Glossary - Resources

Click on a word below to find out more about some of the terms used throughout the site.


1,4-Dioxane is a probable carcinogen and an eye and respiratory tract irritant found in trace amounts in some cosmetics, personal care, and cleaning products. It also doesn’t appear on product labels because it’s a contaminant created during the manufacturing process. Instead, watch the label for Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – a petroleum based ingredient that acts as a foaming agent. SLES can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. Additionally, look for PEG compounds, and chemicals that include the clauses xynol, ceteareth and oleth on product labels.


Arsenic is a metal that naturally occurs in the earth’s crust and may enter water sources naturally. However, it is used in various products including textiles, preservatives, and pigments and released to the environment through metal production, use of pesticides, burning fossil fuels, particularly coal, and waste disposal. Humans are mostly exposed via food, but other sources include drinking water, soil, ambient air, house dust, and cigarette smoking. Arsenic and its inorganic compounds are considered to be “carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and are considered “toxic” in Canada because of their carcinogenicity.

Artificial Musk

Nitromusks such as musk xylene and musk ketone are hormone disrupting chemicals that are often included in fragrance or parfum. The inclusion of fragrance on ingredient lists usually suggests a variety of hidden chemicals which do not have to be disclosed because they are considered trade secrets. Also hidden within these trade secrets are often high levels of phthalates. Phthalates are endocrine disrupting and have been linked to breast cancer and birth defects. Fragrance is also linked to allergies, immune system toxicity, headaches and dizziness. Artificial musks are found in many personal care products containing fragrance. Look on the label for fragrance, perfume and parfum. Seek out products that are scented with essential oils, and that clearly indicate all ingredients instead of hiding mystery chemicals under the term “fragrance”.

BFRs (brominated flame retardants)

See PBDEs.

BHA (butyl hydroxyanisole) et BHT (butyl hydroxytoluène)

Que sont ces substances?
Le butyl hydroxyanisole (BHA) et le butyl hydroxytoluène (BHT) sont deux antioxydants synthétiques similaires utilisés comme agents de conservation dans les cosmétiques et les produits de soins personnels. L'utilisation de ces deux ingrédients soulève de plus en plus de préoccupations depuis que des études sur la santé animale et la santé humaine ont démontré qu'ils sont cancérogènes, peuvent provoquer une perturbation endocrinienne, ont des effets toxiques sur le développement et sont susceptibles d'entraîner des allergies.


Dans quels produits trouve-t-on ces substances?
Le BHA et BHT peuvent être présents dans différents produits de soins personnels comme le rouge à lèvres, l'ombre à paupières, le cache-cernes et les produits hydratants. Lorsqu'un produit de beauté ou de soins corporels contient du BHA ou du BHT, la principale source d'exposition est l'absorption cutanée.


Comment peut-on repérer et éviter ces substances?
Vérifiez la liste des ingrédients afin de savoir si elle comprend du butyl hydroxyanisole et du butyl hydroxytoluène. Une façon facile d'éviter la présence de ces substances chimiques est de rechercher des produits de maquillage naturels ou à base de minéraux. Assurez-vous que les colorants contenus dans votre rouge à lèvres sont minéraux ou végétaux. Il existe également divers produits naturels pouvant servir de lotion, et vous pouvez même utiliser à ce titre une huile naturelle.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are similar synthetic antioxidants that are used as preservatives in personal care products and cosmetics. Studies show these chemicals are carcinogenic, endocrine-disruptors, and allergenic. BHA and BHT can be found in personal care products such as lipstick, eye shadow, concealer and moisturizers. In body care products and cosmetics, the primary area of exposure to BHA and BHT is dermal absorption.


Bioaccumulation is the increase in concentration of a substance in the tissues of a living organism throughout its lifetime. Everyday we are exposed to a mixture of substances through contaminated air, water, food and products. As exposure occurs, certain chemicals that are very slowly metabolized or excreted build up in the tissues of living organisms.

