Ingredient Anxiety

Hyping what's not there

Illustration by James Joyce for TIME

Ingredient Anxiety

Look closely in certain supermarket aisles and you might be baffled by what's touted on the packaging. "Free of 1,4-dioxane," reads the label on one eco-friendly toilet-bowl cleaner. A leading hair-care brand offers "sulfate free" shampoo. It's only after you breathe a sigh of relief that ingredient anxiety kicks in: Wait, what's wrong with sulfate? And how many products is it in?

As grocery-store shoppers become more label conscious, many companies are highlighting--often in big type--what their products don't contain. Some of these noningredients, like BPA, have made headlines in recent years, while others are so obscure that few consumers know...

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