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Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics


Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics
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The Environmental Working Group reports that in spite of the fact more than 10,500 unique chemical ingredients are used in the personal care products sold in the U.S. no premarket safety testing is required by the Food and Drug Administration. Shockingly, the last time laws were revised on the matter was in 1938. In March, 2013 members of congress proposed the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act with plans to regulate toxic ingredients.

In the meantime, buyer beware: When it comes to ensuring the brands you buy refrain from using potentially harmful additives, you have to do your homework.

Check your beauty products for hazards online and be sure to start looking at labels. Start by eliminating products containing the top twelve toxins from your daily routine, and consider transitioning to all-natural alternatives.


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are synthetic preservatives that can be found in your pantry and your personal care products. While intended to prevent fat spoilage in items like moisturizers and lipstick, these additives are potential allergens with cancer-causing abilities that can contribute to reproductive problems along with thyroid, liver and kidney damage.

Coal Tar Dyes

Many hair dyes and cosmetics get their darker, red-based colors from coal tar dye – a petroleum derivative that’s created using a mixture of harmful ingredients. While on its own coal tar can be effective in treating conditions like dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis, when mixed into a chemical cocktail it becomes an irritant that can cause blindness and contribute to the development cancer, neurological issues, ADHD and hyperactivity.


Diethanolamine, also listed as Cocamide DEA or Lauramide DEA, is a chemical compound that creates suds in cleansers, soaps and shampoos but delivers carcinogenic effects in the process. Results of long-term exposure include pre-cancerous changes in the skin’s surface and thyroid, as well as liver, stomach and bladder cancer.


Dibutyl phthalate is a plasticizer used in nail polish. When absorbed through your skin, it can cause hormone disruption and lead to infertility or birth defects. While not yet banned from beauty products in the U.S., Congress ruled that kids’ toys can no longer be made with phthalates due to links between these chemicals and youth kidney and liver failure.


Antiseptic formaldehyde is used as a preservative in beauty products. On contact, it can trigger allergies in the throat, nose and eyes. In large doses, it can cause cancers including Hodgkin lymphoma and lukemia. Sweden and Japan have banned its use in cosmetics. In Canada, the level of formaldehyde is restricted and in Europe, products containing it must be prominently labeled.


Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Methylparaben and Propylparaben make up the most commonly used group of preservatives in beauty products. When they are absorbed into your skin, they mimic estrogen hormones and can cause early puberty onset, contribute to breast cancer and interfere with the reproductive system.


Each company’s secret scent recipe gets a catch all label of “Parfum” or “Fragrance” on a product’s label which can include any number of hundreds of artificial ingredients. A lot of these chemicals can irritate the skin and make allergies, asthma or headaches worse. What you don’t know can in fact hurt you. Opt for products with natural scents and all their ingredients disclosed instead.


Petroleum-derived polyethylene glycol chemicals are found in many cream-based cosmetics as a thickening and moisturizing agent. They can increase the impact of other toxins when applied, and are suspected to be carcinogenic when they contain 1,4-dioxane.


Petrolatum, petroleum jelly and mineral oil are derived from fossil fuels and used as an emollient to seal moisture in the hair and skin. They can cause irritation and exacerbate allergies. When contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or PAH, exposure can be cancer-causing.


Beauty products like makeup and moisturizers utilize silicone-based siloxanes for a soft, smooth texture. In addition to being harmful to aquatic animals and wildlife, they can cause uterine tumors, infertility and hormonal changes in humans.

Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate

When used in cleansers, shower gels and shampoos, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate acts as a degreaser and helps create foam. It can cause hair loss, skin irritation, dryness and when contaminated with 1,4-dioxane poses a threat for cancer. It becomes harmful to the environment once it goes down the drain.


Antiperspirants, cleaning products and liquid soap often utilize an antibacterial agent called triclosan. When absorbed into the bloodstream, it can cause disruptions to the thyroid and affect reproduction through hormone disruption. In the environment, it’s both a toxin for our ecosystem and can contribute to bacterial resistance.

Source: Soania Mathur Bsc, MD, CCFP

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