Bisphenol A

Bisphenol A is primarily used to make polycarbonate plastic (recycling # 7) food and beverage containers, plastic food wrap, some dental sealants, receipts, and the epoxy resins that are used to line some metal cans for foods, such as cans of soup. Bisphenol A can leach from these products as they age and are exposed to heat, subsequently ingested by people. BPA is an estrogenic hormone disruptor that can cause reproductive damage and birth defects that may lead to prostate and breast cancer in adulthood. Other research has linked this chemical with immune system dysfunction, early puberty in females, heart disease, diabetes, and higher rates of miscarriage. BPA was banned for use in baby bottles in 2008, and has since been declared toxic in Canada, the first country in the world to do so.

Body burden

Body burden refers to the amount of a chemical, or a number of chemicals, stored in the body, especially a toxic or potentially toxic chemical, over time.


Cadmium occurs naturally in the environment, but its presence in the environment is mostly the result of human activities, particularly metal production, fuel burning, transportation, solid waste disposal, and sewage sludge application. Canadians are mostly exposed via food, but also drinking water, air, consumer product releases, occupational exposures, and smoking. Cadmium from body and hair creams can also be absorbed into the human body through dermal contact. This heavy metal is known to cause lung and prostate cancer, and is toxic to the gastrointestinal tract, the kidneys, and the respiratory, cardiovascular and hormonal systems.

Cadmium and cadmium compounds are considered to be “carcinogenic to humans” by the IARC and are considered “toxic” in Canada because of their carcinogenicity and environmental effects. It and its compounds are also classified as known human carcinogens by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.


Any substance that can cause or aggravate cancer.

Coal tar-derived colours

Coal tar-derived colours include P-phenylenediamine (PPD), P- paraphenylenediamine, and colours labeled “C.I.”. Coal-tar derived colours have been associated with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, acute leukemia, bladder cancer, contact dermatitis, and severe facial oedema. In the short term, common reactions are itching, burning, scalp itching, hives and blistering of the skin. There have also been concerns expressed around negative health effects from long-term exposure. Coal tar-derived colours, including PPD, are often used in permanent hair dyes with higher concentration in darker shades. To avoid these chemicals, choose a natural hair dye that uses plant-based dyes. Also avoid names like paraphenylene, PPD, p-diaminobenzene, p-phenylenediamine, p-aminoaniline and 1,4-benzenediamine.

Dibutyl Phthalate

What is it?
Dibutyl Phthalate, or DBP, is a known carcinogen that is also linked to genital abnormalities in infants and testicular cancer. Additionally the vapor irritates the eyes and mucous membranes.
What is it in?
DBP is mainly found in nail polish but is also sometimes in shampoo.
How to Identify and Avoid
  • Some large, brand name nail polish companies have responded to pressure and removed DBP from their products but as always it’s best to find a natural nail polish product.
  • If you want to avoid chemicals completely, henna paste can stain your nails.
  • If you can’t find a natural solution, you should dab some olive or almond oil on the nail bed. This can help reduce the amount of chemicals that soak into your system.
  • Do some research online to see if your favourite nail polish company has gone DBP free.



Dioxins are highly toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulative compounds found in the environment. They occur naturally at trace levels, but are also a byproduct of a number of industrial processes, including combustion (commercial, medical or municipal waste incineration), burning fuels, chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper, herbicide and pesticide manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, refining and processing, electrical power generation, and iron and steel production. Studies demonstrate that 90% of human dioxin exposure occurs through diet, from the consumption of fish, meat, or dairy products, and that the compound accumulates in food chains through atmospheric deposition. Dioxins can cause a number of adverse health effects to humans and animals, including impacts on reproduction and development; suppression of the immune system, endocrine system and nervous system; skin disorders, such as chloracne; liver damage; elevated incidence of diabetes; heart and kidney disease; and cancer.


