From harsh chemicals that pose health risks to the prevalence of petroleum-derived ingredients, you might be surprised to learn that what’s inside all those bottles and tubes is ruining the planet.


Lip balm

Most balms are made from petroleum-derived ingredients along with synthetic fragrances and parabens, endocrine disrupters that may contribute to reproductive and development disorders. Look for more natural alternatives that use a base of shea butter, cocoa butter or beeswax.


Sudsy shampoos and soaps

Where there are bubbles, there’s usually sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), two harsh surfactants that are known eye and skin irritants. SLES is the gentler of the pair, but it is often contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a probable human carcinogen, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When this chemical swirls down your drain, it enters the waterway and can build up in marine life. Buy bottles labeled “sulfate-free.” You won’t get the same bubbling action, but your hair will get clean – guaranteed.



Traditional sunscreens are petroleum-based and don’t biodegrade. According to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, about 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter the reefs through tourists, and it can lead to rapid coral bleaching. Many formulas also contain oxybenzane (linked to hormone disruption, cellular damage and allergies) and nanoparticles, which can have adverse health effects, linger in the environment and damage beneficial microbes. Choose organic SPF instead.



Synthetic fragrances, whether in your perfume bottle or added to personal care products, contain a host of hidden hazards: Neurotoxins, phthalates (which are banned in Europe) and synthetic musks, which are toxic to marine life and are possible hormone disrupters. Plus, fragrances are one of the top five allergens. Opt for essential oil-based scents instead.


Deodorant and antiperspirant

Like antibacterial hand soap, many deodorants contain triclosan. In addition, many formulas contain a laundry list of other potentially dangerous ingredients including formaldehyde, fragrance, parabens, phthalates, aluminum, talc and petroleum distillates. Natural and organic beauty brands such as Burt’s Bees and Dr. Hauschka boast chemical-free alternatives that generally call on citrus and herbal oils to keep you smelling fresh.



A swipe of lipstick may leave lead on your lips. A 2007 study commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found detectable levels of lead in 20 of the 33 top brand lipsticks tested. Lipstick is often ingested and even trace amounts of lead can build up in the body over time, leading to a host of health problems. Other eco-trouble in the tube: Petroleum-based waxes, synthetic colors and man-made oils. Since you won’t see lead listed on the ingredient list, choose lipsticks labeled “lead-free.”


Exfoliating scrubs

To provide an abrasive effect, many face and body cleansing scrubs use tiny plastic beads, often listed on the ingredient list as polyethylene. These bits, which are less than 1 millimeter in diameter, wash down the drain and eventually flow into our oceans where they will never biodegrade. Choose scrubs containing sugar, apricot, nuts or other natural abrasives.


Shaving cream

Here’s another beauty product that depends on the oil industry. Traditional cans of shaving cream contain petroleum-derived ingredients including propane, butane and isobutene, which can also dry out your skin. Organic and natural beauty brands such as Alba Botanica and Kiehls provide a smooth shave with olive oil, aloe and other moisturizing ingredients.


Antibacterial hand soap

Many antibacterial products contain the germ-killing chemical triclosan, a hormone disruptor that is beginning to build up in our oceans. In fact, a 2009 study tested bottlenose dolphins off the coast of South Carolina and found the substance in one-third of the animals’ blood. Triclosan also kills algae, the first link in the marine food chain. Plain old soap and water should do the trick, but if you want extra germ-fighting power, look for natural and organic products that rely on essential oils or botanicals such as thyme or pine.


Nail polish

Some nail polish manufacturers such as OPI, Orly and Sally Hansen have reformulated their products, leaving out the so-called toxic trio of formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Unfortunately, many polishes still contain these hazardous chemicals. Check packages to make sure your polish is free of these harmful ingredients.


Paraffin dip

When you opt for a paraffin hand or foot treatment at the nail salon, you’re supporting the oil industry. Paraffin wax, often used to make candles, is a byproduct of petroleum. Stick to a regular mani/pedi instead and rely on moisturizing creams to soften your skin.


Original article by Julie Knapp for MNN