Healthy Living Dictionary: A-D


According to the U.S. EPA:

“Pesticide products contain both ‘active’ and ‘inert’ ingredients. The terms ‘active ingredient’ and ‘inert ingredient’ are defined by the federal law that governs pesticides (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act [FIFRA]).”

Active ingredient: ”prevents, destroys, repels, or mitigates a pest, or is a plant regulator, defoliant, desiccant or nitrogen stabilizer. By law, the active ingredient must be identified by name on the pesticide product’s label together with its percentage by weight.”

Inert ingredient: ”any substance (or group of similar substances) other than an active ingredient that is intentionally included in a pesticide product. Called ‘inerts’ by the law, the name does not mean non-toxic.”

“Pesticide products often contain more than one inert ingredient. Inert ingredients play key roles in the effectiveness of pesticides. Examples include inerts that prevent caking or foaming, extend product shelf-life, or solvents that allow herbicides to penetrate plants.”

Source: U.S. EPA Inert Ingredients Overview and Guidance

The “active” ingredient of one pesticide formulation may be the “inert” in a different product.  Inerts do not have to be identified on the label. EPA is seeking comment on options for increasing public disclosure of all inert ingredients in pesticides registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). More…



also known as butylated hydroxyanisole

Pronunciation: byoot-l-eyt-id hahy-drok-see-an-uh-sohl


Used to preserve fats and oils in personal care products and food.

According to the National Toxicology Program (NTP), “BHA is added to butter, lard, meats, cereals, baked goods, sweets, beer, vegetable oils, potato chips, snack foods, nuts and nut products, dehydrated potatoes, and flavoring agents. It is used in sausage, poultry and meat products, dry mixes for beverages and desserts, glazed fruits, chewing gum, active dry yeast, defoaming agents for beet sugar and yeast, and emulsion stabilizers for shortenings.”

According to NTP, “BHA is used as a preservative and antioxidant in pharmaceutical preparations and cosmetic formulations containing fats and oils (Osol 1980).  [In one survey], lipstick formulations (1,256 products) represented the highest use of BHA, with eye shadows being the next highest (410 products)."

Health Effects

"Reasonably Anticipated to be a Human Carcinogen" according to the U.S. National Toxicology Program's (NTP) 13th Report on Carcinogens

LMG Articles of Interest
Greener Choices for Your Next Picnic, May 2011

Top 5 Personal Care Ingredients to Avoid and Suggested Alternatives, Fall 2010

Lip Balms and Lotions, Winter 2006



Bisphenol-A is also known as BPA

Pronunciation: bis-ˈfē-nōl-

Chemical formula: C15H16O2


A chemical building block used primarily to make polycarbonate (PC) plastic and epoxy resins.

Health Effects

Health impacts linked to low-level exposure to BPA (in either animals or humans) include:


•Low sperm count

•Damage to developing eggs


•Placental cell death


•Heart disease


•Changes in brain development

•Predisposition to breast and prostate cancer

Source: National Workgroup for Safe Markets, No Silver Lining, An Investigation into Bisphenol A in Canned Foods, May 2010


EPA estimates that humans are exposed to the chemical primarily through food packaging, such as reusable polycarbonate water bottles and baby bottles and the epoxy resins lining metal food and beverage cans.

Polycarbonate is a hard plastic, identified by recycling code 7. Containers marked with “PC” under or within the symbol contain BPA. But containers bearing the image  with the word “other” or no text may or may not contain BPA.

People are also exposed by handling thermal receipt paper, which can contain BPA. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found detectable levels of BPA in the urine of 93% of Americans over the age of six.


BPA was first synthesized in the 1891. It was identified as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. Industry began using BPA to make plastics and epoxy resins in the 1940s. In 1963, the Food and Drug Administration categorized BPA as “Generally Regarded as Safe,” allowing its use in food containers such as baby bottles and food cans. In 1976 BPA was “grandfathered in” to the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

In 2002, approximately 2.8 million tons of BPA were produced globally [Chemical Market Associates, Inc. (CMAI)].