Formaldehyde is an immune system toxicant, skin irritant and known carcinogen. Formaldehyde releasing agents, which slowly off-gas formaldehyde throughout their life, to be inhaled by the user of the product, are found in hair care products, hair colouring, nail products, and many other beauty products. In the home, formaldehyde is used to make wrinkle-resistant clothing, glues and adhesives and as a preservative in some paints and coating products. Many types of wood found in construction materials, furniture and cabinetry contain formaldehyde, including particleboard, fibreboard and plywood. Formaldehyde emissions generally decrease as products age; when products are new, high indoor temperatures and humidity can increase the amount of formaldehyde that is released.

Check ingredient lists for: DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Methenamine, Quaternium-15 and Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate.

Formaldehyde Releasing Agents

What is it?
There are a number of personal care product ingredients that release formaldehyde. These chemicals continue to slowly release formaldehyde during their life. The off-gasses from these chemicals are inhaled by the user of the product. There are many health concerns about formaldehyde as it is an immune system toxicant, skin irritant and probable carcinogen.
What is it in?
Chemicals that release formaldehyde are found in hair care products, hair colouring, moisturizers, eye shadow, mascara, foundation, blush and nail products.
How to Identify and Avoid
When checking product ingredients for formaldehyde releasing agents look for: DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Methenamine, Quaternium-15 and Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate. There are many natural options for cosmetics and personal care products that won’t include these harmful chemicals.



See artificial musks.

Hormone disruptors (a.k.a. Endocrine disruptors)

Hormone or endocrine disruptors are substances that can interfere with the normal functioning of the hormone system of both people and wildlife in a number of ways to produce a wide range of adverse effects including reproductive, developmental and behavioural problems.


The production of latex involves the use of nitrosamines and their precursors, which are known to be potent cancer-causing substances. These chemicals are added to increase the strength and elasticity of the final product, such as rubber nipples on baby bottles. Unfortunately, wear and tear can cause rubber nipples to release nitrosamines and their precursors as a baby suckles. Studies show that the precursors actually transform into nitrosamines when they are exposed to saliva.


Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal but exposure can occur through emissions from metal smelters, old leaded gasoline, paint, and tire weights, and through impurities in products such as lipstick. It is neurotoxic, an endocrine-disruptor, a suspected carcinogen, and no safe level is known.


Manganese is a naturally occurring metal that is found in many types of rocks. In addition to natural sources, human-made sources of manganese include the burning of fossil fuels, emissions from the steel industry, and the use of synthetic manganese compounds in pesticides. Although manganese is an essential element necessary for good health, at elevated levels it can become a neurotoxin.



µg/L (microgram per litre), equivalent to parts per billion (ppb) ng/mL (nanogram per millilitre), equivalent to parts per billion (ppb) µg/g (microgram per gram), equivalent to parts per million (ppm) ng/g (nanograms of the chemical per gram sampled tissue), equivalent to parts per billion (ppb) cre= creatinin, in urine measurement µmol/L (micromoles per litre) nmol/L (nanomoles per litre)


Some mercury occurs naturally in the environment, but the major sources of mercury pollution are coal-fired power plant emissions and emissions from mining and manufacturing processes, as well as mercury-containing products, such as thermometers, batteries, and fluorescent light tubes. When inorganic mercury enters the air from these human sources it is then deposited in soil and water, where micro organisms transform inorganic mercury into organic mercury compounds, such as methylmercury. Methylmercury can bioaccumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms, particularly fish living in polluted waters, and the people who then eat those fish. Mercury is a recognized developmental toxin, and it is also a suspected hormone disruptor, neurotoxin, reproductive toxin and respiratory toxin.

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders are disabilities in the functioning of the brain that affect a child’s behaviour, memory, or ability to learn. These effects may result from exposure of the fetus or young child to certain environmental contaminants, though current data do not indicate the extent to which environmental contaminants contribute to overall rates of neurodevelopmental disorders in children. A child’s brain and nervous system are vulnerable to adverse impacts from pollutants because they go through a long developmental process beginning shortly after conception and continuing through adolescence.


Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetics and are often used as unlisted fragrance ingredients. Exposure to parabens from personal care products occurs through the skin. As parabens are absorbed through the skin they go straight into the blood stream and organs. They are absorbed through the skin, and straight into the blood stream and organs. Parabens are linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin irritation. They are also linked to breast cancer. Parabens are found in a number of personal care products including shampoo, moisturizer, shaving cream, cleansing gels, personal lubricant, deodorant and toothpaste.

PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)

These chemicals are used to slow the spread of fire in upholstered furniture, mattresses, electronics, and other products. PBDEs are being phased out in Canada, but they build up in fatty tissue, and are highly persistent. Health effects include neurodevelopmental disorders, thyroid damage, and suspected links to cancer.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)

PCBs have been banned in Canada since 1977, yet they continue to be released into the environment from sources in other countries, and from PCB-containing industrial equipment that is still in use here. PCBs are highly toxic and persistent chemicals that have been building up in wildlife and people through the process of bioaccumulation. PCBs are classified as carcinogenic, and toxic to the immune, reproductive and, neurological systems.

PERC (perchloroethylene)

Perchloroethylene (or "PERC") is the most common form of dry cleaning, used by 80 per cent of the industry in Canada. Typewriter correction fluid and shoe polish are among the consumer products that contain PERC. PERC has been designated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act as a persistent, bio-accumulative chemical that is toxic to the environment. Short term exposure to PERC can cause adverse health effects on the nervous system. Contact with PERC in its liquid or vapour form can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Long term exposure to PERC can cause liver and kidney damage. PERC has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals that repeatedly breathed PERC in air.

Perfluorinated chemicals

Perfluorinated chemicals are widely used for their resistance to environmental breakdown in a range of consumer products. PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) is used as a stain repellent on clothing and other fabric products, such as carpets. This chemical is also used in food packaging, particularly for fast food and microwave popcorn bags. Another perfluorinated chemical of concern is PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which is used to make Goretex and Teflon products, such as non-stick cookware. Studies have shown that perfluorinated chemicals are extremely persistent, and suggest that these chemicals can cause cancer and disrupt hormones.


Compounds that are not easily broken down in the environment and therefore stay in the environment for a very long time are know as 'persistent'.


Organochlorine (OCs) pesticides, now banned, are highly toxic and persistent in the environment, and as a group of chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, skeletal abnormalities and reproductive, neurological and immune system damage.

Organophosphate (OPs) insecticides, like parathion, diazinon, malathion, and chloropyrifos, have a variety of applications for lawns, agricultural crops, mosquito and pest control. These chemicals are known neurotoxins. Pesticide exposure has also been linked some pretty serious negative health effects. Just some of the health issues on this list: general developmental problems and cognitive deficits in children, endocrine disruption, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, low birth weight, reproductive problems, asthma, risk of obesity and diabetes and infertility.


Petrolatum, commonly known as Petroleum Jelly, is a virtually odourless and tasteless gel that helps to smooth and soften skin. Because it is a petroleum product, it could be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies have indicated that exposure to PAHs is associated with cancer. Additionally, PAHs can cause skin irritations and allergies. Petrolatum can be found in skin creams, wax depilatories, eyebrow pencils, eye shadows, lipsticks, conditioner and blush. Check the label for petrolatum, petroleum jelly, mineral jelly or mineral grease.


Phthalates are a group of man-made chemicals that are widely used as plasticizing additives in a broad range of consumer products, including cosmetic and personal care products, PVC consumer products and construction materials. These chemicals are also used in synthetic fragrances to extend the scents’ staying power. Phthalates are relatively persistent in the environment and have been found in drinking water, soil, household dust, wildlife, fatty foods (meat and dairy products) and in the blood and breast milk of people. Scientific research has shown that phthalates disrupt hormones, and can cause birth defects of male reproductive organs. You’ll find phthalates in many cosmetic and personal care products, including scented items and nail products.

Polycarbonate plastic (recycling # 7)

Polycarbonate plastic is made with a toxic chlorine gas derivative and cancer-causing solvents, and throughout its use, in the form of refillable drinking bottles for example, it may leach the hormone disrupting chemical bisphenol A, which has been declared toxic in Canada.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

PAHs come from both natural and human-made sources, and are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, garbage, or other organic substances. The greatest human-made sources of PAHs are aluminum smelters, coking plants, creosote-treated products, spills of petroleum products and transportation. PAHs have been identified as probable carcinogens and are suspected reproductive and respiratory toxins.

