Not all materials used in cosmetic products are safe. There are so many harmful ingredients incosmetic and personal care products, even baby product. In fact, not all the materials used are listed in the label. Identify the hazardous materials and where possible, avoid the use of products containing these harmful substances.

1. Parabens (methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, ethylparaben)

Used in makeup, moisturizers, shampoos, deodorants etc. May interfere with hormone function. Associated with breast cancer. Widely used even though they are known to be toxic.

Used as : Parabens are the most widely used preservative in cosmetics. They are also used as fragrance ingredients. Not always labeled. An estimated 75 to 90 per cent of cosmetics contain parabens.

Health Hazard : Parabens are harmful because they easily penetrate the skin and are suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption) causing hormone imbalance in female and early puberty. Parabens were detected in human breast cancer tissues, raising questions about a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions. In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage.
Parabens in foods are metabolized when eaten, making them less strongly estrogenic. In contrast, when applied to the skin and absorbed into the body, parabens in cosmetics bypass the metabolic process and enter the blood stream and body organs intact.

2. DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine) and TEA (Triethanolamine)

This foam booster found in creamy and foaming products such as moisturizer, shampoo. Can react to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

 Used as : DEA and DEA compounds are used to make cosmetics creamy or sudsy. DEA also acts as a pH adjuster, counteracting the acidity of other ingredients. DEA is mainly found in moisturizers and sunscreens, while cocamide and lauramide DEA are found in soaps, cleansers, and shampoos. Industrial applications of DEA include its use in oil refineries to “scrub” hydrogen sulphide from process gas emissions.  

Health Hazards: DEA and its compounds is skin/eye irritation. Easily absorbed through skin to accumulate in body organs and brain. Exposure to high doses of these chemicals cause liver cancers and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid.

DEA compounds can also react with nitrites in cosmetics to form nitrosamines as a possible human carcinogen. Nitrites are sometimes added to products as anti-corrosive agents or can be present as contaminants. The degradation of some chemicals used as preservatives in cosmetics can release nitrites when the product is exposed to air.

3. PEGs (Polyethylene glycol)

Widely used in conditioners, moisturizers, deodorants, sunscreen etc even baby care. Dangerous levels of dioxin have been found as a by-product of the ethoxylation process.

Used as : PEGs are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, penetration enhancer and moisture-carriers. PEGs are commonly used as cosmetic cream bases.

Health Hazards: Depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs can be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Ethylene oxide known as human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane as a possible human carcinogen. Ethylene oxide can also harm the nervous system and may interfere human development.

PEG compounds show some evidence of genotoxicity and if used on broken skin can cause irritation and systemic toxicity. Also, PEG functions as a “penetration enhancer,” increasing the permeability of the skin to allow greater absorption of the product — including harmful ingredients.


4. Triclosan

In “anti-bacterial” products such as toothpaste, body lotion, soaps, hand sanitizers and cutting boards. May interfere with hormone function, , by disrupting thyroid function, and even makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics.. Harmful to ecosystem and other wildlife.

Used as : Triclosan is used mainly in antiperspirants/deodorants, cleansers, and hand sanitizers as a preservative and an anti-bacterial agent. In addition to cosmetics, triclosan is also used as an antibacterial agent in laundry detergent, facial tissues, and antiseptics for wounds, as well as a preservative to resist bacteria, fungus, mildew and odors in other household products that are sometimes advertized as “anti-bacterial.”

Health Hazards: Triclosan can pass through skin and is suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption). Triclosan irritating skin and eyes, and very toxic to aquatic organisms, noting that it may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. It doesn’t easily degrade and can build up in the environment after it has been rinsed down the shower drain. Pseudonyms: don’t be fooled by Triclosan’s many pseudonyms- Irgasan DP-300, Lexol 300, Ster-Zac, Cloxifenolum, BioFresh, Microban.

5. Phthalates (Dibutyl Phthalate or DBP) and Bisphenol A (BPA) 

  In nail products, perfume, hair sprays and Bottles, Plastic Wrap, Food Storage Containers. Toxic to reproduction and may interfere with hormone function. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

Used as : Dibutyl phthalate or DBP is used mainly in nail products as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer that prevents nail polishes from becoming brittle. Phthalates are found in some nail polishes and hair sprays, and are commonly hidden on ingredient labels under the term “fragrance”. Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets, so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients.

Health Hazards: DBP is absorbed through the skin. It can enhance the capacity of other chemicals to cause genetic mutations. It interferes with hormone function, and as reproductive toxic on the basis that it may cause harm to the unborn child and impair fertility. also called gender benders, that can cause breast and prostate cancer, metabolic disorders, disrupt thyroid function and even low birth weight.

