Not all shaving cream is bad for you. However, some aerosol varieties contain harmful and potentially toxic ingredients that should be avoided.
For centuries, men have used some type of bar, cream, foam or liquid to help facilitate shaving. The earliest such product was made from animal fats and used in Sumer somewhere around 3000 B.C. Shaving eventually evolved to hard soap and was prominently used in the stick or bar format. Combinations of oils and creams later became popular, which had to be applied via brush.
In 1949, shaving was forever changed with the introduction of Rise shaving cream by Carter-Wallace. The product was packaged in a pressurized metal aerosol can—the first of its kind. With this groundbreaking new format, Rise was aggressively marketed as a way to save time and strain, proclaiming that the standard bowl and brush were no longer needed to work up a lather. It worked: in less than a decade, the aerosol shaving cream had claimed two-thirds of the American shaving preparation market.
Today, the aerosol format is more or less the standard when it comes to at-home shaving. It’s still available in creams, but gels have become popular as well. However, not all shaving creams are created equal—some contain harmful ingredients that can penetrate your skin and have serious long-term effects on your health.
To reduce your risk, check the label of your shaving cream and avoid using anything that contains triethanolamine, phthalates, fragrance and parabens.
Triethanolamine is the byproduct of two well-documented toxins: ethylene oxide and ammonia. Needless to say, it’s very bad for you: triethanolamine is a known skin irritant and respiratory toxicant. Some animal studies have also linked triethanolamine to liver cancer, bladder cancer and cellular mutation of the testicles.
Next up, steer clear of phthalates. They’re used to make plastics pliable, but can do serious damage to the human body in the process. They have been linked to hormone disruption, which can cause imbalances that impact the immune system and brain. In men specifically, phthalates have been linked to obesity and insulin resistance because they interfere with normal testosterone function.
You should also avoid using any shaving cream that contains “fragrance.” This refers to any combination of 3,000 different chemicals that do not have to be individually labeled, in order to safeguard trade secrets. If you have sensitive skin, this could mean mild irritation or a serious allergic reaction. And for anyone, it can mean dangerous exposure to carcinogenic chemicals. For example, parabens are preservatives that are commonly used in fragrance. More testing is needed to determine their impact on human health— but they have been found in the tumors of breast cancer patients.
There’s some scary stuff in shaving cream, but it is possible to find healthier alternatives. Check ingredients labels, and opt for all-natural products like Pacific Shaving Company's Natural Shaving Cream. If all else fails, try your hand at the old-fashioned bowl, brush and cream method.
Possible short-term side effects
- skin irritation
- allergic reaction
Possible long-term side effects
- hormone disruption
- cellular mutation
Ingredients to be aware of
- facilitates a close shave
- easy to use
- convenient packaging