Toxic ingredients you should avoid: Phthalates, fragrance & dyes

This category of ingredients is one that includes some of the most toxic ingredients out there, but shockingly it seems one of the hardest for people to give up on.  Tell them to look for products without preservatives and they barely bat an eye, but tell someone to give up their favorite perfume, nail color, or (gasp!) hair color and they react as if it were a death sentence.  Yet, given the high toxicity chemicals we are talking about, all of us would do well to question how much we are willing to endanger our health in the name of fashion.

Phthalates and fragrance

Almost 200 different chemicals go into the manufacturing of fragrance or parfum, both when sold as perfume or when added to other products to improve their smell.  Among these are phthalates.  However, manufacturers are not required to disclose any of those chemicals in the United States.  This is because of a major legal loophole that allows companies to classify their fragrance ingredients as trade secret.  Hence, looking for phthalates on a label will do you no good.  You must be weary of the term fragrance instead.  Common phthalates, however, include:

Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, linked to sperm damage, infertility and early menopause (as I mentioned in one of my prior posts).

Tip:  Look for the word fragrance or parfum.  Unless stated that it is 100% natural, chances are the product does contain dangerous chemicals (even when phthalate free!). 

Coal tar and lake dyes

If you have ever  looked at a makeup or skincare label, you have surely seen these guys lurking.  They go by the prefixes FD&C or D&C–Food, Drug & Cosmetics, and are in lots of products from makeup to toothpaste.  These include:

  • D&C Red 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 17, 19 and 33
  • D&C Green 5
  • D&C Orange 17
  • FD&C Blue 1, 2 and 4
  • FD&C Red 4 and 40
  • FD&C Yellow 5 and 6

These ingredients are derived from coal tar and petroleum and have been shown in clinical trials to cause a variety of cancers.  Even low-level exposure is linked to cancer, allergic reactions, nausea, fatigue and skin problems.  They are often contaminated with arsenic and lead.

Hair dyes

The hair color category stands on its own due to its incredible toxicity and allergenic potential.  Hair dyes has been associated with a variety of cancers including those of the bladder, lymphatic nodes and blood (leukemia). The darker the color, the higher its carcinogenic potential.  They are also responsible for developmental and reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, organ toxicity as well as severe allergic reactions. To avoid going off topic however, I won’t talk about all the dangerous chemicals included in hair dyes in this post, but just two of the most common and high-risk: resorcinol and PPD.

1) Resorcinol

The word “resorcinol” refers to a chemical base (1,3-BENZENEDIOL), and there are several ingredients that may be used in cosmetics that have the word “resorcinol” in it yet pose no danger.  The chemicals of concern are below:

  • resorcinol
  • 1,3-benzenediol
  • CI developer 4
  • M-dihydroxybenzene
  • M-hydroquinone
  • 3-hydroxyphenol
  • oxidation base 31
  • M-phenylenediol
  • resorcin
  • 1,3-benzenediol
  • 1,3-dihydroxybenzene

Resorcinol is classified as a hazardous chemical. Inhalation can cause abdominal pain, nausea, and unconsciousness. Resorcinol is also known to cause acute and/or chronic heart rate changes, breathing changes, weakness, severe headache, nausea, vomiting and restlessness. In animal studies resorcinol caused thyroid, adrenal, and nervous system dysfunction. Resorcinol should never be used by pregnant women, women who are or may be breast feeding, or women who are planning to get pregnant as resorcinol may be stored in fat cells. There has been widespread evidence demonstrating that resorcinol is a carcinogen.

2) PPD

p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) is a petroleum derivative used in over 99% of all permanent hair dyes, both for salon and home use.  Despite its use in hair dyes, it is not approved by the FDA for skin application. PPD also goes by the following names:

  • PPD or PPDA
  • Phenylenediamine base
  • p-Phenylenediamine
  • 4-Phenylenediamine
  • 1,4-Phenylenediamine
  • 4-Benzenediamine
  • 1,4-Benzenediamine
  • para-Diaminobenzene (p-Diaminobenzene)
  • para-Aminoaniline (p-Aminoaniline)
  • Orsin™
  • Rodol™
  • Ursol™

In recent years, several deaths have been attributed to allergic reactions to PPD have been in the news in Europe.  Although rare, allergies to hair dyes can arise unexpectedly, even after years of hair coloring.  Severe reactions include rash, extreme swelling, severe burning sensation of the scalp, and death.  Once sensitized to this chemical, you may become sensitive to many other related chemicals leading to a potentially severely constrained life (as described in this post).

No commercial hair dye is truly safe but you can only determine the level of risk you are willing to take.  Switching to formulations with lower percentage of harmful chemicals (Naturcolor, Naturtint or Tints of Nature) or doing highlights may be an option.  To avoid all toxicity risk, however, the only solutions are body-art quality henna or herbal formulations (Logona, K pour Karite, Palette by Nature).  These are fully safe and even improve the condition of hair.

In a future post, I will tell you all about my own 2-year (and ongoing!) saga trying to find a safer alternative to hair color for my premature greys!

Further reading:


One Comment Add yours

  1. allendawson says:

    I love to use natural products on skin as compare to chemical products. I use natural products because they do not have any bad effect on skin. Chemical products are toxic and damage the skin. I liked your all the shared information.

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