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A Mother’s wish: healthy beauty that is easy on the environment

May 4, 2015

What is new:

  • Toronto City Council will consider this week on a motion from its Executive Committee urging provincial and federal governments to ban plastic microbeads from personal care products.
  • In March 2015, the House of Commons passed a motion that Environment Canada study hazards of microbeads and propose an action plan.
  • Ontario Bill 75, the Microbead Elimination and Monitoring Act 2015, passed second reading and is at committee.
  • In April, the Personal Care Products Safety Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate to boost FDA control and oversight of personal care products. Manufacturers would have to register, to label all ingredients, and to report health effects of product use. Annually, five questionable, widely-used ingredients would be evaluated for health and environmental impacts, and products deemed dangerous could be recalled. Several major cosmetics companies already support the bill.

The following summary is offered for reprint, with attribution to Prevent Cancer Now.

Does beauty really have to come at a cost?

Grit used in mechanics’ hand cleaners has been a long-time stalwart to scratch and wash away oily dirt. So, how about naturally oily skin? Well, before you could say “zit,” marketing met vanity, a facecloth was deemed insufficient and beauty soaps started to include the ground shells of seeds. This gave way to tiny plastic beads that are now building up in rivers, lakes and oceans. After slipping through water and sewage treatment systems, microbeads absorb toxins that then accumulate up the food chain, harming ecosystems and ending up on our dinner plates.

This week Toronto’s voice is being added to this cause. Ontario is considering legislation to ban and monitor microbeads, on the heels of several U.S. states.

Other U.S. governments and European countries are planning similar actions. Environment Canada is studying the issue. In response to a public campaign, L’Oreal, The Body Shop, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have agreed to remove microbeads from their products.

Microbeads is but one among a host of questionable ingredients in personal care products. According to the non-profit research organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), women use an average of 12 products daily, exposing them to 168 chemicals. Many ingredients in products such as bodywash, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion and cosmetics may be harmless, but many have been shown or are suspected to be toxic, including disrupting hormonal activity or development, and causing sensitivities, allergies or cancer. Health Canada established a Cosmetics Hotlist of restricted and prohibited chemicals after detecting toxins such as lead and mercury in cosmetics.

A good first step in greening personal care is to switch to products without fragrance, parfum, antibacterial chemicals (triclosan, triclocarban) or microbeads (polyethylene or polypropylene).

Products can contain countless combinations of unlabelled fragrance ingredients that are absorbed by the body, and detected in urine.

Although antibacterial soaps are widely promoted, there is no evidence they work better than plain soap to prevent infections in the community, and they may cause immune suppression, increased allergies/sensitization, decreased thyroid hormone, pollution of waterways, and even promote resistant bacteria in fresh water and in the community.

Possible links between breast cancer and underarm products persist, as cancers are more common on the outer aspect of the breast, and aluminum (a common antiperspirant ingredient) was found in higher concentrations in nipple fluids from cancer subjects versus control subjects. Endocrine disrupting phthalates in scented products also promote breast cancer.

Many non-toxic alternatives exist. The term “organic” (along with a certification reference) is generally a reliable indicator, but beware misleading green-sounding descriptions such as ‘natural’ that are not backed by standards, and may also be toxic.

Keeping things simple is healthier and lighter on your wallet – like creating your own DIY personal care products or purchasing least toxic products.

Individual use of personal care products may seem like a small amount until it is multiplied by the millions or billions of others using similar products daily. Wastewater treatment systems were not designed to remove these chemicals, and we are already seeing some of the long-term environmental and health hazards their continued discharge into the environment may present. Better to stick to safer alternatives, before more toxins slip down the drain.


It can be hard to decipher the chemical names and acronyms in fine print on product labels and it can seem as if consumers are on their own. The top ingredients to avoid include:

  • fragrance or ‘parfum’
  • coal tar derivatives
  • dark hair dyes
  • phthalates
  • parabens
  • the antibacterial ingredients triclosan and triclocarban
  • formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (e.g. quaternium-15, dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol))
  • nanoparticles
  • talcum powder (talc), as it is linked to lung and other cancers, possibly from asbestos contamination

Some organizations have examined personal care products:

Safer and DIY personal care products:

  • Ecoholic Body Blog – Click Here
  • 75 DIY non-toxic personal care recipes – Click Here
  • Natural Beauty Alchemy: Make Your Own Organic Cleansers, Creams, Serums, Shampoos, Balms, and More Countryman Know How ( – Click Here
  • Queen of Green recipes for personal care and much more – Click Here

Prevent Cancer Now is a civil society organization including citizens, scientists and health professionals working to stop cancer before it starts, through education and advocacy to eliminate preventable causes of cancer.

For further information contact:

Meg Sears, PhD
Co-chair and science advisor, Prevent Cancer Now