Be Aware

Children are not little adults. Pound for pound, kids are exposed to more contaminants in air, water, food, and personal care products than adults. Immature organ systems are often less capable of fending off chemical assaults. Subtle damage to developing bodies may lead to disease later in life. Parents can make healthy choices by using fewer personal care products for their children and themselves.


: The National Toxicology Program classifies butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” It can cause skin depigmentation. In animal studies, BHA produces liver damage and causes stomach cancers such as papillomas and carcinomas and interferes with normal reproductive system development and thyroid hormone levels. The European Union considers it unsafe in fragrance. It is found in food, food packaging, and personal care products sold in the U.S.

Boric acid and Sodium borate: These chemicals disrupt hormones and harm the male reproductive system. Men working in boric acid-producing factories have a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. In animals, high doses cause testicular damage to mice, rats, and dogs. Both the European Union and Canada restrict these ingredients in body care products made for children under three years of age and require that products containing these ingredients be labeled as not appropriate for broken or damaged skin. No similar safety standards are in place in the United States. The cosmetic industry’s own safety panel states that these chemicals are unsafe for infant or damaged skin, because they can absorb readily into the body. Despite this guidance, boric acid is found in some diaper creams.

Coal tar hair dyes and other coal tar ingredients (including Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine): Coal tar, a byproduct of coal processing, is a known human carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Hair stylists and other professionals are exposed to these chemicals in hair dye almost daily. Europe has banned many of these ingredients in hair dyes. While FDA sanctions coal tar in specialty products such as dandruff and psoriasis shampoos, the long-term safety of these products has not been demonstrated.

Formaldehyde: A potent preservative considered a known human carcinogen by the International Agency on Research on Cancer. Formaldehyde, also an asthmagen, neurotoxicant and developmental toxicant, was once mixed into to many personal care products as antiseptic. This use has declined. But some hair straighteners are based on formaldehyde’s hair-stiffening action and release substantial amounts of the chemical.

Formaldehyde releasers – Bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, Imidzaolidinyl urea and Quaternium-15: Cosmetics preservatives that slow form formaldehyde to kill bacteria growing in products. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. The preservatives and the formaldehyde they generate can trigger allergic skin reactions. Formaldehyde releasers are widely used in US products. Not surprisingly, more Americans develop contact allergies to these ingredients than Europeans.

Fragrance: It may help sell products from face cream to laundry detergent, but do you know what’s in it? Fragrances are in everything from shampoo to deodorant to lotion. Federal law doesn’t require companies to list on product labels any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. 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. There are also hidden chemicals that you won’t find on ingredient labels: Formaldehyde (found in ingredient “quaternium-15 and “hydantoin”) and Phthalates (found in the ingredient “fragrance”). Our advice? Buy fragrance free wherever possible.

Hydroquinone: A skin bleaching chemical that can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with blue-black lesions that in the worst cases become permanent black caviar-size bumps. In animal studies, hydroquinone has caused tumor development.

Lead: A neurotoxin in popular hair dye Grecian Formula 16 and other black hair dyes for men. Lead from hair dyes travels from hair to doorknobs, cabinets and other household items, where children can ingest it.

Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone: Preservatives, commonly used together in personal care products, among the most common irritants, sensitizers and causes of contact allergy. Lab studies on mammalian brain cells suggest that methylisothiazolinone may be neurotoxic.

Nanoparticles: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles appear to be among the safer and more effective active ingredients in U.S.-marketed sunscreen creams because they do not penetrate the skin. But avoid sprays and powders containing these nanoparticles, which could penetrate your lungs and enter your bloodstream. Many other nanoparticles have received very little testing, yet they readily penetrate the skin and contaminate the body. Cosmetics manufacturers are not required to disclose the presence of nanoparticles in products.

Oxybenzone: Sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber, found in the bodies of nearly all Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In human epidemiological studies, oxybenzone has been linked to irritation, sensitization and allergies. A study of 404 New York City women in the third trimester of pregnancy associated higher maternal concentration of oxybenzone with a decreased birth weight among newborn baby girls but with greater birth weight in newborn boys. Studies on cells and laboratory animals indicate that oxybenzone and its metabolites may disrupt the hormone system.