The European Union and Canada have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles. Minnesota became the first state to ban BPA from plastic baby bottles and sippy cups (beginning in 2011). Connecticut, Chicago, Suffolk County, NY, and other areas have imposed similar prohibitions. In March 2010, the EPA issued a “chemical action plan” for BPA, saying it would look to add the substance to its list of “chemicals of concern” and require testing on BPA’s environmental effects.

LMG Article of Interest
BPA: Uncontained Danger, Fall 2010

Tips to Avoid Exposures to Four Environment-Related Childhood Diseases, Fall 2010

Non-Toxic Nursery, Fall 2009

SIGG Reveals Bottles Did Contain BPA, Fall 2009



Active ingredients registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that are synthesized or extracted from natural sources (animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals). Examples include canola oil, baking soda, oil of lemon eucalyptus, PMD (chemically synthesized version of oil of lemon eucalyptus), oil of citronella, catnip oil, neem oil, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and many others. List

There are three categories of biopesticides:

1. Biochemical pesticides: naturally occurring substances that control pests

2. Microbial pesticides: microorganisms that control pests

3. Plant-incorporated protectants or PIPs: pesticidal substances produced by plants containing added genetic material

More details of each category are available at: What Are Biopesticides?

According to the U.S. EPA, “In 1994, the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division was established in the Office of Pesticide Programs to facilitate the registration of biopesticides. This Division promotes the use of safer pesticides, including biopesticides, as components of IPM programs. The Division also coordinates the Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (PESP). At the end of 2001, there were approximately 195 registered biopesticide active ingredients and 780 products.”

According to the U.S. EPA, the advantages of using biopesticides are:

  • Biopesticides are usually inherently less toxic than conventional pesticides.
  • Biopesticides generally affect only the target pest and closely related organisms, in contrast to broad spectrum, conventional pesticides that may affect organisms as different as birds, insects, and mammals.
  • Biopesticides often are effective in very small quantities and often decompose quickly, thereby resulting in lower exposures and largely avoiding the pollution problems caused by conventional pesticides.
  • When used as a component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs, biopesticides can greatly decrease the use of conventional pesticides, while crop yields remain high.

Visit the U.S. Enviornmental Protection Agency for more information on biopesticides:


Body Burden is the term for toxic chemicals (both man-made and naturally occurring) that are present in the human body. Some chemicals pass through our bodies within a few days; others are stored in our bodies for decades.1

Scientists believe that every human alive today has a chemical body burden.


Toxic chemicals can pass through the placenta of a pregnant woman and into the body of the unborn child.  Chemicals have been detected in the cord blood of newborns.2  Some chemicals, such as arsenic, that pass through an adult quickly (via urine) linger in the bodies of children for longer periods of time.3 

For more on the specific vulnerabilities of children: PBS/Trade Sectrets: A Moyers Report

Exposure to toxic chemicals occurs every day through the air (and dust) we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and in which we bathe, as well as through the products we apply to our skin.

According to Coming Clean, “Chemicals often coat the surface of dust particles, which we handle or inhale. Contaminated dust is an especially important route of exposure for children who commonly put their hands into their mouths. We are also exposed to hundreds of chemicals in everyday products we use. Paints and varnishes, gasoline, glues, cosmetics, clothes dry-cleaned with solvents, plastic food containers, and home and garden pesticides are just a few examples.”

Testing for an individual’s specific body burden is expensive, currently costing about $15,000.4

1. Coming Clean, "What is Body Burden?", 1 November 2011). 

2. Environmental Working Group, “232 Toxic Chemicals in 10 Minority Babies,” (accessed 1 November 2011).

3. Steingraber, Sandra, Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. (USA: Da Capo Press, 2011).

4. Duncan, David Ewing, “Chemicals Within Us,” National Geographic, (accessed 1 November 2011).



Borax is also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral.

