In the non-toxic care principle that the less is more applies, whether we talk about the number of products used for a personal or household care, or the ingredients list itself. In this article, we would like to summarize some of the most used ones. This is far from being the full and complete list of harmful and irritating ingredients, for that you can try using the Environmental Working Group (EWG) database or other, but it can serve as the first touchpoint when self-educating yourself about the topic. However, the EWG safety rating may be more or less different for some ingredients under non-toxic approach, because in non-toxic we usually place more emphasis on the precautionary principle and assess the ingredients more comprehensively, i.e. also taking into account cumulative effect and cocktail effect.
Professional guarantee of the assortment
Our webshop cooperates with a Czech non-profit organization “Svet Non Toxic” (in English World non-toxic) which helps with the professional assessment of the portfolio we choose. Professional guarantor of this organization is Katarina Hrivnakova. Katarína is a chemical engineer by profession with 30 years of experience. During her experience in laboratories, she encountered various aspects of the effect of chemical substances not only on the surrounding environment, but ultimately also on human health and life.
That is why in her spare time she also started to devote herself to educational activities, for many years she has focused on the production of natural soaps and workshops on the production of natural soaps and cosmetics. Currently, her soaps are already a certified product of the highest non-toxic quality and you can find them under the Alchymistky brand (soon to be found also in our webshop).
Katarina is also a co-author of the book Svet Non Toxic, together with Pavla Pavlistova (president of the organization), where she was primarily responsible for the professional side of the information shared. The list below comes from there.
What substances do not belong to a non-toxic household?
Aluminum: It creates oxidative stress on cells throughout the body, causing DNA damage and cellular aging. Antiperspirants containing aluminum have an astringent effect on keratin, due to which it closes the sweat ball, there is no natural excretion of sweat, which accumulates in the lymph. As a result, hormones are not released properly from the body. Aluminum is also suspected of causing breast and prostate cancer. Aluminum accumulates in the bone tissue, which weakens it, so it can have a negative effect on the development of osteoporosis. Once absorbed, aluminum accumulates in bone, brain, liver, and kidney, with bone being the major aluminum storage site in humans. Aluminum removes magnesium, calcium and iron from the body and accumulates in the brain. Trace levels of aluminum cross the blood-brain barrier and gradually accumulate in the large pyramidal neurons of the hippocampus, cortex and other areas of the brain that are vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease. Aluminum has been found to cause granulomas. Aluminum is toxic to the skin and creates oxidative stress. Aluminum is highly absorbed through exposed or irritated skin. Some studies have found that ionic aluminum creates oxidative stress in breast tissue.
Benzyl alcohol: Preservative. May act as a skin sensitizer in some individuals and, according to a 1998 study, can "elicit an immune system response that may include itching, burning, hives and blistering of the skin" at certain concentrations. It is a common skin allergen. High concentrations can induce asthma and bronchitis in some individuals. Benzyl alcohol was previously used in neonatal care as a preservative in intravenous drips, however, benzyl alcohol poisoning has begun to occur in infants and use has now been discontinued. It may react with titanium dioxide to form aldehydes, including formaldehyde. It is not known whether and how benzyl alcohol reacts with the human reproductive system.
Should you avoid products containing ylang ylang or jasmine essential oils? Benzyl alcohol in its natural version is a component of some essential oils, but is a minor component of these essential oils. Toxic reactions and allergies to benzyl alcohol usually occur when the isolated chemical is used in higher concentrations as a preservative (1-5% of the product). A product containing one of these essential oils may contain 5% essential oil, of which 1% may be benzyl alcohol, so the total concentration of benzyl alcohol will be 0.005%. If you have had a history of benzyl alcohol allergy then it is advisable to avoid these two essential oils (ylang ylang and jasmine), however if this is not the case then it is not such a concentration as to pose a risk.
BHA and BHT: Butylhydroxyanisole and butylhydroxytoluene (not to be confused with BETA HYDROXY ACID, e.g. salicylic acid, these are fine): used as a preservative in e.g. make-up, cleansing lotions, anti-age moisturizers. Several research studies have confirmed the carcinogenic effects of BHA in men in the form of testicular cancer and reduced fertility, as well as mimicking the properties of the female hormone estrogen. Effects on the skin can manifest as itching, burning, hives and blistering.
