Good Enough to Eat
By Lisa Turner
Clean, safe, natural skin and body care for winter and beyond

It’s blustery and frigid outside, your skin is dry and chafing, and you’re tempted to grab that big bottle of “natural” moisturizer from the supermarket shelf. In any large grocery store these days—even mainstream outlets—you’ll find myriad natural skin and body care products with botanical ingredients and earthy-looking packages. But what do the labels “pure,” “natural,” and “plant ingredients” really mean? In many cases, not much.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies cosmetics and personal care products, it does not require premarket health or safety studies or testing. With the exception of a handful of prohibited ingredients, manufacturers may use almost any raw material in product formulations, without FDA approval.

As a result, personal care products may contain some of the following:

  • Phthalates, found in synthetic fragrances, are endocrine disruptors that have been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, and organ system toxicity. If a product’s ingredients list contains the word fragrance (rather than pure essential oils), that product probably contains phthalates.
  • Propylene glycol (linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies, immunotoxicity, and skin and eye irritation) is often included in lotions, creams, cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, and antiperspirants. It may be listed as 1,2-dihydroxypropane; 2-hydroxypropanol; methylethyl glycol; 1,2-propanediol; or propane-1,2-diol.
  • Parabens, used as preservatives in a wide variety of body care products, are linked to cancer, developmental toxicity, and reproductive damage. They may be listed as 4-hydroxybenzoic acid, benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-; p-carboxyphenol, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, p-salicyclic acid, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid, or parabens.
  • Mineral oil is a petroleum derivative that has been linked to cancer, organ system toxicity, and immunotoxicity. It may be listed as deobase, heavy mineral oil, hydrocarbon oils, light mineral oil, liquid paraffin, liquid petrolatum, paraffin oil, paraffin oils, paraffinum liquidum, prolatum oil, white mineral oil, or petroleum.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate is used as a foaming or sudsing agent in soaps, shampoos, bubble baths, and body washes; it can cause organ system toxicity and irritation of the skin, eyes,and hair. They may be listed as PEG-(1–4) lauryl ether sulfate, sodium salt, polyethylene glycol (1–4) lauryl ether sulfate, sodium salt, and other names.
  • Oxybenzone, widely used in sunscreens and other skin care products with SPF protection, is linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive damage, allergies, and cell damage. It may be listed as benzophenone-3, 2-benzoyl-5-methoxyphenol, 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone, (2-hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl) phenylmethanone, and other names. For safer sun protection, avoid oxybenzone and choose a product with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Safe and Clean Selections We've compiled a partial list of a few good-enough-to-eat selections here. If your beauty care product isn't listed, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad choice. If you're not sure, check it out at Skin Deep (, a guide to skin and body care products by the Environmental Working Group.

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