Eliminating all unhealthy additives from your beauty arsenal can seem like a daunting task. Here, the top five toxic ingredients to avoid, plus natural product alternatives you’ll love.
Ingredient to Lose: Formaldehyde
Preservatives often used in beauty products can release formaldehyde—a known carcinogen—as they break down. According to Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just A Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, problematic preservatives found in ingredient lists include DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, and quaternium-15, all of which are found in a variety of cosmetics and hair products—and even in some baby shampoos. Nail polishes often contain formaldehyde, as well.
Toxin-free alternative: All of OPI’s polishes ($8, www.opi.com) are now free of formaldehyde, as well as toluene and dibutyl-phthalate (DBP), two other toxic offenders typically found in nail polish. For a formaldehyde-free kids’ cleanser that’s great for adults, too, try Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash ($9, www.burtsbees.com).
Ingredient to Lose: Parabens
These preservatives, which are used to kill bacteria, are found in beauty products for just about every part of the body—from shampoo and makeup to body lotion and foot cream. “Parabens are linked to endocrine disruption and can mimic estrogen in the body, which is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer,” Malkan says.
Toxin-free alternative: Like all of Avalon Organic’s products, the Olive and Grape Seed Hand & Body Lotion ($11.45, www.avalonorganics.com) is free of parabens. So, too, is Physician’s Formula Organic Wear 100% Natural Origin Mascara ($9.95, mass retailers nationwide).
Ingredient to Lose: Phthalates
This ingredient is linked to damaged sperm and disruptions in the development of the male reproductive system. Everyone should limit their exposure to phthalates, but especially pregnant women, according to Malkan. Any product that features a “fragrance”—deodorant, lotion, perfume, cologne—is likely to contain phthalates. Unfortunately, even some “fragrance-free” products also include the toxins, as they occasionally contain masking fragrances; be sure to look for products labeled “phthalate-free” instead.
Toxin-free alternative: For perfume without the phtalates, try Rich Hippie Eau de Parfums ($30 to $35, www.rich-hippie.com), natural, chemical-free blends made from organic plants and flowers. And for truly fragrance-free hydration, there’s Alba Botanica’s Unscented Original Body Lotion ($10.95, www.albabotanica.com).
Ingredient to Lose: PEG (or polyethylene glycol) compounds
These ingredients, usually found in creams and lotions (where you’ll see the letters PEG on the ingredients label), are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen. Other ingredients with a 1,4-dioxane problem include propylene glycol and ingredients that end with the letters “eth” (like sodium laureth sulfate).
Toxin-free alternative: Jonathan Product Green Routine Nourishing Conditioner ($22, www.jonathanproduct.com) is a 100% natural and vegan conditioner that’s also phthalate and paraben-free. For PEG-free moisturizing, try Yes to Carrots Repairing Night Cream ($14.99, www.yestocarrots.com), which is loaded with sweet almond and avocado oil to hydrate.
Ingredient to Lose: Triclosan
Most antibacterial products—including soaps, antiperspirants and toothpaste—contain triclosan. “Triclosan is a suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria,” says Malkan. Plus, it’s harmful to fish and other wildlife when it’s washed down the drain and into waterways.
Toxin-free alternative: Germaphobes rejoice: There are plenty of antiseptic essential oils and other natural germ fighting ingredients available. California Baby’s Natural Antibacterial Blend Moisturizing Handwash ($19.99, www.californiababy.com) contains antiseptic tea tree oil and antiviral ravensara oil to help keep the whole family healthy, while CleanWell Hand Sanitizer Spray ($8.99 for 3, www.cleanwell.com) is alcohol free and instead features the antiseptic power of thyme in its patented, germ-fighting formula.