Wednesday, October 20, 2010

David's Dirty Dozen: How to Avoid the Nasties in your Personal Products

The David Suzuki Foundation has listed 12 chemical nasties to avoid in shampoos, body washes & soaps, cosmetics and other personal hygiene products. My contribution is to help highlight some alternatives that contain minimal 'dirty-dozen' members. I wanted to go 'dirty-dozen'-free, but it doesn't seem possible, practically speaking....
I'm not too surprised - this was the cheapest shampoo I could find
  1. BHA and BHT (preservatives - they're also in cereals and packaged foods)
  2. Coal-tar dyes including p-phenylenediamine, and colours/colourants in the CI-##### family (#'s replace numbers - there's a whole host of different formulae). FD&C's and D&C's are the same - this is the American nomenclature (same chemicals)
  3. DEA - diethanolamine (also MEA and TEA), i.e. cocamide DEA
  4. Dibutyl pthalate (banned in the European Union but not yet in Canada - often in nail polishes)
  5. Formaldehyde-releasers including DMDM hydatonin, diazolidinyl urea, imidiazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (used primarily as preservatives)
  6. Parfum / "Fragrance" especially those containing DEP or dimethyl pthalates which usually aren't listed because these 'fragrances' are trade-marked. Pthalates are bad! They are currently being banned from kid's toys in Canada, but not your cosmetics!
  7. Parabens (i.e. methylparaben and anything ending in "-paraben"), used primarily as preservatives.
  8. PEG's (i.e. PEG-60, or related chemicals like propylene glycol)
  9. Petrolatum (the EU restricts its use in cosmetics - why doesn't Canada?!)
  10. Siloxanes (anything ending in "-siloxane", and chemcials like cyclomethicone)
  11. Sodium laureth sulfate (or "sulphate") and sodium lauryl sulfate (for similar reasons as the PEG's). This is a hard one to avoid, I'm afraid - they're types of detergents that foam and are therefore pretty ubiquitous in shampoos and body washes.
  12. Triclosan. I've said it before - don't misuse antibiotics! Bad things happen! The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is calling for a ban on this and other anti-bacterial compounds . . . and they know what they're talking about.
To hear WHY a chemical is on the list, follow the link to the David Suzuki Foundation's list.
They're out there! I've been slathering this on my skin...
Unfortunately, EchoClean shampoos and conditioners don't list their ingredients (which is technically illegal in Canada) and they haven't gotten back to me on my last email. And here I was all excited about a locally made, 'environmentally-sound' product. Hmmm. I think I'll postpone my excitement until I see the ingredients list now!

Well, EchoClean is certainly NOT the only option! LUSH products, which I have always loved, are made very locally (in fact, I've seen the warehouse where they're made from the SkyTrain!). Best of all, LUSH appears to offer some of the safest options for personal care products.
Lush on 4th Avenue (October)
They also respond to emails (albeit stock responses, but it's still a response!).

I visited and was thrilled that they freely and explicitly disclose the ingredients (which all manufacturers are supposedly required by law to do) and seem to encourage you to investigate. Thanks to this info, I'll be making some changes. Scroll down to the graphs to find out why I'll be switching to "Squeaky Green"!
Ah, LUSH. They do so many things right!
At first I was dismayed that virtually every LUSH shampoo contained not only sodium lauryl sulphate but cocamide DEA as well. I realised that it might be practically impossible to avoid all 12 of these 'dirty dozen' chemicals, and I temporarily gave up on this blog post.

