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When we think of widely consumed substances that are harmful to the body, things like alcohol, tobacco, red meat and sugary sodas often come to mind. But now you’ll find more studies raising concerns over the safety of common ingredients found in popular everyday personal care products. Given the prevalence of diseases and disorders such as cancer, autism, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s and various allergies, there’s a great need to research the things we put on our bodies, not just in our bodies. Thankfully, more tests are being conducted on the safety of topical skin care products than ever before.


Dr. Linda Miles, D.O.M., Co-Founder and Chief Formulator of derma e®, vitamin-rich natural skincare, has a passion for product safety that goes beyond FDA requirements. Here she shares her views on 4 key common ingredients she believes everyone should avoid:


1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS) Uses:

  • Detergent found in approximately 90 percent of commercial shampoos, toothpastes, liquid soaps, body gels, sunblock, and similar products that “foam up”. Harms:
  • Skin irritation that can damage or alter skin cells
  • Inflamed lymph nodes
  • Premature hair loss
  • When used in toothpaste, SLS easily penetrates through the gums, as the gums are one of the quickest ways to introduce substances into the bloodstream



• Look for products labeled ‘SLS-free,’ or better yet, ‘sulfate-free.’ They may not ‘suds up’ as much as formulas that contain sulfates, but they will likely be gentler and safer. Today, more shampoos and cleansers are being made without SLS and other sulfates, so you should have a good selection to choose from.


2. Phthalates



• Plasticizing agent added to personal care products to promote flexibility and help the skin absorb substances. Used in fragrances, deodorants, hair spray, hair gels, hair mousse, body lotions and nail polish.



  • Endocrine disruptor that may damage male and female reproductive systems (male system has shown to be even more sensitive than the female system)
  • May disrupt hormones, interfering with normal brain function
  • May damage to the liver, kidneys, or lungs
  • May send signals in the body that could result in autism, breast cancer, testicular cancer, and reduced sperm counts



• Avoid personal care products with BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate), DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate) or DMP (dimethyl phthalate) in the ingredient list. Since artificial fragrances may also contain phthalates, look for products that are either fragrance-free, naturally fragranced/scented, or that specify they are using phthalate-free fragrances.


3. Benzoyl Peroxide



• OTC ingredient used in topical acne medications. Also used as a bleaching agent in some hair dyes and teeth whiteners.



  • Produces free radicals in the skin
  • Linked to tumor growth
  • Can cause excessive dryness or peeling of the skin
  • Can lead to premature skin aging



  • If you suffer from chronic acne, look for OTC acne medications that contain salicylic acid. If you have oily skin or only see occasional blemishes, try products with natural tea tree or willow bark.


4. Urea


• Moisturizer, preservative, pH adjuster. Found in moisturizers, cleansers, body lotions, foundations, shampoos, conditioners, styling mousses, lip balm, mascara, antiperspirants and more.



• Slowly and continuously releases small amounts formaldehyde, a human carcinogen

• Can be irritating and cause allergic reactions

• Can cause reproductive effects



• Avoid ingredients with the names diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea and other formaldehyde-releasing agents such as DMDM hydantoin and sodium hyroxymethylglycinate. Use products that contain natural moisturizers such as shea butter, cocoa butter, jojoba oil or aloe vera, or deeply hydrating hyaluronic acid.


In summary, it’s important to be educated on the ingredients you’re putting on your skin so you’re aware of the benefits as well as any potential risks. Get to know how topically applied ingredients may impact your body, which ingredients are deemed safe by scientific and governing bodies, and which ingredient are questionable and perhaps best to avoid. When in doubt, consider shopping retailers who have done the homework for you, such as Whole Foods Market or other natural stores. Ultimately, there’s nothing more important than the health, wellbeing and safety of you and your family.