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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