OTTAWA - An environmental group has ranked Canada's five largest cosmetics companies based on potentially harmful ingredients in their products.

The report from Toronto-based Environmental Defence says the big five all have issues with chemicals that could be harmful to human health, but some are doing better than others.

And it says public pressure is beginning to exert influence on the ingredients companies use in everything from shampoo and moisturizers to toothpaste and deodorant.

Citing publicly available information and using a basket of five common products, Environmental Defence looked for what it called the "toxic 10" — 10 chemicals that have faced international scrutiny for their proven or potential health hazards.

The study ranked Proctor and Gamble best among Canada's big five cosmetics companies, followed by Johnson and Johnson, and Unilever.

Estee Lauder and L'Oreal rounded out fourth and fifth place, respectively, principally because they did not publicly post policies on eliminating toxins such as triclosan and phthalates from their products.

"The good news is that some companies are listening to the growing concerns from their customers about the risks of these chemicals," Maggie MacDonald of Environmental Defence said in a release.

"Others need to take the old saying to heart — the customer is always right — and act to remove harmful chemicals."

Procter and Gamble announced in September that it would eliminate triclosan, a commonly used anti-bacterial agent, and phthalates from its personal-care products in 2014.

Johnson and Johnson committed in 2012 to remove triclosan, phthalates, formaldehydes and parabens from its adult toiletries and cosmetics.

Wal-Mart Stores, meanwhile, announced this fall that it would be working toward reducing chemicals starting in January, and promises a public report in two years on how it has fared.

Health Canada and Environment Canada proposed in 2012 that industry should voluntarily cut the amount of triclosan it uses, particularly in personal-care products that tend to get rinsed away into lakes and rivers. A Health Canada study found triclosan is harmful to the environment, but safe for humans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing the safety of triclosan, with a report expected imminently.

Concerns have been raised that the widespread use of triclosan may be triggering hormonal changes, or causing anti-microbial resistance that could lead to super bugs.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals commonly used as plasticizers, used to help make plastics flexible. They also help make soaps, cleansers and perfume adhere to skin and are commonly found in synthetic fragrances.

Studies suggest that when ingested, phthalates could cause reproductive and developmental abnormalities in young children.

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  • Imidazolidinyl Urea

    <strong>The concern:</strong> <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/sccp/out188_en.pdf" target="_blank">According to the EU</a>, imidazolidinyl urea is one of several "formaldehyde releasers", which have been shown to <a href="http://share.eldoc.ub.rug.nl/FILES/root2/2010/Formretof/de_Groot_2010_Contact_Dermatitis.pdf" target="_blank">induce dermatitis from short-term use</a>. <strong>Found in:</strong> body wash, eye liner, eye shadow, eye cream, lotion, cleanser, face powder and moisturizer

  • Diazolidinyl Urea

    <strong>The concern:</strong> Diazolidinyl urea is also <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/sccp/out187_en.pdf" target="_blank">a formaldehyde releaser</a> and thus <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16283905" target="_blank">has been shown to potentially induce skin irritations</a>. <strong>Found in:</strong> acne treatment, shampoo, conditioner, lubricant, moisturizer, hand cream, eye cream, makeup remover, body wash, cleanser, toner, face masks, eye liner, sunscreen, hair gel, exfoliants, scrubs, deodorant, powder, bronzer, foot cream, bath oils/salts/soaks, toner, blush, sunless tanning, foundation, body powder, eye makeup, hair dye, concealer, lipstick, shaving cream, hairspray, tanning oil, hand sanitizer, after shave, detangler, hair relaxers and mousse

  • Talc

    <strong>The concern:</strong> The main issue with talc is asbestos -- there is talc that contains asbestiform fibers and talc that does not. Case studies have shown <a href="http://annhyg.oxfordjournals.org/content/46/suppl_1/132.full.pdf" target="_blank">an association between asbestiform fibers and the development of mesothelioma</a>. However, the talc in makeup generally does not contain asbestiform fibers. <strong>Found in:</strong> soap, concealer, deodorant, blush, bronzer, eye shadow, lip liner, foundation, face powder and nail polish

