Photo: FAQs about chemicals in cosmetics

(Credit: jypsygen via Flickr.)

1. What can consumers do to encourage cosmetic manufacturers to switch to less toxic ingredients?

Vote with your dollar by purchasing products that don't contain the dirty dozen. Write a letter to a company and ask them to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.
You can also write a letter to the store where you shop, asking them to encourage their suppliers to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.

2. What do I do with my old cosmetic products that I no longer want?

There's no simple answer. But if you're going to stop putting harmful ingredients on your body, you don't really want to dump them into the environment either. First option is to finish using what you have. Then, when it's time to buy another bottle of shampoo, make a savvier, safer choice. If you'd rather stop using your product today because of the toxic ingredients, consider mailing it back to the manufacturer. Include a note explaining your choice and asking them to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. If you're not up for mailing your nail polish, check out how your town or city handles household hazardous waste. Find an eco-depot near you at: or

3. How can I read labels better and choose the safest products?

A good place to start is by choosing products that do not contain any of the dirty dozen. Something as simple as buying products with a shorter ingredient list is another idea. For example, some safer shampoos have 12 ingredients where other conventional brands list upwards of 25. Maybe even choose products with ingredients you can pronounce. Some companies go one step further making their products safe enough to eat. Their ingredients are actually food grade. For a more critical analysis, check out Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep cosmetic safety database, or go straight to their What Not to Buy list

Note: in some cases products sold in Canada might be made with different ingredients than the U.S. products analyzed by EWG.

4. If my product doesn't include any of the David Suzuki Foundation's dirty dozen, is it safe?

Avoiding the dirty dozen is a good place to start, but the reality is that there are thousands of industrial chemicals in cosmetics. Most of them aren't tested and because we use so many products each day, their impacts could be cumulative. Limiting your exposure by limiting the number of products you use is an additional step to avoid the dirty dozen chemicals. But at the end of the day, we need stronger regulations to protect consumers. Take action here.

5. Does any organization rate and rank companies and their products?

Yes. The U.S. Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep cosmetic safety database is one such resource. You can search their database by product name, company name or ingredient. Also, there are helpful shopping tips in this Queen of Green blog post: Be a savvy shopper, buy a little smarter.

6. How can I get my work place to go scent-free?

Scents are found in consumer products, like cosmetics, appearing on the ingredient list as 'Fragrance' or 'Parfum'. Headaches are just one of the side affects people can experience, but allergies and asthma are common as well. Not ideal when you're hard at work.

The David Suzuki Foundation office is scent-free and we've designed an office toolkit to help anyone go green at work. Going scent-free is just one of our many suggestions. Your co-workers will thank-you.

7. Do 'natural' products work as well?

There are safer cosmetics products on the market that work well, but not every product works for every person's individual body chemistry. You'll need to try a few different brands and formulations before you find one that works for you. If possible, try a sample or travel sizes of a product first. Then if something doesn't agree with you, you won't have wasted the money.

Part of being a savvy consumer is letting a manufacturer know what you think of its product. Don't be afraid to put pen to paper, or send an email, to let a company know what you think. If a safer product doesn't work for you, consider donating it to an agency or charity who can make sure it gets to someone in need.

8. How can I start making my own cosmetics?

Making your own personal care products is simple and fun. There are many books and online recipe resources. Here are few ideas:

9. I'm a guy. Do I really need to worry about this stuff?

Although the term 'cosmetics' conjures images of lipstick tubes, eyeliners and mascara, the fact is both men and women use personal care products such as soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo.

The average person uses 10 personal care products daily. But when the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe cosmetics looked a little closer, they found that women and men use 12 and six products, respectively. Those six used by men contain about 85 chemicals. Learn more about why men's products are risky, too.

10. What can my non-profit organization do to get involved?

There are many ways organizations can help amplify the work to get toxic chemicals out of cosmetics. Here are our suggestions:

We will continue to build this FAQ's resource. Have a question? Send us an email at:

Where to go for more information about toxic chemicals in personal care products:

Breast Cancer Action MontrealLocal organization with a variety of online resources.

Campaign for Safe CosmeticsU.S.-based campaign endorsed by the David Suzuki Foundation.

CancerSmart 3.0: the consumer guideToxic Free Canada's resource on practical ways to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday household products.

FemmeToxicOnline youth focused campaign for safer cosmetics.

Guide to Less Toxic ProductsThe Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia's online resource.

Leaping BunnyCruelty-free standard providing assurance that animal testing has not been used.

Skin DeepU.S.-based Environmental Working Group's electronic database detailing the ingredients and hazard ratings for 55,000 personal care products.

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