Until recently, we never really questioned what was in our personal care products.
We naively assumed they were safe—after all, the FDA would never allow consumers to unknowingly use dangerous products… or so we thought.
The reality is, however, that a shockingly large number of all of the beauty and personal care products we use every day are downright dangerous and the FDA has little control over the industry.
According to the federal regulatory body, it does not have any say over these products “and their ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval.” It further openly admits that cosmetic companies may use almost any ingredient they choose, and the agency lacks the authority to recall products, even if they are deemed unsafe (1).
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to educating consumers about health issues, put together an extensive database of the ingredients found in 62,338 different products. While women, purely by the nature of the products, are typically exposed to a multitude of these toxic chemicals, men may actually be more at risk simply because the market for products directed at men is less diverse (there are not as many natural products) (2).
Unilever, for example, is one of the more popular men’s personal care product manufacturers.
One of their brands, Axe, is also one of the most highly contaminated products that according to the EWG database, contains a cocktail of toxic and even lethal chemicals. And what’s worse, many of these chemicals have never been safety tested according to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) (3).
In fact, a quick scan of any of the Axe brand labels is a recipe for disaster. The majority of chemicals are linked to such things as Alzheimer’s disease, estrogen dominance, endocrine system disruption, reproductive issues, and a multitude of cancers -just to name a few.
Worst Offenders in Axe Products
Methylisothiazolinone is a widely-used preservative. According to numerous studies, it is directly linked to an array of allergic reactions (4). Other studies suggest this chemical, which is restricted by the European Union (EU), Canada, Japan, and Germany, may be neurotoxic.
The EWG rates it overall as a “7” on their scale of risk, 10 being the highest.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methylisothiazolinone is classed as a pesticide. This chemical is used to “…control slime-forming bacteria, fungi, and algae.” The EPA’s safety sheet states: “In studies using laboratory animals, methylisothiazolinone has been shown to be of moderate acute toxicity by the oral and inhalation routes. It is highly acutely toxic when applied dermally or to the eye and is considered to be corrosive.” (5).
This chemical is found in 53 Axe products ranging from shampoos and conditioners to body washes and exfoliates (6).
Another “7” on the health hazard scale, isobutene, is categorized as a “human toxicant or allergen” by the CIR (7).
According to the EWG, one of the possible contaminants in isobutene is butadiene, which is a “10” on the health risk scale, known to be a carcinogen, a development and reproductive system toxin, an organ system toxin, including to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. This is a nasty chemical.
Despite being restricted for use in Canada, Isobutane is found in 5 Axe products including shaving creams, antiperspirant/deodorants and fragrances (8).
This chemical is linked to “biochemical or cellular level changes,” according to the EWG, which categorizes it as a “9” on the health hazard scale. This ingredient is used for “skin conditioning” in numerous Axe products.
Retinyl palmitate contains palmitic acid and retinol (Vitamin A), which one would assume is a good thing. But according to the FDA, “retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight.” (9). They also list this chemical as a “known human reproductive toxicant.”
It is currently banned or restricted for use in cosmetics in Germany and Canada. According to the EWG, 8 Axe products contain this chemical including facial cleansers, shaving creams, and an exfoliant scrub (10).
Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex Gly
Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly is a preparation used as an antiperspirant in most deodorants. Aluminum was discovered to be a neurotoxin as far back as 1886, yet we continue to use it.
There is growing evidence that long-term use is linked to a number of neurological diseases, including dementia, autism, and Parkinson’s disease. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports also links this chemical to Alzheimer’s disease (11).
A controversial documentary, The Age of Aluminum, shows viewers the “dark side” of aluminum, which they state is actually a toxic metal. It delves into the proven links between aluminum and diseases like breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, allergies and autism(12).
Fragrances (mixture of chemicals)
Cosmetics companies often list the word “fragrance” or “parfum” on their products.
What this really means is that the product contains any number of undisclosed scent chemicals and ingredients, including diethyl phthalate, which according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a synthetic liquid substance that is colorless and is commonly used to make plastics more flexible.
It is used in a variety of things like toothbrushes, automobile parts, tools, toys, and food packaging.
This agency also states that “Diethyl phthalate can be released fairly easily from these products, as it is not part of the chain of chemicals (polymers) that makes up the plastic. Diethyl phthalate is also used in cosmetics, insecticides, and aspirin.” (14).
In general, “fragrances” are linked to everything from allergies, dermatitis, and respiratory issues to cancer and potential negative effects on your reproductive system. These chemical mixes are listed as an “8” on the health risk scale according to EWG studies, (15) which also show 116 different Axe products contain these chemicals (16).
DMDM Hydantoin (Formaldehyde Releaser)
According to EWG studies, “DMDM hydantoin is an antimicrobial formaldehyde releaser preservative. People exposed to such formaldehyde-releasing ingredients may develop a formaldehyde allergy or an allergy to the ingredient itself and its decomposition products. In the U.S., approximately 20 percent of cosmetics and personal care products contain a formaldehyde-releaser and the frequency of contact allergy to these ingredients is much higher among Americans compared to studies in Europe.” (17).
Because the public is aware that formaldehyde is a potent toxin, the majority of manufacturers have stopped using it directly, and as such, they don’t have to list it as an ingredient. They simply mask formaldehyde by using “formaldehyde releasers” like DMDM hydantoin and Imidazolindinyl Urea, although these ingredients work just like formaldehyde to congeal and preserve their products. However, These chemicals are also extremely toxic.
DMDM hydantoin is an immune toxicant that is currently restricted in some types of Japanese cosmetics. According to the United States National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, these chemicals are powerful carcinogens and are linked to leukemia when inhaled, ingested or absorbed through your skin (18).
EWG studies show 34 Axe products contain formaldehyde releasers (19).
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Other dangerous toxins found in most Axe products is a group of chemicals known as endocrine disrupting chemicals. These synthetic chemicals essentially have hormone-like effects on humans and wildlife that is exposed to them second hand.
These chemicals are known to interfere with your endocrine system in two ways:
- They mimic natural hormones like estrogen
- They block the activity of your natural hormones.
The Endocrine Society issued a study that details the many dangerous effects these chemicals can have on your body, including on both “male and female reproduction, breast development [in both males and females], prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.” (20).
Another study published in the International Journal of Andrology that is making headlines, shows that exposure to these endocrine disrupting chemicals is “feminizing boys.” (21).
The list of chemicals in Axe products alone is overwhelming (22).
Other toxins in these products include cocamidopropyl betaine, which often contain nitrosamines, highly carcinogenic agents. They also contain PPG-14 butyl ether, a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor as well as PEG-8 distearate, also linked to cancer.
Despite the aggressive marketing of natural products for women only, men could certainly benefit form using these products.