With so many different products in the store when we're looking for body care or household essentials, it can be overwhelming to make a choice. When you have sensitive skin, it's even more difficult: what should you choose? Natural products? Fragrance-free ones? And what about our ecological values?
To help you make more informed choices for yourself and the planet, we thought we'd list some of the ingredients that can sometimes be found in products marketed towards people with sensitive skin or an intolerance to fragrances and explain why they should be avoided. Because (unfortunately) just because a company says its products are biodegradable and unscented doesn't mean they're really better for you and the environment!
We've also prepared a handy list of quality seals and resources for you to consult, so that you'll be able to find your way around more easily when it comes to shopping.
After greenwashing, sensiwashing?
Greenwashing is a subject that is frequently discussed in the media. It is the unfortunate tendency of some companies to use terms such as "green", "organic" or "natural" on their labels when in fact their products are not eco-friendly at all. Since these terms are not rigorously regulated or controlled in America, it becomes difficult for the consumer to make sense of them. That's why official certifications can sometimes be useful to guide us.
But what about all those companies that claim their products are designed for sensitive skin when in fact they contain ingredients that can be irritating? There is currently no term to describe this phenomenon, which is little discussed and studied to date. This is why it is important for consumers to know how to read labels and recognize ingredients. And we are here to help you!
5 Ingredients to Avoid in Unscented Household Products and Skin Care
These surprising ingredients can be found on the labels of some personal care or household cleaning products that have been marketed towards people with sensitive skin or fragrance sensitivities and emphasizing their low impact on the environment... and yet! Let's see what's behind these hard-to-pronounce names.
This synthetic antimicrobial preservative found in cosmetics is authorized in Canada. However, phenoxyethanol is suspected of being toxic for young children, for the liver in animals, and can cause contact urticaria and dermatitis. The danger with this type of ingredient, allowed in formulations when used in small amounts, is accumulation. For example, if you use a hand soap containing phenoxyethanol in addition to using shower gel and shampoo with the same ingredient on a daily basis... it starts to add up! And let's not forget that our epidermis is our largest organ.
This emulsifying ingredient or surfactant of synthetic origin is not toxic in itself, but its manufacturing process is problematic. This process requires the use of ethylene oxide, a carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic gas. It is listed as a toxic substance in Annex I of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999). This ingredient is not found in the final product but the latter may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a molecule classified as probably carcinogenic (group B2) by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In particular, 1,4-dioxane is also resistant to biodegradation, making it more likely to migrate into groundwater.
Can be used as an antimicrobial preservative or contained in a fragrance, this ingredient is a recognized allergen, authorized in Canada for topical use if the formula contains less than 3% benzyl alcohol (non-rinsed products, such as body creams) and 10% maximum (for products that can be rinsed, such as shower gels, for example). In Europe, the regulation is stricter, authorizing only its cosmetic use up to 1%.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
As for Glycereth-2 Cocoate, sodium laureth sulfate poses a risk of contamination with 1,4-dioxane, a potentially carcinogenic molecule. It is also toxic for the environment.
There is a risk of contamination by nitrosamines: nitrosamines are substances formed by the reaction of an amine (like a protein) and a nitrosating agent. Nitrosamines are considered carcinogenic to humans. This ingredient is also a sensitizer and is toxic to aquatic life.
With the wide variety of cosmetic ingredients, it is the consumer's role to educate themselves and learn to read product labels carefully, much like one would read the list of ingredients in a food product. Also, since the percentage of ingredients is not listed on these labels, if it is important for you to prioritize truly hypoallergenic or biodegradable products, you'd better know which ingredients to avoid!
Fortunately, there are non-profit organizations that can help us understand ingredients.
The EWG VERIFIEDTM Safety Seal
Here's a source of information you can rely on to determine which ingredients and products are considered safe for the environment, you and your family. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an independent, non-profit organization that collects, analyzes and shares public information to protect human health and the environment. One of the great things about the EWG is that it makes it easy for the public to access, view and understand this information online. You don't have to be a scientist to understand EWG's research - it's meant to be easily understandable for all consumers.
The Skin Deep platform, created by the EWG, identifies more than 70,000 ingredients and products available on the market online and rates them in toxicity and regulatory databases. ATTITUDE products are also listed in the Environmental Working Group's databases.
California's Proposition 65
California's Proposition 65 was adopted at the end of the 1980s and aims to inform people through a list of ingredients known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. This list, which is updated annually, currently includes more than 900 toxic ingredients, and ATTITUDE regularly refers to it in order to keep up to date and avoid any ingredient that could be considered harmful.
The ECOLOGO® seal demonstrates that household and personal care products have undergone rigorous scientific testing or comprehensive verification to ensure compliance with strict environmental performance standards. These standards cover a range of criteria related to ingredients, energy, manufacturing and operations, health and environment, product performance and use, as well as product stewardship and innovation.
We know that the consumer has a heavy responsibility to ensure the quality of the products they use, so we wanted to be transparent. It is in all of our interests to learn how to choose products that are good for us, our families and the environment, and to open up the discussion so that these facts can be shared and protect as many people as possible. Fortunately, there are more and more non-profit organizations like EWG and ECOLOGO that are helping us make more informed choices.
In the meantime, keep this little self-defense guide about which ingredients to avoid in unscented skin care and household products handy, and be sure to check out our other blog posts to learn more about ingredients!
- 1-Propanaminium,... - Substance Information - ECHA (europa.eu)
- Chemical Substance - Cocamidopropyl Betaine (hc-sc.gc.ca)
- EWG Skin Deep® | What is COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE
- Nitrosamines | Cosmetics Info
- Environmental Defence Canada
- There's lead in your lipstick : toxins in our everyday body care and how to avoid them Deacon, GillianToronto : Penguin Canada, c2011.