November 02, 2021

Why You Should Avoid These Common Ingredients

By Paige Sillcox
Why You Should Avoid These Common Ingredients

Life is busy, so we establish habits. We find products that work and when we run out, we buy more of the same. If this sounds familiar, chances are it's been a minute since you read the labels. Hopefully this will prompt you to take the time to check the labels, and when you do here is a handy reference of some common ingredients you should avoid.

Fragrance -

"Fragrance" ingredients are not listed on product labels or websites. Many chemicals contained in fragrance are linked to health and environmental harm, including the following: carcinogens, reproductive toxins, skin allergens, neurotoxicants. 

According to a study done by in 2019, the following percentage of everyday products contain "fragrance":

96% of shampoos
98% of conditioners
87% of lotions
91% of lip moisturizers

When fragrance is listed as an ingredient be sure it is marked "Phthalate-free".


Phthalates - 

Found in hundreds of products, including plastic containers, vinyl flooring, toothbrushes, cosmetics, lotions and more, phthalates are endocrine disruptors. They mimic or suppress male and female hormones in the body and can lead to cancer, especially hormone-sensitive cancers, like breast cancer. Phthalates can be inhaled, ingested and absorbed by the skin. Phthalates, once inside the human body, can interact with each other to maximize their harmful exposure effect. Many "fragrances" include phthalates, but they are not listed.

When "fragrance" appears on an ingredient list, be sure the term "Phthalate-Free" is on the label as well.


1,4 Dioxane -

1,4 Dioxane is found in products that create suds, like shampoo, liquid soap, bubble bath. Potential problems include birth defects and cancer.

Watch out for the following ingredients likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane:

Peg-100 stearate
Sodium laureth sulphate


2-Butoxyethanol - 

2-Butoxyethanol acts as a solvent to soften and disperse soils so they can be removed more easily. It is often found in products such as, glass cleaner and all purpose cleaner. 2-butoxyethanol can enter your body through the lungs by breathing in the vapors or through skin contact. Short-term exposure to high levels in humans is associated with pulmonary edema and severe liver and kidney damage. Chronic exposure in humans is associated with neurological and blood effects, such as nausea, tremor, and anemia.

2-Butoxyethanol can be listed under a variety of names. It can also be among the ingredients a manufacturer is not required to list.

The best way to avoid 2-Butoxyethanol is to look for products that are toxic chemical free. 


Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates - 

Alkyl phenol ethoxylates are found in laundry detergents, stain removers and all purpose cleaners. "Alkylphenols and their ethoxylates (APEs) are a family of chemicals used mainly as surfactants in commercial detergents and cleaners. They are also used in paints, pesticides and other agrochemicals, personal-care products, in industrial processes, and oilfields. Their breakdown products include persistent toxic chemicals that build up in fish and wildlife. There are also concerns about the effects of APEs on human health, including reproductive, nervous system, and immune effects."

Avoid products that list nonylphenol or octylphenol ethoxylates as ingredients.


Formaldehyde - 

Formaldehyde can be found in nail products, shampoos, body washes, chemical hair straighteners. "Formaldehyde is a probable carcinogen, according to the EPA,4 though the risk of cancer from absorption through the skin is not fully understood. The chemical can also trigger adverse skin reactions in children and adults who are sensitive to the chemical.  Contact dermatitis specialists recommend that children avoid exposure to products containing formaldehyde. Formaldehyde contaminates personal care products when common preservatives, such as Quaternium-15, release formaldehyde over time in the container."

The FDA also does not require contaminants to be listed on product ingredient labels. As a result, consumers have no way of knowing if their products contain toxic contaminants, such as formaldehyde.

Watch out for the following ingredients likely to be contaminated with formaldehyde:


DMDM hydantoin

imidazolidinyl urea

diazolidinyl urea

sodium hydroxymethylglycinate. 


Parabens - 

Parabens are preservatives in personal care products that stop fungus and bacterial growth. Their names are a mouthful: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben. You’ll find them listed on thousands of personal care products such as shampoos, mascara, foundations and body lotions. Parabens are known endocrine disruptors based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function.

Look for products marked "Paraben Free".


Colorants - 

Big brands add chemically formulated colours to improve customer appeal. Colorants in food are known to have associated risks, from hyperactivity to cancer. In skin care products colorants can irritate your skin and cause inflammation. Colorants can block your pores and interfere with your skin's natural oil balance, which makes you prone to blemishes. "Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have long been known to cause allergic reactions in some people. CSPI says that while those reactions are not common, they can be serious and provide reason enough to ban those dyes. Furthermore, numerous studies have demonstrated that dyes cause hyperactivity in children." There is some recognition of concerns associated with colorants, such as Blue 1, in food, but personal care products containing Blue 1, like Crest toothpaste, remain popular.

"Tests on lab animals of Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 showed signs of causing cancer or suffered from serious flaws, said the consumer group. Yellow 5 also caused mutations, an indication of possible carcinogenicity, in six of 11 tests.

In addition, according to the report, FDA tests show that the three most-widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are tainted with low levels of cancer-causing compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl in Yellow 5. However, the levels actually could be far higher, because in the 1990s the FDA and Health Canada found a hundred times as much benzidine in a bound form that is released in the colon, but not detected in the routine tests of purity conducted by the FDA." FYI - Dawn Gentle Clean Dish Soap contains Yellow-5 and it's not even yellow...

Look for products with no added colour.


One more thing - Air Fresheners - 

­Like cleaning products, air fresheners supposedly keep our homes nice, but a study by the University of California at Berkeley found that when used excessively or in unventilated area they release toxic levels of pollutants. Air fresheners contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-dichlorobenzene and aerosol propellants. These chemicals are thought to cause cancer and brain damage. They also are strong irritants to eyes, skin, and throat.. Just stay away from air fresheners.


That's a lot to remember. An easier way to be sure you are choosing "clean" products is to look for shorter, prominently displayed ingredient lists. Look for labels marked "no parabens, no sulfates and no phthalates (if fragrance is listed)". And avoid brightly colored products, such as, Windex, Palmolive Dish Soap, Tide Pods and Liquid, Scope & Listerine Mouthwash.

Here are some trusted Canadian brands that have built their success on providing quality, 100% natural and chemical-free products:

Carina Organics (Vancouver, BC) - sustainably sourced and certified organic ingredients, from farm to bottle and formulated fresh to order. Available in refill.

Elva's All Naturals (Milton, ON) - 100% plant-based, zero toxic chemicals, available in refill. "Our company takes a stand against toxics in products used in our homes and on our bodies. At Elva's, we say NO to known toxics, SLS/SLES, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, petroleum-based chemicals, Polysorbates and artificial "fragrance"."

Green Cricket (Etobicoke, ON) - products do not contain phosphates, and are also free from parabens, petrochemical by-products, mineral oils, Sodium lauryl sulfate, Sodium laureth sulfate, artificial fragrances and colors. Available in refill.

Way of Will (Toronto, ON) - personal care products made with plant-based, 100% all natural ingredients. No artificial colours or synthetic oils, no parabens or sodium laurel sulfate. "Every Way of Will product is formulated with the highest quality plant-based essential oil ingredients. We create the best mix of ingredients to bring you the purity and potency of plants." Available in refill.

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