Parabens (specifically Propyl-, Isopropyl-, Butyl-, and Isobutyl- parabens): Parabens are estrogen-mimicking preservatives used widely in cosmetics. The CDC has detected parabens in virtually all Americans bodies. According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, longer chain parabens like propyl and butyl paraben and their branched counterparts, isopropyl and isobutylparabens, may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders.

PEGs/Ceteareth/Polyethylene compounds: A family of conditioning and cleaning agents that go by many names. These synthetic chemicals are frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which the U.S. government considers a probably human carcinogen and which readily penetrates the skin. Cosmetics makers could easily remove 1,4-dioxane from ingredients, but tests documenting its common presence in products show that they often don’t.

Petroleum distillates: Petroleum-extracted cosmetics ingredients, commonly found in mascara. They may cause contact dermatitis and are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities. They are produced in oil refineries at the same time as automobile fuel, heating oil and chemical feedstocks.

Phthalates: A growing number of studies indicate that chemical family damages the male reproductive system. Pregnant women should avoid nail polish containing dibutyl phathalate. Everyone should avoid products with “fragrance” indicating a chemical mixture that may contain phthalates.

Resorcinol: Common ingredient in hair color and bleaching products; skin irritant, toxic to the immune system and frequent cause of hair dye allergy. In animal studies, resorcinol can disrupt normal thyroid function. The federal government regulates exposures to resorcinol in the workplace, but its use is not restricted in personal care products.

Toluene: Volatile petrochemical solvent and paint thinner and potent neurotoxicant that acts as an irritant, impairs breathing and causes nausea A pregnant woman’s exposure to toluene vapors during pregnancy may impair fetal development. In human epidemiological and animal studies, toluene has been associated with toxicity to the immune system. Some evidence suggests a link to malignant lymphoma.

Triclosan & Triclocarban: Antimicrobial pesticides in liquid soap (triclosan) or soap bars (triclocarban), very toxic to the aquatic environment. Often found as contaminants in people due to widespread use of antimicrobial cleaning products. Triclosan disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones. American Medical Association and the American Academy of Microbiology say that soap and water serves just as well to prevent spread of infections and reduce bacteria on the skin. Overuse may promote the development of bacterial resistance.

Vitamin A compounds (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinol): Vitamin A is an essential nutrient but not necessarily safe for use on skin. Studies show that when applied to sun-exposed skin these compounds can increase skin sensitivity. Furthermore sunlight breaks down vitamin A to produce toxic free radicals that can damage DNA and hasten skin lesions and tumors in lab animals. These ingredients are widely used in sunscreens, skin lotions, lip products and makeup. EWG urges consumers to avoid leave on skin and lip products with vitamin A.



1,4-DIOXANE: a carcinogen, a kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant, and respiratory toxicant; pollutes drinking water, air, and soil; a by-product of ethoxylation, a cheap shortcut process many companies use

2-BROMO-2-NITROPROPANE-1,3-DIOL: a formaldehyde-releasing preservative (see FORMALDEHYDE), may break down into nitrosamines (see NITROSAMINES) in a product; gastrointestinal, immune system, skin, and liver toxicant

ACRYLAMIDE: a carcinogenic impurity of polyacrylamide, polyquaternium-7, polyacrylic acid

ALCOHOL DENAT.: ethyl alcohol (ethanol) with a denaturing agent making it poisonous to drink; carcinogenic, toxic, may cause birth defects

ALUMINUM POWDER: used as a colorant; a known human nervous system toxicant and an allergen

AMINOMETHYL PROPANOL: a skin, eye, lung irritant; may break down into carcinogenic nitrosamines (see NITROSAMINES)

AMMONIUM LAURETH SULFATE: may be contaminated with carcinogenic ethylene oxide (see ETHYLENE OXIDE) and 1,4-dioxane (see 1,4-DIOXANE)

BENZENE: a known human carcinogen, banned in European Union and Canada, an impurity of toluene (see TOLUENE)

BENZO[A]PYRENE: a carcinogen, hormone disruptor, persistent and bioaccumulative; may be impurity of hydrogenated palm oil, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, and coal tar

BENZYL ALCOHOL: often synthetically created; may cause contact allergy; subject to concentration or use limitations

BHT (BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE): a fragrance or masking ingredient; skin, eye, lung irritant; immune system toxicant

