The “Dirty Dozen” Ingredients to Avoid

By Dr. Justin Marchegiani

With over 82,000 ingredients used in body care products (an 1 in 8 being an industrial chemical), I wanted to share a condensed list of the Dirty Dozen ingredients to avoid. These chemicals range from hormone disrupting to carcinogenic. I want to share with you these Dirty Dozen so that you can make the informed choice of whether or not you want to use products containing these toxic compounds.


These two synthetic antioxidants are used as a preservative in products. Exposure to BHA and BHT is linked to allergic reactions, liver, thyroid, and kidney conditions, tumor growth, and cancer. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has classified BHA as a Category 1 ingredient of concern due to the science confirming its effect on human hormones. These ingredients are often found in lipsticks and moisturizers.

Coal Tar Dyes

These dyes are used to give products color, and coal tar like P-phenylenediamine is used frequently in hair dyes. These dyes are made from a mixture of chemicals made from petroleum–a known carcinogen–and contain heavy metals and aluminum which are toxic to the brain and linked to neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimers.

DEA and DEA Related Ingredients 

While these ingredients make products creamy and sudsy, they also cause skin irritation, eye irritation, liver cancer, and disrupt thyroid function. They are often found in facial cleansers, shampoos, soaps, and moisturizers.

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DBP is used in nail polish to prevent it from becoming brittle. Over time, exposure to DBP is linked to liver and kidney failure, hormone imbalance, and lowers sperm count. It absorbs through the skin and can cause genetic mutations–DBP also causes developmental defects in fetuses, which is one reason why I don’t recommend painting your nails while pregnant.

Formaldehyde-releasing ingredients

DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate are just some of the formaldehyde-releasing preservatives used in body care products, but they should never go near your body. At least, not while you’re alive. Formaldehyde is a chemical used to preserve dead bodies. It is a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing compound) that is dangerous whether it’s absorbed through the skin or inhaled.


Easily absorbed, parabens are estrogen-mimicking preservatives which are extremely damaging to the body. They interfere with hormone production and due to their ability to mimic estrogen, parabens are linked to breast cancer, skin cancer, and DNA damage. Around 75-90% of cosmetics contain parabens, making it one of the most abundant toxins to be aware of.


This blanket term is intended to hide a ‘secret recipe’ of fragrance, but really means it is a chemical cocktail of hundreds out of thousands of chemicals. Companies can hide a wide variety of chemicals by cloaking them with the word “Fragrance” on the label. There is no safety data required on these chemicals, though studies have linked fragrance chemicals to asthma, allergies, and cancer.

PEG Compounds

PEG compounds are common in cream-based ingredients, used to thicken and carry moisture. They interfere with the nervous system and human development–another ingredient to be very wary of when pregnant. They are also carcinogenic and are linked to genotoxicity.


Phthalates are used to make plastics soft and to make fragrances and cosmetics stick to the body for longer. Unfortunately, they also harm thyroid health and trigger death in testicular cells.


Petroleum jelly is used to make products shine, like in lip balm and moisturizer. It is linked to cancer, skin irritation, and allergies.


Ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone” (common in hair products and deodorants) are linked to infertility and hormone disruption.


This ingredient is found in antibacterial body products including deodorant and hand sanitizer. Short term concerns include eye and skin irritation, but in the long run triclosan is linked to antibiotic resistance and hormone imbalances. 


Around 80% of cosmetics include ingredients from the Dirty Dozen list. I know it takes work to find clean products, which is why I recommend using the Environmental Working Groups’ database, Skin Deep, to search for clean products. You can look up the safety of products you already own, or search by product type to find the cleanest household and personal care products.

Click here to work with a functional medicine doctor to improve your health! 


Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke

Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke

By Dr. Justin Marchegiani

Have you ever walked into a bath and body store, full of scented bath bombs and candles, and left with a headache, sore throat, or itchy nose? Those of us who are more sensitive may have already connected the dots between artificial fragrances and feeling foggy. While scented products are generally used with the positive intention of changing the scent of a person or a room, many people don’t realize the consequences. For the more sensitive among us, reactions can be immediate, but we are all at risk for the long-term effects of toxic fragrances.

What is “Fragrance”? 

“Fragrance” (or “parfum”) is listed as an ingredient in practically everything these days: body wash, shampoo, soap, perfume, laundry detergent, fabric softener, hairspray, dish soap, household cleaning products… the list goes on and on. While any of these may list the ambiguous “fragrance” as an ingredient, they all have very different scents. Which leads us to the question: what exactly does “fragrance” mean?

Seeing the word fragrance or parfum on an ingredient list indicates a “trade secret” recipe that can be composed of hundreds of synthetic chemicals, selected from a database of 5,000 various components. Not only are companies not required to disclose which chemicals they use,  none of these thousands of chemicals has to be tested for safety. There are some that have been studied, and the health effects are seriously scary. Reproductive harm, respiratory issues, and some of these fragrance chemicals are known neurotoxins.

Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke

Fragrance has been linked to:

  • Endocrine disruption
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Brain fog
  • Memory and concentration issues
  • ADHD
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Allergies
  • Respiratory problems
  • Birth defects
  • Damaged sperm

One example we can look at are phthalates, which help chemicals absorb into the body (alarm bells are already ringing). What are the associated risks? Reproductive system birth defects, hormonal changes, reduced sperm motility and concentration, increased damage to sperm DNA, obesity and insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, thyroid irregularities, asthma, and skin allergies, miscarriage, and infertility, to name a few.

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EWG product testing found phthalates in nearly 75% of name-brand products, while not a single product listed phthalates as ingredients. This is because phthalates fall under the umbrella of a secret ingredient, and can be slipped into the chemical cocktail that results in one simple word, fragrance, on the ingredients list.

Second-Hand Fragrance

Think about the potential health effects linked to using phthalates that we listed above. This is just one of 5,000 ingredients that are mixed together to create a product’s fragrance. None of these chemicals are required to be tested for safety, yet we are exposed to them every single day! 

Some of us are more sensitive than others and have an immediate reaction to scented products, and will avoid purchasing them. However, the majority of the population (unwittingly) still uses these toxic products. Perfume, scented laundry, hair products, air fresheners… Just like cigarette smoke, these fragrances create an aura of fragrance that pollutes the air. At their core, second-hand smoke and today’s fragrance epidemic are both battles over indoor air quality. 

Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke

What Can We Do?

Shop with your dollars, and purchase products that are fragrance-free or contain truly natural ingredients, like pure essential oils. In fact, essential oils can take the place of a variety of scented products. doTERRA On Guard Cleanser is made of pure essential oils, including cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, and wild orange. A lavender essential oil can be mixed with a carrier oil (coconut, avocado, olive, rosehip, etc.) to create a natural moisturizer. Shopping for fragrance-free products is not hard, but making them yourself adds an extra layer of fun & personalization!

Still have questions about fragrances? Click here to talk to a professional!


The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Justin Marchegiani unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Justin and his community. Dr. Justin encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Marchegiani’s products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using any products.