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By Guest Blogger: Kalpana DePasquale, DO


When it comes to personal care products, what is natural and safe?

What is Natural and Safe?
As consumers, we tend to believe that personal care products are safe to use because we see words like “Natural” on the label. We watch commercials that show products used on babies, fooling us into believing they are safe. We assume products seen on a store shelf are safe because there “must be” regulations governing these products. We put our faith in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect the safety of the consumer.

Unfortunately, the FDA does not regulate these products because they are not a food or a drug. If this is surprising to you, you’re not alone. As a physician, I didn’t even know the ugly truth about personal care products being an unregulated industry until a health scare forced me to educate myself.

The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) was passed by Congress in 1976 to regulate the introduction of new or existing chemicals. But contrary to what you may think, the TSCA does not determine which chemicals are toxic vs. non-toxic. It merely prohibits import of chemicals that are not on the TSCA inventory as an “existing chemical.”

When the law passed, all existing chemicals were considered to be safe for use and grandfathered in. The panel has rejected only 11 ingredients in 36 years, whereas the European Union has banned hundreds. The European Union requires safety data on skin care products but, unfortunately, the United States does not.

Facing a Health Challenge
The Environmental Working Group (my bible for ingredient safety) has identified 10,500 chemical ingredients that are used to manufacture personal care products. Many of these are suspected to be carcinogens or disruptive to the endocrine system.

These details became very important to me after I faced a pivotal turning point in my mid-thirties. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer less than a year after I had completed my residency in ear, nose, and throat and started my own practice. Ironically, I diagnosed, treated, and operated on thyroid cancer as part of my job.

The scientist in me desperately searched for the cause of my thyroid cancer at such an early age. As a result of the diagnosis, I became hyper-vigilant about the foods I ate and what products I put on my body hoping that these changes would help me avoid another cancer in the future.

Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products
I have compiled a list of the top ten ingredients I would avoid in skin care products:

  1. Phthalates -A group of industrial chemicals that are used as solvents in cosmetics. They cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive systems. Exposure can be cumulative and creates more harm in young children and infants.
  2. Parabens (Methylparaben, butylparaben, polyparaben, etc.)- The most widely used preservative in cosmetics. 75-90% of products contain Parabens. They easily penetrate the skin and are suspected of interfering with hormone function.
  3. Sulfates (sodium laurel sulfate, ammonium laurel sulfate)- Used in products such as cleansers to make them foam. According to the Skin Deep Cosmetic database (my bible for toxic skincare ingredients), SLS is a moderate hazard and has been linked to cancer as well as create skin and eye irritation.
  4. Fragrance and Parfum- Widely used in products, including some products that claim they are unscented or fragrance-free. Fragrance and perfume consist of hundreds of chemicals that are not required to be disclosed to the consumer because they are considered trade secrets. These chemicals exacerbate asthma, trigger allergies and interfere with hormone function. Most of these chemicals have never been tested for safety.
  5. Phenoxyethanol (2-phenoxy-ethanol, hydroxyethyl phenyl ether)- Used in many products that claim to be paraben-free. However, phenoxyethanol is a synthetic preservative that is toxic to almost every organ in the body.
  6. Dyes- Found in gels, toners, and cleansers. Many of them are made of coal tar and contain heavy metal salts like arsenic and lead. Exposure leads to skin sensitivity, irritation, and creates blockage of pores, which increase acne breakouts.
  7. Hydroquinone -A topical agent used to lighten dark spots and pigmentation. It has been banned in several countries. The risks of this ingredient include ochronosis, a blue-black discoloration of the skin, skin thickening, and photosensitivity. A link to cancer has not been proven but it is advisable to use the product for a short time and then discontinue.
  8. Formadehyde-releasing preservatives (DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, Methenamine, Quarternium-15)- Oten used in moisturizers and hair care as preservatives. Formaldehyde is the chemical used to embalm dead bodies. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can also cause skin and eye irritation, as well as trigger allergies.
  9. PEG’s (Polyethylene glycol)- Used in conditioners, moisturizers, and deodorants. They can be contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane which can cause cancer. PEGs do not degrade and remain in the environment for a long time.
  10. Petrolatum- A mineral oil that is used to lock in moisture in the skin and in hair products. Petrolatum can be contaminated by PAH (poycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) which can cause cancer in addition to skin irritation and allergies.

Many times a direct correlation between chemicals and cancer cannot be established.  However, common sense dictates that avoiding toxic ingredients and chemicals cannot hurt your chances of living a healthier life.


Dr. Kalpana DePasquale is an otolaryngologist (ENT) in St. Augustine, Florida and provides care at St. Augustine Ear, Nose and Throat and the Avanti Medical Spa. After being diagnosed with thyroid cancer early in her career, she became passionate about creating safe alternatives to skin care and is an advocate for safe and natural personal care products. 

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