Last year, we collaborated with MADE SAFE on a list of the top five ingredients to avoid when purchasing body, skin, and hair care products. It continues to be a great starting point for anyone looking to reduce the role of toxins in their daily life.

But with summer upon us, we’re likely using products like sunscreen, deodorant, or dry shampoo, and these all have ingredients we didn't cover two years ago.

Here is your guide to the five ingredients to avoid in products this summer: 

1. Oxybenzone

What? Oxybenzone is a chemical that forms a protective UV layer once absorbed into your skin. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates oxybenzone as an 8 on their toxicity rating scale, meaning it is one of the most toxic ingredients found in cosmetic products.

You may have seen stories lately about how Hawaii passed a sunscreen ban. Oxybenzone (along with octinoxate) is at the heart of that legislation. Starting in 2021, if you’re visiting any of the island’s beaches, you will be prohibited from wearing sunscreen with these toxins due to the damage it causes to coral reefs and fish populations.

Where? You’ll find oxybenzone in sunscreens and products with SPF protection.

How to avoid it? Look for mineral sunscreens that use zinc oxide or avobenzone as their primary UV protection. The EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens is a comprehensive directory with ratings and comparisons of many sunscreens you'll find on the market.

2. Parabens

What? Parabens are a family of preservatives that have a variety of chemical makeups, and are often used in combination to prevent bacterial growth in cosmetics. Unfortunately, these chemicals are classified as endocrine disruptors that are absorbed through skin, blood and the digestive system. They even have the ability to stimulate cancer cells.

Wait... What exactly is an "endocrine disruptor"?

According to the EWG, endocrine disruptors have the ability to:

  • Increase production of certain hormones
  • Decrease production of others
  • Imitate hormones
  • Turn one hormone into another
  • Interfere with hormone signaling
  • Tell cells to die prematurely
  • Compete with essential nutrients
  • Bind to essential hormones
  • Accumulate in organs that produce hormones

Where? You’ll find parabens in a wide array of cosmetics, moisturizers, and shampoos and conditioners.

How to avoid it? Many products now list “No parabens” right on the package to help consumers who are looking to avoid them. If you're not sure, just look at the ingredient list for anything with -paraben in the name, such as ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, etc.

3. Fragrance

What? In the same way that Coca Cola can list “flavoring” instead of their real recipe on a bottle, companies that manufacture everything from lotion to perfume are able to keep “fragrance” ingredients hidden because they may be proprietary. The trouble with not disclosing the real ingredients according to Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is that some of these mystery ingredients can be linked to serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies and sensitivities. 

Where? A 2016 study found that 99.1% of those in the U.S. who were surveyed had been exposed to fragranced products at least once a week from their own use, others’ use, or both. Most personal care products use a fragrance of some kind; these include sunscreen, shampoo, soap, body wash, deodorant, body lotion, makeup, facial cream, skin toner, serums, exfoliating scrubs and perfume.

How to avoid it? Look for products without fragrance or those that disclose their ingredients, instead of just listing "fragrance".

4. Triclosan

What? Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent that kills both good and bad bacteria, and was originally created as a surgical scrub for medical professionals. Just like parabens, triclosan is an endocrine disruptor (meaning it can affect our hormones), and there is evidence that it can impair thyroid and muscle function.

Where? Triclosan can be found in most deodorants and antiperspirants, as well as soaps and detergents, toothpaste and tooth whitening products, and shaving products.

How to avoid it? If you’re looking for a non-toxic deodorant this summer, try finding one that uses baking soda, cornstarch, coconut oil and essential oils. When it comes to soaps, look for products without triclosan listed as an ingredient or use plain soap and water. According to the Center for Safe Cosmetics, the FDA has found no evidence that antibacterial washes containing triclosan are any more effective at protecting against bacteria.

5. Butane

What? Butane is an ingredient used in aerosol sprays that helps propel the product at a faster rate. In rare cases, it's use has been linked to disrupting the heart's rhythm, causing cardiac arrest. This ingredient is actually prohibited from use in cosmetics in the European Union. 

Where? Many aerosol spray versions of dry shampoo, deodorant and antiperspirant, mousse, and hairspray contain butane. 

How to avoid it? A good place to start is to look for non-aerosol versions of the products listed above. But, butane can be found in many products, so keep an eye out for it when looking at the ingredient list. 

Want to Learn More?

If you'd like to learn more, check out our friends at MADE SAFE, Non-Toxic Revolution, Women’s Voices for the Earth, Environmental Working Group (EWG), and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. These nonprofits have made it their mission to research the ingredients in consumer products, educate on the risks and effects of exposure to toxic ingredients, and advocate for the use of safer ingredients.