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How many chemicals do I put on my body each day? Let’s count…..

May 25, 2013

Some of the things you read while surfing the net (is that still a relevant term?) are downright scary.  In 2009 an article in the UK’s Daily Mail highlighted to us ‘average’ women that  we slather ourselves with 515 chemicals EVERY DAY and that most of them were toxic, evil, nasty and just wrong.  Being as though I have a rare few minutes of time on my hands I thought I’d see how I compare.

OK so here goes.

my products that i used

1) Soap to wash my face and hands – I’m in a hotel so I’m using theirs which just happens to be a standard bar soap.

Chemical count:  Goodness only knows because there is no label so I’m googling it to find out……

OK so this is turning out to be hard.  The soap in this hotel has no ingredients listing on the internet so I just picked a soap that I know is the same sort of formula.  I’ve chosen Cussons Imperial Leather as it would be typical of the type of soap they put in hotels – the fragrance may differ but otherwise it’s about the same.

So, Chemical Count:  8 (the ingredients after and including Coumarin are part of the fragrance. Fragrance will be dealt with separately)

Aqua, sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate, glycerin, talc, parfum, sodium chloride, tetrasodium EDTA, etidronic acid, coumarin, eugenol, linalool, benzyl benzoate, gerniol, citronellol, aplha-isomethyl ionone

2) Toothpaste – Colgate total whitening.

Chemical Count: 15  as the water has been counted before (and this is a very weird ingredients listing, they seem to have done strange things with the order but I’ll save that for another day….)

Ingredients: Sodium Fluoride, Triclosan, Glyceryl, Silica Dental Type, Sorbitol Liquid (70%) Non-crystallising, Purified Water, Poly (Methyl Vinyl Ether) Maleic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Laurilsulfate, 89-854 Mint Flavour, Carmellose Sodium, Titanium dioxide, Titanium Dioxide Coated Mica, Lota Carrageenan, Saccharin Sodium, Brilliant Blue FCF.

3) Moisturiser – I’m currently using Miracle Pearl Cream from a customer of mine as I want to see if those pearl do indeed do miracles for my skin.

Chemical count (based on the formula that we have been working on) :  15 excluding water.

Ingredients list:  Can’t be shared at the mo but the one I’m using is all natural.

4) Foundation: Rimmel London Stay Matte Foundation.

Chemical Count: 34 excluding water and the emulsifiers that are also in the cream.

Ingredients list:  Aqua, Dicaprylyl Ether, Propylene Glycol, Dicaprylate/dicaprate, Butylene Glycol, Mica, Cetearyl Alcohol, Isostearic Acid, Aluminium Starch Octenylsuccinate, Octyldodecyl Stearoyl Stearate, Polysorbate 60, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Magnesium Aluminium Silicate, Acrylates/ C12-22 Alkyl Methacrylate Copolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, Galactoarbinan, Kaolin, Xanthan gum, Salicylic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Pentelyne Glycol, Zinc Oxide, Sodium PCA, Disodium EDTA, Sorbic Acid,  Cotton Powder, Cucumber fruit extract, Chamomile extract, Radish root ferment filtrate, colours.

5) Pressed Powder: Rimmel Stay Matte powder.

Chemical Count: 16 unique ingredients.

Ingredients list: Talc, Mica, Magnesium Stearate, Polyethylene, Petrolatum, Phenyl Trimethicone, Dimethicone, Polybutene Isostearyl Neopentanoate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Methylparaben, Coconut Oil,  mineral oil, Propylparaben, Perfume, Aloe leaf extract, BHT, colours.

6) Deodorant: Rexona Women Delicious (weird that even though I’ve been wearing this for a while I never knew it was called ‘delicious’. Turns me off a little….)

Chemical Count: 5  (EDTA, aqua and fragrance have been counted already)

Ingredients List: Aqua, Aluminium Chlorohydrate, Steareth-2, Sunflower seed oil, Fragrance, Steareth-20, Silica, EDTA.

7) Shampoo: Pears Moisturising Care Shampoo.

Chemical Count: 15 unique ingredients.

Ingredients List: Water, Sodium laureth sulphate/ sodium C12-13 pareth sulphate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium chloride, dimethicone, dimethicone/ silesquioxane copolymer, TEA-dodecylbenzenesulfonate, laureth-23, Guar hydroxypropyl trimonium chloride, propylene glycol, mango extract, peach extract, PPG-12, fragrance, disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, DMDM Hydantoin, CI 15510, CI 17200.

8) Conditioner: Pears Normal hair conditioner.

Chemical Count: 9

Ingredients List: Water, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine, cetrimonium chloride, tocopheryl acetate, aloe vera, honeysuckle extract, maltodextrin, propylene glycol, lactic acid, sodium chloride, disodium EDTA, DMDM hydantoin, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, fragrance.

9) Essential oil for skin healing: Rare Earth Oils – River red gum.

Chemical count: 1

Ingredient: River red gum oil which consists of many hundreds of naturally occurring aroma chemicals.


So, my total count for the day was: 118 excluding fragrances.

According to the Daily Mail report a fragrance contains around 250 chemicals. Having worked with a fragrance house I would say that this could be true for many a fine fragrance but it is also true that fragrances can contain less than 30 ingredients.  It is very difficult to sum up.

