Label Poise: Ingredients, Chemicals, Extracts, Oh My! Part I

What to avoid when shopping for cosmetics, consumer products, and food.  There are various ingredients that I avoid when purchasing cosmetics and personal care products.  Often times it is because the chemical is toxic or synthetically derived or it is partially for the aforementioned reasons and because it is nothing more than a cheap filler in a product.  The following are a list of ingredients that I avoid; classification, code names, and reason will be listed.

Beware! (User Discretion)

Mineral Oil aka Parrafinium Liquidium – This is a petrochemical typically derived from crude oil.  It can be found in high concentrations (one of the first 5 ingredients, more on this later) in a variety of lotions, hair lotions, ‘grease’ and conditioners (deep, leave-in, and rinse out), however it appears in highest concentrations to products marketed toward African-Americans.  Mineral Oil prevents moisture from entering or leaving the hair shaft.  This can often lead to hair breakage and clogged pores on the scalp.

Silicones aka Amodimethicone, Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cyclomethicone – These are a variety of synthetic chemical polymers derived from silica.  They are found in hair conditioners (deep, rinse out or leave in), lotions, hair lotions, deodorants and antiperspirants, foundations, mascara, etc.  Silicones are not known to be toxic; there has been a fair amount of controversy over this subject, but again they are not known to be toxic.  They are, in my opinion, cheap fillers that coat the surface (hair, skin) they come into contact with.  I am more tolerant of silicones in skin lotions, however, I do not use hair products of any kind that have silicones anywhere on the ingredients list.  Period.  Silicones give the appearance of healthy shiny hair, but don’t be fooled it is just an appearance.  Silicones, similar to mineral oil, often prevent moisture from entering or leaving the hair shaft, which can result in hair breakage (particularly if you have dry hair).  Additionally, most silicones are not water soluble (will rinse out with water or a ‘no poo’) therefore you must use a sulfate shampoo to remove them to avoid build-up on your hair.

Sulfates aka Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), – Sulfates are foaming agents commonly found in shampoos.  Sulfates are known skin irritants.  The Journal of the American College of Toxicology states that SLS has a “degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties.”  Sulfates can be extremely drying, particularly for curly and coily hair.

Parabens aka Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben – These are synthetic esters of ‘p-hydrobenzoic acid.’  Parabens ensure that microorganisms do not develop in your products after being on the shelf (or your bathroom cabinent) for extended periods.  There is no conclusive evidence that parabens are toxic or harmful.  Limited studies have found parabens to mimic estrogren, or be linked (not causing) breast cancer.  Grape seed extract and Japanese Honeysuckle Flower Extract are natural preservatives (not significant enough to be effective) as it has antimicrobial properties (parabens are similar to their structure, not the other way around).  Use at your own discretion as the scientific basis of their toxicity is inconclusive.  (Author’s Note: Some of the organizations that are refuting claims against parabens are industry affiliated, so the validity of their claims may be questionable.)

High Fructose Corn Syrup – Chances are you eat this multiple times a day on a regular basis.  Despite the advertisements you may have seen on tv, HFCS is NOT ‘real’ cane sugar.  HFCS is made from corn and is very cheap to make being that corn is one of the most subsidized crops in the United States; most corn (and its products, corn fed to chickens, cows, etc.) is genetically modified (GMO) unless its certified organic.  HFCS has been linked to a multitude of health impacts including obesity, cancer, liver damage and heart disease.  Take a look in your cabinets, it is in everything from bread to barbeque sauce.  HFCS is not natural and it is not biochemically processed in your body the same as cane sugar.


Toluene – Commonly found in nail polish.  Toluene is an extremely volatile chemical (it likes to vaporize and mix with air) therefore its greatest threat is through inhalation exposure (the fumes you smell when you paint your nails).  Inhalation of toluene can cause dizziness, nausea, or even death at high doses.  This ingredient has been phased out of many nail polish formulas, but not all.

Formaldahyde aka Formaldahyde Resin; Formaldehyde Releasers: DMDM Hydantonin , Imidazolidinyl urea, Hydroxymethylglycinate, Diazolidinyl urea.  Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen in the US and EU.  Formaldehyde is not common in cosmetics and personal care products, however formaldehyde releasers (react to release formaldehyde) are present in various conditioners, shampoos, and foundations.  Though the quantities are often low as they are used as preservatives, I would avoid these ingredients.

This is a multiple part series, so check back soon for additional posts!  All ingredients mentioned in these posts will be available in list form on the Educate Yourself menu on this site.  Thank you for reading!

What ingredients and chemicals do you avoid?

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