What’s in a label?

The carcinogens that hide in everyday products

We’ve all heard about the presence of cancer-causing chemicals, called carcinogens, in our household and personal care products. Given that there are national organizations and legislative frameworks to protect consumers from harmful substances, is this true? And if it is true, how can it be legal to sell consumers products that contain carcinogenic chemicals?

It comes down to definitions: authorities such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have different legal criteria1 for listing ingredients that are intentionally added to products, versus components that are unintentionally present. The result: even products labeled organic or ecological may contain carcinogens that are not listed on the label.

Are labels misleading?

The Organic Consumers Association recently analyzed household and personal care products2 commonly found on the market. What they found was troubling: the majority of these products contain contaminants such as the carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane. Even worse, their study showed that several popular products declared ‘ecological’ or ‘organic’ were also contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane — despite the fact that this contaminant was never mentioned on the list of ingredients on their labels.

Is it legal to add carcinogens to commonly-used products?

How can this be possible? According to many U.S. and international regulatory agencies, it is illegal to intentionally include carcinogenic ingredients in manufactured products that will be consumed.

To better understand how carcinogenic chemicals get into our household and personal care products, we need to explore some definitions. An ‘ingredient’ is defined as a component that is intentionally added to a product. By comparison, a ‘contaminant’ is a component that is indirectly added to a product. This contaminant may be an impurity, residue from raw materials, or it may have been generated during the manufacturing process. Take note that contaminants are often not a surprise — chemists and manufacturers often know that a specific contaminant can arise during their processes. But since these components are not intentionally added, they are permitted.

According to these definitions, contaminants are legally tolerated if they are indirect ingredients in a household or personal care product. This makes it almost impossible to warn consumers about the presence of carcinogenic contaminants in everyday products. The average consumer uses nine body care products and four housekeeping products every day, exposing his or her skin to approximately 168 different ingredients that may contain harmful contaminants. Because these chemicals are contaminants, not ingredients, their presence in everyday products is legal.

At ATTITUDE we take contaminants very seriously

The following scientific databases have mapped all the known substances identified as harmful to humans:

  •     California Proposition 65 List3: 963 natural or synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancers, birth defects or other reproductive harm
  •     IARC (group 1, 2A and 2B)4: 495 natural or synthetic chemicals known to be carcinogenic to humans, or possibly carcinogenic to humans

At ATTITUDE, we monitor these databases very carefully to be sure we’re aware of all potentially harmful chemicals. What’s more, every ATTITUDE supplier must provide us with a signed document to guarantee that their products contain no indirect contaminants. As a final quality control measure, we randomly send our body care and household products to an independent lab, where they are tested for commonly found toxic ingredients such as 1,4-Dioxane.

It’s why we do what we do

ATTITUDE body care and household products are always worry free; they never contain cancer-causing chemicals, mutagens or endocrine disruptors. We’ve done the research, so you don’t have to. Not only are all our products worry-free, they are made using the finest ingredients from natural sources — they smell great, feel amazing and leave your home sparkling clean.

Ready to learn more? Read the other posts in this series:


1“Ingredient Names”. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. May 9, 2017. https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/Labeling/IngredientNames/ucm2005218.htm

2 “Carcinogenic 1,4-Dioxane Found in Leading “Organic” Brand Personal Care Products”. Organic Consumers Association. May 9, 2017. https://www.organicconsumers.org/old_articles/bodycare/DioxaneRelease08.php

3“The Proposition 65 List”. OEHHA. May 9, 2017. https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-list

4 “IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans”. International Agency for Research on Cancer. May 9, 2017. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/