Bathroom Detox: Knowing Your Ingredients.

Oh thank goodness, my internet is working again – I’ve been having tech issues for two hours!

So a couple of Sundays ago I mentioned I am becoming more mindful of the products I consume and the products I use on my body – in essence, everything in my bathroom. In this post, I want to talk about common INGREDIENTS found in your shampoo, body wash, conditioners, skin creams… in essence, in toiletries.

The very first thing I did when I became interested in what I was putting on my skin, hair, and body, was look at the ingredients lists on the containers and bottles in my toiletries collection. If you do this, you will notice something: that you probably don’t have a clue what MOST of those listed ingredients are. Let alone why they are in there, how they are made, where they come from, or how they are obtained.

I dare say most of us are willfully ignorant of the answers to these questions, and that ignorance extends to a wide array of products we buy and consume to keep the economy going (or, rather, to keep our lives going… which, let’s face it, is the same thing). We are, more often than not, unconscious consumers.

I could (and probably eventually will) do similar posts on a wide array of consumer goods and services. But right now I am thinking about what’s in your BATHROOM. So here goes – what I know about common ingredients found in our toiletries, so far (I will add amendments and date them as I learn more, with citations/references as well).


What do they do? Add a colour, of course.

How are they made? Synthetic colours are often derived from coal tar, with some coming from mineral sources and a few from plants or animals. Obviously, the industrial manufacturing process of creating the coal tar and mineral-based colours is energy-intensive.

Iron oxides can also be found in cosmetics. They originate as minerals, but chemicals are often used to isolate and refine the material.

One natural colourant, mineral titanium dioxide (also used as a sunscreen), has been found in studies to be photo-reactive – that is, unstable in the presence of sunlight!

Here are some of the names colours might appear as:

Aluminum lakes, astaxanthin, azulene, canthaxanthin, carmine, sodium copper chlorophyllin (chlorophyll), D&C colors (all), FD&C colors (all), ultramarine, zinc oxide.

Natural alternatives? As stated above, some colours – like titanium dioxide – are natural but unstable/harmful when used cosmetically. In the US, other “natural” colours were controversially being extracted from fruits and vegetables using toxic chemical solvents such as hexane or acetone, and chemicals actually restricted in the EU.

There are only a few fruit or vegetable colours that have been FDA (U S Food and Drug Administration) approved for what they deem ‘cosmetics’: annatto, henna (in hair coloring only) and caramel (from sugar).



What do they do? They help prevent drying of the skin, by providing a barrier on the body against water loss. Some are humectants, attracting water from their surroundings. Emollients are vital ingredients in moisturisers. They create emulsion so that the skin can absorb the product.

How are they made? The synthetic ones are chemicals (of course). The whole industrial process of making these chemicals involves a lot of energy (fossil fuels, with resulting pollution in air and water), lots of intense heat and/or pressure, and sometimes-reactive agents. Synthetic emollients are not biodegradable, and some have been proven to accumulate in the liver and lymph nodes of the body.

They might show up in ingredients lists as any of the following ‘WTF’ items:

Acetylated lanolin alcohol, butyl adipate, butylene glycol, capric/caprylic triglyceride, ceteareth-2, ceteareth-2 glyceryl monostearate, ceteareth-20, ceteareth-27, cetearyl alcohol, cetearyl glucoside, cetearyl isononanoate, cetearyl octanoate, cetyl alcohol, cetyl esters, cetyl palmitate, coconut fatty acids, cyclomethicone, decyl oleate, dicaprylate-dicapriate, dimethicone, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, dodecatrienol, emulsifying wax, eucerin (petroleum jelly), fat alcohol (cetearyl alcohol), fatty acids, glycerol-mono-di-stearate , glycerol-mono-stearate-palmitate, glyceryl cocoate, glyceryl stearate, potassium stearate,hydrated palm glycerides, hydrogenated oils, isobutyl stearate, isopropyl lanolate, isopropyl myristate, isostearyl-isostearate, jojoba butter/wax (hydrogenated jojoba oil), lanolin linoleate, lauryl lactate, methyl glucose dioleate, mineral oil, non-vegetable glycerine or glycerol, octyl palmitate, octyldodecanol, oleth 2, paraffin, petrolatum, plant emulsifying wax, squalane, stearate, stearic acid, stearyl alcohol, vegetable emulsifying wax.

Some synthetic humectants are:

Propylene Glycol, Ethylene/Diethylene Glycol, PEG compounds (eg Polyethylene Glycol), Synthetic alcohols (eg Glyceryl Coconate, Hydroxystearate, Myristate, Oleate).

Natural alternatives? The following natural oils are alternatives to synthetic emollients: almond oil, avocado oil, coconut oil (my people love this), hazelnut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil palm oil, pumpkin seed oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil (my skin seems to like this ingredient), tamanu oil, wheat germ oil. Always better if the oil has actually organic certification (oh, god, think I just created another blog post topic – organic certification. Coming some time in the future, yo).  Certified organic oils should be cold-pressed – crushed under low-heat conditions – from fresh fruit and seeds/nuts. This is done to preserve beneficial phyto-nutrients. Natural waxes like beeswax, cocoa butter and shea butter are also emollients.