Cocamide DEA and MEA: emulsifier, increases the foaming ability of cosmetic products and ensures foam stability. Allergen, possible carcinogen.
Cocamidopropyl betaine: Allergenic (allergen of the year 2004), causes eye irritation but also eczema or rosacea. May contain harmful contaminants (e.g. dimethylaminopropylamine, amidoamine and sodium monochloroacetate).
DEA (Diethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine): are colorless liquids or may be in the form of crystalline alcohol. They are used as a solvent, emulsifier, or detergent (humectant). In cosmetic products, they act as an emollient. Problems arise when they are combined with certain ingredients (e.g. 2-bromo-2-nitro-propane1,3-diol) or contaminated with sodium nitrate. Although there is no evidence of a link to cancer, research documents that these ingredients are carcinogenic in animals.
Diazolidinyl Urea (urea): Used as a hydrating ingredient. Some studies have focused on its possible toxicity and carcinogenicity, especially due to the release of formaldehyde, which is why many scientists and doctors warn against it. (For example, Michael Roizen, MD, and Mehmet C. Oz, MD, in the book You: Being Beautiful put it on the list of ingredients to avoid).
Fluoride: An additive in toothpastes. Prof. Strunecka in particular warns against its toxicity. It accumulates in tissues over time, reacts with enzymes, and causes a number of serious adverse health effects, including neurological and endocrine dysfunction.
Tetrasodium EDTA: persistent and chelating agent. It is produced by the reaction of ethylene diamine, formaldehyde and hydrogen or sodium cyanide. Animal studies have found it to be cytotoxic (liver toxin), genotoxic (toxic to DNA which can lead to mutations) when ingested orally. It has not been found to be carcinogenic. It is not highly absorbable per se through the skin, but due to its chelating properties it can increase the absorption of other chemicals present. Harmful when used in spray application as it may cause asthma or respiratory irritation.
Phthalates (DBP / DMP / DEP): Phthalates are a group of phthalic acid esters and are used mainly in a variety of industrial and consumer applications as plasticizers of polymers, mainly PVC (polyvinyl chloride). However, they are also used in the cosmetics industry - they are found in lipsticks, nail polishes and hair sprays, especially in cosmetic products manufactured outside the EU. Phthalates are often not listed as ingredients on cosmetic product labels and are usually included under the name perfume/fragrance. They have a proven adverse effect on the hormonal system - reducing fertility and causing defective development of male fetuses. DEHP and DBP are classified as reproductive toxicants under EU Directive 67/548/EEC on the classification and labeling of dangerous substances.
2-Bromo-2Nitropropane-1,3Diol: halogenated preservative from which formaldehyde is released.
MIT, MCI and BIT (Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone): Preservative and antimicrobial additive. According to research, MIT causes autoimmune skin disease, which manifests itself not only in eczema. Highly allergenic. Immunocompromising. It is also found in the construction industry - painting, bathroom silicone in a tube, various liquid mixtures (pre-made plaster, mortar, ...).
Chemical filters in sunscreen products: Oxybenzone, avobenzone, benzophenone, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, 2-ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate octocrylene, glyceryl PABA, octyl methoxycinnamate: These are synthetic chemicals, they get absorbed into our skin, produce free radicals, mess with our hormones, cause adverse side effects and allergic reactions. Alternative: products with mineral filters - zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (note: titanium dioxide was re-assessed in February 2022 by European union for use in groceries, so with precautionary approach we do not recommend it for personal care products that are used on large parts of the body, like sunscreens), but beware of the nanoparticles, they have started to be used so that the cream does not leave such a white film, but it is not ideal, they penetrate the skin and we do not know yet how safe the nanoparticles are. It is safer to use zinc oxide alone (non nano).
Parabens: are used as preservatives in large quantities in ordinary and luxury body and skin cosmetics. Parabens work by blocking or inhibiting the activity of enzymes. Residues of parabens have been found in human breast tissue, but a link to breast cancer has not yet been confirmed. Parabens have been shown to have an estrogenic effect (they can mimic hormones). In particular, propyl parabens have a significant negative effect on the male reproductive organs - reducing sperm production.
