El Chris Learns that his Soap is Trying to Give Him Cancer

I’m a Boy Scout for life. I’m a scout leader, and because of that, I am expected to adhere to a certain set of principles described in the Scout law as 11 adjectives that each scout is expected to be. On of them is thrifty.

A while back I was poking around at my local CVS Pharmacy when I saw a sign under some body wash. “Buy one, get one free!” It joyfully exclaimed. I bit. I bought two bottles of the soap and skipped home, pleased with my thrifty purchase.

Over the coming weeks, I learned the ins and outs of my magical new man product. I also learned that it was a dull, opalescent blue and made my sinuses hurt with its sharp perfume. I read the label every day throughout my shower, but it always bothered me that I didn’t know what the ingredients were. It didn’t exactly weigh heavily on me, it was reliably forgotten by the time I was rinsed and towelled.

In recent days, I’ve become more and more concerned with what I’m putting INTO my body, but I realized that I was neglecting to investigate what I put ON my body. When I started my weight loss adventure, I decided that I would now start treating my body better, both inside and out. Here’s what I found.



soap right guard beauty products beauty product soap CVS
The Bottle

The bottle is vaguely ergonomic, although I’m not sure why they’re concerned. I doubt many people are concerned with properly holding a closed bottle of soap for 10 seconds every morning. The cap is orange and has channels carved into it that remind me of a basketball. Gosh, how athletic.

The product itself is a dull, opalescent blue as you can see in the picture. Strange, I don’t derive any pleasure from a “pretty” soap product, as it lathers white on my skin and then washes down the drain, but I guess I’m not OPPOSED to it….

Right guard plate
Right Guard Body Wash under the light.



Sharp, similar to Axe and other obnoxiously scented cologne products. Clearly synthetic, a pain to the nose when inhaled sharply and constantly but mildly pleasant after my shower.


Water : Safe. Non cancerous. Perfectly normal.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate: Also known as Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate or SLES. A popular whipping post due to an Internet rumor, many people think that SLES causes cancer. This has since been proven false. In fact, the National Toxicology Program, OSHA, and International Agency for Research on Cancer have all rated SLES as non-carcinogenic. I’m not a fan of this soap, but I can’t blame this ingredient.

Cocamidopropyl betaine: A surfactant made from coconut oil and Dimethylaminopropylamine. A surfactent is important to soap because it breaks the surface tension of water and allows soaps to clean off oils. My problem with this is that it was named allergen of the year in 2004. This is a large contributor to allergens, and may be the reason that your skin itches if you don’t wash this soap off your skin thoroughly, and even then it might still stick.

Acrylates Copolymer: Helps in forming films, which keeps the soap and its fragrances on your skin. Concerning, since it forms a film that keeps the cocamidopropyl betaine on my skin. Also an adhesive, artificial nail builder; binder; film former, hair fixative, and suspending agent. The FDA has declared it not to be ingested while also approving it as a food additive, so that’s pretty concerning. It’s also an ingredient in superglue. And it’s going on your skin.

Fragrance: Named Allergen of the Year in 2007. The reason it’s simply called fragrance is that there is no law that mandates the release of the chemical compounds making up fragrances. Most are synthetic, but as their release is not mandatory, most companies decline to release exactly what they put into their products for fragrance. Many, many folks are severely allergic to fragrances, which are primarily synthetic. Ever smelled Axe? Or Tag? Or Old Spice Body Spray? Yeah. Those synthetic scents are enough to make anybody’s olfactory system go berserk. That combined with the Acrylates Copolymer holding that stuff onto my skin is really starting to explain why I get so stuffy when I smell this stuff.

Glycerin:  Glycerin is kind of neat. It’s hygroscopic, which means that it’ll absorb water out of the air. That’s why when you have glycerin soap it disappears after a week in the shower. It does some neat things with soap. Glycerin will dissolve in water, but not oil. Many things that DON’T dissolve in water WILL dissolve in glycerin, which makes it excellent for use in a water-based soap. It also helps seal moisture into your skin, which gives soap its moisturizing properties. Also, glycerin makes killer explosives, which is why they include it in a men’s soap product, I assume.