6. Heavy Metals: Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Arsenic, Nickel and More

Heavy metals can build up in the body over time and are known to cause varied health problems, which can include: cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, neurological problems; memory loss; mood swings; nerve, joint and muscle disorders; cardiovascular, skeletal, blood, immune system, kidney and renal problems; headaches; vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea; lung damage; contact dermatitis; and brittle hair and hair loss. Many are suspected hormone disruptors and respiratory toxins, and for some like lead, there is no known safe blood level.

Lead: Lead is a neurotoxin that is found in cosmetics, plastics, batteries, gasoline, insecticides, pottery glaze, soldered pipes, and paint. Almost 61 percent of lipsticks contained lead, with levels ranging up to 0.65 parts per million. In the body, lead will either accumulate in tissues, especially bone, but also in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and lungs. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable because lead can cross the placenta with ease and enter the fetal brain. Lead can also be transferred to infants via breastfeeding and lead stored in bone serves source of fetal lead exposure. It takes 25 to 30 years to get rid of 50 per cent of lead that has accumulated in the body over time.

Mercury: Mercury has been found in skin lightening, anti-aging, antiseptic and anti-wrinkle products. Avoid all products containing mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric, mercurio, or mercury. The effects of mercury is extensive. Most of the literature focusses on effects following inhalation exposure to metallic mercury vapours and oral exposure to inorganic and organic mercury compounds. There is limited information on adverse effects following dermal exposure to ointments and creams that contain inorganic mercury compounds. Mercury is a neurotoxin. Various forms of mercury are toxic. The form of mercury plays a role in how much is absorbed via dermal or oral routes. Organic (methyl) mercury is of greater concern than inorganic mercury, however, all forms of mercury are absorbed through the skin and mucosa and dermal exposure can result in systemic toxicity. Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences. It can cause damage to the kidneys and the nervous system, and can interfere with the development of the brain in unborn and young children. While the amounts of mercury in the cosmetics is typically low, mercury accumulates in the body. Mercury is also readily absorbable through skin. It can also cause symptoms such as irritability, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression, and numbness and tingling in hands, feet or around mouth.

Cadmium: Cadmium from body and hair creams can also be absorbed into the human body through dermal contact. It is mostly used to make nickel-cadmium batteries, but is also used in pigments, including those for ceramic glazes, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, and industrial coatings. Cadmium is absorbed into the body, accumulating in the kidney and the liver, although it can be found in almost all adult tissues. Little absorbed cadmium is eliminated with humans getting rid of 50 per cent of cadmium from the body 10-12 years after exposure. It and its compounds are also classified as known human carcinogens.

Arsenic: Humans are mostly exposed to arsenic via food, but other sources include drinking water, soil, ambient air, house dust, and cigarette smoking. Arsenic was found at a maximum of 2.3 ppm in a study on its presence in 88 different colours of eye shadow, and has also been found in skin bleaching creams. Ingested arsenic compounds are readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and distributed throughout the body, including to developing fetuses, and can mostly be found in the liver, kidneys, lungs, spleen, and skin within 24 hours.

Nickel: Nickel is naturally occurring and may be an essential element in humans. It is used in everything from metal coins and jewellery, to heat exchangers, batteries, and ceramic colouring, in addition to many other applications. Unsurprisingly given its abundance, everyone is exposed to small amounts, mostly through food, although also through air, drinking water, soil, household dust, and skin contact with products containing it, including cosmetics. Fetal exposures can also occur and it can also be passed to breast-fed infants. High levels of exposure can lead to health effects depending on route and the kind of nickel exposed to.

7. Aluminum

Aluminum is a common ingredient in deodorant and mostly antiperspirant. It is often linked to Alzheimer’s and brain disorders and is a possible risk factor in breast cancer. Aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants form a temporary plug within the sweat duct that stops the flow of sweat to the skin’s surface, which forces toxins to flow back into the bloodstream.

Health Hazards: Aluminum can be found in drinking water, anti-perspirants, vaccinations, baking powders, feminine hygiene products, cow and soy milk, baby formula, and antacids. It is a neurotoxin that also binds and sticks to red and white blood cells and hormones that can lead to microvascular strokes which cause many other serious issues.

