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Are There Toxins in Your Shaving Cream?

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With all the hype around organic general food and fruit and veg you’d think your produce and grocery selections are the most important part of staying healthy. And, to be fair, they’re pretty important. But while you’re checking out labels on your favorite chips, save some of that energy to read over what’s in your shaving cream.

Yeah, you read the right – your shaving cream. The fact is that shaving cream has become just as chemical laden as everything else. While some of these artificial ingredients are included to improve the quality and longevity of creams, others are so toxic they’re downright scary.

What to Look For

When you’re checking out the labels of shaving cream, you’re not likely to recognize a lot of the ingredients even if you choose something that’s all natural. Not many people can determine if one ingredient is riskier than another with names like potassium myristate and Triethanolamine. (Potassium myristate is considered pretty safe, by the way)
While it’s not realistic to memorize every potential hazard, there are some big names every guy should know when it comes time to turn that can, tube or soap label over and scan the ingredient list. Here are the biggest offenders to watch for – and avoid.
Phthalates – Phthalates are a group of chemicals actually used to make plastic. So how do they end up in shaving cream? They’re super-flexible and increase the viscosity of a product so they’re used to make everything from garbage can and shower curtains to nail polish and soap. If the thought of lathering up with something made from the same stuff as your shower curtain isn’t reason enough to leave it out, consider this. Phthalates are also considered endocrine disruptors which means they can affect the levels of hormones in your brain. The concerns about how phthalates affect hormone levels is serious enough that pregnant women are advised to avoid them in order to prevent certain problems with physical and mental development of their child.
Parfum AKA fragrance – Sounds innocuous enough, right? I mean, it’s just something to make you smell good … right? Not exactly. When a company throws the word parfum on their label it’s because they don’t have the time – or space – to list the 3,000 or more chemicals they’re used to create that scent. Simply put, if the company itself doesn’t want to tell you what’s in their signature scent, do you really want it soaking into your skin?
Triethanolamine – What happens when you take ethylene oxide and aqueous ammonia (two known carcinogens, by the way) and mix them together? You get Triethanolamine, a chemical that’s a known skin irritant and has also been linked to tumor growth. Bonus fact, it’s listed as a Schedule 3 substance under the Chemical Weapons Convention since it’s an ingredient used in the manufacture of nitrogen mustards/ Mustard gas with your morning shave, anyone?
Sulfates – Sulfates are pretty harsh but they’re also in a huge number of personal care products. They’re not always called sulfates as companies are quick to change names once people start voicing concerns about the safety of certain ingredients. So look for names like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, or the abbreviations SLS or SLES. Sulfates are linked with a host of issues since they’re an abrasive but, for shaving creams, the main concerns are that they can cause massive skin irritation, impair hair growth and even damage the hair follicles themselves causing hair loss.  Visit HairLossRevolution for more information on hair loss.
Polytetrafluoroethylene – This is the same chemical they use to make Teflon. Yeah, the stuff on your frying pans that keep your eggs from sticking in the morning. If that’s not enough of a turn-off the stuff is also linked to early menopause for women (your girlfriend or wife will love hearing that one) as well as cancer.
While these are the main offenders, there are plenty of other ingredients you should be questioning. Basically, when you’re reading that label, you should have at least some idea of what’s in there. If there’s an ingredient you don’t recognize then check with an organization like the Environmental Working Group (EWG). They’re a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to inform consumers about ingredients in just about every product you can imagine. They maintain a database dedicated solely to ingredients in personal care products which you can access completely free of charge through their website.

How Much Does All This Matter?

Some people may read through all this and simply shrug it off. After all, they reason, we’re not eating the stuff, just using it to shave. But the fact is our skin is our biggest organ and it is, by its very nature, porous. So whatever we slather on our face – or any other part of our body – is likely working its way into our bodies.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate cosmetics in the slightest. So there are no real rules when it comes to what companies can use. The end result? An industry that has carte blanche on what they can pump into their products and, by extension, what they’re pumping into our bodies.
That’s why it’s important that we’re all aware of the products we use. Sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming. We’re already reading labels on everything we buy at the grocery store, plus worrying about the nutritional content of any prepared food we buy, the fair trade standards of our furniture and how much time we’re spending in front of a screen instead of outside. Being healthy can be a bit wearing but, in the end, it’s about the time and energy you’re willing to spend on yourself and, really, what’s more important than that?
Shave safe.
Author Bio: William has a background in biomedical engineering and shares advice and research on health based techniques that help with hair loss. When he’s not in front of the computer you’ll find him on the tennis court practicing his serve.

