Ingredients to Avoid

Compiled below is a list of the most common toxic ingredients that should be avoided when purchasing cosmetic/ beauty and house cleaning products. Some of the information below (chart) comes from the ‘Dirty Dozen’ cosmetic database from David Suzuki Foundation. Please always read ingredient labels and don’t be fooled when a product is labeled ‘natural.’ Many companies are jumping on a natural, green bandwagon, but still using the toxic ingredients that have no business lurking around in our everyday beauty and house care items.

A useful database that rates cosmetics from a harmless ‘0’ to a hazardous ’10’ is Environmental Working Group (EWG). The very practical site allows you to type in some of your favorite cosmetics and see how they are rated based on the ingredient list of the product. Please note, some personal care items are updated every couple of years with ingredient formulas; therefore, possibly safer to use than the old formula.

BHA - Carcinogen; banned in Japan, and in Europe (as a fragrance ingredient).
BHT - promotes tumor growth; mimics estrogen, which can result in fertility problems.
BHT and BHA are found in most cosmetic products including, eye makeup, skin care products, and fragrances. BHT and BHA are also used as food preservatives and are found in processed foods, butter, meats, poultry, cereals, chewing gum, vegetable oils and beer.
Parabens can mimic estrogen, the primary female hormone. They have been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible correlation between parabens in personal care products (deodorants/ anti-perspirants) and cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions.
Fragrance is listed in many beauty products ranging from face moisturizers, body creams/ lotions/ butters, face foundations, perfumes, body washes, deodorants, lipsticks, shaving creams, etc. The truth behind ‘fragrance’ is that companies don’t have to disclose ingredients due to trade secret for the scent. Many of those ingredients primarily are the leading cause for allergies, asthma attacks, and irritations to the skin. Most ‘fragrance’ ingredients contain toxic ingredients for lasting power of the scent and to ensure the ‘scent.’
PEG compounds are petroleum-based compounds used for thickening and moisture to use in products such as creams, face foundations, cream based blushes, body washes, shampoos, conditioners, etc. According to California Environmental Protection Agency, PEG compounds have been classified as a developmental toxicant based on evidence that it may interfere with human development, especially young children. PEG’s may be contaminated with some amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane has been linked to damage the liver and kidneys in rats chronically (long-term) exposed in their drinking water. 
Triclosan is an ingredient used in many deodorants, cleansers and anti-bacterial sanitizers to form anti-bacterial compound. Triclosan may lead to the formation of antimicrobial resistances. Its also suspected to disturb the hormonal system.
Phthalates are used in nail care products to prevent nail polishes from becoming brittle and also used in fragrances. Phthalates are easily absorbed through the skin and some studies suggest it may impair fertility. Exposure to phthalates may cause health effects such as liver and kidney failure. In addition, they are widely used as fragrance ingredients in beauty care products. Phthalates can interfere with hormone function (endocrine disruption), causing reproductive and developmental problems among other health effects.
Silicone laden products have ingredients listed ending with ‘cones’ and ‘xanes.’ For example: cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, dimethicone and phenyl trimethicone. Silicone adds slip to products to make them more blendeable and flexible within the item. Products include most face makeups, hair products (especially serums for frizz-free control), and body care items. Silicone based face foundations, powders, and blushes have been reported to cause allergy reactions such as acne, dermatitis, redness, irritations, etc.
Sodium laureth sulfate is a popular ingredient among hair shampoos, body and face cleansers. Its an agent/ detergent that makes all forms of cleansers foam. SLS is a drying compound that causes dryness and irritations to the skin and scalp (shampoo). It contains hylene oxide as a known human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane as a possible human carcinogen. All of these compounds are dangerous to the human nervous system.
(DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate)
Formaldehydes are agents that are used as preservatives in a range of cosmetics. Some industrial applications of formaldehyde include production of resins used in wood products, vinyl flooring and other plastics, permanent-press fabric, and toilet bowl cleaners. Formaldehydes are inhaled from cosmetics containing these ingredients and increase a risk of cancer in the lungs.
DEA is an agent that is used in shampoos, lotions, creams and other cosmetics. DEA is used widely because it provides a rich lather in shampoos and keeps a favorable consistency in lotions and creams. DEA by itself is not harmful but while sitting on the stores shelves or in your cabinet at home, DEA can react with other ingredients in the cosmetic formula to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is readily absorbed through the skin and has been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers.
Coal tar-derived colors are used widely in cosmetics, identified by a five-digit Color Index (C.I.) number. The U.S. color name may be listed ("FD&C" or "D&C" followed by a color name and number). Coal tar is a mixture of various chemicals, derived from petroleum. Coal tar is recognized as a human carcinogen and the main concern with individual coal tar colors is their potential to cause cancer. These colors may be contaminated with low levels of heavy metals and some are combined with aluminum substrate.

Aluminum compounds and many heavy metals are toxic to the brain. Some colors are not approved as food additives, yet they are used in cosmetics that may be ingested, like lipstick. (In the U.S. color naming system, "FD&C" indicates colors approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in foods, drugs, and cosmetics. "D&C" colors are not approved for use in food.)


  1. San says:

    Hello Kseniya,
    I am amazed at how many different toxic chemicals there are in make-up.
    It seems like they add a lot of chemicals that will affect the estrogen levels or would cause problems in that manner.
    I am wondering if they are required to put a list of chemicals on all makeup sold or do you have to go to a website to get the list?
    I sometimes get gifts for my wife and I know what her favorite cosmetics are and I want to see if they have these things in them.


    • admin says:

      Hi San,
      Unfortunately, in US, it is NOT required for cosmetic companies to regulate what ingredients go into making of products. We, as consumers are responsible for reading the labels of ingredients and researching ourselves. The top ten ingredients that I listed are the basic ones to avoid. Europe has banned hundreds of chemicals that go into cosmetic brands (not exaggerating!), while US has not..
      Yes, they do affect the estrogen and over the years of applying skin care, hair care, body care products, the nasty chemicals add up in our bodies resulting in side effects of more harm than good.
      Some people may seem its silly to go ‘green,’ but its better to be safer in the long run!

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