Personal Care

Toxic Chemicals in Personal Care Products

Toxic chemicals in our shampoos, hair dyes, and more pose serious health threats.

Why it Matters

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics notes that there are more than 10,000 ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products, many of which are also linked to adverse health effects, including cancer. CEH has successfully ended health threats from toxics in numerous personal care products, including forcing dozens of companies to eliminate cocamide DEA from their products.

Consumers seeking safe personal care products also face a labyrinth of false advertising. For years, organic advocates have called on personal care companies to fix their improper ‘organic’ labels, which have been proven rife with unsubstantiated organic claims. Some of the “organic” labeled products contain ingredients linked to health concerns. For example, a “Kids Hair Softening System” made by the company “Organics by Africa’s Best” contained BHA and cocamide DEA, chemicals that have been classified as cancer-causing by government agencies, triethanolamine, which has caused asthma in exposed workers, and parabens, chemicals that have disrupted hormones in laboratory tests.

Most people believe that products sold in major stores are tested for safety, but consumers need to know that some personal care products contain hazardous ingredients.

What We Did

In 2011, CEH found dozens of products made by 26 companies that are labeled on the front as “organic” yet contain few or, in some cases, no organic ingredients. Many of these products were made with synthetic, often toxic chemicals, and none of them came close to meeting the California law that requires that products labeled as organic must contain at least 70% organic, plant-based ingredients.

Items included products made by major national companies, including Hain-Celestial (one of the largest US organic companies), Alliance Boots (a leading UK cosmetics maker), Kiss My Face, and other major brands. The products were purchased from Target, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Whole Foods, and local natural products retailers in the Bay Area. In addition to CEH’s false labeling suit, Rosminah Brown was the lead plaintiff in a class-action suit against Hain-Celestial for its mislabeled products.

In late 2011, we won landmark legal agreements with dozens of leading cosmetic companies requiring them to use organic ingredients in their “organic” labeled products or change their false labels.

In 2013, CEH purchased shampoos and other products and identified the cancer-causing chemical cocamide DEA in nearly 100 products, including major brands bought from national retailers like Target, Walgreens, CVS and others, and store-brand products purchased at Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Pharmaca, and Kohl’s. Some of the products containing cocamide DEA are intended for children, including a store brand children’s bubble bath from Kmart and a children’s shampoo/conditioner from Babies R Us.

In 2014 CEH reached the first-ever legal agreements in with major companies, including Colgate Palmolive, Saks Inc., Walgreens and 23 others requiring the companies to end their use of the cancer-causing chemical cocamide DEA in shampoos and other personal care products. Other companies agreed to similar actions. It’s now almost impossible to find cocamide DEA in a shampoo or soap.

What You Can Do

Check the “Skin Deep” database for information about the ingredients in your personal care products. Choose “green”-rated products.


CEH Press Release: First-Ever Legal Agreements Seek to End Use of Cancer-Causing Chemical in Shampoos
CEH Press Release: Lawsuit Launched to End Mislabeling of Organic Personal Care Products
CEH In the News: Would-Be Buyers of Organix Naturally Hesitant on Name
CEH Legal Action: CEH Forced Companies to Remove Cocamide DEA
CEH Report: Safer Suds- Eliminating a Cancer-Causing Chemical in Shampoos and Soaps