PVC (Polyvinyl chloride), a.k.a Vinyl (recycling # 3)

PVC is a harmful plastic that emits toxic chemicals from manufacturing to disposal. PVC is used to make construction materials (such as pipes, flooring, and wiring), and a range of consumer products (shower curtains, records and clothes). PVC products can leach toxic additives, like phthalates, throughout their use. Phthalates are added to PVC products to make them softer and more flexible, but these chemicals are known to disrupt hormones, leading to birth defects of male reproductive organs. Seek out a manufacturer whose products are PVC-free, or opt for household items and consumer products made from natural materials, such as bamboo or organic cotton.

Reproductive/Developmental Toxicants

Reproductive toxicants can affect sexual behaviour, onset of puberty, sperm count, fertility, gestation time, pregnancy outcome, lactation and premature menopause. Developmental toxicants, a sub-group of reproductive toxicants, can cause adverse effects for the developing child, such as birth defects.

Respiratory Toxicants

Respiratory toxicants cause adverse effects to the structure or functioning of the respiratory system (nasal passages, pharynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs), and produce a variety of acute and chronic pulmonary conditions, including local irritation, bronchitis, pulmonary edema, emphysema, and cancer. Respiratory toxicants include categories of substances like toxic gases, vapours from solvents, aerosols, and particulate matter. Ozone and fine particles are known to pose a significant threat to respiratory health. Ground-level ozone, the main component in smog, causes breathing problems, aggravates asthma, and increases the severity and incidence of respiratory infections.

Silicone Chemicals

Siloxanes (cyclomethicone, cyclotetrasiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, and cyclohexasiloxane) are a group of chemical compounds that are used in products to make hair and skin appear smooth. Siloxanes are detrimental to the environment and have raised concerns for their effects on human health as well. Absorbed through the skin, siloxanes can contribute to skin irritation and have been linked to cancer. Check labels for cyclomethicone, cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), cyclopentasiloxane (D5) and cyclohexasiloxane (D6), or any ingredients with the suffix “siloxane”

Stain repellants

See perfluorinated chemicals.

Synthetic fragrances

See phthalates.


See perfluorinated chemicals.


Materials that cause death, disease, or birth defects in organisms that ingest or absorb them. The quantities and exposures necessary to cause these effects can vary widely.



Triclosan is a synthetic antibacterial/antifungal agent which has been connected to endocrine disruption and is known to affect the production of the thyroid hormone which may have a depressant effect on the central nervous system. It is toxic to the environment and has been connected to superbugs. Its breakdown products include chloroform and dioxins, which are known carcinogens. It penetrates human skin and has been found in the breast milk of mothers. It also has potential links to the development of allergies and dermatitis.

Triclosan is used in a wide variety of personal care products including shaving creams, hair conditioners, deodorants, liquid soaps, hand soaps, facial cleansers and disinfectants. It is the active ingredient in most antibacterial products, but it is also used in some products that don’t claim to be antibacterial, like toothpaste. Avoid products labelled as “antibacterial” and check labels for triclosan, or brand name Microban (often indicated on the front of the package). Studies show that anti-bacterial products are no more effective than regular handwashing with soap, so just wash your hands regularly and thoroughly.

Virtual Elimination

Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, virtual elimination is the reduction of releases to the environment of the most dangerous toxic substances to a level below which these releases cannot be accurately measured.

VOCs (Volatile and Semi-volatile organic compounds)

VOCs, such as the chemicals xylene, benzene, and toluene, are found in many household products, including paints, varnishes, paint stripping products, and adhesives. VOCs are airborne particles that contribute to poor air quality indoors and out. In fact, VOCs are one of the building blocks of smog. VOCs are toxic to the nervous system and some are cancer-causing. The health effects of different VOCs range from damage to the reproductive, neurological and respiratory systems, birth defects, and impaired kidney and liver function.