BUTYLENE GLYCOL: used as a solvent and conditioning agent; a skin, eye, and lung irritant

CETEARETH-20: an emulsifying agent; may be contaminated with carcinogenic ethylene oxide (see ETHYLENE OXIDE) and 1,4-dioxane (see 1,4-DIOXANE)

CETETH-20: a cleansing and solubilizing agent; may be contaminated with carcinogenic ethylene oxide (see ETHYLENE OXIDE) and 1,4-dioxane (see 1,4-DIOXANE)

CHLOROFORM: banned in cosmetics in US, European Union, and Canada; carcinogenic, persistent and bioaccumulative; a possible impurity of triclosan (see TRICLOSAN)

COAL TAR: an antidandruff agent, a cosmetic biocide, a denaturant; obtained as a by-product in the destructive distillation of coal; a known carcinogen; banned in European Union and Canada; may be contaminated with benzo[a]pyrene, another carcinogen

COCAMIDE DEA:  a chemically modified form of coconut oil, a foaming agent; carcinogen; may break down into Nitrosamines (see NITROSAMINES)

COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE: a synthetic surfactant; a contact allergen; may break down into Nitrosamines (see NITROSAMINES)

COLORANTS: FD&C and D&C colors are coal tar derivatives, tested on animals due to their carcinogenic properties

DIAZOLIDINYL UREA: a formaldehyde-releasing preservative (see FORMALDEHYDE)

DIBUTYL PHTHALATES (DBP): used in nail polish or a part of “fragrance”; a reproductive and developmental toxicant; banned in European Union; in animal studies, exposure to DBP during gestation causes infertility; prenatal exposure to DBP associated with reproductive organs mutation in baby boys

DIOXINS: a carcinogenic impurity of triclosan; a hormone disruptor; persistent and bioaccumulative; a priority pollutant on the EPA Clean Water Act list

DISODIUM LAURETH SULFOSUCCINATE: a foam booster; may be contaminated with ethylene oxide (see ETHYLENE OXIDE) and 1,4-dioxane (see 1,4-DIOXANE)

DMDM HYDANTOIN: a formaldehyde-releasing preservative (see FORMALDEHYDE)

ETHYLENE OXIDE:  a known human carcinogen; banned in Canada and European Union; EWG rates it 10 for the harmful health impact on a scale from 0 to 10 (10 being the most harmful); associated with cancer, reproductive effects, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity, and sensitization; not an ingredient but a contaminant of ingredients such as Polysorbate-20, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PEG-100 Stearate, Ceteareth-20, Ceteth-20, Polysorbate-60, Laureth-7, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Steareth-21 and others

FERRIC AMMONIUM FERROCYANIDE: a synthetic colorant; restricted by FDA, an environmental toxin

FORMALDEHYDE: a carcinogenic impurity released by cosmetic preservatives, such as diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, and others; causes dermatitis; banned in Japan and Sweden; in the U.S., 20% of cosmetics and personal care products contain a formaldehyde-releaser

FRAGRANCE: an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients containing hormone-disrupting phthalates, allergens, and diethyl phthalate linked to sperm damage

HYDROGENATED PALM OIL: a skin conditioning agent; may be contaminated with benzo[a]pyrene (see BENZO[A]PYRENE)

HYDROQUINONE: a skin bleaching agent, a hair colorant; banned in European Union and Canada; may cause a bluish black discoloration of certain tissues; a skin and respiratory organ toxicity; an allergen; may also be an impurity found in “tocophe” group of chemicals (e.g. Tocopheryl Acetate)

IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA: a formaldehyde-releasing preservative (see FORMALDEHYDE)

LAURAMIDE DEA:  a foam booster; may break down into Nitrosamines  (see NITROSAMINES)

LEAD: carcinogenic; persistent and bioaccumulative; banned by FDA to be used around eyes; used in hair colorants; an impurity found in hydrogenated cottonseed oil, sodium hexametaphosphate, hydrogenated cottonseed glyceride

LECITHIN: a skin conditioning substance, an emulsifying agent; may break down into Nitrosamines (see NITROSAMINES)

