In January 2020, Environmental Defence launched its new Toxic Ten Skincare Guide to help Canadians make safer and more informed choices when shopping for cosmetics and personal care products.

“Canadians are increasingly concerned about the impacts of toxic chemicals in their bodies and the environment,” says Muhannad Malas, Toxics Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “Our new guide lists 10 harmful chemicals, or groups of chemicals such as phthalates and Teflon-like chemicals known as PFAS, that consumers should avoid to better protect their health and the environment.”

Environmental Defence’s new Toxic Ten list includes:

  1. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
  2. Formaldehyde & formaldehyde releasing agents
  3. N-Ethylpentedrone (NEP) and N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP)
  4. Oxybenzone
  5. Parabens
  6. Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
  7. Phthalates
  8. Siloxanes
  9. Talc
  10. Toluene

“It is critically important that consumers make smart decisions to avoid products containing known and potentially toxic and persistent compounds,” says Dr. Miriam Diamond, professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto. “But making smart decisions isn’t always possible without labelling. When in doubt, remember to reduce use first, which can protect not only yourself, but also workers who make the products and the environment that receives the product when you wash it away.”

Many of these chemicals are unregulated or have weak restrictions on their use in consumer products in Canada. For instance, phthalates, which are reproductive toxicants typically added to cosmetics as fragrance stabilizers, have been found by U.S. and European agencies to be harmful to human health at current levels of exposure, especially during pregnancy and  childhood. However, the Canadian government has decided not to regulate them in personal care products. More troubling is the fact that these chemicals are usually undisclosed on product labels due to labelling exemptions for fragrance ingredients.

PFAS, a large class of chemicals known for being used in non-stick cookware and in stain and water resistant carpets and outdoor clothing, are highly persistent in the environment. Canada has regulated some legacy PFAS chemicals, but there are more than 4,000 new PFAS that may be used in products sold in Canada. Most PFAS have not been adequately tested for their safety or lack of harm.

Other chemicals include parabens (preservatives in cosmetics and suspected hormone disruptors), oxybenzone (a sunblock ingredient that has harmed coral reefs around the world), and toluene (a toxic chemical used in nail products).

For the full list of chemicals including information on each one, please visit:

Originally posted on January 9, 2020.

ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.