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Updated: Oct 28, 2019

By Shannon Argentina McDonald

By the way, our posts may contain affiliate links! If you buy something through one of those links, you won’t pay any more for the product but we will receive a small commission for your support. Thanks!

Standing in the beauty aisle at Target, I hold a bottle of conditioner closer to my face, squinting to read the ingredients listed in tiny print. Methylchloroisothiazolinone.

Oohf, I don’t think even Kiki Palmer in Akeelah and the Bee would’ve been able to spell that one out.

But the truth is, this is a harmful chemical preservative hiding behind 27 letters and its use has been banned in Canada due to its harmful effects. As I continue down the list, I find more words that I can’t even dream of being able to pronounce. Some of the final ingredients include an array of dyes, and the innocent-enough-looking word, fragrance.

It can be incredibly confusing and overwhelming to decipher which brands are posing as “natural” and “organic” brands, and which are actually walking the walk. This is a subject that I have always been wary about, and even so, I have realized that some of my “natural” beauty products have played me and contain ingredients with harmful chemicals upon taking a closer look.

This is a process that I am still working on myself. My goal in writing this is not to tell you to throw away all of your products or to scare you into never brushing your teeth, washing your hair, or using deodorant again (please don’t), I am just trying to bring awareness to the subject. Each little change that we make is a step in the right direction.

With little regulation from the government and the FDA on cosmetics and personal care products, it is up to us to do our own research on the products we are putting on (and in) our bodies.

“The government urges us to avoid chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects, but at the same time corporations can put products on the shelves that contain these products and they don’t have to tell us.” - Jon J. Whelan, director of Netflix documentary, Stink

We often hear things like, “pssh, everything causes cancer nowadays” or “a little bit of chemicals won’t hurt.” No, one spritz of Dolce & Gabbana probably won’t cause you to keel over immediately, but even low levels of chemicals add up over time. This is called bioaccumulation: the accumulation of chemicals or toxins in a living organism’s tissues over time. So if the food we are putting in our mouth, the products we are putting directly on our highly absorbent skin, the water we’re drinking and the air we are breathing all have “a little bit of toxins,” a little bit becomes a-lotta-bit.

So which ingredients should we ditch? Here are a few of the culprits, and for more information I suggest exploring the links at the bottom of this article, and downloading the EWG’s Skin Deep app which allows you to scan and look up products to find out more information.

FRAGRANCE/ “PARFUM” (this word alone can be code for 100+ unknown ingredients made in a lab and is protected with the excuse of “trade secrets.” This is known as “the fragrance loophole”).

PHTHALATES: This is one ingredient often hidden under the word “fragrance.” Found in scented products and plastics, used to extend the fragrance of products and to increase the softness of plastics, such as rubber duckies that you probably had floating in your bath as a kid. Linked with birth defects, cancer, reproductive harm, diabetes, obesity, autism and ADHD.

Found in synthetically scented products, hairspray, makeup, nail polish and plastic materials.

PARABENS (and any ingredients ending in -paraben): These are preservatives that have been found to mimic the female hormone estrogen causing hormonal disruption, and are linked with breast cancer, harmful effects on the brain, reproductive and developmental harm, and skin irritation.

Found in: personal care products including deodorant, shampoo, lotions and more.

ALUMINUM: Just like the shiny roll found in your kitchen cabinet, this heavy metal has been found to destroy nerve tissue and has been linked with Alzheimer’s disease. The rules for the use of this ingredient are not strict in the U.S., but European reports have found that aluminum is not safe to be used in cosmetics in the way that it currently is.

Found in: antiperspirants and other cosmetic products

COLORS & DYES: Artificial colors and dyes are often made from petroleum and coal tar (a known carcinogen), and many are brain toxins. They have also been associated with brain, bladder and testes tumor growth. Red 40 is an example that is recognized as a known carcinogen by the FDA but can still be found in many foods and cosmetics.

Found in: foods, cosmetics, hair dyes, other personal care products.

FORMALDEHYDE & Formaldehyde Releasers

AKA: DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, Hydroxymethylglycinate) Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol

#28 on the American Cancer Society’s list of known carcinogens. So what in the world is this doing in so many of our personal care products?!

Linked to menstrual disorders in women

Often hidden behind hormone releasing preservatives with different names such as those listed above

Found in: personal care products such as shampoo, soap, nail polish, nail hardeners, nail glue, and eyelash glue.

METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE (and other “isothiazolinones”): Linked with nerve damage and skin irritation. Its use has been banned in Canada.

Found in: personal care and household products

BHT & BHA: These are preservatives which have been linked with reproductive/endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, immune system toxicity, and cancer. It has been found as a brain, liver, neurotoxin, reproductive and respiratory toxicant in animals. is considered toxic to humans.

Found in: shampoo, deodorant, body lotion and other personal care products, cosmetics, and many processed foods.

SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS) & SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLES): Sulfates make things spreadable. They also give your hair and body that “squeaky clean” feeling, stripping the natural (and important) oils from surfaces completely. This stripping can lead to dandruff, dryness, and itchiness. These have been found to mimic estrogen in the body and have been associated with some forms of cancer, along with the breakdown of proteins which can have a negative effect on cells. Sodium lauryl sulfate has protein denaturing properties, which translates to accelerated aging of the cells and the skin. So that anti-aging cream some of us may be slathering on every night - just might be the very thing speeding up the aging of our skin cells.

Found in: shampoo, body wash, hand soap, lotion.


I hope that this can open some eyes up to the fact that just because things are on the market, they are not necessarily safe to use. Beauty products are not heavily regulated by the FDA and the rules are pretty loose as to what companies can put in their products.Knowledge is power, and we have the power to decide what we allow into our bodies. Let’s make wise swaps in our beauty cabinets now for our health today and in the future.

Check out Shannon’s favorite non-toxic beauty products here!

Follow Shannon @shanabananawellness or on her personal blog for recipes, wellness, lifestyle and happiness content.


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