MERCURY: a non-reproductive organ toxicant; persistent and bioaccumulative; as a cosmetics ingredient banned in Canada, Japan, European Union, and US, but may be an impurity in hydrogenated cottonseed oil and hydrogenated cottonseed glyceride

METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE: a preservative causing allergic reactions; skin, lung, and eye irritatant; may be neurotoxic; restricted in Canada and Japan; subject to concentration and use limitations

NITROMETHANE: an anticorrosive agent found in aerosol hair sprays; a carcinogen; persistent and bioaccumulative

NITROSAMINES: a carcinogenic contaminant; no repercussions for US manufacturers contaminating their products with nitrosamines; very common, nearly every kind of personal care product and cosmetics can contain nitrosamines as various compounds break down over time and recombine into nitrosamines

OLEAMIDE DEA: a foam booster; may be contaminated with Nitrosamines (see NITROSAMINES)

PAHs: a group of chemicals occurring naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline; carcinogenic; banned in the European Union and Canada


PETROLATUM (PETROLIUM JELLY): a semisolid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum; may be contaminated with PAHs (see PAHs)

PHENACETIN: used as a fever-reducing drug but banned in drugs in 1983; stabilizing function in cosmetics; a known carcinogen

PHENOLPHTHALEIN: used in hair relaxers, shampoos and conditioners; a carcinogen; a hormone disruptor

PHENONIP: a mix of preservatives Phenoxyethanol (see PHENOXYETHANOL), Methylparaben (see PARABENS), Ethylparaben (see PARABENS), Butylparaben (see PARABENS), Propylparaben (see PARABENS), and Isobutylparaben (see PARABENS)

PHENOXYETHANOL: a preservative; restricted in Japan; in European Union considered harmful only for products used on the lips and around the mouth; skin, eye, lung irritant

PLACENTA ENZYMES: derived from the uterus of slaughtered animals; widely used in skin creams, shampoos, and masks; may be contaminated with progesterone, estrogen, and estrone

POLYSORBATE-20: a surfactant and emulsifier used in cleaners and personal care products; may be contaminated with carcinogenic Ethylene Oxide (see ETHYLENE OXIDE) and 1,4-Dioxane (see 1,4-DIOXANE

PROPYLENE GLYCOL: an organic alcohol commonly used as a skin conditioning agent; may cause an allergic contact dermatitis and itchiness; irritation may happen at propylene glycol concentrations as low as 2%

QUATERNIUM-15: a formaldehyde-releasing preservative (see FORMALDEHYDE), skin, eye, lung irritant

RETINYL PALMITATE (VITAMIN A PALMITATE): a synthetic vitamin A; restricted in cosmetics use in Canada; according to FDA studies, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions and daily skin application of vitamin A creams may build up in the woman’s body a high enough level of Vitamin A that may be toxic to a fetus

SELENIUM SULFIDE: an antidandruff and hair conditioning agent; banned in European Union and Japan; a carcinogen; persistent and bioaccumulative;

SODIUM BENZOATE: when combined with ascorbic acid, benzene may be formed (see BENZENE)

SODIUM HYDROXYLMETHYLGLYCINATE: a formaldehyde-releasing preservative (see FORMALDEHYDE)

SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLSE): an emulsifying and foaming agent; may be contaminated with carcinogenic Ethylene Oxide (see ETHYLENE OXIDE) and 1,4-Dioxane (see 1,4-DIOXANE)

SODIUM LAUROYL SARCOSINATE: a foaming agent, a skin and hair conditioning agent; restricted in cosmetics in Japan; can break down into Nitrosamines (see NITROSAMINES)

SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS): an emulsifying and foaming agent; an eye, skin (eczema), and lung irritant

SODIUM PCA: a skin and hair conditioning agent; can break down into Nitrosamines (see NITROSAMINES)

TALC: may be contaminated with asbestos fibers causing respiratory toxicity and cancer; asbestos-free talc is still toxic and carcinogenic

TOLUENE: a petrochemical solvent and paint thinner; in cosmetics used in nail polish; reproductive system toxin; damage to fetus

TRICLOSAN: an antibacterial agent and preservative in personal care and home-cleaning products; persistent and bioaccumulative; a hormone disruptor; a skin, lung, and eyes irritant; may be contaminated with chloroform (see CHLOROFORM) and dioxins (see DIOXINS).