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The Most Popular Carcinogens in Your Washroom Drawer


You probably will be shocked to find out how many chemicals, cancer-related (carcinogens), could be found in your bathroom.

Many of us are not aware of all the dangers we have right in front of us on a daily basis, and in this article, my goal is to bring up your awareness for better decision making!

But let’s first understand what is considered a carcinogen.

Anything that could lead or be connected to cancer is known as a carcinogen. It could be nutrition, additives in food or cosmetics, drugs, environmental pollution, some medical treatments such as radiation therapy, and much more.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Carex Canada have classified more than 1,000 agents into different groups based on their carcinogenicity to humans and defined different categories to assist consumers in decision making when using these substances in their daily life.

I live in Canada, and here, CAREX Canada classifies carcinogens based on evaluations made by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC chemical categories are:

· Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans

· Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans

· Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans

· Group 3: Unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans

· Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans

In this article, I would like to focus on carcinogens that could be found in skincare products.

Skin is the largest organ, and absolutely everything you put on your skin absorbs and can get into other tissues, such as the subcutaneous fatty layer. Because many carcinogens are fat-soluble, this turns in to a big problem, (because our skin absorbs them very well). Many doctors use this skin’s absorption ability to prescribe transdermal patches to distribute some medications without stomach upset or to ensure a continuous dose over time, as the patient’s skin will slowly absorb the medicine through all its layers and into the tissue beneath.

Unfortunately, not only essential substances can travel through the skin into the body. Harmful ingredients are going the exact way too.

Even though the skin is one of the best absorbent canals, it is not the only one. Your nose plays a huge role in this as well! Airways and lung irritation is a huge risk when considering body care ingredients. The nice and innocent scent you love so much to inhale may cause inflammation inside your body.

If you are a mother, pregnant or breastfeeding, remember, what touches you, touches your baby. For example, carcinogens from sunscreens were found in high concentrations in human breast milk from the mothers’ use of cosmetics, in concentrations above the “safe” limit for adults!

The best way to demonstrate you the ability of the skin to open a doorway to your whole body is to have the Garlic Test:

Rub the sole of your foot with a piece of garlic for a few minutes. Set a timer if you are curious. How long does it take you to taste garlic in your mouth? The average time for this test is 3 – 5 minutes. Surprised?

And remember- garlic doesn’t have any penetration-enhancing ingredients to force it deeper into tissue like many cosmetics ingredients have, so most of them will enter your tissue even faster!

Here Are Seven, Most Popular Carcinogens in Your Bathroom

(There are much more but I don’t want to overwhelm you right away)

1. Formaldehyde – A Well-Known Carcinogen

Formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by the IARC.

A study (2018) has found a specific link between this chemical and leukemia and other types of cancer!

Where Formaldehyde could be found? In cigarettes, building materials, industrial cleaning products, and some beauty products. Yes, in beauty products like nail polish, shampoo, hair conditioner, baby wash, body wash, facial cleansers, and eye shadows.

Why put Formaldehyde in beauty products? Apparently, Formaldehyde is an effective and cheap preservative. That's why formalin (the liquid form of formaldehyde) is used to preserve cadavers that med students use in their anatomy courses. Formaldehyde releasers were first put into cosmetics to prolong their shelf life.

Here is a fun part: The FDA does not restrict the amount of formaldehyde that can be present in cosmetics. Why? Great question…

If you don’t want to buy a product that contains a Formaldehyde-releasing chemical, you have to play detective and scrutinize the product label. Formaldehyde can appear on the label as:

· DMDM hydantoin

· Imidazolidinyl urea

· Diazolidinyl urea

· Quaternium-15

· Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )

· 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane

· Hydroxymethylglycinate

As you can see, choosing a clean product has become a not easy process at all.

2. Phthalates – Danger in Nearly Everything

Phthalates are materials derived from an organic chemical compound called phthalatic acid. Phthalates in cosmetics, and many other major products, like toys, sporting apparel, and packaging, are used to provide a certain amount of flexibility to rubber, plastic or resin. Phthalates are common because this particular organic chemical compound is a solubulizer (an agent that something else can be dissolved into).

The problem is, Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that raise the risk of breast cancer in women, induce early puberty in girls, and cause reproductive birth defects in newborn boys and girls.

Phthalates can also lead to an irreversible decrease in genital growth and development, reduced male hormone levels, and impaired adult sexual function, directly correlates to the mother’s level of phthalates during pregnancy—a more severe effect than exposure during adulthood.

DEP is the most commonly used phthalate that acts as a solubilizer in perfumes and understandably, as a denaturant in alcohol (because it renders certain alcohol products unfit for oral consumption).

Unfortunately, the FDA has chosen not to take regulatory action against the use of DEP and other Phthalates in cosmetics, but in 2004 the European Union (EU) did prohibit the manufacturing and sale of cosmetics containing these ingredients.


3. Parabens – Known Carcinogen for Breast Cancer

Lately, you probably could hear a lot about paraben-free products. But is it just a trend, like many people might think, or a justified change?

Parabens are used as synthetic preservatives in cosmetics such as makeup, facial cleanser, body wash, deodorant, and shampoo. The reason parabens are used so widely is that they are cheap and effective.

Apparently, parabens are a known carcinogen that easily penetrates the skin. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed parabens as Category 1 priority substances, based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function. Parabens can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. They have been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions. In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage.

