Natural no-nos: Hidden enemies on your bathroom shelf

Are there hidden enemies on your bathroom shelf?

Many years ago now, I embarked on a new adventure of exploration; a journey into the world of natural and organic products. My aim was to detox myself of harsh chemicals lurking in many household products and cosmetics. Some, such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) I was convinced were contributing to various issues. My new found and somewhat single-minded focus was on seeking out the best natural and organically produced cosmetics, wherever an alternative option to my old synthetic chemically-laden products was readily available.  And so began my adventure; many new brands to learn about, interesting products to try, an array of bold and uplifting brand promises. And yet somewhat varying results.

Up until the last few years, I’d not really given too much thought to the organic and natural concoctions of goodness; having little interest in inspecting the ingredient lists (with the exception of Dr Bronner’s – the eccentric and quirky label filled with inspirational wording can keep you engrossed for a long while). But when I did eventually succumb to curiosity, I was greeted with rather wordy lists of the new chemicals; the ones that I’d replaced the old with. In my blissful haste (I was doing the right thing choosing natural and organic, right?) I had been fully absorbed with the radiating goodness that, like a warm fuzzy halo, seemingly enveloped the natural and organic promise. And yes, I perhaps too readily accepted that natural was synonymous with healthy.

“Natural is not always synonymous with healthy”

Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not about to go on a tirade about how organic and natural products are to be avoided; no no. I do, in fact, totally support the whole approach and ethos; in particular the movement towards a more ecological way of thinking to protect our planet and our health and wellbeing. But it’s only after having undergone testing with the lovely team at Airedale Allergy Medical last year, did I realise that some nasty chemical enemies come wrapped up in the most beautiful packaging, with brand promises that make you feel like, well, pretty amazing.

On inspection of my cosmetic labels and much to my horror, I discovered that around 90% of the products I was using contained one ingredient that I was super sensitive to. And I’ve only found a few shampoos which are free of the ingredient, (shout out to the team at Evolve). Having read the research into the studies and effects of this preservative, I knew immediately I had to review my chosen products with a new eye and widely opened mind. Out with the old and in with the new,  part 2.  Having done the research, I’d like to share with you a couple of the chemical culprits I have encountered:


In at number one and rated a 4 by EWG, phenoxyethanol is synthetic preservative and an aromatic ether alcohol. The ingredient starts out as phenol, a toxic white crystalline powder that’s created from benzene (a carcinogen) and then is treated with ethylene oxide (also a known carcinogen) and an alkali. Phenoxyethanol is found in cosmetic products and is also used as a stabilizer in perfumes and soap. Documented symptoms include a cough, sore throat, euphoria, headache, drowsiness and  slurred speech. Topically it has been known to cause eczema. A known hazard, reports have also included the following warnings: harmful if swallowed, causes skin irritation, eye irritation and/or damage.


According to PubChem, Paradichlorobenzene is a synthetic, white crystalline solid that is practically insoluble in water. It is used primarily as deodorant in products such as room deodorizers, urinal and toilet bowl blocks, meaning it’s very hard to avoid when visiting in public toilets. It is also used an insecticide fumigant for moth control. Short term exposure to dichlorobenzene, (via inhalation in humans), results in irritation of the skin, throat, and eyes. Long-term dichlorobenzene inhalation exposure in humans results in effects on the liver, skin, and central nervous system.


Rated a 7 by EWG and used mainly as a preservative, Methylisothiazolinone is commonly found in hair care, body wash, sunscreen and other skin care products. It’s also found in baby wipes and some personal hygiene products. This ingredient is a powerful biocide, meaning it’s a chemical substance that can control or kill harmful microorganisms. Studies have indicated that the chemical is a possible neurotoxin, poses possible health risks to unborn babies and can trigger allergic reactions.

Three pretty nasty ingredients, I hope you agree.  My learning from this research is that when it comes to your bathroom cabinet and make up bag, all that’s glitters is not gold. Just because a product claims to be natural, organic or alternative doesn’t mean that your body isn’t reacting (or won’t) to some of the chemical compounds. As ethical consumers our drive is to do the right thing, but that also mean we need to take the time to educate ourselves. It’s also important to remember that no two people are identical – we all have unique DNA and it is my belief that our genes are affected by what we apply to our bodies as well as the food we eat. Something relatively innocuous to you could easily cause an allergic reaction in the next person.

All that glitters is not gold.”

My final tip is to always keep an open and curious mind.  Remember: natural is not synonymous with healthy. And if in doubt about a chemical, there’s no need to pursue a PhD in chemistry. Consider visiting Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database  or download the Think Dirty App which can help to identify any red flags by simply scanning a product with your smartphone.  It’s also worth paying a visit to the Safe Cosmetics website, click here for more information.

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