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9 thoughts on “Are There Toxins in Your Shaving Cream?”

  1. Very informative post. I’m happy to see my Arko stick has none of the chems mentioned. An alternative to Arko that works well for me? Hand-made or homemade soap. The glycerin is produced naturally and I’m not rubbing any chemicals into my skin.

  2. Thanks for this post William – it’s definitely thought provoking. Some of our fave shaving products may be filled with tons of chemicals and not the best for our bodies. Even though it’s not shaving cream, I wanted to mention my husband discovered Dr. Jon’s shaving soap recently – their products are mostly made of essential oils and butters. He’s used the Anne Bonny Natural Vegan soap and likes it. It’s a bay rum, but has some interesting ingredients

  3. Parfum/fragrance? Really? This means that we shouldn’t shave with nearly anything that is out there unless it is unscented–and even some unscented products a little bit of scent. Hell, forget about aftershaves and colognes/EdTs while we’re at it! Almost none of the products I’ve ever come across list any or every component of their scent. Even if all the essential oils are listed, each essential oil can be made up of numerous different oils, so even then you’re not getting the full picture. Hell, a component of an essential oil might actually be toxic given the right does! Synthetic fragrance oils might be a better bet to know exactly what’s in a product as their purity can be controlled by the way they are synthesized. But still, they may not be that pure and won’t even tell you much in terms of a product’s safety.
    I also want to add that just because ingredient A & B are used in the production of product C which may or may not be dangerous, or is not something meant for consumption, does not necessarily mean that A & B are dangerous to use in other applications. In product C, A & B are no longer A & B, they have been transformed. In the reverse, A & B may be completely toxic/not suitable for human consumption, but their resulting product C is completely fine. The easiest example are sodium metal and chlorine gas, which no one would ever consume. Yet, table salt is completely fine for consumption (in moderation, of course, but that goes for everything).
    Lastly, most toxic substances have to get into your blood to cause serious systemic problems (point of contact issues like a skin rash would hopefully be enough to make one discontinue use of a product and further injury can be avoided). And of course, the dose is important. While it is important to avoid exposure to well-known harmful substances, if the exposure is below the level of causing even the slightest problem, you will more than likely be okay. This is why when vaccines still have some levels of mercury or formaldehyde in them, most of us were not seriously injured by them because they are found in such minute amounts. Our bodies will eventually get rid of these substances given they aren’t present in high enough amounts to be toxic to begin with. BTW, an apple has way more formaldehyde in it than a vaccine. Unless you choke on an apple and no one is around to help you, you’re probably not going to die from eating an apple, or a bushel of them.
    There’s not doubt that some of the substances listed here can be dangerous. But by including parfum as one that we should avoid at all costs is ridiculous and leads be to believe that more research needs to be done to give this post more credibility.
    The best advice is to discontinue the use of products that cause skin sensitivity and avoid other products with similar ingredients. An astute consumer can notice a trend in which ingredients may the culprits to their reactions and thus avoid those ingredients. As always, everyone will react differently to different things. Some need to avoid certain things for whatever reasons, and others may be perfectly fine using that same product.
    –I have a B.S. in biochemitry and M.S. in toxicology; trained in neurobiology and toxicology data mining; work in the biopharmaceutical industry in research and process development.

    1. Spot on. The author clearly doesn’t understand the subject matter regardless of what his background may be. Frankly, this article is irresponsible and does nothing but spread FUD.

    2. Yes, when I read the word “toxin” I had serious doubts. When I read “Phthalates are a group of chemicals actually used to make plastic” I knew the person who wrote this had absolutely no idea about chemistry.
      So I didn’t bother reading the rest.

      1. Water is used in pretty much every toxic chemical, chemical weapon, poison, and explosive yet it’s pretty safe to my knowledge. This is the typical FUD you get from the “organic/natural” advocates whose science education ended as early as they could drop the class for arts.

    3. Thank you for the lecture Eddie, I mostly agree with you, but I would add that if you are not sensitive right away to certain ingredients, it does not mean that they are safe in the medium/long run.
      With so many choices of more natural products, why settle for preparations full of preservatives and other potentially hazardous chemicals? I rather have a cream/soap spoil on me than having my skin spoiled…
      ps: when it comes to the biopharmaceutical industry they have a spotty record (thalidomide anybody?)

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