PEG -100 stearate and other PEG ingredients: PEG-100 stearate, also known as polyvax, is mainly used as an emulsifier in cosmetics and food. PEG-100 Stearate is an ethoxylated chemical, which means it was created using the carcinogen ethylene oxide, traces of which, and its carcinogenic by-product 1,4-dioxane, may remain in the product. It can be a skin irritant when used on broken skin. They may be listed as "made from coconut" but do not believe this ingredient is "natural". Polyethylene glycols are a large group of substances that are universally used to increase skin permeability. Thus, the other ingredients, i.e. what is infused into the skin, matter a lot here.
PPD (paraphenylenediamine - azo dye: This chemical is found mainly in dark shades of hair dyes. It can also hide under other names such as these: p-phenylenediamine, diaminobenzene, benzenediamine, aminoaniline. In addition to hair dyes, PPD is also added to tattoo inks or as an antioxidant in rubber products. Some manufacturers replace PPD with a substance called para toluenediamine sulfate (PTDS), to which, however, about half of persons allergic to PPD also react. Related substances such as diaminotoluene or diamino(hydroxyethyl)benzene are also at risk of allergy. (Beware of cross-allergies - chemicals similar to PPD, e.g. parabens).
Phenoxyethanol (phenoxyethanol): a commonly used additive listed as a "fragrance" and also used as a preservative. It can be made from carcinogenic and toxic compounds. Reproductive toxin. Unfortunately, it is often found in so-called "natural" products. There it is used as a preservative and replaces parabens (paraben free product). It is also commonly used as a fragrance ingredient. Many manufacturers and companies that focus on so-called natural cosmetics still use synthetic fragrance. So they may claim not to use phthalates, but their products still contain phenoxyethanol! Therefore, the label "phthalate-free" or "paraben-free" does not guarantee the absolute safety of a product. Whenever the label "fragrance" appears in the ingredients, phenoxyethanol may be present along with any harmful synthetic chemicals. Phenoxyethanol is chemically structurally similar to parabens, so its toxicity to the reproductive system is not surprising. Also note that some companies may claim that their phenoxyethanol is extracted from natural sources. While this reduces the risk of ethylene oxide contamination, it is still the same chemical structure and may pose similar risks.
Sodium Lauryl and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES): it is a tenside, a surfactant. It is found in 90% of common shampoos, including baby shampoos, toothpastes, shower gels and bath additives. It is added for foaming. It is a "cleaner" that can cause irritation to the skin, eyes and scalp. According to the UK's Women's Environmental Network, there is evidence that SLS has negative effects on reproduction and the immune system and can damage the liver. (Warning: SCS, sodium coco sulfate, has the same effect). SLES is supposed to be a slightly milder irritant, however it is again an ethoxylated substance and due to ethoxylation there is a risk of contamination with the carcinogens ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
Beware also of the tenside labeled TEA- Lauryl sulfate, a foaming agent that has been marketed in the USA but may soon be encountered elsewhere. It contains dangerous methylisothiazolinone, the seller may not warn you about this.
Silicones: Silicones in the formulation are easily identified by the suffixes CONE, SILOXANE or CONOL in the ingredient names (e.g. DIMETHICONE, AMODIMETHICONE, TRIPHENYL TRIMETHICONE, CYCLOPENTASILOXANE, DIMETHICONOL). Most silicones are not water soluble or only partially water soluble, and thus the silicones cannot be washed off without repeated use of strong tensides, which not only wash off the silicones gradually, but also wash off the natural protective sheath of the skin. Silicones therefore tend to keep layering and start to act in exactly the opposite way to when they were first used. The coated hair is then more prone to breakage, frizz, not accepting hydration, cannot be naturally coloured, etc. There is a similar problem with skin products. They have a significantly negative impact on the environment (they are virtually impossible to biodegrade).
Sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate: These are mainly food preservatives, but are also used in cosmetics. In the presence of vitamin C (ascorbic acid, both synthetic and natural, which is present in some extracts), carcinogenic benzene may be released. According to FDA (Food and Drug Administration, USA) checks, benzene has been found in several products (fruit drinks and juices for children preserved with benzoates) at 2.5 and 5 times the WHO limit for drinking water. In 2017, Sodium benzoate was newly added to the Contact Dermatitis Society of America's contact allergen panel for testing.