Borax has numerous industrial and commercial uses, including in the manufacturing of glass, porcelain, ceramics, detergents and soaps, and cosmetics. It is also used as a flame retardant for building materials and mattresses.

In homes, borax was historically (and is currently) used as a laundry booster and for other cleaning purposes. According to Jill Potvin Schoff, author of Green Up Your Cleanup, borax is “…a mildly alkaline mineral salt that is useful for removing odors, dissolving dirt, and killing mold and mildew.” Borax is found in the laundry aisle.

Download Home Cleaning Recipes for uses of borax and other natural cleaning ingredients.

Borax is also used for pest control; it acts as a stomach poison for ants and roaches. Read more about using borax for pest control.

(20 Mule Team® Borax derives its name from the teams of mules used to transport the harvested ulexite (a crude ore compound of boron, oxygen, sodium and calcium) across the rugged, desert terrain of the Western United States.)-->is this necessary to include?

While borax is hailed as non-toxic and safe for the environment, it may irritate eyes and skin. Keep it out of reach of children and pets.


Carbamates are pesticides and nervous system toxins that inhibit cholinesterase enzymes. Carbamates are esters of carbamic acid. Carbamates are used as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, nematocides, or sprout inhibitors. They have been synthesized and commercialized since the 1950s.

Examplesaldicarb (Temik)bendiocarb, carbaryl (Sevin), carbofuron, fenoxycarb, methomyl, pirimicarb, and propoxur.



Carcinogens are substances that cause cancer.

Known to cause cancer in humans (NTP):

  • 1,3-Butadiene
  • Arsenic
  • Asbestos
  • Benzene
  • Benzidine
  • Beryllium
  • Bis(chloromethyl) Ether
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated Dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs)
  • Chromium
  • Ethylene Oxide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nickel
  • Radon
  • Sulfur Mustard
  • Sulfur Trioxide & Sulfuric Acid
  • Thorium
  • Vinyl Chloride

For more information:
The CDC's Health Effects of Exposure to Substances and Carcinogens

The National Toxicology Program's 13th Report on Carcinogens (RoC)



Castile soap is a vegetable oil-based soap. Most often it is made from olive oil, but it can be made from coconut, jojoba, or other plant oils. It is available in bar or liquid form. Castile soap may be used on the body and hair, as well as on pets and for household cleaning.

Download Home Cleaning Recipes for other natural cleaning ingredients.

Brands such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic and Vermont Soap Organics come in a variety of scents (naturally scented with essential oils).



“Caution,” “Warning,” and “Danger” are signal words used to denote the level of toxicity for household cleaners and pesticides according to EPA standards. One of the three following terms is found on the label.

Caution: Low toxicity: lethal dose is an ounce to more than a pint. Caution category is very broad. Includes products with varying degrees of safety.

Warning: Moderately toxic: lethal dose is a teaspoon to a tablespoon. Warning category may include such cleaners as: floor cleaners and disinfectant sprays.

Danger: Highly toxic: lethal dose is a few drops to a teaspoon. Danger category may include such cleaners as: oven cleaners, drain openers, rust removers, and toilet bowl cleaners.

Poison and the skull and crossbones symbol  : Will appear on products labeled “Danger” if the product is highly toxic according to acute oral, acute dermal, or acute inhalation toxicity studies OR if methanol is present at 4% or more.

Other cleaner and pesticide label signal words:

Corrosive: Will appear on products labeled “Danger” if the product causes permanent damage to the eye or if the product damages or scars the skin beyond the surface layer where nerve endings and blood vessels occur.

Flammable: Product is inherently more dangerous due to flammable nature. The term “Flammable” also indicates the product likely contains VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that evaporate readily (offgas) at room temperature. Many VOCs are linked to cancer and other negative health effects.

