For Safe, Nontoxic Personal Care Products, Look Beyond the Pink Ribbon

Personal care products promise a lot of things – from softer, younger looking skin to bouncy, shiny hair. But what companies won’t tell you is how many potentially toxic ingredients you’ll expose yourself to when using their products – including some which may be of particular concern for women’s health.

A lot of people assume products that makes it to store shelves are safe, but you only need to point to a few examples to show that’s not the case. There are daytime skin products that contain retinyl palmitate, which has been linked to increased development of skin tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin, and manufacturers can use endocrine disrupting phthalates in their “fragrance” mixtures without even disclosing their presence.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the pink ribbon is a powerful symbol that we see on many consumer products. But a pink package doesn’t necessarily mean your charitable intentions are being put to good use. In some cases, your purchase may not be tied to a charitable donation at all.

A pink ribbon is also no guarantee that the ingredients in a product are nontoxic. In the early 2000s, the cosmetics company Avon released a “Kiss Cancer Goodbye” gift bag that featured six paraben-containing lipsticks.

Parabens are hormone disruptors, and while a direct link between parabens and breast cancer has yet to be found, their ability to mimic the reproductive hormone estrogen puts them on the list of chemicals of concerns, especially for women’s health. Consumers reacted strongly against the toxic chemicals being included in the campaign, and Avon took steps to remove the parabens from some of its products.

Stories like this emphasize the need to be thoughtful and vigilant when choosing personal care products, and look beyond the marketing claims to really focus on the ingredients. Pink ribbon or otherwise, ask yourself: Is this a company that is reliably making safe products? If not, spend your money elsewhere.

The U.S. has seen an explosion of companies in the personal care market that focus on safer ingredients and more complete ingredient disclosure, following consumer demand.

When shopping, check ingredient lists and AVOID the following:

For your body:

  • Triclocarban in bar soap and triclosan in liquid soap (recently banned by the Food and Drug Administration)
  • Rentinyl palmitate or other retinoids in daytime skin products
  • “Fragrance”

For your hair:

  • “Fragrance”
  • PEG, ceteareth and polyethylene
  • Parabens: propyl, isopropyl, butyl, isobutyl
  • DMDM hydantoin

For your nails:

  • Formaldehyde or formalin
  • Toluene
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)

To get more information on the personal care products you use and explore less toxic options, check out EWG’s Skin Deep® Database, which rates over 60,000 personal care products and highlights ingredients of concern. 

For more information about protecting your breast health, visit

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