25 October 2020

The Top 11 Toxic Ingredients in Household Products

Benzalkonium chloride

Otherwise known as BACs, this common ingredient is found in everything from fabric softeners to disinfectants. If inhaled, BACs are suspected to be toxic to the lungs, gut and digestive system, the immune system, and even the nervous system. BACs are also known to cause skin and eye irritation, and in rare instances can cause severe allergic reaction. Even at low concentrations, BACs have been found to be toxic to a developing fetus. The toxicity of BACs is widely discussed in scientific literature, yet they remain widely used, since researches have not come to a consensus as to their toxicity levels.

Where to look for BACs: fabric softener, personal hygiene and cosmetic products, shampoo and conditioner, ophthalmic solution, nasal sprays, residential and industrial cleaning products, agricultural products, humidifiers, water storage tanks, swimming pool products, decorative ponds and fountains, water lines and systems, pulp and paper products, and wood preservation products.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene

BHA and BHT are structurally similar antioxidants used as preservatives in cosmetics such as lipsticks and moisturizers. They are also often used as food preservatives. The International Agency for Research on Cancer identifies BHA and BHT as possible carcinogens. BHT has been known to promote tumor growth. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has determined that BHA interferes with hormone function. Both BHA and BHT are known to cause allergic skin reactions, and long-term exposure to BHT has caused liver, thyroid, and kidney problems in mice and rats. There is some evidence that suggests that BHT mimics the female sex hormone estrogen, resulting in reproductive health problems in both men and women.

Where to look for BHA and BHT: cosmetics, lipstick, moisturizers, and processed foods.


Coal Tar

Coal tar is a derivative of coal after it has been processed for energy. It is used in to treat various skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, and dandruff. Exposure to coal tar and coal tar pitch has shown to increase the risk of skin cancer, and has also been linked to other types of cancer, such as lung, bladder, kidney, and colon cancers.

Where to look for Coal Tar: prescription and over-the-counter treatments for various skin conditions.

Ethanolamines (MEA, DEA, and TEA)

Ethanolamines are used as a binding agent found in many household products and medications. These chemicals are so toxic that the European Union has banned them from use in all personal care and cosmetic products. Health issues attributed to ethanolamines include hormone disruption, cancer, liver tumors, and liver and kidney toxicity.

Where to look for Ethanolamines: cosmetics, detergents, emulsifiers, polishes, and liquid medications.  


Formaldehyde is a common preservative found in countless household products most of us use every day. Sometimes, formaldehyde is not added directly to a product, but a chemical reaction caused by other preservatives can release formaldehyde gas, which is flammable and colorless, with a very distinctive smell.

Where to look for Formaldehyde: construction materials, cleaning products, cosmetics, air fresheners, glues, paints, hair straighteners, and some fabrics. It can even be found in “gentle” household products such as baby washes and shampoos.


Hydroquinone is a water-soluble compound used to reduce discoloration and age spots. The chemical reaction that occurs in order to lighten skin is known to be toxic. Studies have shown that hydroquinone has carginogenic effects when taken orally, and topic applications have caused vitiligo, or a complete bleaching of the skin, as well as a darkening of the skin, known as exogenous ochronosis.

Where to look for Hydroquinone: medications, cosmetics, skin creams.

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)

These two chemicals are used together as a preservative. The mixture MIT and CMIT is no longer allowed to be used in cosmetic products due to high incidents of allergic contact dermatitis.

Where to look for MIT and CMIT: shampoo, body lotion, skin care products, and household cleaning products.


Don’t be fooled by the organic origins of the chemical compound oxybenzone. Found in some flowering plants, oxybenzone is a naturally occurring sun protectant. There is a growing body of evidence that oxybenzone may be disruptive to the human hormone system, affecting functions of the thyroid and the body’s metabolism. In addition, it is highly allergenic and has been known to cause severe skin reactions.

To top it off, oxybenzone is known to be harmful to the environment. When swimmers use sunscreen containing oxybenzone, it leaches into the water and causes damage to coral reefs, causes reproductive issues in fish, and accumulates in the tissues of other sea wildlife, such as sea urchins and dolphins.

Where to look for Oxybenzone: sunscreen lotions, as well as toys and plastic furniture to prevent sun fading.

Parabens and Phtalates

Preservatives known as parabens and phthalates are a common ingredient in many widely used items. These chemicals are associated with breast cancer, infertility, obesity, asthma, and allergies.