  • BHA

    The concern: BHA <a href="http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productandingredientsafety/selectedcosmeticingredients/ucm107943.htm" target="_blank">can increase sensitivity</a> to the sun's damaging rays. According to <a href="http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productandingredientsafety/selectedcosmeticingredients/ucm107943.htm" target="_blank">the National Toxicology Program</a> from the Department of Health and Human Services, BHA is "reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen" but only when in high concentrations -- most makeup does not include enough to be dangerous. <strong>Found in:</strong> eye liner, nail polish, blush, mascara, eye shadow, lip gloss, concealer, moisturizer, diaper cream, moisturizer, acne treatment, conditioner, shave gel, lipstick, body oil, shaving cream, wax, hand cream, eye cream, body wash, cleanser, fragrances, scrubs, shampoo and hair dye

  • Stearalkonium chloride

    <strong>The concern:</strong> Studies have shown this chemical to be <a href="http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/r?dbs+hsdb:@term+@rn+122-19-0" target="_blank">"moderately toxic by ingestion"</a>, but it has <a href="http://ijt.sagepub.com/content/1/2/57.abstract" target="_blank">not been proven dangerous at low concentrations in cosmetics</a>. <strong>Found in:</strong> conditioner, hair dye, hand cream and hair gel

  • Isopropyl alcohol

    <strong>The concern:</strong> Isopropyl alcohol is used in antifreeze, and it can be <a href="http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+116" target="_blank">twice as toxic as ethanol.</a> But the real dangers are in <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19593296" target="_blank">ingesting it directly</a>, whereas its minimal presence in cosmetic products is less dangerous. It can also give products that alcoholic smell. <strong>Found in:</strong> nail polish, acne treatment, pore strips, hair dye, blush, conditioner

  • DMDM Hydantoin

    <strong>The concern:</strong> DMDM hydantoin is also a formaldehyde releaser, which can cause dermatitis. <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3378426" target="_blank">According to one study</a>, "An increase in the use of DMDM hydantoin in cosmetic products will also increase the risk of cosmetic dermatitis in consumers allergic to formaldehyde." <strong>Found in:</strong> shaving cream, eye cream, bath salts/oils/soaks, eye makeup, body wash, cleanser, moisturizer and shampoo

  • Mineral oil

    <strong>The concern:</strong> Mineral oil is produced from petroleum, so if it's not purified, <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14555442" target="_blank">one study explains</a>, "Chronic exposure to poorly refined base oils has the potential to cause skin cancer." Ingesting too much mineral oil can also lead to diarrhea and nausea, <a href="http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002684.htm" target="_blank">according to the NIH</a>. But the amounts found in makeup haven't been conclusively proven as dangerous. <strong>Found in:</strong> bubble bath, eye makeup remover, baby oil, concealer, lotion, diaper cream, lip gloss

  • PEG

    <strong>The concern:</strong> PEG, or polyethylene glycol, is often used as a laxative ingredient, as it increases the amount of water in the intestinal tract to stimulate bowel movement. But when used <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17090481" target="_blank">as a cosmetic ingredient at low concentrations</a>, PEGs have not been conclusively deemed harmful. <strong>Found in:</strong> cleanser, concealer, eye cream, tooth whitening, face masks, foot cream and lip balm

  • Phthalates

    <strong>The concern:</strong> Phthalates are found in lots of plastics and are also used as solvents. <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Phthalates_FactSheet.html" target="_blank">According to the CDC</a>, "some types of phthalates have affected the reproductive system of laboratory animals," where they have endocrine-disrupting effects. However, according to the 2002 Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel, cosmetics expose humans to phthalates in much lower levels than would cause the adverse effects in animals. One study found phthalates to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/13/phthalate-cosmetics-diabetes-risk_n_1423067.html" target="_blank">increase risk of diabetes</a>. <strong>Found in:</strong> deodorant, fragrance, hair gel, mousse, hair spray, nail polish, hand and body lotion

  • Triclosan

    <strong>The concern:</strong> <a href="http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm205999.htm" target="_blank">The FDA states that "animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation"</a> and therefore it requested a test of triclosan's dermal toxicity, dermal carcinogenicity and phototoxicity. It is currently doing research and is still reviewing the ingredient. <strong>Found in: </strong>after shave, shaving cream, moisturizer, acne treatment, deodorant and toothpaste

  • Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate

    <strong>The concern:</strong> Sodium lauryl sulfate has been shown to cause <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17576237" target="_blank">irritation and inflammation on the skin</a>. <strong>Found in:</strong> makeup remover, shampoo, conditioner, cleanser, detangler and soap