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Shop healthy. Avoid diseases.

Bernard-Henri Louvat
CEO & Founder of Tera. I am a serial technology entrepreneur and I occasionally write articles for our blog. Drop me a line at blouvat@hellotera.com if you feel like it!

How to Live a Non-Toxic Lifestyle: Personal Care

One of the best ways to live a non-toxic lifestyle is to make sure your personal care products are not poisoning you.

This article is the second in a multi-part guide to living a non-toxic lifestyle and how the Tera app can help. Click here to start at the beginning.

Personal care products are used on a daily basis, and they come into contact with our skin, hair, and mouths. This means that we are constantly exposed to the ingredients in these products. Some of these ingredients can be harmful to our health, and they can also pollute the environment.

When choosing personal care products, it is important to read the labels carefully and look for products that are free of harmful chemicals. Avoid the mainstream brands you see on TV and in big-box stores. Buy from companies who genuinely care about sourcing safe, natural, eco-friendly ingredients that you can actually recognize. Their products will cost more as a result, but you’ll be protecting your health in a big way and supporting small businesses. For more information, pick up a copy of Darin Olien’s fantastic book Fatal Conveniences which helped inform this article.

In this next edition of our non-toxic lifestyle series, we’ll discuss some of the dangerous ingredients to avoid in common personal care products, how these ingredients can impact our health, and recommend five brands to boycott and five brands to support. Please note the brand lists are in no particular order.

Shampoo and Conditioner

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (SLS): These are foaming agents used to make shampoo lather. They can be harsh on the skin and scalp, and can strip away natural oils. SLS has also been linked to eye irritation and allergic reactions. The process of turning lauryl sulfate into laureth sulfate creates the cancer-causing chemical 1,4-dioxane as a by-product.

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: These preservatives are used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold in shampoo and conditioner. However, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and these preservatives can release formaldehyde into the product. A study published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives” found that exposure to formaldehyde from shampoo and conditioner was associated with an increased risk of leukemia.

Parabens: These are preservatives that are used in many personal care products, including shampoo and conditioner. They have been linked to hormone disruption, and they can also be absorbed through the skin. A study published in the journal “Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology” found that parabens can disrupt hormones in animals.

Phthalates: These are chemicals that are used to soften plastics. They are found in some shampoos and conditioners, and they can disrupt hormones and cause reproductive problems. A study published in the journal “Environmental Science & Technology” found that phthalates can interfere with the development of the reproductive system in animals.

Fragrance: This is a common ingredient in shampoo and conditioner, but it can be a mystery ingredient. The fragrance may contain harmful chemicals, such as phthalates, which can disrupt hormones and cause reproductive problems.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG), polyethylene, polyoxyethylene, and all chemicals that end with oxynol
  • Cocamide DEA & related ingredients with “DEA”, “MEA”, or “TEA” in the name
  • Ketoconazole
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Selenium sulfide

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Pantene
  2. Head & Shoulders
  3. L’Oreal
  4. Garnier
  5. Suave

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Under Luna
  2. 100% Pure
  3. Zuma Nutrition
  4. Rahua
  5. Annmarie

Hair Color & Treatments

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Persulfates: These are chemicals used to develop hair color. They can cause skin irritation, eye irritation, and allergic reactions. Persulfates have also been linked to cancer. A study published in the journal “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention” found that women who used permanent hair dye were more likely to develop breast cancer than women who did not use hair dye.

P-phenylenediamine (PPD): This is a coal tar dye used in hair dye. It can cause allergic reactions, including severe reactions that can lead to hospitalization. PPD has also been linked to cancer.

Formaldehyde: This is a known carcinogen that is used in some hair treatments to straighten or perm hair. It can be absorbed through the skin and can cause health problems, such as respiratory problems, skin irritation, and cancer. A study published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives” found that exposure to formaldehyde from hair treatments was associated with an increased risk of leukemia.

Resorcinol: This is a chemical used in hair dye and skin peels. It can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, and liver damage. A study published in the journal “Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology” found that resorcinol is harmful to the liver of animals.

Ammonia: This is a harsh chemical that is used in hair dye to open the cuticle of the hair so that the dye can penetrate. It can cause skin irritation, eye irritation, and respiratory problems.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Coal tar/petroleum-derived dyes
  • Ethanolamine
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Para-toluenediamine (PTD)
  • Parabens
  • Quaternium-15

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Revlon
  2. Clairol
  3. Garnier
  4. L’Oreal
  5. John Freida

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Aveda
  2. Naturtint
  3. The Henna Guys
  4. Iroiro Colors
  5. Hairprint

Toothpaste and Mouthwash

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Triclosan: This is an antibacterial agent that is used in some toothpastes and mouthwashes. It has been linked to hormone disruption, and it can also be absorbed through the gums. A study published in the journal “Environmental Science & Technology” found that triclosan can disrupt the endocrine system in animals. The study found that triclosan can interfere with the production of hormones, which can lead to health problems such as reproductive problems and cancer.

Fluoride: This is added to toothpaste to help prevent cavities. However, fluoride can also be harmful in high doses. It can cause tooth discoloration, and it has also been linked to bone loss. A study published in the journal “Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology” found that fluoride can also interfere with the development of the brain in animals. Look for toothpaste that uses hydroxyapatite, which is a safer alternative to fluoride.

FD&C Blue 1 and Red 40: These are synthetic dyes commonly found in food but also used in products like toothpaste and mouthwash. Concerns include potential allergic reactions, a potential link to hyperactivity in some children, and some animal studies suggesting carcinogenicity. In Europe, products containing these dyes must carry a warning label. One study found Red 40 that was contaminated with the carcinogen benzidine, a chemical used in the dye’s production.

