Although reading the (usually incomplete) ingredient list on your products won’t 100 percent guarantee that you’re avoiding toxins, it can be helpful for avoiding the most common and most dangerous toxins.
Here’s a handy list of the most important ingredients to avoid—and tips on the common products that use them.
These toxic chemicals, often found in household cleaners and beauty products, are preservatives: They prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold in cosmetic products. They can appear in different forms, so watch out for:
Parabens are absorbed through your skin, and it’s believed (but not yet proven) that excessive use could lead to cancer. Parabens are xenoestrogens, which means they mimic estrogenic hormones in your body and can lead to the production of more estrogen. They can also affect your endocrine system, causing reproductive, immune, neurological and developmental issues. They can also lead to skin irritation and neurotoxicity.
Be sure to check any household products that claim to be antimicrobial or antifungal (such as dish soap, glass cleaner, all-purpose cleaner, bathroom cleaner and others); they probably contain parabens under the above-mentioned names—unless they use a .
Watch out for this dangerous ingredient, which is often used in packaged foods, nail polishes, beauty products, pressed wood furniture and household cleaning products. Formaldehyde can irritate your skin and aggravate asthma symptoms. It can even cause cancer if inhaled too often, and it is also easily absorbed by your skin.
Always use in a well-ventilated room—or try to avoid products containing Formaldehyde altogether. In addition to causing cancer, it can also cause watery eyes, skin irritation, nausea and respiratory irritations. Formaldehyde has several names; keep an eye out for any of these:
- Formic aldehyde
- Methyl aldehyde
- Methylene oxide
- Methylene glycol
You’ll find alcohol on many cosmetic and household labels. It may be refreshing on your warm skin and dry quickly, but alcohol can also irritate and dry out your skin. It’s especially dangerous for those with sensitive skin.
Using alcohol-based products constantly can result in your skin losing its protective barrier and making you more prone to viruses and bacteria. Look out for alcohol under its other names, including:
- SD alcohol
- Denatured ethyl alcohol
Phthalates are used in synthetic fragrances. You’ll find them in everything from laundry detergent and soap to cosmetics—and even toilet paper.
Phthalate exposure has been shown to cause early puberty in girls, which is a risk factor for breast cancer later in life. It also disrupts the endocrine system, affecting your body's most important functions, including metabolism, sleep and mood and tissue function. Best to avoid them!