How to identify parabens on the label? The most common parabens in cosmetics are Methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben. Other chemicals in this class generally have “paraben” in their names (e.g., isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, etc.).

Should we switch to paraben-free products? I guess the answer is clear.

4. Synthetic FragranceThe Stinky Truth

Did you know that more than 95% of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals?

Synthetic fragrances are among the trickiest labeling problems to address. Why? Because manufacturers can legally hide hundreds of synthetic chemicals in the one word - “fragrance” without revealing what those ingredients are. It’s referred to as a “trade secret” in the industry.

This excuse not to label fragrance ingredients was initiated in an era when the major fragrance were made from flowers and oils. But those days have gone a long time ago. What the government is really protecting now are manufacturers who have a license to poison us.

Fragrance blends can be found in every type of cosmetic and body care product imaginable, and although fragrance-free options are increasingly available, almost all body care products contain artificial fragrance. The phrase “fragrance” on the label sounds innocent but it could be any one of over 2,000 chemicals and you’d never know it!

5. Triclosan (and Triclocarban)

Triclosan is an ingredient added to many consumer products intended to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It is added to some antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes, and some cosmetics.

What is the problem with triclosan? In addition to causing skin inflammation and contact dermatitis, triclosan also a known endocrine disruptor, targeting thyroid hormone and reproductive hormones. Studies suggest it can contribute to reproductive cancers, largely through its estrogenic activity.

The FDA has decided to ban triclosan in hand soap; however, some still contain it, and many other products do as well, so be sure your toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and even gym wear does not contain triclosan or its relatives. How can you know if there is triclosan in a product? Antibacterial soaps, body washes, and fluoride toothpastes are considered over the counter (OTC) drugs. If an OTC drug contains triclosan, it should be listed as an ingredient on the label, in the Drug Facts box. If a cosmetic contains triclosan, it should be included in the ingredient list on the product label.

6. Propylene Glycol – Helps Toxins Penetrate

Propylene glycol is a penetration enhancer, carrying other potentially harmful ingredients deeper into the skin and tissue layers than they would normally penetrate. Propylene glycol has been shown to cause liver cancer, even if it is only inhaled. It is associated with an increased risk of seizures in low birth weight infants. It causes central nervous system depression and acute acidosis. Propylene glycol has been shown to cause apoptosis, a cell-suicide mechanism, in the central nervous system.

Unfortunately, propylene glycol is a very popular ingredient in the cosmetic industry these days and like many other toxin agents, it is not banned by the FDA. In addition to direct risks of propylene glycol, it is a sensitizer, meaning it makes the skin and surrounding tissue more likely to react badly to other substances. Be sure to avoid propylene glycol in sunscreen, moisturizers, lotions, makeup, and hair products, and yes, I know it would be a hard mission.

7. Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Sodium laureth sulfate (sometimes referred to as SLES) is used in cosmetics as a detergent and also to make products bubble and foam. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, and its efficacy, low cost, abundance, and simplicity mean it’s used in a variety of cosmetic, dermatological, and consumer products. It is common in shampoos, shower gels, and facial cleansers. It is also found in household cleaning products, like dish soap.

Sodium lauryl/ Laureth sulfate damages skin, eyes, and lungs, and other internal organs.

SLS / SLES is also an environmental toxin, and SLS so reliably causes inflammation that researchers frequently use it to induce acute skin and eye irritation, allowing them to then test the healing efficacy of other substances.

So, How Much are Too Much Carcinogens for the Human Body?

I have cognitive dissonance when I’m thinking about how many carcinogens I would like to use in my skincare. In other words, the real question would be:

How much cancer risk are you willing to take?

It doesn’t matter what words I will use, but the answer is obvious: ZERO risks!

I am not willing to take any chances! And what about you?

When dealing with known carcinogens, it seems common sense not to use them, in any amount, but that’s not what large corporations think. Their marketing departments work very hard to cover the real dangerous ingredients under attractive phrases, nice pictures of beautiful people, and physiological tricks.

Long shelf life is the key factor for profit in large corporations. That’s why preservatives ingredients are everywhere. Manufactures also want to make their products more attractive by brighter colors and enhance the scents. They want soaps to foam like a science experiment and to have an attractive smell. And it is so easy to forget that it is not how it meant to be by nature!

Tips for Avoiding Toxins

As people’s awareness of the toxic ingredients in cosmetics grows, an increasing amount of nontoxic alternatives are becoming available.

· Use products with the shorter ingredients list.

· Look for companies that use pure, clean, and preferably natural ingredients. Don’t hesitate to spend an extra buck on non-toxic alternatives. It can literally save your life.

· Check all labels carefully and look up any unfamiliar ingredients. Just google it! Today all the info is available online. It is better to spend a bit of time on research prior to purchase, consider it as an investment into your well-being!

1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/general-info/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens.html

2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21030064/

3. https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/beauty-style/common-beauty-products-formaldehyde-dangers

4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20368132/

5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16466537/

6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/assets/docs/j_q/phthalates_the_everywhere_chemical_handout_508.pdf

7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21030064/

8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11867263/

9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24657492/

10. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327318#alternatives-and-tips-for-avoiding-toxins

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Very useful information. Thanks a lot.

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