For more information:
EPA: Label Review Manual

Download a PDF: EPA Signal Words



"Whether a product is a cosmetic or a drug under the law is determined by a product's intended use. Different laws and regulations apply to each type of product. Firms sometimes violate the law by marketing a cosmetic with a drug claim or by marketing a drug as if it were a cosmetic, without adhering to requirements for drugs."

"While the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) does not recognize the term 'cosmeceutical,' the cosmetic industry uses this word to refer to cosmetic products that have medicinal or drug-like benefits...A product can be a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term 'cosmeceutical' has no meaning under the law."

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)


Cosmetics are “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance” [FD&C Act, sec. 201(i)].

Among the products included in this definition are skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, eye and facial makeup preparations, shampoos, permanent waves, hair colors, toothpastes, and deodorants, as well as any material intended for use as a component of a cosmetic product.

Source: The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act)


DIETHANOLAMINE (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)

Terms: Pronunciation & Chemical Formulas

Diethanolamine (DEA)   dī-ˌeth-ə-ˈnäl-ə-ˌmēn    C4H11NO2

Triethanolamine (TEA)   trī-ˌeth-ə-ˈnäl-ə-ˌmēn   C6H15NO3

Purpose/ Definition

Cosmetic ingredients used as wetting agents (allow water to spread out and penetrate more easily) or emulsifiers (blend oil and water). Also used as detergents and foaming agents. Found in liquid laundry detergent, dishwashing detergents, hand and body lotions, shaving creams, fatty acid soaps, shampoos, cream conditioners, and bath powders.

DEA is also a corrosion inhibitor in metalworking fluids. Other industry uses include: adhesives; anti-static agents; cement and concrete work; coatings; electroplating; printing inks; metal cleaning and lubricating; mining; natural gas treatment; paint and pigments; paper, petroleum, and coal production; polymers and polymer production; rubber processing; soldering flux; textile finishing; and polyurethane production and use; and as an epoxy hardener, a fuel-gelling agent, and a pharmaceutical intermediate.

TEA is a coating ingredient for fresh fruits and vegetables. TEA is widely used in the manufacturing of household detergents and polishes, textiles, agricultural herbicides, mineral and vegetable oils, paraffin and waxes, pharmaceutical ointments, petroleum demulsifiers, synthetic resins, plasticizers, adhesives, and sealants.

Health Effects

If a product containing DEA or TEA also contains nitrites (either as a preservative or as a contaminant) a chemical reaction occurs forming nitrosamines.  Nitrosamines are carcinogenic (cancer-causing). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers nitrosamines hazardous substances.

The National Toxicology Program (Department of Health and Human Services) found “clear evidence” of cancer in laboratory animals as a result of the application of DEA to the skin. NTP found “some evidence” of cancer in laboratory animals resulting from skin application of TEA.


The National Cancer Institute nominated TEA for the National Toxicology Program’s Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies because of its widespread use in cosmetics and other consumer products, its high potential for worker exposure due to its many industrial uses, and its potential for conversion to the carcinogen N-nitrosodiethanolamine. DEA was selected for evaluation because its large-scale production and pattern of use indicate the potential for widespread human exposure.

May be listed on cosmetic labels as:

  • Cocamide DEA
  • Cocamide MEA
  • Cocamide TEA
  • Diethanolamine
  • DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
  • DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Myristamide DEA
  • Oleamide DEA
  • Stearamide MEA
  • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
  • Triethanolamine


The FDA expressed its concern about the contamination of cosmetics with nitrosamines in a Federal Register notice dated April 10, 1979 (44 FR 21365), which stated that cosmetics containing nitrosamines may be considered adulterated and subject to enforcement action. In surveys of cosmetic products conducted in 1991-92, the nitrosamine, N-Nitrosodiethanolamine (NDELA), was found in 65% of the samples at levels up to 3 ppm.

LMG Article of Interest
Top 5 Personal Care Ingredients to Avoid and Suggested Alternatives, Fall 2010

Lip Balms and Lotions, Fall 2009


Published on January 23, 2015