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Toxicity Series: Personal Care

by Cade Copeland |

Not all personal care products are good for your skin but there are certainly some that are better than others.

In a world where we are increasingly aware of what put into our bodies, it is no surprise that we're becoming equally aware of the ingredients in our personal care products and what we put on our skin and bodies. 

But which product ingredients are good and which are bad? You don't need to be a dermatologist to know the answer to that one. Anyone who's skincare-aware will recognize the the biggest names on the naughty list: parabens, sodium laurel sulfates (SLS), petrolatum, and fluoride. Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge to recognize what these ingredients are, what their purpose is, why you want to avoid them, and what to use instead. 



Parabens are a type of preservative introduced in the 1950's that are commonly used in health and beauty products. Their goal is to prevent mold and bacteria growth within these products. There are, unfortunately, several different names for parabens, but the most commonly used names to look out for on labels are butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben. 

Parabens are used in products to allow them to last on the shelf for months and sometimes even years. When you use any product on your body, you will absorb its ingredients into your skin. A study from 2004 found traces of parabens in breast tissue in 19 out of 20 women that were studied proving that parabens can be absorbed directly into the skin and can remain in the tissue. Parabens are thought to be hormone disrupters because they mimic estrogen. Too much estrogen can increase breast tissue cell division and cause tumors to grow. This is the reason that many people believe that it could be linked to breast cancer and hormonal/reproductive issues.

If these reasons were't enough, recent studies have also shown that parabens can be bad for the environment. For the first time ever, parabens are being found in marine animals and mammals. This is happening when we use products with parabens and then wash them down our drains and into our sewage system. 

Tons of products that we use daily can contain parabens. They are most commonly found in conditioner, face scrubs, shaving cream, lotions, deodorants, and cosmetics. Be sure to check your labels and do your research when looking for these products. 


Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS)

Sodium lauryl sulfates (SLS) are another commonly seen ingredient in many personal care products. The other most commonly seen names on labels for SLS are sodium laurilsulfate or sodium dodecyl sulfate. SLS are used as cleansing and foaming agents. The most recent safety assessment study from the International Journal of Toxicology in 1983 found SLS to not be harmful as long as it is used briefly and rinsed off of the skin, such as with shampoos and soaps. That same assessment showed that there is a small chance of it to be a skin irritant if continuously used, especially if it is used near your eyes or in household cleaners that you may not rinse off fully.

The problem is that SLS can be found in so many of our products that we use every single day. We see above that there is a chance for it to be an irritant with continual use.

With all of that said, it seems that SLS proves little to no harm to our bodies however, that may not be the whole truth. Many studies have shown that small doses of SLS are not highly toxic, however with repeated exposure it can begin to take a toll and bioaccumulate. Meaning this somewhat harmless ingredient could potentially cause damage over time. 

We encourage you to further your research and if you want to avoid these chemicals, there are tons of sulfate-free products on the market. 



Petrolatum is a petroleum-based product that exists in a semisolid state, more commonly known as petroleum jelly. It is used in topical personal care products such as moisturizer, conditioner, baby creams, sunscreen, and lip balms. It forms a a water-repellant barrier against the evaporation of the skin’s moisture. Petrolatum can also be found in foam mattresses and on other furniture. 

Petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Some studies suggest that exposure to PAHs may be associated with cancer.  The European Union classifies petrolatum as a carcinogen and restricts its use in cosmetics to only when the full refining history is known, and it can be proven non-carcinogenic. 

Fortunately, avoiding this potential toxin can be relatively easy as long as you know what to look for on your personal care labels. 



Fluoride is most commonly found in toothpaste but is also added to our water system. Fluoride is used to kill bacteria in our mouths and prevent tooth decay and cavities. To see why we don't recommend this in our toothpaste and for some brand recommendations, head over to our Oral Health blog post.

As for our water supply, we have a few different recommendations. Read this excerpt from a paper published from Harvard:

"Fluoride itself may be dangerous at high levels. Excessive fluoride causes fluorosis—changes in tooth enamel that range from barely noticeable white spots to staining and pitting. Fluoride can also become concentrated in bone—stimulating bone cell growth, altering the tissue’s structure, and weakening the skeleton.
Perhaps most worrisome is preliminary research in laboratory animals suggesting that high levels of fluoride may be toxic to brain and nerve cells. And human epidemiological studies have identified possible links to learning, memory, and cognition deficits, though most of these studies have focused on populations with fluoride exposures higher than those typically provided by U.S. water supplies." 


For more info, check out this film all about the potential toxicity of flouride in our water system. 

It is important to note that all of these studies have found that the potential danger is in high levels of fluoride and it isn't proven to be dangerous in regular use. But there is evidence that removing added fluoride from our water and toothpaste has no effect, so if we don't need it, and it could potentially have risks, why use it?

The best way to be sure that your drinking water is free of added fluorides is to use a Reverse Osmosis water filtration system. Down in Florida, Dr. Cade recommends Wind Water Works, however there are tons of great options out there!


We hope more than anything that you come away from this with a little more knowledge and comfort in knowing what to look for on labels and what to avoid in your personal care products. As always, we recommend that you do your own research in order to make the best decision for you and your family. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!


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