Synthetic fragrances - fragrance: 95% are petroleum derivatives and may contain preservatives such as MIT. Although there is no clear evidence that perfumes cause allergies, children are more sensitive to synthetic fragrances and may develop an allergic reaction. A recent study by the US Environmental Working Group confirmed that commonly used perfumes and eau de toilette contain around 14 hidden chemicals that are not listed on the packaging. Among these chemicals are those linked to hormone disruption and allergic reactions and many others that have not yet been tested for health risks.
Read more about the synthetic fragrances in our blog.
Triclosan: Triclosan has significant negative effects on human health. It has been shown to disrupt the endocrine and hormonal systems. Thus, it causes changes in the composition of hormones in the human body, infertility, sexual dysfunction, thyroid dysfunction, weight gain, contaminates breast milk and is deposited deeply, especially in the female body (in pregnant women it can lead to fetal degeneration). It can promote the development of congenital, genetic defects. Causes antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Aggravates allergic conditions and is itself a trigger for allergic reactions. It is associated with the development of brain hemorrhages and heart problems. A 2008 study found that 75% of respondents had triclosan in their urine. Despite the known results of many studies, it is still allowed as a cosmetic ingredient. It cannot be biodegraded.
E102 / CI 19140: food colouring, food yellow. Potential carcinogen, has been linked to hyperactivity in children. Banned in some countries.
E133 / CI 42090: food colouring, brilliant blue. Used in both food and cosmetics. Potential carcinogen, linked to hyperactivity in children.
E120 / CI 75470: carmine - Cochineal is a derivative of anthraquinone. All anthraquinones can cause cancer. However, anthraquinone dyes are not a chemical form completely identical to E120. It can cause allergic reactions in some sensitive individuals and cochineal is often implicated in childhood hyperactivity. It can cause anaphylaxis, asthma, urticaria, hay fever.
Petroleum ingredients: (you may come across the following names: mineral oil, paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum, petrolatum, petrolatum, propylene glycol). Mineral oil is so purified and treated that it no longer contains any of the original raw material, no antioxidants or regenerating agents, so you're missing out on an important skincare element if your cream is based on petroleum ingredients alone. This oil will create an impermeable film on the skin, which may seem like a benefit at first as it will retain moisture in the skin, but in the long run the cells cannot work efficiently, the skin will not be able to protect itself and will start to become too dry. Although it is still claimed that purified mineral oil is not toxic, a recent study found that the hydrocarbons from mineral oil can be derived from body fat and breast milk, so it does penetrate the system and it is not certain that it is completely safe to use.
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QUAT): Quaternary ammonium compounds are commonly used in hair conditioners, shampoos and even lotions. They provide a slippery feeling on the hair and skin. They also have antimicrobial properties and are commonly used as preservatives. However, there are a number of problems associated with these substances (QUATs). Firstly, they are known to cause skin irritation, respiratory irritation and some people are very allergic to them. Secondly, some quaternary ammonium compounds, such as benzalkonium chloride, are phenolic and have been found to be endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with the function of hormones in the body. They are also known to be toxic to aquatic organisms, so they damage the environment through washing.
Some examples of quaternary ammonium compounds:
Babassuamidopropalkonium chloride, benzalkonium chloride, benzathonium chloride, methylbenzethonium chloride, cetalkonium chloride, quaternium-15 chloride, stearalkonium, polyquaternium guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, behentrimonium chloride, behentrimonium methosulfate. Quaternium-15 is regulated by the EU Cosmetic Products Directive and can be used at a maximum concentration of 0.2% in cosmetic and body care products. In addition to ecotoxicity and skin irritation, many of these substances can also release toxic formaldehyde, a proven carcinogen.
Propylene glycol: An organic alcohol, one of the most widely used ingredients in cosmetics, including perfumes. It can also be referred to by the abbreviation PPG and a number (polymers of propylene glycol and water). These are synthetic emulsifiers that soften the skin, which sounds like a beneficial thing, but beware. Although PG is essentially non-toxic unless used orally, it has been found to cause skin irritation and increased sensitivity at as low as 2% concentration, with up to 50% concentration allowed in the cosmetic industry. Scientists also warn that prolonged skin exposure can lead to liver and kidney damage. It can cause burning in the genital area and can penetrate the top layer of the skin, facilitating the transport of other substances into the skin. May enter the bloodstream (vapours, mist, skin, ingestion).
