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Buyer Beware!
18 Ingredients to Avoid
YCteen staff
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To minimize your risk of future health problems, try to choose products without the potentially harmful ingredients listed in this guide, which was put together by a youth-led organization called Teens Turning Green. (For help understanding some of the unfamiliar vocabulary here, take a look at our glossary.) Many of these chemicals have been restricted or banned in other countries, but remain largely unregulated in the U.S.

Start reading labels, and if you see one of these ingredients on your shampoo, it might be time to look for an alternative. You can also research your favorite products at ewg.org/skindeep, and find advice on healthier alternatives at nomoredirtylooks.com.


ALUMINUM ZIRCONIUM and OTHER ALUMINUM COMPOUNDS

Function: Used to control sweat and odor in the underarms by slowing down sweat production.

Present in: Antiperspirants. Banned by European Union (EU).

Health concerns: Linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease; may be linked to breast cancer; probable neurotoxin; possible nervous system, respiratory, and developmental toxicant.


BUTYL ACETATE

Function: Solvent in polishes and treatments; prevents chipping.

Present in: Nail polish and nail treatments.

Health concerns: Repeated exposure causes skin dryness and cracking; vapors may induce drowsiness or dizziness.


BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE (BHT)/BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA)

Function: Anti-oxidant; slows down the rate at which product ingredients change in color.

Present in: Many cosmetics and personal care products. Banned by EU.

Health concerns: Immune system toxicant; endocrine disruptor; probable human carcinogen; animal studies show brain, liver, reproductive, and respiratory toxicant.


COAL TAR

Function: Controls itching and eczema; softens and promotes the dissolution of hard, scaly, rough skin; also used in hair dyes.

Present in: Shampoo and hair dye. Banned by Canada and EU.

Health concerns: Known human carcinogen; skin and respiratory toxicant.


COCAMIDE DEA/ LAURAMIDE DEA

Function: Used as foaming agents in shampoos and bath products, and as emulsifying agents in cosmetics; foaming and cleansing agents.

Present in: Many cosmetics and personal care products.

Health concerns: Human immune system toxicant; forms carcinogenic nitrosamine compounds if mixed with nitrosating agents; animal studies show sense organ effects and skin irritation.


ETHYL ACETATE

Function: Solvent.

Present in: Nail polish; mascara; tooth whitening; perfume.

Health concerns: Probable neurotoxin; possible nervous system toxicant; possible carcinogen; irritant.


FORMALDEHYDE

Function: Disinfectant; germicide; fungicide; preservative.

Present in: Deodorant; nail polish; soap; shampoo; shaving cream. Restricted in Canada. Banned by EU.

Health concerns: Immune system, respiratory, hematological, and skin toxicant; probable carcinogen and cardiovascular toxicant; can damage DNA; may trigger asthma; animal studies show sense organ, brain, and nervous system effects; possible human development toxicant.


FRAGRANCE (PARFUM)

Function: Deodorant; masking; perfuming.

Present in: Many cosmetics and personal care products.

Health concerns: Immune system toxicant; possible neurotoxin; can contain between 10 and 300 different chemicals, many of which have never been tested for safety; see PHTHALATES.


PARABENS (METHYL, ETHYL, PROPYL, AND BUTYL)

Function: Preservative and anti-bacterial agent.

Present in: Many cosmetics and personal care products.

image by Christian Pagan

Health concerns: May alter hormone levels, possibly increasing risk for certain types of cancer, impaired fertility, or alteration of the development of a fetus or young child; studies have found parabens in breast tumors; probable skin toxicant; animal studies show brain and nervous system effects.


PETROLATUM (PETROLEUM)

Function: Forms barrier on skin; makes lipsticks shine and creams smoother; inexpensive skin softener.

Present in: Many cosmetics and personal care products. Banned by EU.

Health concerns: May be contaminated with impurities linked to cancer and other significant health problems.


PHTHALATES (DIBUTYL PHTHALATES)

Function: Fragrance ingredient; plasticizer; solvent.

Present in: Many cosmetics and personal care products. Banned in EU.

Health concerns: Immune system toxicant; developmental and reproductive toxicant; respiratory toxicant; probable neurotoxin; possible carcinogen and endocrine disruptor; bio-accumulative in wildlife.


PROPYLENE GLYCOL

Function: Solvent; penetration enhancer; conditions skin; controls viscosity and keeps products from melting in high temperatures or freezing when it is cold.

Present in: Many cosmetics and personal care products.

Health concerns: Alters skin structure, allowing other chemicals to penetrate deep into the skin and increasing the amounts of other chemicals that reach the bloodstream; animal studies show reproductive effects, positive mutation results, brain and nervous system effects, and endocrine disruption.


SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE

Function: Surfactant; penetration enhancer.

Present in: Many cosmetics and personal care products.

Health concerns: Alters skin structure, allowing other chemicals to penetrate deep into the skin, increasing the amounts of other chemicals that reach the bloodstream; irritant; animal studies show sense organ effects.


TALC

Function: Absorbs moisture; anti-caking agent; bulking agent.

Present in: Blush; powder; eye shadow; baby powder; deodorant.

Health concerns: Carcinogen; linked to ovarian cancer; data suggests that it can cause tumors in the lungs; probable respiratory toxicant.


TOLUENE

Function: Antioxidant; solvent to improve adhesion and gloss.

Present in: Nail polish and hair dye.

Health concerns: Liver toxicant; probable developmental, nervous system and respiratory toxicant; possible cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, renal, and sense organ toxicant; possible carcinogen and reproductive toxicant; irritant.


TRICLOSAN

Function: Anti-bacterial agent; deodorant; preservative; biocide. Reduces and controls bacterial contamination on the hands and on treated products.

Present in: Antibacterial soaps; deodorants; toothpastes; mouthwashes; face wash; cleaning supplies. Restricted in Japan and Canada.

Health concerns: Probable endocrine disrupter and carcinogen; easily bio-accumulates to dangerous levels; irritant; animal studies show reproductive and other broad systematic effects; potentially contaminated with impurities linked to cancer and other significant health problems; studies have shown it can induce cell death when used in mouth washes.


TREITHANOLAMINE (TEA)

Function: Fragrance ingredient; pH adjuster; surfactant.

Present in: Lotion; shaving creams; soap; shampoo; bath powders; moisturizer.

Health concerns: Immune system toxicant; possible carcinogen; animal studies show endocrine disruption; may trigger asthma; forms carcinogenic nitrosamine compounds if mixed with nitrosating agents.


1,4 DIOXANE

Function: Penetration enhancer.

Present in: Lotion; moisturizer; sunless tanning products; baby soap; anti-aging products.

Health concerns: EPA classifies it as a probable carcinogen found in 46 of 100 personal care products marketed as organic or natural, and the National Toxicology Program considers it a known animal carcinogen. Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure to high levels of 1,4 dioxane has caused vertigo, drowsiness, headache, loss of appetite, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs of humans. It may also irritate the skin.

For a more comprehensive list, go to Teens Turning Green.

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(NYC-2011-09-15)

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