Where to look for Parabens and Phtalates: personal care products such as antiperspirants, medications, and processed food products.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG compounds) and Sodium Laurel Sulfate

PEGs and sodium laurel sulfate are used to create a pleasant consistency in beauty products. Many of these PEGs are contaminated with the chemicals ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are known carcinogens.

Where to look for PEG Compounds and Sodium Laurel Sulfate: sunscreen, shampoo, and facial creams.

Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate)

This innocuous sounding additive is used in cosmetic products as an “anti-aging” agent. Despite being a vitamin that is beneficial in small naturally occurring doses, this modified form of vitamin A has shown in some studies to cause skin lesions and sun sensitivity, and may increase instances of skin tumors in the presence of sunlight.

Health agencies in Europe have raised concerns that excessive vitamin A absorbed from skin creams may harm pregnant women and other vulnerable populations. Too much manufactured vitamin A can result in liver damage, hair loss, brittle nails, and osteoporosis.

Where to look for Retinyl Palmate or Vitamin A Palmitate: skin creams, lotions, and cosmetics.


There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly washed laundry. Unfortunately, most of the fragrance additives used to create that pleasant scent is not good for you. Products such as fabric softeners, laundry detergents, household cleaning products, beauty products, cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and even ophthalmic solutions and medications contain high concentrations of chemical compounds to create the smells we know and love.

Ingredients of thousands of synthetic fragrance compounds have been linked to cancer, infertility, and allergies.

Where to look for added fragrance: Almost any household product that does not clearly specify “fragrance free.”


Crinnion, Walter J. Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens. Alternative Medicine Review. 15(3): 190-196. 09/10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21155623/

David Suzuki Foundation. The Dirty Dozen: BHA and BHT. Access 10/20/20. https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/dirty-dozen-bha-bht/

 David Suzuki Foundation. The Dirty Dozen: Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Access 10/20/20. https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/dirty-dozen-sodium-laureth-sulfate/

 Environmental Working Group. The Problem With Vitamin A. Accessed 10/20/20. https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-problem-with-vitamin-a/

 European Chemicals Agency. Oxybenzone – Substance Information. 05/01/19.



 Force of Nature. Toxic Chemical Glossary: What are Ethanolamine Compounds (DEA, MEA, or Tea). Chemical Free Living. 01/24/17. https://www.forceofnatureclean.com/chemical-free-living-ethanolamine-compounds-dea-mea-tea/

 Force of Nature. Toxic Chemical Glossary: What is Formaldehyde. Chemical Free Living. 01/24/17. https://www.forceofnatureclean.com/chemical-free-living-formaldehyde/

 Frauenkron, Matthias; J.P. Melder, G. Ruider, R. Rossbacher, and H. Höke. Ethanolamines and Propanolamines. Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. 9/15/2001 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14356007.a10_001.

 Lanigan, Rebecca S. and T.A. Yamarik. Final report on the safety assessment of EDTA, calcium disodium EDTA, diammonium EDTA, dipotassium EDTA, disodium EDTA, TEA-EDTA, tetrasodium EDTA, tripotassium EDTA, trisodium EDTA, HEDTA, and trisodium HEDTA. International Journal of Toxicology. 21:95-142. 2002. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12396676

 Merchel, Beatriz; Periera, P., and Tagopoulos, I. Editor: Claire Vieille. Benzalkonium Chlorides: Uses, Regulatory Status, and Microbial Resistance. American Society for Microbiology. 85(13). July 2019.https://aem.asm.org/content/aem/85/13/e00377-19.full.pdf

 Miller, Korin. Is Oxybenzone In Sunscreen Dangerous? Here’s How It May Impact Your Health. Prevention. 05/22/19. https://www.prevention.com/health/a27556739/oxybenzone-sunscreen-safety/

National Cancer Institute. Coal Tar and Coal-Tar Pitch. 12/28/18.


 U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Dept. of Health and Human Services. Supporting Information for Toxicology Evaluation by the National Toxicology Program. 05/21/2009.


 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 1,4-Dioxane in Cosmetics: A Manufacturing Byproduct. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. 08/24/20.


 U.S. Center for Disease Control Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Background and Environmental Exposure to Creosote in the United States. 9/30/2020.


 U.S. Center for Disease Control. Benzophenone-3 (BP-3) Factsheet. 04/07/17.


Dr. Ammie Chapman

Hi! I am Ammie Chapman, mother, wife, chiropractor and clean living fan. I have had my struggles with health issues that I have been able to treat with diet and lifestyle changes. I am hoping it may help you too. 

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