PLUS Lecithin, Panthenol (pro-vitamin B5) and Glycerin are natural humectants. In particular, natural phospholipids, from lecithin, are fantastic humectants! Phospholipids attract water from the surrounding air and hold water where an increased level of hydration is needed.



What do they do? They alter the way water and oils interact, by allowing tiny blobs of oils and waxes to float freely in water (or vice versa) without those blobs merging together and separating out.

How are they made? Let me get back to you on that one 😉

Once again, acetylated lanolin alcohol is a synthetic emulsifier, as is cetearyl alcohol, emulsifying wax, glycerol-mono-di-stearate, and stearyl alcohol. Others are alkyl polyglycoside, betaine, carbomer, carboxymethyl cellulose, cocamidopropyl betaine (coco betaine), ethyl acetate, ethylene glycol distearate, fatty acid alkanolamide, glyceryl mono-, di-oleate, PEG-100 stearate, PEG-25 hydrogenated castor oil, polysorbate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium sulfosuccinates, sorbitan esters, sorbitan stearate, and triethanolamine (TEA).

Natural alternatives? Lecithin, which is often used in the food industry. Lecithin can be derived from soya beans, which contain 0.3 % to 0.6 % lecithin. It can also be obtained from cold pressed vegetable oils, egg yolk, nuts and seeds.


What do they do? Make the product smell good. Or slightly better…

How are they made? They can be synthetic or natural.

The synthetic ones come primarily from petroleum sources. They are much, much cheaper for manufacturers to use.

The highest quality natural fragrances – essential oils – are those with organic certification.

Fragrances have been identified as one of the major contributors to indoor air pollution, because of the way volatile ingredients readily disperse into the air – they can be passively inhaled easily. Many people have adverse reactions to fragrances. And when they are applied on the body, those volatile ingredients can rapidly enter the body through skin absorption (particularly if surfactants are also in the product).

Some common synthetic fragrances found in toiletries:

Amyl acetate (banana fragrance), anisole, apple fragrance, banana fragrance, benzophenones 1 to 12 (rose fragrance), berry fragrance, bitter almond oil (benzaldehyde), cinnamic acid, coconut fragrance, cucumber fragrance, honeysuckle fragrance, lilac fragrance (anisyl acetate), mango fragrance, melon fragrance, methyl acetate (apple fragrance), methyl salicylate (wintergreen or birch fragrance), plum fragrance, peach fragrance, phenethyl alcohol (rose fragrance), strawberry fragrance, vanillin, verataldehyde (vanilla fragrance).

Natural alternatives? Certified organic essential oils! There are HUNDREDS of essential oils worldwide.



What do they do? Preserve it, yo! Increase the stability and life of a product by preventing bacterial and mould growth.

How are they made? Thar depends on whether they are synthetic/chemical or natural. There are so many natural and organic preservatives that humans have been using for thousands of years.

The thing about synthetic preservatives, again, is that they are cheaper for manufacturers to use. All of them are considered toxic in high doses, but manufacturers who use them will argue that small amounts in products are harmless. There seems to be a lack of conclusive evidence on that.

Synthetic preservatives might show up in ingredients lists as any of the following ‘WTF’ items:

Ascorbic acid, ascorbyl palmitate, benzethonium chloride, benzyl alcohol, BHA, BHT, boric acid, butyl paraben, captan, cetrimonium bromide, chloramine, chlorhexidine ,chlorobutanol, chloroxylenol, chlorphenesin, denatured alcohol, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin (contains formaldehyde), ethanolamines, ethyl paraben, euxyl, germaben germall, hexachlorophene, imidazolidinyl urea ((formaldehyde donor – can releasesformaldehyde if temperature over 10 degrees celcius), isopropyl alcohol, kathon, methenamine, methyl paraben, methylisothiazolinone, phenethyl alcohol, phenoxyethanolm, phenylphenol , potassium metabisulfite, potassium sorbate, propyl paraben, quaternary ammonium compounds, salicylic acid, SD alcohol, sodium benzoate, sodium bisulfite, sodium boratem sodium hydroxymethyl glycinate, sodium propionate, sorbic acid, succinic acid, thimerosal, undecylenic acid.

Natural alternatives? Nature provides thousands of plants that have various phyto-chemical constituents that are natural preservatives! Some examples of natural preservatives extracted from plants: Tea Tree Essential Oil, Thyme Essential Oil, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Bitter Orange Extract.



What do they do? Other substances are dissolved or diluted in theses liquids. They are also used for the extraction of botanical constituents.