For the sake of this exercise I will assume that my perfume chemical total for the day is 250 as a combined effort and so that takes me to 368 chemicals.  Wow.


Does this scare me?

No, not from a health perspective but from an environmental perspective yes it does.  That is a lot of resources being used to do what, to make me feel better, cleaner, more beautiful?  I am not sure I like that…..

Is this a typical day for me?

Pretty much although I do vary shampoo/ conditioner quite a bit and tend to change moisturisers depending on what I am working on. However, this is about right for the type of products I use daily.

What makes the biggest impact?

Without doubt the perfume is the biggest contributor to my total chemical count.  Perfumes are in everything and are often different so I guess that can wrack up a whole heap of chemicals.  But before we go crazy it does pay to remember that fragrances are a very small part of any formula so yes the total number of chemcials in fragrances is high but my total exposure to them would be very low.  Typically you would use 0.1-0.4% fragrance in any of these products as a whole.

There are a few chemical reducing strategies I could employ to remedy this:

  • Go fragrance free – a good option for my skin anyway but hard to find fragrance free shampoo/ conditioner for some reason.
  • Choose products using essential oils – essential oils do still contain the chemicals, can still be irritating and can still impact the environment but in a numbers game they only count for 1 ingredient not 250!
  • Choose products from the same range so you are using one fragrant variant only in a day therefore reducing your chemical count.
  • Wash less.  I don’t like that option….

My next biggest contributor is the foundation – going mineral based would help here and it is something that I might try as I worry much more about valuing resources than I do about any immediate threat to my health that may or may not exist.

Otherwise I could make my own simple products but I actually don’t want to do that. I like experiencing what others have created, it’s all part of my job.

Was I surprised by these results?

Yes I was. I have to say that I was immediately sceptical when I saw that article a few years ago but can now see where they are coming from.  I do think that undue hysteria surrounds the cosmetic industry health wise but environmentally we could do better.  Plus while most of these chemcials that we use each day get washed off us, they still come back to us via the environmental feedback loop so it is wise to consider the part we play in that even if we aren’t concerned about parabens giving us breast cancer or SLES making us itch.

So what will I do next?

Take a good hard look at myself and re-think my personal care routine for the sake of our planet.

And what will I do for my consulting clients?

Well actually this doesn’t change much there. Most of my clients have similar sentiments to me when it comes to the environment and as such pretty much all of the formulations that I develop are made to be efficient, minimalistic and sustainable.  I just don’t seem to be translating that into my every-day life but now I think I will. Maybe I should use some of my own formulations after all….

Thank you for listening.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2013 9:54 am

    Thank you for sharing, we love to read your blogs! It would be awesome to hear how these chemicals enter and react with our bodies.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      May 29, 2013 1:31 am

      Thanks Melissa,
      That would be really hard to investigate but I’ll see what info I can find regarding skin penetration of the individual ingredients. However, as I have said in the article I’m primarily interested in sustainability and resource valuing so will be looking more into where these ingredients come from and go to. Glad you enjoy the read and hope your brand is going well.

  2. May 30, 2013 7:14 am

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. =)

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      May 30, 2013 7:17 am

      Thanks Anne,
      I am busy creating some space to further delve into this as valuing resources is very important to me. I am actually keen to know what impact this type of ‘average’ routine has in that regard rather than the usual ‘will it kill me now’ hysteria which I don’t subscribe to.

  3. Lauren permalink
    July 12, 2021 2:29 am

    Hey! I’d be really interested to know your opinion on DMDM hydantoin further – would make for a great article especially right now with the ongoing lawsuit against OGX. Lots of speculation over this ingredient and its use in many different cosmetics, although used as a preservative to combat bacterial growth and potentially much worse side effects than if not including DMDM hydantoin, I’m wondering if there is an alternative (safer) ingredient which can be used here?

    Will be interesting to see how this lawsuit unfolds.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      July 20, 2021 5:25 pm

      Hi Lauren,
      Uuuummmmm, the lawsuit says more to me about the legal system of the USA than it does about the chemistry of this ingredient. The saying ‘only in America’ is appropriate. DMDM hydantoin is a preservative that is not used as often as it used to be due to many reasons, not least the fuss that was made about the way it works (in generating a little formaldehyde to keep the product safe). When formulated into a product by a well trained chemist the risks posed by this chemistry is extremely tiny vs the risks posed by an un or under-preserved product as you put. That said, technology has moved on and there are now easier chemistries to work with that are based on even safer chemistry and that are less likely to react with other chemicals in the formula. There isn’t an alternative to this, more that there are now many other options available to the cosmetic chemist, offering different chemistries, material origin (natural, synthetic, palm free, able to be added to organics etc). Some alternatives will be more expensive and may cause formula instabilities that need ironing out (so not a drop-in replacement) while others may perform better and make for a much more attractive formula. I think that even without the hyped up hate for this ingredient it would have fallen into the background as an option due to its formulating challenges (it can make a formula change colour) so I don’t really think we are losing much. As for taking OGX to court, that seems to be a huge waste of money, resources and time for very little human gain in my opinion. I’d rather these legal people put their brains to more pressing issues but that’s just my opinion.


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