Polyquaternium-7: A cationic (WAY different than catatonic) conditioner. Normally, it’s used in conditioners. You know the ones that say “No Frizz”? Well, it’s because of this stuff. Basically, the way this works is that (when combined with the Cocamidopropyl betaine) it stays on your skin and hair and neutralizes the charge of your skin and hair. When you rinse this off, enough of the cations stay and keep your skin and hair at a neutral charge.

PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate: A polymer made from polyethylene (the most common type of plastic) and glycol. along with fatty acids from coconut oil. You know how when you leave dish soap on your pots and pans and then eat it and then can’t stop pooping? Well, that’s because polyethylene glycol happens to be the main ingredient in Miralax and other popular laxatives. Also, it’s plastic. It’s friggin’ PLASTIC. It has four purposes in my soap here.

  • It’s an emollient, which will soften and lubricate the skin.
  • It’s an emulsifier, which helps oil and water based ingredients mix together.
  • It helps deliver other ingredients deeper into the skin.
  • It’s a foamer. Americans LOVE foamy soap products, and this sure makes foam.

I’m not a fan of the fact that it’s plastic. It’s the same stuff they make plastic bags and pop bottles out of. Also, there’s little regulation for it’s manufacturing. PEG-7 can contain ethylene oxide (a main ingredient of mustard gas), polycyclic aromatic compounds, and oodles of heavy metals, like lead, nickel, iron, arsenic, and cadmium. Inside an ingredient that’s used to help your skin absorb other ingredients? No thank you.

Glycol Distearate: Another common food additive (which is scary) and lathering agent for soap. Again, there is little regulation to the purity of this chemical, which leads to heavy metal contamination.

Steareth-4: A steareth reduces the interaction of molecules from different liquids to form an emulsion. Without the use of a steareth, the ingredients of the soap would separate like salad dressing does. The issue with steareths is that they haven’t been researched enough to assess any damage that could actually occur from them. They are classified as not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful. The amount of hedging in that sentence is staggering. “Not expected to be potentially…” is a nice way to say “nobody knows.”

Hydrolized Yogurt Protein: Not really dangerous but definitely ballyhoo. Not a lot of research has been done on this, but from what I can tell, they take yogurt protein and hydrogenate it to be added. The label claims  that the protein will add a layer of “protection” to my skin. Protection from what, I can’t say. There’s little research to support any benefit from a small amount of protein being on my skin for 20 seconds before being washed off.

Triclosan: An ingredient commonly added to consumer products to prevent bacterial contamination. I am a HUGE opponent to antibacterial soap and antibacterial hand sanitizer for the reason that they lead to antibiotic resistance. The label made no mention of antibiotic properties, if it had I never would have bought it. The FDA is currently reviewing their stance on triclosan.

DMDM Hydantoin: A preservative that functions by releasing formaldehyde into the solution, thereby acting as an antimicrobial. I can’t begin to describe how awful this is. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. It has high restrictions and requires it’s own MSDS anytime anybody has to work with it. This is crap. Based on this ingredient alone, I’m never using this soap again, or any other soap with this ingredient.
Tetrasodium EDTA: Another preservative. Not so bad, until you realize that it’s made from TWO awful chemicals, formaldehyde and cyanide! Now I’m mad. This soap is crap. In addition to preserving the product and containing a carcinogen and a flat out toxin, it also breaks down the skin’s protective barrier and allows these awful chemicals to penetrate the skin and enter your bloodstream.

Citric Acid: Citric acid serves several purposes in this product. Since it’s an acid, it’s commonly used to balance the PH level of the product. That’s fair, anything too alkaline (like sodium hydroxide, mentioned below) would cause damage to our skin. Citric acid also has the unfortunate ability to form another carcinogen called Benzene when combined with certain popular FOOD ingredients (aspartame being one of them, although it doesn’t appear in this product) which should ring HUGE alarm bells but doesn’t for some reason. It also contributes to a fruity, citrus scent.

Sodium Hydroxide: Also known as lye. All soap contains this. In soap, there is little concern about this ingredient. The PH of the lye has been neutralized by the citric acid so there’s no risk of burns. Lye is important in soap because it loosens dirt and dissolves grease and oil. Without it, soap wouldn’t be soap.

Sodium Chloride: Otherwise known as table salt. Trace amounts exist in all soap since it’s needed to make sodium hydroxide.

