we ingest food our kidneys and liver work to filter out the toxins, whereas toxins in our products are absorbed directly into the bloodstream! Our culture is very much up in arms about what we are putting in our bodies [food], but just as important, we need to be aware of what we put ON our bodies. Toxic chemicals have permeated our American Dream; they can be found not only in our food, but also in the air we breathe, the floors we walk on, our clothing, and the personal care products we use on ourselves and in our homes.

If you are anything like me, you live the consequences and can see them all around you. It is projected that by the year 2025, there will be 7.1 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, up from 5 million today (2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures). One in 68 US children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder which is also on the rise (CDC, 2014). Every month, more than 3,000 women die of breast cancer. (On a more personal note, my sister died this May at the age of 50 after being diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer. She did not exhibit any symptoms until January and by that point, her cancer was very advanced. She went through two surgeries and a round of chemotherapy and radiation, fighting for her life. In fact, we thought she was doing well and recovering when she suddenly passed.) Many people, myself included, may not even consider the dangers in their products until they are personally touched by a significant disease or disorder.

Environmentally Induced Cancer

More and more studies are coming to find that cancer is only 10% genetic, leaving the other 90% due to environmental causes. According to Karuna Jaggar, CEO of Breast Cancer Action, “The evidence linking environmental toxins to cancer is building. In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel reported that ‘the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated [and]… the American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.’” (Huffington Post, 2013) As a matter of fact, our children are being born pre-polluted; nearly 200 toxic chemicals have been found in baby’s cord blood. Overall, one could say that genetics load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger.

You may be thinking, ‘Doesn’t the Food and Drug Administration regulate what can be used in our products and in disclosing the ingredients to consumers?’ Most of us assume that these products are vetted and safe, but the reality is that there are no real laws that govern the safety of chemicals. In fact, only 10% are tested for safety, leaving 90% untested! Some would call it the “fox watching the hen house,” as the FDA leaves it to large chemical corporations to “self-regulate.” Even more frustrating is that of the approximately 90,000 different chemicals used in commerce today the US has only banned 11, while the European Union has banned 1,371 toxic chemicals from their products. What’s even more shocking is that many times the US reformulates their products for the European market to adhere to their more stringent guidelines –proving that they are capable of making safer products but choose not to here in the US with the lax regulation. One can only speculate why that is.

Be an Ingredient Detective

Furthermore, we should not need to have an advanced degree in chemistry to read our ingredient labels, but that is where we are today. Have you ever tried to read the ingredient label of a conventional product on the shelf at the store? Most of the words you can’t pronounce let alone know what they are. Products that are labeled as “pure”, “natural”, and even “organic” many times include ingredients that are known carcinogens. As alarming as this sounds, there are things that we can do to lower our toxin burden and protect ourselves and our families. One of these things is to learn to read our ingredient labels. My hope is to give you some helpful hints to learn how to be “ingredient detectives” and be able to identify harmful ingredients, thus improving your ability to select safe products.

  • Fragrance and Phtalates

The first ingredient I advise my “ingredient detectives” to look for is fragrance (a.k.a perfume or parfum). It can be found in soaps, body washes, aftershaves, deodorants, shampoos, and body sprays. If fragrance is listed, you need not look any further. The manufacturers of these products use this term because a loophole in the federal law allows them to keep the ingredients (aka toxic chemicals) used in “fragrance” as a trade secret. “More than 75% of products with ‘fragrance’ are legally hiding phthalates. Phthalates are used to make plastics flexible and as lubricants in personal care products. The FDA does not require them to be listed on our ingredient labels. They are known endocrine disruptors and are linked with birth defects, breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, autism and ADHD in first and third trimesters of pregnancy,” according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics 2002 ‘Not Too Pretty’ Report. Phthalates have also been known to affect asthma and hormone regulation in men and women. Fragrance ingredients can also include benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, phenol, butane, ammonia, and proplyene glycol.

