Safer Skincare, Better Beauty


According to the Environmental Working Group, the average adult uses 9 personal care products daily which amounts to an exposure of 126 unique chemical ingredients per day (FYI, this gets added to our daily dose of hazardous chemicals from air, water, food and other consumer products.)


The reality is that most people don’t know what’s in the products they’re putting in their skin every single day.


And yes, I said IN. Because here’s the thing, your skin is your largest organ (accounting for more than 10% of your body mass) so whatever you brush, paint or slather onto it gets absorbed into your skin AND into your body directly and is a faster route to your bloodstream than actually eating these chemicals.


Scary, right?

I mean, we work out. We eat healthy foods. We focus on trying to get adequate sleep and manage our stress but then many of us unknowingly cover our bodies in questionable, and even harmful ingredients.  And many of these potentially harmful ingredients have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues and hormone disruption.

What we put on our skin matters and right now, there is a lack of regulation in the personal care and cosmetic industry.  In fact, here are some of the eye-opening facts I discovered recently that terrified me:

  • The United States has introduced over 80,000 chemicals since 1938 and only 10% of those chemicals have safety data
  • The European Union has banned 1,400 chemical ingredients from all personal care products
  • Canada has banned roughly 600 ingredients and the US has banned or restricted 30


Under current law, neither Health Canada nor the FDA require cosmetics companies to conduct safety assessments on their products. Harmful ingredients can be easily masked under confusing or deceptive titles like “fragrance”, which is in my opinion, one of the worst offender because under international IP law, companies are not required to list the ingredients that go into their fragrances. And what’s more, they may even be listed, plain and simple, on the label, but with no messages to inform consumers of their potentially harmful effects.


So that leaves it up to us, as the consumers of these products to be responsible for what we put on our bodies because many companies are not, in fact, looking out for our health.


It’s not always so easy to discern the harmless from the potentially harmful.  Which is why today, I wanted to talk about some toxic chemicals in our makeup and personal care products in order to help you be better informed and make healthier choices when it comes to your daily personal care routine!


Here is a list of the chemical usual suspects to watch out for, also known as the “Dirty Dozen”, according to the David Suzuki Foundation:

BHA and BHT. These are used as preservatives in moisturizers and makeup. Both are thought to be endocrine disruptors (chemicals that can interfere with hormones) and have been linked to cancer.

Coal-tar dyes. These are dyes that will have “Cl” followed by a five-digit number on the label (or in the United States, “FD&C” followed by the colour). These dyes are potentially carcinogenic and may be contaminated with toxic heavy metals.

DEA, MEA and TEA. These chemicals give moisturizers and shampoos a creamy, foamy texture, but they can also react with other chemicals to form cancer-causing nitrosamines.

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Formaldehyde functions mainly as a preservative in shampoo, nail care, baby products, deodorants, toothpaste, cleaning products, hairspray and cosmetics.

Fragrance (a.k.a. parfum). Even products marked “unscented” may contain fragrance, so it's important to look at the label on the package of your personal care items.  Unfortunately for us, fragrances are often considered “trade secrets,” which means that manufacturers don't have to disclose the chemicals that make up the fragrance. Fragrances trigger allergic reactions, respiratory issues like asthma, headaches and hormonal disruptions. 

Parabens. These preservatives are found in a wide range of beauty products and have been linked to hormone disruption and breast cancer.

PEG. These compounds are used in many cosmetic cream bases, as well as in conditioners and deodorants, and can be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane.

Petrolatum. This ingredient is a petroleum product, which is most commonly used for shine and as a moisture barrier in cosmetics and skin-care products like lipstick, lip balm and moisturizer. Petroleum products may be contaminated with toxic chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), or parabens that can disrupt hormone function.

Phthalates. These plasticizer chemicals make personal-care products easier to handle and apply. Phthalates are a group of chemicals that may be disruptive to the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. Such interference can lead to developmental, reproductive, and neurological damage.

Siloxanes. Anything that ends in “-siloxane” or “-methicone” falls into this category. These chemicals are used as moisturizers and softeners in makeup and hair-care products, but they may also interfere with hormone function and are toxic to the reproductive organs.

Sodium laureth (or lauryl) sulfate. Also known as SLES and SLS, these two chemicals were initially used as industrial cleaners in car-wash soaps and engine degreasers and now produce the foam associated with a wide variety of personal-care products, especially those with foaming properties, such as shampoos and bubble bath. SLES and SLS can be irritating to sensitive skin and can be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane.