But LUSH's email response encouraged me. Here are a few excerpts (it's a long email!) that I found particularly uplifting:
Here at LUSH we definitely are not fond of preservatives in general- by their very nature they kill microbes, and it is this reason that we make the majority of our products as solid as possible, as when a product is solid rather than liquid, it doesn’t need the preservatives that liquid products require to stay free of microbial growth.
Fantastic! I hadn't thought about my Method liquid soap (with a refillable bottle) as being WORSE for me, but they definitely made me rethink the whole approach. And the refillable bottle I haven't washed or attempted to pseudo-sterilize. Yuckers. I will be switching back to bar soap for a lower sodium lauryl sulphate load as soon as I finish up the refill pack!
For example a bar of soap by its nature doesn’t enable microorganisms to grow on it.
Yep, that's what I said in my earlier "homemade cleaning solutions" post. I love being right.
I love Alkmaar soap! Mmmmm!
The email highlights their solid shampoos and solid soaps by the virtue that all liquid products require more preservatives to be added (that's true - bacteria like moisture!) to prevent spoilage:
The solid products we offer are our body butters, massage bars, solid shampoo bars, solid conditioner, solid face serums, solid toner tabs, solid cleansers, soaps, hair hennas, bath ballistics, solid bubble bar slices, solid bath melts, emotibombs, sugar scrubs, deodorants, and solid perfumes! Whew, that’s a lot to list off! In our shops we also carry Biofresh face masks in the refrigerated section which do not have any preservatives and last for about 3 weeks.
100% recycled polypropylene containers  - and they're recycled again after that.
A little more on what they had to say:
Our LUSH products range in shelf life from 3 weeks to 14 months for products one would normally preserve. The reduction in shelf life is due to the lack of or the reduction of preservative levels.  Most manufacturers today will use 4 or 5 different preservatives in each product, and this is either because their manufacturing model is based on making in large quantities and shipping them around the world often having to warehouse them for extended periods or due to concerns over contamination. Our production methods are different in that we make small batches by hand every day and get them to customers as soon as possible.
And a note on the parabens they do use (in a few products only):
Only where necessary do our liquid hair and skin care contain small amounts of methyl and propylparaben at less than half the maximum permitted level. The parabens we use are still the safest and mildest we can find and this guarantees the quality and safety of our products we want our customers to enjoy.
The email also states that on the whole, LUSH uses "safe synthetic materials to support the natural ingredients we love to use" and that they choose their synthetic materials "very carefully and they are usually selected because of their long safety record and history of use"
This is based not only on over 20 years of use by our creative team (Mark Constantine, Mo Constantine, Helen Ambrosen to name a few), various reports from respected chemical experts, but also the fact that any information sometimes written for public consumption, is based only on supposition and out of date animal tests. We do our best to use these ingredients at a minimum and our creative team personally use the products for themselves and their families.
We as the manufacturers are responsible for making safe products and if we have any doubts we will drop an ingredient promptly. It is fair to say that ours is not a fixed position and that we are constantly looking at our ingredients, and changing formulations as we find it necessary. We appreciate your email, and take all feedback we receive to heart. We work hard to ensure we can confidently stand behind the safety, quality, and effectiveness of our products.
 That's the majority of the email anyway (told you it was a long one!). I found it encouraging - at least they care to some degree! I'm sure the friendly salespeople would be happy to assist you in finding the perfect soap or shampoo in-store, too.
So I did a little snooping and here's my review of several LUSH products based on the "dirty dozen" list (if it's listed, it's counted - concentrations/amounts of ingredients are NOT compared, FYI).

Best choices: NEW, Squeaky Green and Soak & Float.
Squeaky Green and Soak and Float are both flake-busters that DO NOT contain coal tar and coal tar derivatives! Now that's a step in the right direction!

Worst choice: Godiva
Well, we all knew she was a naughty girl. She's scored a whopping 6 on the dirty dozen inclusion scale, so best to let her ride on through town and keep her out of your hair.

*Note that Bohemian contains sodium palm kernalate. Palm oil is one of *THE* worst products you can purchase in terms of forest depletion and ecologically unsound practices.
Bohemian, Figs & Leaves and Sandstone are the cheapest at $6.95 per 100g.

Worst choice: Angel's Delight
Perhaps these are particularly morbid angels that want you to die quicker, or they forgot to add "Hell's" at the beginning of the name! It's full of pthalates because of the glitter and shimmer, and a ton of different dyes and perfume.

 LUSH's Shower Gels and Smoothies:

Best choices: Dreamwash* and Turkish Delight
*Note that Dreamwash contains sodium palm kernalate. Palm oil is one of *THE* worst products you can purchase in terms of forest depletion and ecologically unsound practices.
Dreamwash is the cheapest and best option, but I want Turkish Delight!!! Now!!!

