Spotting Toxins In Everyday Beauty Products

The video does not necessarily relate to beauty products, but the principle is the same. The same toxic chemicals that we so rigorously avoid in our cleaning practice are being slather directly on our skin.

When we set out to create our green cleaning company, Better Life Maids, we did it with the intent of ridding our household (and our clients’) of harmful cleaning substances that pollute the environment and can be problematic for us and those we love. In our quest to educate you, our loyal readers, we branch out occasionally to inform you of other areas our lives are impacted by toxic substances – sometimes right under our noses. Literally.

Today’s post focuses on beauty products and the ingredients that are best avoided if you wish to reduce the amount of toxins in your and your family’s lives. Yes, this does mean you’ll have to read ingredient labels. The extra time you take to do this could mean the difference between being healthy and suffering from some weird malaise that no one seems to be able to diagnose.

Here goes:


Not that long ago anti-bacterial agents were all the rage and appearing in just about every type of product you can think of. Beauty products are no exception. Triclosan is a preservative and anti-bacterial agent used in products as diverse as toothpaste to deodorant and many others. It’s not been proven conclusively that using it every day is a good thing. What is known is that it’s a known skin irritant. It’s also a suspect in hormone disruption and could, unintentionally, aid in creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria (a very bad thing). Look for products that don’t contain Triclosan. Instead, use regular (non-anti-bacterial enhanced) soaps and products that contain thyme, an effective, all-natural anti-bacterial agent.


Parabens have been used in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products for years as preservatives. They’re relatively cheap to produce and are effective at the job of preserving products. Parabens can be found in moisturizers, shampoos, personal lubricants, shaving gels, toothpaste and makeup. Parabens are easy to spot on labels because they all begin with “ethyl,” “methyl,” “propyl” and “butyl.” Parabens are suspected of mimicking estrogen (hormone disruption) and have been found in low concentrations in breast cancer tumors, although no direct link has been found between paraben use and cancer. There is some evidence to suggest that use of parabens and exposure to sunlight can hasten skin aging. (Ironically, parabens are often included in anti-aging products.)


Pronounced thalates, this frequently used ingredient shows up in a number of places in our lives, not just in beauty care products. Think plastics, medical devices, glue, building materials and more. (Yuck.) Phthalates are used to gel, emulsify, coat, lubricate or stabilize end products. Phthalates are frequently found in nail polish, perfume, hair spray and makeup and is a known hormone disruptor like the two ingredients above and a suspected carcinogen.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate/Sodium Laurel Ether Sulfate

These ingredients are used in shampoos, soaps and toothpaste to make them foamy. They are suspected hormone disruptors and carcinogens, although this has not been proven. They can cause skin and eye irritation, however. Sodium Laurel Ether Sulfate (SLES) has been known to contain 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen (discussed next). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been monitoring the levels of 1,4-dioxane in beauty products and the industry has been slowly phasing it out. You’ll know products are SLES free (and, therefore, 1,4-dioxane free) because the product label will likely proclaim it boldly.


This is a process, not an ingredient, so you won’t see it listed on any product labels. The process, called ethoxylation, refers to an industrial process whereby ethylene oxide is added to phenols and alcohols to create phthalates and SLES. There is no evidence the process causes problems in humans, animals or the environment, but the additive 1,4-dioxane is another matter. It is a suspected carcinogen, is toxic to animals and humans, leeches easily into groundwater and is on the watch list of the FDA (see above). In 2008, testing sponsored by the U.S. Organic Consumers Association found 1,4-dioxane in nearly half of the organic personal care products tested. If that’s true for organic products, what do you think the percentage is for non-organic products?


Such a simple concept, right? You’d think fragrance would be a natural additive but it’s typically not. In fact, a fragrance can contain up to 500 different chemical ingredients. And you’ll never know this because fragrance is protected by the beauty industry’s “trade secret laws.” This means you won’t see the ingredients in fragrance listed anywhere. It’s a secret. What’s not a secret is that many products contain fragrances that are composed of harmful chemicals that can make us sick including allergens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, etc. So any time you buy a product with a pleasant smell, you really don’t know what you’re getting.

Never fear – the solution isn’t to stop using beauty products. You can see how your brands stack up in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. You can also look up individual ingredients, in case you’re curious to know more about them. You can also check out “No More Dirty Looks: The Truth about Your Beauty Products – and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics” by O’Connor and Spunt.

If you have read this far its not to late for a shameless plug. Better Life our co-branded retail partner has recently released a line of hand soaps and lotions that are free from all of these harmful ingredients. Its a safe place to start when looking for new products.

Like anything in life, it pays to know what you’re using. Here’s to a greener lifestyle!

Founded in 2008, Better Life Maids, based in St. Louis, Missouri, is a professional “green” house cleaning service. Having created a unique partnership with Better Life, a natural household cleaning products manufacturer, Better Life Maids is the first franchise green house cleaning service to co-brand with a product line, which creates both a greater consumer experience and a better franchisee opportunity. The service and products are centered being earth/environmentally friendly in order to protect your home and family from the ill effects of toxic products while also protecting the planet. More information about Better Life Maids green house cleaning franchise can be found at or to find out more about Better Life and their line of natural household cleaning products visit

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