Boric acid: is most commonly found in eye care products (pine water) in which it is commonly available. However, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has classified it as a 'substance of very high concern', mainly because of its negative effects on the reproductive system. It is itself toxic. The toxic preservative thiomersal is also present in 'pine water' eye drops (risk of mercury contamination).
Controversial substances for which we recommend applying the precautionary principle
Ethylhexylglycerin: Preservative, humectant. It is a relatively new chemical on the market. Many companies use it as an alternative to parabens and claim that it is an ingredient from natural sources. Yes, the origin of the substance is in vegetable oil, but to make it what it is, it has been modified by several chemical processes. It is therefore not a substance that is completely natural and the safety data for this ingredient is rather lacking. There are only a few studies or reviews published in the National Library of Medicine.
In 2017, ethylhexylglycerin was newly listed as a possible contact allergen by the American Society for Contact Dermatitis, so it too should be avoided by allergy/atopics sufferers, regardless of the fact that natural cosmetic manufacturers promote it as safe. (Link to original article here)
Bisabolol: is a derivative from chamomile and is used in cosmetics as a synthetic fragrance and skin moisturizer in aftershave, moisturizers, UV creams and lipsticks. It accelerates the penetration of other ingredients into the skin. May cause skin irritation and redness.
GSE (grape seed extract): Antimicrobial ingredient. The danger of contamination during production is often mentioned here. As a result, it may contain parabens and other harmful chemicals. If it does not contain these, then its antimicrobial effect in preservation is questionable and it may not work reliably, and it certainly does not have the ability to preserve effectively in its pure form. Grapefruit seed extract - example composition - Ascorbic acid 3% - Glycerol 36% - Diphenol hydroxybenzene (a quaternary compound from grapefruit bioflavonoids) - 58.5%. When a chemical with benzene ring enters the body, it has the potential to act as an estrogen receptor, stimulating it and thus increasing estrogen levels .If a company uses GSE, it is under no obligation to list the ingredients inside the extract, so we always recommend avoiding it (precautionary principle).
Myristyl alcohol: Myristyl alcohol is an organic compound from the group of saturated fatty alcohols. It is derived from myristic acid. Myristic acid is a carboxylic acid that occurs naturally in nutmeg (after which it is named) or coconut oil. Myristyl alcohol is produced by reducing this acid or its esters with reactants such as sodium or aluminum. It takes the form of a white, waxy solid that is practically insoluble in water. It dissolves in diethyl ether and is slightly soluble in ethanol. It is used as an intermediate in the chemical synthesis of other products such as sulfated alcohol. In cosmetics, this surfactant is used for its emollient properties. It stabilzes emulsions and increases the viscosity of cosmetic products. It also functions as a fragrance ingredient and skin conditioner. It also increases the foaming power of products. It is widely used in personal care products, especially in skin creams.
It is generally considered to be a safe ingredient and has almost no risk rating on conventional databases. However, the evidence on the safety of topical preparations containing emulsifiers and viscosity enhancers is limited.
Carrageenan: thickener with suspected carcinogenic effects. According to research, food-grade carrageenan has been linked to intestinal inflammation that can lead to cancer, even in small doses. It is found mainly in toothpastes. According to other sources, carcinogenicity has not been proven, but negative effects on the GIT (gastrointestinal tract) and aggravation of gastrointestinal problems when carrageenan is consumed (e.g. used as a thickener) have been mentioned. A ban on the use of carrageenan as an additive is under consideration. This is a classic situation where different studies contradict each other, so it is recommended to avoid this additive especially in food as it is not unavoidable. (More in the article e.g. here , source)
Essential oils: Unfortunately, even these natural and often medicinal plant components can cause adverse reactions in individual cases, as evidenced by the inclusion of lavender in the American Dermatological Society's test kit of possible allergens. Allergy/atopic sufferers and especially children can have skin reactions, so always do a tolerance test before use, follow safe dilutions, use proven quality essential oils from recommended manufacturers, and NEVER use essential oils on young children with eczema.
Are you also interested in other non-toxic topics? You might like:
Pavlistova, Pavla and Hrivnakova, Katarina. Svet non toxic: mene je vice, CPress, 2021.
Article from the Facebook group of the organization Svet Non Toxic: https://www.facebook.com/legacy/notes/545045339162974/