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Why I Don't Buy Trader Joe's Soaps

Note: We love Trader Joe's and shop there all the time. The store is awesome and the people are great. (No, they're not paying us to say this!) But we don't buy the soaps they sell right now. Read below to find out why.

No Tox Life is dedicated to reducing toxins in our lives. We make our premium body care products the old-fashioned, natural way, in small batches and without adding irritating, unpronounceable ingredients that you don’t want on your skin. Recently, I was in my favorite store (Trader Joe’s, love them!) and did a little snooping around in their soaps department. I was kind of shocked (but not surprised) when I looked at the list of ingredients in their soaps.

"Trader Jacques" Savon de France Ginger Almond Oatmeal Exfoliant Bar

savon de france

From my viewpoint, there’s only one Trader Joe’s-branded soap that probably doesn’t have toxic ingredients: their Ginger Almond Oatmeal Exfoliant bar soap marketed under their “Trader Jacques” Savon de France label. And I say “probably doesn’t have toxic ingredients” because I don’t know what fragrance they’re using (they’re not required to specify that on the label), and they don’t list their complete ingredients list.

Ingredients: “Contains: pure vegetable oils (olive, palm, and coconut oils, oatmeal, fragrances and/or essential oils.”

Interestingly, they don’t list lye (sodium hydroxide) which is a key ingredient for making soap. Probably a label typo – a significant omission, since it’s a necessary ingredient. Maybe it’s not a complete list of ingredients? Not sure. I didn’t see ingredients listed elsewhere on the label.

So, here’s a roundup of the OTHER soaps I found on the shelf, and what’s in them, and why I wouldn’t recommend purchasing any of them. (Statements of fact, presented below, are from the sources noted at the end of this article.)

Trader Joe’s Next to Godliness Oatmeal & Honey Soap Pure Vegetable


Ingredients: Sodium Palmitate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Water, Glycerin, Essence of Oatmeal, Oatmeal Flakes, Honey, Sodium Chloride, Pentasodium Pentetate.

 (In case you're wondering "where's the lye?" -- let me explain. "Sodium Palmitate" is marketing-speak for "Palm Oil that's been mixed with Sodium Hydroxide (lye) and is now soap." Similarly, "Sodium Palm Kernelate" means "Palm Kernel Oil that's been mixed with Sodium Hydroxide and made into soap." So it's actually there, it's just listed differently.)

Of all these ingredients, the only unnecessary and potentially irritating ingredient is Pentasodium Pentetate. According to the “Final report on the safety assessment of pentasodium pentetate and pentetic acid as used in cosmetics,” published in the 2008 International Journal of Toxicology, “Pentasodium Pentetate is nonirritating to moderately irritating…” Also, “Pentasodium Pentetate [applied] to shaved and abraded rabbit skin produced moderate erythema after the first week and throughout the study, but no systemic toxicity.” WHAT THIS MEANS is they tested it on rabbits by shaving and scraping the rabbits’ skins, then applying the diluted chemical, and a week later the rabbits developed skin redness from inflammation or infection (erythema), and it didn’t go away but lasted the entire four weeks of the study, but it didn't kill them. (See references.)

What’s wrong with Pentasodium Pentetate? Firstly, this chemical isn’t necessary. It’s added to help make more suds by overcoming water hardness. But you don’t need suds to get clean, you need soap. A well-formulated soap will clean regardless of suds, and most will produce lather even in the hardest water conditions. (We have very hard water at my home yet my handcrafted soaps lather well.) Secondly, eww! They tested this on rabbits. Yuck. And you know what? They had to test it before it could be released as a cosmetic ingredient. So you know those labels that say, “Cruelty Free”? Well, you shouldn't put that label on a soap that has Pentasodium Pentetate in it, because it actually was tested by hurting rabbits and dosing up rats and hamsters (and their unborn embyros) to find out how much they could take before it killed them. I know this is gross but it’s all detailed in the report of results, referenced at the end of this article. And yes, I notice the label says "Cruelty Free" -- I'm not sure how they justify doing that.

Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Oil Pure Vegetable Soap

Ingredients: Sodium Palmitate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Water, Glycerin, Tea Tree Oil, Sodium Chloride, Pentasodium Pentetate.

Look at that: Pentasodium Pentetate. ‘Nuff said. Don’t put this stuff on your skin, and especially don’t use it if you have any sores or scrapes or cuts or damaged skin, because Pentasodium Pentetate can be skin irritating and just aggravate the wound.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps “All-One Hemp Peppermint” PURE-CASTILE SOAP “Made With Organic Oils”

dr bronners

Ingredients: Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Palm Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Water, Mentha Arvensis, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Fair Deal Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Peppermint Oil, Sea Salt, Citric Acid, Tocopherol.

