Beautiful skin or TOXIN? The 5 toxic chemicals you apply along with your facewash, shampoo

When I buy a new shampoo or a facewash, I always read the description at the back. Most of the time it is quite flattering, if not amusing- how the particular product has the choicest of ingredients and how it would transform our hair/skin to the most beautiful thing on earth… I am sure even most of you take pleasure reading those lines, or maybe not, but it does make us feel great about buying the product.

Now what about the lines just below the description- the ones that begin with the word ingredients?

Umm, what’s the point reading about that, I don’t understand those complex chemical terms anyway”

It’s about time that you do! Your favorite facewash and silky shampoo isn’t made up of butterflies and rainbows… Go and have a look at the ingredients behind every personal care product you own, they’ll have a big list of chemicals you have no idea about. And what you don’t know CAN actually hurt you… This video on the “Story of Cosmetics” is an eye-opener:

I and my fellow writer Dhanika decided to go on a little shopping trip to uncover the truth. We went to the supermaarket armed with a list of toxins mentioned in Environmental Working group’s (EWG) database. “I use this cream!” said Dhanika when she found a not-so-flattering chemical in one product. We came looking for products that have these chemicals but we ended up desperately trying to look for products that don’t have those toxins!

And yes, we found even baby products to contain the bad chemicals.  So if children’s bath products contain chemicals that cause cancer in lab animals and are classified as probable human carcinogens, how “nourishing” would your shampoo/cream be? Find out for yourself, get all the skin care products you use and check for these chemicals:

(Note: The references in the article are to products found in India. However, this topic is applicable Globally and we all need to look at the toxins we bring home unknowingly. Also, don’t get scared with the chemical names, you might be better off checking its presence in the products you use.)

1. Triclosan

Use: When the Lifebuoy handwash ads talk about being the “fastest handwash”, I wonder whether it’s actually a warning not to use it for more than 10 seconds… because like Pears and Godrej, this handwash has triclosan, an antibacterial pesticide. Even your toothpaste might contain Triclosan.

Toxicity: According to EWG, Triclosan disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones. Overuse may promote the development of bacterial resistance. So ironically, this germ-killer actually helps breeding super-bugs resistant to antibiotics or harming the good bacteria which help us stay healthy…

When American Medical Association and the American Academy of Microbiology say that soap and water serve just as well to prevent spread of infections and reduce bacteria on the skin, I can’t help but think how misleading the hand wash ads are that show kids not using handwash falling terribly sick.

2. Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone:

Use: These are easy to spot because of the sheer length of the name! We found facewashes from Pears, Dove and Himalaya, Lux soaps and handwash and Sunsilk and Dove shampoos to contain these…They are commonly used together in personal care products as preservatives to prevent a wide variety of bacteria and fungi from growing in cosmetics and beauty products.

Toxicity: These are among the most common irritants, sensitizers. Studies have shown methylisothiazolinone to be neurotoxic i.e. the chemical by itself has killed cells in rats’ brains.

In high concentrations Methylchloroisothiazolinone can cause chemical burns and it is a skin and membrane irritant. It is mostly used only short duration skin contact such as rinse-offs. So if you use a shampoo that contains this, don’t take a long time before you rinse it off your hair…

3. PEG/Ceteareth/Polyethylene compounds:

Use: These chemicals indicate presence of carcinogen 1,4-dioxane which contaminates up to 46% of personal care products tested.  The chemical is an unwanted byproduct of an ingredient processing method called ethoxylation used to reduce the risk of skin irritation for petroleum-based ingredients. Cosmetics makers could easily remove 1,4-dioxane from ingredients, but tests documenting its common presence in products show that they often don’t.

Toxicity: 1,4-dioxane is suspected as a kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant, according to the California EWG. It is also a significant groundwater contaminant. As it is considered a “contaminant”, 1,4-dioxane  is not included on product ingredient labels. So to identify products that may contain 1,4-dioxane scan ingredient lists for chemicals identifiable by the prefix or designations of ‘PEG,’ ‘–eth–,’ ‘Polyethylene,’ ‘Polyethylene glycol’ ‘Polyoxyethylene,’ or ‘–oxynol–’

4. Parabens (Propyl, Isopropyl, Butyl, and Isobutylparabens):

Use: This is one chemical that kept cropping up in the ingredient list of almost every product I picked off the shelf. Parabens are chemicals used as preservatives, and that’s why they are found in so many products. They are used to fight bacteria and fungus, are widely available, and cost very little to manufacture and use.

Toxicity: Parabens are estrogen-mimicking preservatives, found in breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied. The CDC has detected parabens in virtually all Americans surveyed. According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, parabens like propyl and butyl paraben isopropyl and isobutylparabens, may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders.

5. Fragrance:

Use: You might think that this is one chemical name that needs no explanation. However, this ubiquitous component with an innocuous name could hide nasty chemicals that companies are not required to put on labels. Since I saw this component in the deo I use, I’ve actually stopped being generous in using the product.

Toxicity: Recent research from EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, none of them listed on the label. Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. Though you’ll have a hard time finding a deodorant without “fragrance” in its list of ingredients, it’s highly recommended that you do.

This list of toxic chemicals contains ones that we found in most products we looked at in our little experiment at the supermarket. Have a look at EWG’s more comprehensive list. Better still, you can find out the toxicity rating of the products you use by typing in the product name at EWG’s Cosmetic Database. Another great website for choosing “healthier and greener products”  is

And I hope the next time you pick a product, you’ll first have a look at the little paragraph labeled”ingredients” below the feel good descriptions, it might just stop you from inviting needless toxins into your system…

(Stay tuned for more on non-toxic personal care products)


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An Electronics and Telecom engineer, Divya brings in an engineer’s perspective to writing. Her tech articles are all about latest technologies and researches and the possibilities they spell for us as the consumers. One who listens more than she talks, Divya feels her writing does the talking. A harry potter fan, she enjoys reading and travelling- monsoon treks being a favorite.



About divya
An Electronics and Telecom engineer, Divya brings in an engineer's perspective to writing. Her tech articles are all about latest technologies and researches and the possibilities they spell for us as the consumers. One who listens more than she talks, Divya feels her writing does the talking. A harry potter fan, she enjoys reading and travelling- monsoon treks being a favorite.
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