Guide Helps Identify Safer Cosmetics and Cleaners
UPdate Spring 2004

In May, the Nova Scotia Allergy and Environmental Health Association launched an innovative health promotion project. The Guide to Less Toxic Products is a free internet site which documents the hazardous chemicals contained in many products in daily use and provides listings of less toxic alternatives. The Guide covers dozens of categories of personal care, cosmetics, household cleaning and baby care products.

The Guide to Less Toxic Products is a first for Canada.  Not only is this guide packed with information about toxic ingredients commonly found in make up, personal care, cleaning and baby care products, but hundreds of brand name products are evaluated so that people can easily select less toxic products. Many recipes for home made alternatives are also included.

"Our aim was to address the needs of a wide range of people - from those who must avoid fragrances or other chemicals, to people who want to provide a healthy environment for their children, decrease their exposure to carcinogens and reproductive toxins, or be more environmentally responsible consumers," says project coordinator Barb Harris.  "We tried to make the guide practical and easy to use, and we selected the web site format so that the information is available to everyone free of charge."

People are increasingly aware that many products contain ingredients that pose serious risks to human health, but they often don’t know where to start to find less toxic products. The Guide was developed to make it easier for people to make healthy choices.

"Most of the time we can’t even pronounce the names of ingredients on product labels, let alone figure out how hazardous they may be," says Sharon Labchuk, principal researcher for the Guide. "For the first time, Canadians will have information at their finger tips so that they can look at the ingredients on a label, understand the health risks, and then decide whether a product is worth purchasing.  I think people will be very surprised when they discover just how many toxic chemicals they’re exposed to on a daily basis in ordinary products like shampoo, toothpaste, make up and cleaning supplies." 

“Many people assume that ‘if it was bad for us, the government would not allow it to be sold,” the Guide states.  “But we know that regulatory bodies are slow to act. Legislation governing pest control products was only amended in 2002, after over 30 years without change and review of pest control products is just beginning. Health Canada has recently added some chemicals to their ‘hot list’ of chemicals not permitted in cosmetics, but those ingredients had not been used for years and were added for the sake of ‘clarity’. Health Canada has been slow to restrict many chemicals currently in use, including identified or suspected carcinogens, hormone disrupters and reproductive toxins. 

“In choosing the products we use on our bodies and in and around our homes WE are the ones in control. We can make informed choices for the sake of our own health and the health of our families. And in most cases, what is less toxic for us is also less toxic for the natural environment.” 

"Our philosophy has always been that the most effective way to deal with illness is to prevent it," says Harris.  "The Guide is a tool for prevention, as well as a way of helping people cope with existing allergies and sensitivities."

The Guide was produced with the assistance of a grant from the Halifax Peninsula Community Health Board.  It can be found on the Internet at

(See also, What people are saying about the Guide to Less Toxic Products on this site)