Blue 1: An FDA approved blue color derived from oil and oil products. Often referred to as brilliant blue. In 2007, a study published in the British medical journal The Lancet showed strong evidence linking Blue 1 to hyperactivity and ADD in children. The evidence was so compelling that European Parliament now mandates a warning on products containing Blue 1. I don’t want this stuff IN my body, why would I want it ON my body?

Red 33: Also known as Acid Red 33, an FDA approved dye used to produce a shade of bluish-red. It’s not allowed in products designed for the eye, and can only be used in concentrations of up to 3 percent in lipstick. Well, if it’s regulated enough to only be allowed near my mouth in small amounts, again I ask, why would I want this on my body?


I’m never using this soap again. After seeing how many carcinogens are in it, I’ve decided that I can get over the pretty packaging and color of the product. I bought a pack of Ivory bar soap that I’ll be using, and already I feel different. I’m not stuffy after I get out of the shower, and my skin doesn’t reek like a teenage boy’s failed attempt at pheremone replacement. This summer I’ll be trying to make my own soap, but for now, I’m sticking with Ivory.


Author: El Chris

I’m full of snark that doesn’t always come out. I have a soft spot for kids and people with special needs. I’m a disability advocate by day, and a coffee roasting photographer by night. You’ll love me, but your parents will love me more.

7 thoughts on “El Chris Learns that his Soap is Trying to Give Him Cancer”

  1. I stopped using soap altogether (except for shampoo) – Norwex makes these awesome microfiber cloths with silver in them that work with no soap – I take off my makeup with them and use them in the shower. I’m pretty sure I don’t stink, and there’s no chemicals at all. 🙂

  2. Formaldehyde?! Bad, bad. Bad. Even diluted that stuff is terrible. It’s a fixative that is pretty toxic and it is used as part of the reaction of cleaning you? No thank you. Thanks for posting.

  3. This made me take a look at my own ‘x-treme clean fresh blast zomg awesome’ soap product and I discovered some equally bizarre and dangerous stuff. Off to the soap store I go!

  4. In 2009 I swapped all my personal care products to all-natural based. In reading the labels, I became aware of the amount of chemicals I was using on my skin (the LARGEST ORGAN OF YOUR ENTIRE BODY) and made some connections between these chemicals and the mounting allergic reactions I was experiencing, especially to perfumes. I’ve been using Dr. Bronners soaps as our hand washing soap forever; they’re natural hemp based soaps with no antibacterial properties at all. In our shower, we like to use 99.9% pure Ivory bar soap too. But my hair, skin and makeup products were all synthetic.

    So I swapped my shampoo/conditioner and facial products for Burts Bees. I bought Nature’s Gate or Tom’s natural toothpastes. The products are wonderful, and right away I noticed a change in my hair and skin. My mouth also felt much better, cleaner and fresher with the natural toothpaste. I didn’t think much of it until a lady with strong perfume came and stood next to me one day. Normally, my throat would get tight and itchy, and my eyes would water. I’d been using the natural products for several months by now, and not one of my normal reactions occurred with this perfume exposure. I was shocked, but pleased that I didn’t feel like I was going to suffocate. I still don’t want to be standing by anyone with strong perfume, but at least I don’t feel like I will die if I have to.

    The best part about the switch is that my teeth, gums and overall oral hygiene are way better than they used to be on synthetic toothpaste. My dentist raves about my teeth at each visit. My hair is exceptionally healthy and thick too, and holds it’s hair color far longer than it ever used to on synthetic products. My skin is clear and even as well, and I rarely experience any breakouts. I use Burts Bees products exclusively on my skin and occasionally their toothpaste, Nature’s Gate hair products and toothpaste, and I like Tom’s of Maine toothpaste too.

    I feel very strongly that the use of all natural products has greatly increased my overall health and well-being. I like that I’m not drenching myself in chemicals every time I shower, wash my face and hair or brush my teeth. I’m convinced that it’s a vital aspect of anyone’s well being to use products that are free of dangerous chemicals, especially when it comes to children.

  5. On a side note, you will definitely pay more money for all natural personal care products, but when people are aghast that my toothpaste costs 6 bucks a tube, I ask them how much their health is really worth to them. They can’t deny that question. Another thing I have found with using all natural products is that you need far less of them to accomplish the same result as the synthetics, so they last a lot longer, making them more cost efficient.

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