Toxic beauty: Parabens

For many years I did not question at all the safety of the personal care or makeup products I purchased. After all, my family used them and everyone else did, so why should I?  Yet at the same time, I was suffering from perennial allergies and chronic digestive problems, which have only gotten worse with time. Turns out my assumption was very wrong. But it was not just for me who wasn’t paying attention.  Our world changed around us without us realizing the true implications of what we were doing. We became starry-eyed over what chemistry could do.

My parents grew in an era where they did not have much of a reason to question their purchases. Synthetic chemicals and plastics were not yet in existence and all products were made using natural materials, many times still by hand.  My own mother drank what today would be considered organic milk (many times raw), delivered daily in glass bottles by the milkman, slept in a mattress made of wool, and used castile soap on her face her entire life. The chemical revolution and the rise of the corporation only came later.  But it is very different for us today.  A typical woman uses 12 products daily and a typical man 6, and each of these products contains on average 12 chemicals.  That is up to 144 chemicals that we are exposed to from personal care products alone.  And many of these are VERY toxic. So much so that workers must wear masks while manufacturing them, yet we don’t think twice about slathering them on our skin.  I believe this has to change and it won’t until we educate ourselves and make different choices.

So, here is the beginning of series of posts where I will try to explain in a way that it will be easier, I hope, for you to remember what products pose a risk to your health and particularly that of your children.  And if you want to find out more about this subject, you can check out my first post.

Parabens and synthetic preservatives

1) Parabens


  • methylparaben
  • propylparaben
  • butylparaben
  • ethylparaben
  • isobutylparaben
  • isopropylparaben

Parabens are endocrine disruptors, i.e. they upset the body’s hormonal balance, and could lead to obesity, problems with sexual development and sexual disfunction, as well as breast and prostate cancers. They have also been shown to cause heart tissue problems. They are easily absorbed through the skin and have been found in human breast tissue.

Although they have received much negative publicity, they still show up in many personal care products.

TIP: Look for the word “paraben” in products!

2) Isothiazolinone derivatives


  • methylisothiazolinone (MIT, MI)
  • chloromethylisothiazolinone (CMIT, CMI, MCI)
  • benzisothiazolinone (BIT)
  • octylisothiazolinone (OIT, OI)
  • dichlorooctylisothiazolinone

Iisothiazolinones have been associated with allergic reactions and are suspected neurotoxins–lab studies on the brain cells of mammals show that they cause neuron damage after only 10 minutes.

These products are being used by many companies as replacements for parabens.  Watch carefully, even Aveda shampoo and Seventh Generation detergent contain them!

TIP: You can recognize them by the “isothiazolinone” word ending!

3) Phenoxyethanol

It is harmful if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin.  It is toxic to the brain and nervous system, it’s an irritant, can cause chromosomal and reproductive damage as well as genetic mutations.  It is also allergenic and disrupts the immune system.  There’s an FDA alert out on this substance.

Another substance that is very prevalent in allegedly natural skincare, so you have to read the labels before you buy.  Lots of products sold in Whole Foods and Sephora have it.

4) Formaldehyde precursors

  • Urea – AKA imidiazolidinyl urea (Germal 115) and diazolidinyl urea (Germal 11)
  • Quarternium-15
  • 2-bromo-2nitro-propane-1,3-diol (Bronopol)
  • BHT/BHA (butylated hydroyltoluene and butylated hydroxyanisole)

Formaldehyde is a highly toxic gas, suspected carcinogen and neurotoxin.  May be fatal. It is particularly dangerous when combined with any ingredient with DEA, TEA or MEA in its name as the combination creates carcinogenic by-products (nitrosamines).  Formaldehyde is the chemical used in embalming fluid.

Hope you find this useful.  Let me know and if you have any questions feel free to leave them below.

Next post will be on fragrance and color.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post and very informative. It’s crazy how there are so many toxic ingredients in daily products and most people just don’t know about it.

    1. Yes, indeed. More incredible is that companies can away with it!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s