How are they made? I don’t know the specifics of what the manufacturing process entails, but many companies opt for cheaper, toxic synthetic solvents in extraction. This is due to the fact that these solvents work faster to extract more of an herb’s phyto-chemicals. Common chemical solvents hexane, acetone and methanol are toxic both to handle and to ingest (neurotoxins and pulmonary irritants).

Synthetic solvents might show up in ingredients lists as any of these:

Acetic acid, acetone, amyl alcohol, benzene, butylene glycol, ethyl alcohol, synthetic, ethyl butyl acetate, ether, ethylene glycol monophenyl-ether (phenoxyethanol), glycerine, isopropyl alcohol, hexane, methanol, phenol, propyl alcohol, propylene glycol, SD alcohols.

Natural alternatives? WATER is the most natural solvent.


SURFACTANTS. (Surface-active-agents)

What do they do? Substances capable of dissolving oils, and holding dirt in suspension, so it can be rinsed away (CLEANSED) with water. You’ll find these in skin cleansers and shampoos.

How are they made? You know the equation: synthetic equals cheaper production costs, equals higher profits for companies! They’ll often be used with synthetic foam boosters, foam stabilizers and thickeners to create that much coveted “rich” consistency.

Want to find synthetic surfactants in your product? Look for these:

Ammonium lauryl sulfate, betaine, carboxylate, cocamidopropyl betaine, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, coco betaine, coco polyglucose, DEA cetyl phosphate, decyl glucoside, decyl polyglucose, disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate, glycerol laurate, glycerol monolaurate, glycerol stearate, glyceryl cocoate, lactamide DEA, lauramide DEA, lauramide DEA/MEA, methyl glucose dioleate, olefin sulfonate, cocamine, cocoamphoglycinate, cococarboxamid MEA-4-carboxylate, coconut and corn oil “soap”, coconut surfactants–(ammonium lauryl or laureth sulfate), cocamide DEA or MEA, coconut betaine, lauramide DEA, magnesium lauryl sulfate, neutralized coconut extract, olefin sulfonate, PEG-100 (polyethylene glycol) stearate, PEG-150 (polyethylene glycol) distearate, sodium cocosulfate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, sodium myreth sulfate, sodium myristoyl sarcosinate, sodium stearate, sorbitan stearate, sucrose cocoate, sucrose/glyceryl cocoate, “sugar surfactant”, sulfated/sulfonated oil, TEA (triethanolamine) lauryl sulfate, sodium cocoamphodiacetate, sodium cocoyl glutamate, sodium lauryl sarcosinate, sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate, sucrose cocoate, decyl glucoside, decyl oleate, diethanolamine (DEA), disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, glyceryl cocoate, laureth-13 carboxylate, triethanolamine (TEA).

Natural alternatives? There are of course naturally derived soaps, made from the combination of oils, of either plant or animal origin, and alkali. Be aware that in some countries, ingredients labeled as ‘soap’ are actually non-organic synthetic oleochemical or petrochemical detergents – it all depends on classification standards. Investigate the standards in your country.

True and natural soaps are referred to as castile soap. Natural soaps can also be made from vegetable oils such as almond, cocoa butter, coconut oil, hemp seed, jojoba, olive, palm, safflower, shea nut, and sunflower. Yucca Extract, Soapwort, and Quillaja Bark Extract can also be used as surfactants.



What do they do? Although thickness of a product does not equate with quality in a product, many consumers have been conditioned to like thicker, creamy, “luxurious” creams, etc. Sometimes though, a thickener may be used to help stabilise an emulsion.

How are they made? The profit factor once again motivates many large manufacturers to create synthetic thickeners for their formulations.

They may show up on ingredients lists as:

Carbomer, cocamide DEA, MEA, hydrolyzed wheat protein, hyrdoxymethyl cellulose, hydroxypropyl cellulose, methacryloyl ethyl betaine, methacrylates copolymer, oat protein, potassium carbomer, potassium stearate, quinoa protein, soy protein, vegetable cellulose, wheat protein, xanthan gum.

Natural alternatives? Locust bean gum, guar gum, acacia gum, clay minerals.


IN CONCLUSION: Making changes.

My own bathroom is by no means “pure” yet, and there are a couple of chemical-laden products that I am yet to find effective naturally derived substitutes for. Having said that, I have made a lot of changes, and have been gradually replacing many of the products that I use (or previously used) with ones that have, at a basic level, more identifiable ingredients! And I’m liking the changes so far, as is my body.

So, all I am saying is this: Just take care. Be aware. If you are going to use something on you or your child’s body so intimately and frequently, you might want to take a little time to find out what is actually in it.


3 Comments on “Bathroom Detox: Knowing Your Ingredients.”

  1. […] Oils Online – Base Products for aromatherapy use7 Oils You Haven’t Tried YetBathroom Detox: Knowing Your Ingredients. .recentcomments a{display:inline !important;padding:0 !important;margin:0 […]

  2. Johan says:

    Good information! Keep up the good work!

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