Methylisothiazolinone: This chemical is used in many household products from air fresheners to body soaps. Methylisothiazolinone functions as a preservative and has moderate health concerns relating to allergies. Strong evidence has been found relating this chemical to human skin and sensitizer toxicants (pesticides). Basically, this means that after repeated exposure to this chemical it’s possible that consumers may develop allergic reactions. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) scored this chemical at a 7/10 on their Hazard Scoring Key, meaning it is highly hazardous.
Phenoxyethanol: This chemical is an ingredient in many dish, hand and laundry soaps along with various cosmetic products. This chemical functions as a fragrance ingredient as well as a preservative. The EWG rates the overall health concerns of this chemical to be low to moderate with limited evidence of skin and immune system toxicity or allergies. The European Union – Classification and Labelling classified phenoxyethanol toxic or harmful only for products for use around the mouth and lips.
Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultane: This chemical is rated at a 1 on the hazard scale and is used as a synthetic skin and hair conditioning agent. That being said, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultane is found primarily in skin and hair soaps. There is limited data on this chemical, but the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List classifies it as a low human health priority as it is not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful.
DMDM Hydantoin: This is another popular soap ingredient intended to function as a preservative. This chemical is classified as a formaldehyde releaser, meaning that it “slowly releases formaldehyde as it decomposes in a product formulation,” according to Pharmaceutical Specialties, Inc. The EWG rated this chemical with a score of 7/10. This chemical poses concerns for cancer, although limited evidence has been reported from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). DMDM Hydantoin has restrictions for use and concentration in cosmetics in Japan.
Parabens: “Paraben” is an umbrella term for “a family of related chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products,” according to the FDA. Some of the most common parabens are Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben and Butylparaben. The EWG scored methylparaben and ethylparaben at a four, moderately hazardous, and butylparaben and ethylparaben at a seven, highly hazardous. These chemicals are most often found in cosmetics, air fresheners and some foods.
Fragrance: Although it’s not one single chemical, approach any product with the word “fragrance” or “parfum” with caution. These terms could mean anything as companies are not required to list everything that goes into them. Instead what these terms represent is an “undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants." These mixtures have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system according to the EWG.
Retinyl Palmitate: Retinyl Palmitate is on the EWG’s list of “Chemicals that should disappear from cosmetics” for its ability to speed the development of cancerous lesions on sun-exposed skin when used in sunscreens. In result, people who are using sunscreens with Retinyl Palmitate as an ingredient may be at an increased risk for skin cancer. This chemical is a number 9 on EWG’s hazard scoring key, as it was found to be a known human reproductive toxicant by the FDA. This chemical is most commonly found in lipsticks, sunscreens and moisturizers.
Phthalates: Commonly called “plasticizers” for their ability to make plastics more durable and flexible according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Phthalates also appear on EWG’s list of “Chemicals that should disappear from cosmetics.” EWG says scientific studies link phthalate exposure to reproductive abnormalities in baby boys, reduced testosterone and sperm quality in men and early puberty in girls. Phthalates can be found in some cosmetic fragrance mixtures such as nail polishes, so to be on the safe side stray away from scented products.
Propylene Glycol: Propylene Glycol sits a little bit lower on the EWG hazard scoring key with a 3. According to the EWG, Propylene Glycol is used as a skin conditioning agent and has been associated with irritant and allergic contact dermatitis as well as contact urticaria. Allergic contact dermatitis and contact urticaria are skin rashes caused by contact with certain substances.The EWG says these sensitization effects can occur at concentrations as low as two percent. Common products that contain propylene glycol include cosmetics, sunscreens and hair dyes.
Triclosan: A number 7 on the EWG hazard scoring key, Triclosan is “an antibacterial agent and preservative used in personal care and home-cleaning products,” says the EWG. Among the products that contain Triclosan are toothpaste, deodorant and various hand soaps. High concerns with this chemical are irritation with the skin, eyes or lungs and persistence/bioaccumulation meaning that it can become concentrated inside the body because the intake rate is greater than the rate of excretion. Recently, Johnson&Johnson and Proctor&Gamble pledged to rid their personal care products of Triclosan.