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Chemical Free Product Guides:
How to Choose Chemical Free Hand Soap

chemical free hand soap

What parent doesn’t melt when their kids bring home macaroni art and pipe cleaner animals from school? But sometimes they bring home stuff that’s not as cute – like the latest virus making the playground rounds. With the school year underway, halting the spread of sickness at school and around the office is on a lot of parents’ minds, and effective handwashing is a great first line of defense against bugs. The Center for Disease Control refers to handwashing as a “do-it-yourself vaccine,” for being such a powerful way to “remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others.” Unfortunately, the hand soaps we use to try to stay healthy commonly contain toxic substances that can harm our health. Even hand soaps labelled as “natural” commonly contain toxic ingredients because there are no federal regulations stipulating criteria for personal care products labeled as “natural”. That means even hand soaps that seem to be innocent enough with their flowers & fruits often still contain chemicals associated with health risks like:

  • hormone disruption
  • organ, developmental & neurotoxicity
  • allergies & asthma

The good news is that it’s actually fairly easy to choose a safer, toxic chemical free hand soap. We’re getting you started with your handy hitlist of the top 6 chemicals to avoid.

How to Choose a Chemical Free Hand Soap: Top 6 Ingredients to Avoid

1. Fragrances

Most hand soaps contain fragrances. You can see the word “fragrance” listed on product labels, but it is impossible to know what that means because the fragrance industry isn’t required to disclose the ingredients used in their products.  This means there could be hundreds of ingredients in one fragrance. Why should you be concerned? Fragrances are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream where they pose health risks including endocrine disruption, organ toxicity, allergies, asthma, neurotoxicity and cancer. Fragrances also frequently contain phthalates (which won’t be listed on labels), which are associated with hormone disruption, birth defects and developmental toxicity. Even “natural” fragrances aren’t safe to use because they can trigger allergies & can also contain phthalates. Given fragrances don’t add to the efficacy of your hand soap and introduce some scary health risks, we think they are well worth avoiding.

2. Parabens

Parabens are preservatives that are used in a wide array of different personal care products in the United States, including hand soaps. They mimic the behavior of estrogen in the body and are associated with endocrine disruption, cancer, and developmental toxicity. They are also toxic to the environment. To avoid parabens, avoid hand soap containing ingredients ending in –paraben.

3. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is used as a surfactant and emulsifier to add foaming & sudsing benefits in hand soaps. The health concerns with this are organ system toxicity and irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. Even more concerning is the contaminant that can form as a by-product of the manufacturing process called 1,4-dioxane. This nasty chemical is a known carcinogen.

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is also a surfactant common in hand soaps, meaning it helps reduce surface tension and increases foaming power. Health concerns with this one include irritation to the eyes, lungs, and skin. Studies have shown concerns about non-reproductive organ system toxicity. Aerosolized products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate or that are used around the eyes and skin have been classified as human irritants by Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessments, and some studies have linked sodium lauryl sulfate with developmental, endocrine, or reproductive issues. The CDC lists several negative health effects that can occur as a result of exposure to sodium lauryl sulfate depending on the type of exposure. When this ingredient is inhaled, it can cause coughing and a sore throat. Contact with the skin or eyes can cause redness or pain. Ingesting sodium lauryl sulfate can lead to nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.  It’s hazardous to the environment, particularly aquatic life. We think those suds and foam that make hand soaps prettier to look at aren’t worth the risks and that skipping them can be a big step towards a toxic chemical free hand soap.

5. Methylisothiazolinone & Methylchloroisothiazolinone

Methylisothiazolinone & methylchloroisothiazolinone are preservatives used to inhibit bacteria growth in lots of personal care products including hand soaps. Some of the health risks associated with these preservatives include skin irritation, lung and respiratory issues and neurotoxicity. When you’re searching for chemical free hand soaps, make sure to check for this common preservative, as sometimes they are used in more “natural” products to replace other nasty preservatives, like parabens.

5. Cocamidopropyl betaine

Cocamidopropyl betaine is a synthetic detergent and surfactant that is used to increase the foaming action of cleansing products and moderate the viscosity of liquids. As a synthetic surfactant, cocamidopropyl betaine is found in a number of personal hygiene products including hand soaps. Health concerns around cocamidopropyl betaine include allergic skin reaction, contact dermatitis and environmental toxicity. Increasing rates of sensitization in the population led to cocamidopropyl betaine being named Allergen of the Year in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. This one can show up under different names so to avoid it, look for a chemical free hand soap that doesn’t have these ingredients listed: CADG, Cocamidopropyl betaine, Cocamidopropyl dimethyl glycine, Cocoamphocarboxypropionate, Cocoamphodiproprionate, and Disodium cocoamphodipropionate.

6. Triclosan

Triclosan is a substance that’s used as an antibacterial agent in hand soaps. You’ve probably read that the FDA finally banned this nasty one in Sept 2016 and gave manufacturers 1 year to either re-formulate or pull their product using this chemical from the market. That means that you probably shouldn’t have to watch out for it too much longer, but we felt we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it. Risks are that it can accumulate over time in the body and cause hormonal imbalances and organ system toxicity.

Learn More

At Force of Nature, we’re dedicated to not just helping families avoid toxic chemicals in their household cleaners, but also to helping you find the right resources to educate you on how to reduce your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep product database is a great resource to help you identify toxic ingredients in the products you use and to find new, safer products. We’ve also created Chemical Free Product Guides like this one for a wide range of household & personal care products.

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