Actually, my only issue with this soap is what I consider to be misleading labeling. “Pure Castile Soap” means 100% Olive Oil soap, but this has a very small amount of Olive Oil (notice it’s listed as the SIXTH ingredient, even after Mentha Arvensis (wild mint). The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “pure” as: “unmixed with any other matter.” I don't want to support a company that says something is pure when it’s obviously not. Nothing in their ingredients list is toxic. I just don’t care for misleading the public.

Actually, my only issue with this soap is what I consider to be misleading labeling. “Pure Castile Soap” means 100% Olive Oil soap, but this has a very small amount of Olive Oil (notice it’s listed as the SIXTH ingredient, even after Mentha Arvensis (wild mint). The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “pure” as: “unmixed with any other matter.” I don't want to support a company that says something is pure when it’s obviously not. Nothing in their ingredients list is toxic. I just don’t care for misleading the public.

Bisous de Provence Lavender with flowers Lavande Triple Milled Soap 100% Pure Vegetable Enriched with Shea Butter Made in France


Ingredients: sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate, water (aqua), fragrance (parfum), lavender hybrida (lavender), sodium chloride, glycerin, butyrospermum parkii (shea butter), tetrasodium EDTA, tetrasodium etidronate.  

The last two ingredients are the problem. Tetrasodium EDTA has been linked to respiratory illness (increased asthma and sinus irritation), increased penetration of chemicals through the skin, and leaching calcium from the blood. (See references.) Tetrasodium etidronate has a similar warning. Both are used to soften water and therefore increase lather and sudsiness. But they’re not necessary, as noted above.  Etidronate disodium (chemically similar, but not exactly the same) is used in some forms of treatment for osteoporosis. It has many cautions, such as not using it for very long, because it can – if used improperly – aggravate osteoporosis and lead to jawbone rotting or legbone fractures, especially in post-menopausal women. (See references.) I know, it sounds disgusting. Hope you never need to take that drug.

Also, what’s the fragrance? Could be petroleum-based, but we can’t tell because it’s not listed. And one more thing: glycerin is added – but you know what? Glycerin is a natural by-product of soap making and doesn’t need to be added unless it was removed earlier in the process. So I suspect the way this soap was made, the glycerin was removed, but then it needed to be added back because it helps moisturize the skin. If it was a natural soap making method then the glycerin would still be there and not need to be added later.

Trader Joe’s Nourish Spa Shampoo

nourish spa

Ingredients: Purified water, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate, sea salt, argan oil, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) fruit extract, mangifera indica (mango) fruit extract, cymbopogon schoenathanus (lemongrass) extract, ginkgo biloba leaf extract, echinacea angustifolia leaf extract, salix alba (willow) bark extract, macrocystis pyrifera (kelp) extract, anthemis nobilis (chamomile) flower extract, glycine soja (soybean) seed extract, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) flower extract, citrus grandis (grapefruit) seed extract, tocopherol (vitamin E), citric acid, phenoxyethanol, potassium sorbate, fragrance, organic extracts.

My goodness, where do I begin? There are several troublesome ingredients.  Cocamidopropyl betaine helps make liquid soaps slippery – but it was named “Allergen of the Year” in 2004 according to a paper published by the Department of Dermatology, University of Miami School of Medicine. (See references.) Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate. Used as a surfactant (helps wash away dirt and oils), this chemical is known to cause eye irritation in low doses, is absorbed through damaged skin, and continued use can bring on an increased sensitivity to its effects. Usually made from petroleum, it is expected to be harmful, and poses possible organ toxicity. (See references.) The Material Safety Datasheet for this chemical states, “Avoid contact with skin, eyes and clothing.”

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative. It can be toxic to infants, per the Food and Drug Administration. It ranks among the top 10 allergens, is a potential neurotoxin, and the EPA data sheets show chromosomal changes and interference with reproductivity in mice. (There’s that animal testing, again. Bah, humbug.) (See references.) Potassium sorbate is another preservative. This one negatively affects the immune system and is toxic to human blood and genes. Fragrance – which one, where did it come from, and is there petroleum in it? Don’t know. The label doesn’t say.

CONCLUSION: I love shopping at Trader Joe’s and I’ll keep doing so. But I don’t buy soap there.

