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Ingredient Safety:
6 Toxic Preservatives Every Family Needs to Avoid

chemical free products & toxic preservatives to avoidAs a safety-conscious parent, you are probably careful to avoid toxic ingredients like phthalates (please skip those fragrances!) and triclosan.  What you might not know is that besides toxic fragrances & antibacterials, there is a whole other class of harmful chemicals that you should avoid. They could be in just about every liquid, cream or lotion that you and your family use.  Even the so-called natural or chemical free products you think are safer.  Baby wash? Check. Natural laundry detergent? Check. Hand soap? Check. Moisturizer? Check. Natural cleaners? Check.  And what are they? Ominous drumroll please…PRESERVATIVES.  They are in so many products because anything with water in it will start to grow bacteria unless there is a preservative added.  You can’t avoid all preservatives, but we are here to arm you with your hitlist of the most harmful preservatives so that you can shift to safer alternatives.

First, why should you be concerned? Because the preservatives below are among the most common irritants, skin sensitizers & contact allergens, and some are associated with endocrine disruption, reproductive, neuro and lung toxicity. Even worse, some of them are rampant in products labeled as “natural”, including cleaning products, hand soaps, laundry detergent and kids’ personal care products.  That’s because there are no federal standards dictating criteria for what cleaning or personal care products can be labeled as “natural”.  One thing to keep in mind is that you won’t always see these listed, because in some product categories, manufacturers aren’t required to disclose their full ingredient lists.  Cleaning products are an example.  If you see a product that doesn’t list its ingredients, assume the manufacturer is hiding something harmful and make a different choice.

The 6 toxic preservatives to avoid

1. Methylisothiazolinone:  This is found in products as varied as cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, body washes, baby wash, baby lotion, hand soaps, all-purpose cleaners, and laundry detergent. It’s associated with lung toxicity, neurotoxicity, and allergic reactions. The European Union, Canada and Japan have restricted or recommended limited use of this ingredient in personal care products.  This one is in a multitude of so-called “natural” products, despite its health risks.  Given its prevalence, we think avoiding methylisothiazolinone is one of the biggest steps you can take to make the shift to toxic chemical free products.

To avoid methylisothiazolinone, read product labels and steer clear of products that contain any of the following: Methylisothiazolinone; 3(2H)-Isothiazolone, 2-methyl-; 2-Methyl-3(2H)-isothiazolone; 2-Methyl-2H-isothiazol-3-one; 2-Methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one.

2. Parabens:  You may have read about these harmful chemicals because they often pop up in the news when a new health study is done.  Parabens are widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. They can build up in the body over time; the CDC has detected parabens in almost all Americans tested. They are linked to a multitude of health risks including cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation. 

Read ingredient labels to avoid parabens in products like cosmetics, shampoo, conditioners, and other hair products, as well as shaving creams, lotions, moisturizers, and deodorants. Products may list parabens under many different names, but all of them end with the word “-paraben” including: methyl paraben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben. The punchline: even if they claim to be “natural”, products with parabens are not safe, chemical free products.

3. Methylchloroisothiazolinone:  This one is also found in many personal care products, cleaning products, and cosmetics. Like methylchloroisothiazolinone, it can cause allergic reactions, and skin, eye, and lung irritation. Canada, Japan, and the European Union have all restricted its use.

You can avoid methylchloroisothiazolinone by reading product labels for the following ingredients: Methylchloroisothiazolinone; 3(2H)-Isothiazolone, 5-chloro-2-methyl-; Kathon CG 5243; 5-Chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one; 4-Isothiazolin-3-one, 5-chloro-2-methyl-; 5-Chloro-2-methyl-2H-isothiazol-3-one; 5-chloro-2-methyl-; 4-Isothiazolin-3-one.

4. Benzisothiazolinone:  This is an antimicrobial agent found in personal care products and cleaning products. It’s notorious as a skin, eye, and lung irritant and it’s also an environmental pollutant that’s toxic to fish.

Benzisothiazolinone can be avoided by steering clear of these ingredients: 1,2-Benzisothiazol-3(2H)-One; 1,2-Benzisothiazolin-3-One; 1,2Benzisothiazol3 (2H) One; Proxel XL 2Benzisothiazolin-3-One; Proxel PL.

5. BHA/BHT:  These are butylated compounds (butylated hydroxytoulene and butylated hydroxylanisole respectively) that are synthetically produced as preservatives used to keep oils in personal care products from going rancid. Both of these toxic chemicals mimic the behavior of estrogen in the body. As such, they’ve both been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possible or likely human carcinogens. They can also lower testosterone levels, affect thyroid hormone levels, adversely affect the quality of sperm, and cause behavioral problems in children. We recommend choosing chemical free products over those that contain BHA or BHT.

Read ingredient labels on products like lip glosses, lotions, and other personal care items to avoid BHA and BHT. These ingredients may be listed as butylated hydroxyanisole, BHA, butylated hydroxytoulene, or BHT.

6. Phenoxyethanol: This is used as a preservative and stabilizer in a variety of personal care products and cosmetics. Exposure to this chemical has been associated with allergic reactions, neurotoxicity, and skin, eye, and lung irritation. Japan and the European Union have both recognized the toxicity of phenoxyethanol.

Read ingredient labels to avoid this ingredient. Phenoxyethanol may be listed under any of the following names:  phenoxyethanol; 2-phenoxyethanol, euxyl k 400; 2-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether; 2-phenoxy-ethanol; 1-hydroxy-2-phenoxyethane; phe; 2-phenoxyethyl alcohol; ethanol, 2-phenoxy-; ethanol, 2phenoxy; ethylene glycol, monophenyl ether; phenoxytol; 2-phenoxyethanol.

Choosing Chemical Free Products

These 6 are widely used, but it is getting easier to avoid them. For example you are probably starting to see products labeled as “paraben-free”.  We think one of the hardest preservatives to avoid is methylisothiazolinone, given its presence in so many seemingly “natural” products.  Wherever possible, stick with products with full ingredient lists, without fragrances, & without these 6 preservatives.  A great example in cleaning products is Force of Nature, an all-purpose cleaner & deodorizer made from just salt, water & vinegar.  It’s just as effective as bleach but with no preservatives, fragrances, dyes, allergens or irritants.

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