Triclosan. This antibacterial compound found in toothpastes, antiperspirants, soaps and hand sanitizers. Tricolsan is linked to skin sensitivity, liver damage, hormone disruption and may cause cancer. In addition, research is showing that those antibacterial soaps aren't the miracle product everyone thought - the chemicals in them disrupt our microbiome (which is essential for gut health), and can impact antibiotic resistance.

I can totally appreciate that this list is overwhelming. When I first learned about the impact these chemicals could have on my health, I was shocked at how many of the everyday, seemingly harmless products I owned contained these ingredients. I wanted to take everything I owned and throw it in the garbage (I can be a bit extreme when I get passionate about something!) but I realized that 1) it wasn’t practical and 2) I had no idea what products I could choose to replace them that were actually safer.

Today, I want to help you avoid feeling like you have to do the former and give you some helpful guidance on how to do the latter.

You have the right to know if the products you use on a daily basis are safe and be informed so that you can take steps to phase out products (and brands) that contain some of these risky chemicals.


Start by going on a tour of your bathroom to find out exactly what is in the skin smoothers, odour obliterators and BB (or CC) creams you cannot live without. Then:

1. Simplify
Choose products with simpler ingredient lists and fewer synthetic chemicals. Avoid synthetic fragrance by skipping products with “fragrance” on the label, and use fewer products overall.

2. DIY
Some personal care products are easy to make yourself, and this can be a fun project or something you can involve friends in who also want cleaner personal care products.  There are tons of resources online and people who run workshops to show you how to make your own sugar or salt scrubs or body oils, using simple, organic ingredients.

3. Research Products Yourself
Since the beauty industry is largely unregulated, it’s up to you to do your own research to find the safest products. There are no legal standards for personal care products labeled as “pure,” “natural” or “organic,” so look beyond the marketing claims and read labels carefully.

After doing my own safe cosmetic research, I have aligned myself with Beautycounter, a California-based start-up selling non-toxic makeup, hair, baby and skincare products and am a proud consultant. The leaders of Beautycounter are working in Washington and meeting with members of Senate to fight for more health protective laws so that someday we won’t have to scour an ingredient list before making a purchase — and then give up and settle for whatever is on the shelf (or fall prey to brands that practice greenwashing). I’ve been burned – LITERALLY – multiple times from this!

Beautycounter has banned the use of more than 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals through their “Never List”, all while making products that perform and feel as indulgent as any other luxe brand for makeup or skincare. Double win!

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4. Use Available Free Resources

To find out whether your go-to products are safe or not, try the Think Dirty Shop Clean app. This easy-to-use resource ranks the safety of specific products on a scale of 1-10 and offers up cleaner solutions. It is one of the easiest ways to learn about the potentially toxic ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products.


There’s also EWG’s Skin Deep database, where you can look up products you use regularly, find out whether the ingredients are safe, check out how your favourite companies stack up and search for safer alternatives.


5. Get Involved

While it’s possible – and becoming easier – to reduce toxic exposures in your home by buying safer products, we still have a lot of work to do. The good news is that the power is in your hands (and in your wallet), so vote with your dollar! Whether or not you decide to try out brands like Beautycounter, where you spend your money counts and sends a strong message about what you will and will no tolerate when it comes to your health. Money talks and when you choose to spend your money on products that not only feel good, but DO GOOD, you are changing the game by educating and increasing awareness around an issue I believe is incredibly important: the exposure to toxic chemicals through skincare and cosmetic products and the need for safer products. 

Our collective voices are being heard, consumers are demanding safer products and we are starting to see the industry shift, albeit slowly.


A note on progress over perfection

I appreciate that I may have totally freaked you out with this post. Trust me, I get it. After taking a class in nutrition school and learning all about this stuff, I felt paralyzed in fear that I had been unknowingly exposing myself to harsh chemicals {that could kill me} for YEARS. But as I started educating myself on this topic, in the same way I did with nutrition, I started making changes gradually. I focused on adding more good stuff IN rather than feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff I had to take OUT.


Do I think it’s realistic for me to use 100% safe beauty products? No, not right now. But I can always make safe-r options. As it relates to makeup and personal care products, my plan is to replace things with Beautycounter as I run out of my current brand and see if I like it. If not, I’ll send it back. I’m toying with the idea of keeping a running list on my blog of things that I try and love (let me know if that would be of interest to you, mmmmk?).


And, like I do with food, I pick my battles, do my best, and move on with life. It’s about progress, not perfection after all. Mostly, I'm thankful and really happy that we live in a world that offers up options to make safer and healthier choices in the products we use, and consume each and every day.



Disclaimer: If you shop for Beautycounter through me, I do make a small commission, just like any other affiliate links I use. I do not link to products that I wouldn’t personally buy, so rest assured I won’t refer you to crap! And you do not pay more for a product by buying it through me.