Want to know what ingredients are in our soaps? They’re listed on every product page. But really it’s a pretty simple list: Pure food-grade oils, filtered water, and lye make the soap; if there are colors we use natural colorants such as clay and minerals; we use natural exfoliants such as baking soda, coffee grounds, and oatmeal; and scents are from botanical oils. Again, we shop at Trader Joe's. At their stores, we don't buy meat (we are vegan) and we don't buy soap (we make our own).



Pentasodium Pentetate
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18830865 “Final report on the safety assessment of pentasodium pentetate and pentetic acid as used in cosmetics.”

Tetrasodium EDTA
http://ps.oxfordjournals.org/content/52/2/540.abstract “Extraction of Calcium from Blood Fibrin with a Solution of Tetrasodium-Ethylenediaminetetraacetate (Na4EDTA)”
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22431256 “Occupational rhinitis and asthma due to EDTA-containing detergents or disinfectants.” (Note: rhinitis is irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose.)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17087380 “Heavy metal displacement in EDTA-assisted phytoremediation of biosolids soil.” (Gives information about how EDTA helps take heavy metals out of soil and deposit them in the water. It will do the same with your water supply – taking heavy metals out of the water and put it onto your skin, which you then hopefully wash away very thoroughly.)
http://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/tetrasodium-edta “The Cosmetics Database considers Tetrasodium EDTA a low to moderate hazard ingredient, depending on its usage. It notes concerns regarding cancer, enhanced skin absorption, organ system toxicity and irritation (due to animal studies that showed skin irritation at low doses). It is classified as a high human health priority and expected to be toxic or harmful.” http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/edta/synthesis_of_edta.htm “EDTA is synthesized on an industrial scale from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde, and a source of cyanide such as HCN or NaCN.” (Note: HCN = Hydrogen cyanide; NaCN = Sodium cyanide) http://www.bubbleandbee.com/topfivechemicals.html “Tetrasodium EDTA is a preservative that’s made from the known carcinogen, formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. It is also a penetration enhancer, meaning it breaks down the skin's protective barrier, going right into your bloodstream.”

Trisodium etridronate
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12396676 “Final report on the safety assessment of EDTA, calcium disodium EDTA, diammonium EDTA, dipotassium EDTA, disodium EDTA, TEA-EDTA, tetrasodium EDTA, tripotassium EDTA, trisodium EDTA, HEDTA, and trisodium HEDTA.” “These chelating agents are cytotoxic and weakly genotoxic, but not carcinogenic.” (Meaning, “these chemicals are cell-killing and weakly gene-killing, but not cancer-causing.” God, I hope so!)

Cocamidopropyl betaine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18627690 “Cocamidopropyl betaine [is a] ... synthetic detergent … [that] induces relatively mild skin irritation…. [It was] named Allergen of the Year in 2004.”

Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate Also known as: Sodium Alpha-Olefin Sulfonates (Sodium C12-14 Olefin Sulfonate, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Sodium C14-18 Olefin Sulfonate, Sodium C16-18 Olefin Sulfonate). http://ijt.sagepub.com/content/17/5_suppl/39.abstract “Final Report On the Safety Assessment of Sodium Alpha-Olefin Sulfonates” http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/ingredient/sodium-alpha-olefin-sulfonates “… for large-scale production of Sodium Alpha-Olefin Sulfonates, synthesis usually occurs via the cracking of petroleum.” http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/706003/SODIUM_C14-16_OLEFIN_SULFONATE/ “Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive): Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful.” http://www.chemicalstore.com/MSDS/MSDS_AOS40.pdf “Avoid contact with skin, eyes and clothing.” “Skin/Eye Irritant.” “Acute Health Hazard: Yes”

Phenoxyethanol http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/704811/PHENOXYETHANOL/ “Other HIGH concerns: Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Occupational hazards; Other MODERATE concerns: Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)” http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2008/ucm116900.htm “Phenoxyethanol is a preservative that is primarily used in cosmetics and medications. It also can depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration in infants.”

Potassium sorbate
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20036729 “According to the results, [Potassium Sorbate] treatment significantly increases the [chromosomal aberrations]…”
http://www.md-health.com/Potassium-Sorbate.html “Those who frequently use cosmetic products that have potassium sorbate as a preservative can experience rashes or irritation if their body becomes overexposed to the drug. It can also cause irritation to the eyes if it comes in contact with them.”
http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/705225/POTASSIUM_SORBATE/ “Human skin toxicant or allergen - strong evidence.”