Looking at Labels

Many Personal Care Products Contain Harmful Chemicals.When I first started formulating BoodleBody products, I started paying a lot more attention to ingredient labels on personal care products. Sure, I could identify the organic names, but I was clueless about most of the multi-syllabic and unpronounceable names… even on “natural” brand labels.

Over the years, I’ve also come to recognize that what you put on your body is as important as what you put into it. And having control over that is one of the things I like best about making my own skin and hair care products.

So the recent New York Times article entitled, “Many Personal Care Products Contain Harmful Chemicals. Here’s What to Do About It” resonated with me. And one of the key points that merits your attention is this:

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees cosmetics products in the United States, has banned about a dozen ingredients for safety reasons. (Canada, Japan and European Union countries have hundreds more chemicals that they have banned.) Chemicals must meet a high bar for causing harm in humans before they are regulated in the United States.
The following is a list of the chemicals from the NYTimes piece, and the types of products in which they are commonly found. You can look up the health risks online, or email me at if you would like to get a copy of the complete article.

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is commonly used as a preservative in personal care products that contain oils or fats, such as lipsticks, eyeliners and moisturizers.
Coal tar dyes like m-, o- and p-phenylenediamine: Coal tar is a thick brown-black liquid frequently found in hair dyes.M-phenylenediamine, o-phenylenediamine and p-phenylenediamine are compounds now often produced synthetically.

Diethanolamine (DEA) is part of a group of chemicals frequently used as emulsifiers in products that are creamy or foamy, like shampoos and shaving creams.

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasers: Formaldehyde is a strong-smelling chemical that is used to lengthen the shelf-life of some cosmetics, hair straighteners and nail polishes. Other preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria in water-based personal care products — like shampoos and liquid baby soaps — can still release formaldehyde gas over time. These include DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, glyoxal, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and quaternium-15.

Fragrance: Fragrance formulas are considered trade secrets, which means companies can hide any number of chemical ingredients under the umbrella terms “fragrance” or “parfum.”
Isobutane, propane and other propellants: Isobutane is a component of natural gas and crude oil that is commonly used as a propellant in aerosol sprays like many of the dry shampoos, sunscreens and deodorants that were recently recalled. Isobutane is not typically of concern on its own, but benzene, a known carcinogen that is also found in crude oil, has frequently been found to contaminate it and other petroleum-derived propellants like butane and propane.

Parabens: Compounds that have “paraben” in their name, such as methylparaben and propylparaben, are another group of preservatives used in water-based products like shampoos and conditioners, face washes, toothpastes and other cosmetics.

Phthalate are a class of chemicals that are commonly found in a variety of vinyl plastics. They are also used in eyelash glues, as well as some makeup and other personal care products with fragrance.

Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are chemicals used to thicken liquid hand soaps, makeup foundations and creams. They are also used to enhance the absorption of other ingredients into the skin.

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral used to absorb moisture and make makeup opaque in powder foundations, eye shadows, blotting sheets and deodorants.

Toluene is a colorless liquid found in crude oil. It is used to help formulate adhesives, nail products and hair dyes.

Triclosan and triclocarban are antimicrobial agents that were formerly in hand soaps and body washes and are still found in many toothpastes, deodorants and personal care items.

Now that your nose is deep in your medicine cabinet looking at labels, keep in mind that determining which products to keep using and which to toss isn’t necessarily black and white. It is the amount that determines if something is harmful to your health, so products that you use only intermittently aren’t necessarily a big risk. Products like moisturizer and lipstick that stay on your skin for awhile are likely more problematic than shampoos and soaps which you rinse off.

And of course, using clean, hand crafted, and small batch products is your best option!

Leave a comment