Worst choice: Blue Skies
I suppose 'showers' and 'blue skies' aren't natural partners to begin with. They should stay that way! A couple of different parabens, a couple of different cocamides and some colouring amongst other dubious ingredients were its undoing on this chart. It was a 'retro' product after all - looks like they've made improvements in newer formulations!
I didn't chart out bath bombs or salt scrubs. Because I don't have accurate quantitative ingredient information (just relative quantities in terms of ingredient hierarchies), I can't really say anything definitive or even intelligent in terms of what products are safer, including the solid shampoos, solid soaps, shower gels and smoothies. So this is just a best guess, based on the number of the 'dirty dozen' members and their cousins (that I'm aware of, of course!) found in each ingredients listing.
Fizzbanger Bath Bomb from Steph. Bath bombs vary widely in their compositions - always read the ingredients!
I did take a few liberties in these graphs. Firstly, I scored them twice if they contained both methylparaben and propylparaben. I also scored them once for each colourant listed - that's potentially problematic, because if they only had minute quantities of each of the three colourants listed, and in comparison another only had one colourant but had five times as much total colourant, I won't have corrected for that. I also don't know which colours are more toxic than others. Secondly, I'm not infalliable and was quickly scanning over the ingredient listings on the website. I could have made a mistake, and for that matter the website information might also be inaccurate.

So as per usual, take all advice and info from me with a grain of sodium chloride (which is okay). Hopefully this post has helped remind you to scrutinize every ingredient listing you can get your hands on and also pointed you towards some potentially better options at LUSH.

Here's to hoping the 'dirty dozen' become ingredients of the past!

Additional: Read the David Suzuki Foundation's full report here:

Winners from their reviews (companies with products frequently containing NONE of the 'dirty dozen' listed! I stand corrected!):
  • Aubrey's Organics
  • Avalon Organics
  • Druide
  • Green Beaver
  • Kiss My Face
  • Nature's Gate
  • Nature Clean
  • Prairie Naturals
  • Rocky Mountain Soap Company
  • Tom's of Maine
October 30th UPDATE: Thank you to a reader who commented on this list! They would like "Tom's of Maine" removed from this list (accused of 'greenwashing' and incorporating nasty chemicals in their products), and approve of Nature's Gate, Green Beaver and Rocky Mountain Soap Companies.
They also recommend "Pur Alternatives" which sells Pangea Organics and Dr Bronner's brands, which received rave reviews.


    1. interesting, i think i will be buying more lush products! thanks

    2. Tom's of Maine should NOT be on that list, they most definitely do contain ingredients on the avoid list and are very guilty of green washing! Natures gate, green beaver and rocky mountain are amazing companies that DO belong on that list though.

      If you are as tired as me of trying to figure out what is good and bad, let someone ethical do it for you! Check out Pur Alternatives (, a little company run on the East Coast by my amazing friend Chris. These guys are hard core about what they are willing to sell at there shop, it must be 100% toxin free. Thats right, 100% not harmful and sustainability is important to them as well. They took all the guess work out of figuring out product labels and getting pesky companies to e-mail you back about exactly what is in there. And they personally test most of there products before they put it on the shelf.

      My personal favourite product find from them- Pangea Organics. Absolutely amazing body care products. I replaced all of my face care products and have never had such good skin in my life, I'm never going back to toxin filled facial care products.

      Dr Bronner's makes good shampoos as well that won't kill your hair like many eco-friendly brands will.

      If only I could find non-toxic makeup, I would have a 100% toxin free body care regime now, and not many people can say that.

    3. Thanks, Sarah!
      With your permission, can I incorporate this comment into the blog post (quoted at the end)? I think this is very important to share!

    4. Hi there! I know this post is over a year old but I just stumbled upon it and wanted to let you know that V.I.P. Soap has since discontinued their Echoclean line of shampoos and conditioners and we've launched a new line of Echosilk products that are completely biodegradable and made from all natural plant-based surfactants. We're also working hard to update all of our products with full ingredient listings, both on the products themselves as well as at our online shop. All of our packaging is still made from recycled materials as well as fully recyclable, (including the caps and trigger sprayers for household cleaners.) Many of our products do not contain any dyes or fragrances (including all Echosilk products) and none of them have been tested on animals. I'm really sorry that your emails did not get responses in the past but that's also something we've been working to improve and I guarantee that it won't happen again if you ever have any other questions or comments for us! Thanks for trying V.I.P. Soap and supporting BC Made products!!

    5. Thank you so much, VIP! :D I appreciate this - I'll give Echosilk a try - thanks for your efforts in terms of recycled plastic and biodegradable shampoos. Got anything that's SLS-free? (Hint hint - please make such a product!). :)
      Hooray for BC products! :)