Propylene glycol: A common ingredient that acts as a stabilizer, preservative, humectant, and many other uses. A study published in the journal “Contact Dermatitis” found that propylene glycol can cause allergic reactions in some people. The study looked at data from over 100 people who had allergic reactions to toothpaste or mouthwash and found that propylene glycol was the most common trigger.

Triethanolamine (TEA): A foaming agent that can be harmful to the liver and kidneys, and it’s also been linked to cancer. Though not classified as cancer causing, the National Cancer Institute has studied TEA due to concern that it can turn into the dangerous carcinogen N-nitrosodiethanolamine.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Artificial sweeteners (e.g. saccharin, aspartame, sorbitol)
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Diethanolamine
  • Blue covarine
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG)

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Crest
  2. Colgate
  3. Oral-B
  4. Sensodyne
  5. Pepsodent

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Risewell
  2. Boka
  3. Davids
  4. Jason
  5. Redmond Earthpaste

Shaving Cream

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances): PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals used in various industrial and consumer products, including some personal care products. PFAS have been linked to various health issues, including hormone disruption, liver damage, and an increased risk of certain cancers. A study published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives” found that exposure to PFAS from personal care products was associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer.

Triethanolamine (TEA): Triethanolamine is used as a pH adjuster in many cosmetic and personal care products, including shaving creams. In higher concentrations or with prolonged exposure, TEA can cause skin and eye irritation. It can also react with other ingredients to form potentially harmful byproducts. A study published in the journal “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention” found that people who were exposed to high levels of TEA were more likely to develop cancer.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): In shaving creams, PEG can help create a smooth texture and enhance the product’s performance. There are concerns about potential contamination with harmful substances like 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogen. The presence of 1,4-dioxane in PEG-containing products is more common when the PEG has been processed with ethylene oxide, another carcinogen. Avoid other glycols as well such as propylene and butylene.

Palmitic Acid: This ingredient helps keep the shaving cream mixed evenly and prevents separation. It can strip away natural oils from the skin, leaving it dry and irritated. Palmitic acid can also clog pores, which can lead to acne, and it can cause allergic reactions in some people, known as dermatitis.

Isopentane: A colorless, flammable gas that is commonly used as a propellant in aerosol products, such as shaving cream. It is also a degreaser, which means that it can break down sebum, the oil that your skin produces, making it more susceptible to irritation. A 2018 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that isopentane can be absorbed through the skin and damage the liver and kidneys.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Polytetrafluoroethylene
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
  • Fragrance
  • Parabens
  • Phthalates
  • Formaldehyde
  • Sulfates

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Barbasol
  2. Dollar Shave Club
  3. Aveeno
  4. Equate
  5. Gillette

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Dr. Bronner’s
  2. Badger
  3. Qet Botanicals
  4. Pacific Shaving Co.
  5. Native

Tampons

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Rayon: Rayon is a synthetic fiber that is often used in tampons. It is made from wood pulp, which is treated with chemicals, such as chlorine and sulfuric acid. These chemicals can be harmful to the body. A study published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives” found that exposure to rayon bleached with chlorine was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Dioxins: Dioxins are a group of toxic chemicals that are formed as a byproduct of the manufacturing process of rayon. Dioxins have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, including breast cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma. A study published in the journal “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention” found that exposure to dioxins from tampons was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Dioxins can also cause reproductive problems, such as infertility and birth defects.

Phthalates: Phthalates are chemicals that are used to soften plastics. Phthalates can interfere with the production of hormones, which can lead to reproductive problems, such as infertility and birth defects. Phthalates can also affect the development of the fetus and young children, leading to problems such as learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

Parabens: Parabens are preservatives that are used in many personal care products, including tampons. Parabens can mimic the effects of estrogen, which can lead to hormone disruption and health problems such as breast cancer. Parabens can also irritate the skin, causing redness, itching, and swelling.

BPA: BPA is a chemical that is used to make plastics and resins. BPA has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. It can interfere with the production of hormones, which can lead to reproductive problems, such as infertility and birth defects. BPA can also affect the development of the fetus and young children, leading to problems such as learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Inorganic cotton due to pesticide exposure
  • Benzene
  • Fragrance
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Triclocarban

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Tampax
  2. Kotex
  3. Equate
  4. Playtex
  5. L.

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Natracare
  2. Organyc
  3. Rael
  4. Cora
  5. The Honest Company

5 Ways the Tera App Can Help

  1. Shop your favorite personal care store with your own Tera filter: Select Amazon, or Sephora, or Alta, or Credo Beauty or The Detox Market, and quickly find the products that best meet your health preferences.
  2. Ingredient Analysis: With the Tera app, users can search or scan the barcodes of personal care products and analyze their ingredients. It flags harmful chemicals, toxins, and potentially hazardous substances present in the product. This analysis provides users with an instant understanding of whether a product contains any ingredients that might be harmful to their health.
  3. Product Ratings: Tera rates products based on their health and environmental impact. This rating system allows users to quickly assess a product’s overall safety. Products with high ratings indicate a lower likelihood of containing toxic ingredients.
  4. Safer Alternatives: Tera not only identifies harmful ingredients but also recommends safer alternatives. It suggests products from ethical brands that prioritize using non-toxic and eco-friendly ingredients. This feature assists users in easily finding products that align with their desire for safer options.
  5. Personalized Profiles: Users can create personalized profiles within the app. By inputting their health concerns, allergies, and environmental preferences, the app tailors its recommendations to match each user’s specific health needs and values.

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