  • Endocrine Disrupters and Parabens

Speaking of endocrine disruptors, they are next on our “beware” list. The endocrine system regulates all biological processes in the body including reproductive, adrenal, pituitary, thyroid, metabolism, and blood sugar. “Worst offenders” in the endocrine disruptors category are parabens, phthalates, triclosan, oxybenzone, and octinoxate.  According to Jean Rizzo, President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund, “Scientific evidence now shows that some chemicals, especially endocrine disrupting compounds, can exert negative effects at extremely low levels of exposure — sometimes with more serious or different effects than at higher doses.” Interestingly enough, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme have declared endocrine disruptors a global threat after they found a correlation between exposure to endocrine disruptors and health problems such as undescended testes in young males, breast cancer in woman, prostate cancer in men, nervous system problems and ADHD in children, and thyroid cancer. Needless to say, these are toxic and dangerous and it’s important to avoid them.

As mentioned above, parabens are classified as endocrine disruptors and also deserve a special mention as parabens mimic estrogen and are linked to breast cancer. The word “parabens” has become such a buzzword in the personal care industry that some companies will advertise “no parabens” or “paraben free” on the front of their bottle, but if “fragrance” is listed in the ingredients, parabens could still be lurking in that product hiding under the umbrella term “fragrance.” Tricky! Parabens are so toxic and nasty that a study done by the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute found that methylparaben and BPA (bisphenol A) in combination with Tamoxifen (a drug commonly used to treat breast cancer) stopped killing cancer cells, rendering Tamoxifen ineffective.

  • 1,4 Dioxane and Triclosan

Other ingredients to look for are PEG (polyethylene glycol), SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), and ingredients ending in “-eth” as they carry the contaminant 1,4 Dioxane, a carcinogen created during the manufacturing process. Even SLS that is manufactured with “organic” coconut oil is still of concern as it is processed the same way. 1,4 Dioxane is a carcinogen known to affect the liver and kidneys. The FDA does suggest these toxins be removed from many personal care products that contain it, but that is not required — nor is it mandated to be listed as an ingredient as it is a contaminant. Triclosan, which is found in many anti-bacterial soaps, hand sanitizers, and even some toothpastes, is actually registered with the FDA as a pesticide. Based on its chemical structure, it resembles a major component of Agent Orange. One should note that it is banned in Minnesota and New York, and hopefully more states will follow suit.

  • Heavy Metals

The last category I would like to share is heavy metals which can be found in lip products, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner, nail color, foundations, *sunscreens, eye shadows, blush, concealer, moisturizers, eye drops and deodorants. Did you know that most breast cancer tumors originate in the upper quadrant of the breast closest to the armpit, where you apply your deodorant? “Aluminum is bio-accumulative, meaning it stores in your fat cells and accumulates. Simply changing your deodorant is a good first step in reducing your chemical body burden,” stated Ava Anderson, founder of Ava Anderson Non Toxic). Furthermore, heavy metals carry the concern for neurotoxicity.

This is only the tip of the iceberg! There are many more toxic ingredients packed into our products which increase our toxic burden every day. So, what do we do now? We need to tell the FDA and manufacturers that we are not going to stand by and watch them poison us! I will not be a guinea pig, will you? It may seem overwhelming, but each product you replace with a non-toxic equivalent will add up. Every small change and every bit of awareness will make a difference. We need to vote with our dollars! Share the message with everyone you meet, since people don’t know what they don’t know, right? I am thrilled to say this is what I get to do as an Ava Anderson Non Toxic educator! If you would like more information on clean personal care products and what chemicals to avoid, you can contact me at or visit my website Non-toxic personal care items make excellent ideas for holiday gift-giving, and I am happy to donate half of all proceeds I make from the sale of Ava Anderson Non Toxic products to

*Sunumbra is a “Trusted Vendor” of BeatCancer.Org

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[1] We can’t waste another October: End pinkwashing and stop cancer before it starts. Huffington Post, Oct. 24, 2013.

[2] Goodman S. Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood. Scientific American, December 2, 2009.

[3] Effects of human exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals examined in landmark UN report. News release, World Health Organization, Feb. 19, 2013.

[4] Well SD. Health Basics – The top 10 causes of breast cancer. Health Basics. Natural News. October 14, 2013.