Aluminum-based compounds are used as the active ingredient in antiperspirants. These compounds form a temporary plug within the sweat duct that stops the flow of sweat to the skin’s surface. Some research suggests that aluminum-based compounds, which are applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast, may be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. Because estrogen has the ability to promote the growth of breast cancer cells, some scientists have suggested that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer

8. Chemical Sunscreens (Retinyl Palmitate, Oxybenzone and Octyl Methoxycinnamate)

Chemicals used in sunscreens are exposed to sunlight can make reactions between the sunscreen’s active and inactive ingredients and the epidermis. Toxic reactions include inflammation, dermalogical effects, allergic reactions and photogenotoxic (DNA altering) effects. Chemical sunscreens have ingredients that actually promote cancer. Natural sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are safer alternatives.

Oxybenzone: It has been shown to penetrate the skin and cause photo-sensitivity. As a photocarcinogen, it’s demonstrated an increase in the production of harmful free radicals and an ability to attack DNA cells; for this reason, it is believed to be a contributing factor in the recent rise of melanoma cases with sunscreen users.

Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) : is the main chemical used in sunscreens to filter out UVB light. OMC is present in almost ALL wide-spectrum sunscreen brands. OMC has been shown to be particularly toxic when exposed to sunshine; immunotoxicity and photoallergic effects; reproductive toxicity that leads to estrogenic effects; organ system toxicity, especially in the liver; and enhanced skin absorption. Octyl methoxycinnamate is relatively easily absorbed into the skin and has been shown in some studies to promote generation of potentially harmful free radicals.

Retinyl Palmitate: The sunscreen industry uses vitamin A in its formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that is thought to slow skin aging. a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when used in sunscreen and therefore exposed to sunlight may actually speed the development of skin lesions and tumors.

Other potentially harmful ingredients found in sunscreen: avobenzone, benzophenone-3, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, cinoxate, dioxybenzone, homosalate, menthyanthranilate, octocrylene, octyl salicyclate, octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), oxybenzone, padimate, para amino benzoic acid and PABA esters, phenylbenzimidazole, sulisobenzone, any type of salicylate.

9. Petrolatum 

In hair products, lip balm/lipstick, skin care products. Petroleum product that can be contaminated with cancer-causing impurities.

Used as : Petrolatum is mineral oil jelly (i.e. petroleum jelly). It is used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin in a variety of moisturizers and also in hair care products to make your hair shine. Health Hazards: Petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies suggest that exposure to PAHs — including skin contact over extended periods of time — is associated with cancer. On this basis, the European Union classifies petrolatum a carcinogen and restricts its use in cosmetics. PAHs in petrolatum can also cause skin irritation and allergies.

10. Mineral Oil (poorly refined)

In many other care products such as baby oil, body lotions, soap and makeup. Mineral oil is a petroleum by-product which cloggs the pores and interferes with the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders. Slows down skin function and cell development, resulting in premature aging. May be contaminated with PAHs (carcinogens).

Used as: It serves as a preserving agent and assists in retaining moisture. Aside from moisturizing skin creams and lotions, it is also used on skin supplements, foundations, and makeups that are intended for use on dry skin. It is very cheap and therefore very popular among personal care companies. Its solvent properties are honed when it is used on cleansers and other liquid formula that are intended to use in removing oil-based makeup and in removing the accumulated dust and dirt on oily skin types. On beauty treatments, it is an agent that enables the skin to absorb UV rays without drying the skin.

Health Hazards: Mineral oil may be contaminated with PAHs, which are associated with cancer. Mineral oil may affect the functioning of the liver. The liver has to work very hard to break down mineral oil and may not be able to break down toxins efficiently. This can lead to poorer health and weakened immune system. When mineral oil is applied to the skin it often prevents skin from breathing. Sweat, oil and toxins are therefore not released from the skin and oxygen is prevented from entering the skin. Mineral oil can clog the pores of the skin leading to acne and other skin problems. It can prevent skin cells from developing normally and when used regularly mineral oil may cause skin to age prematurely.

11. Siloxanes (Cyclomethicone and “siloxane” (e.g., cyclotetrasiloxane) 

Widely used in moisturizer, makeup, hair products, etc. Can interfere with hormone function and damage the liver. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

Used as : These silicone-based compounds are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten. They make hair products dry more quickly and deodorant creams slide on more easily. They are also used extensively in moisturizers and facial treatments.

Health Hazards: Cyclotetrasiloxane and cylcopentasiloxane (D4 and D5) are toxic and persistent. D4 act as a endocrine disruptor, based on evidence that it interferes with human hormone function, and a possible reproductive toxicant that may impair human fertility. D5 can also influence neurotransmitters in the nervous system. Cyclohexasiloxane (or D6) is also persistent and has the potential to bioaccumulate. Cyclomethicone is a mixture of D4, D5, and D6 siloxanes.

12. Coal Tar Dyes

Look for P-PHENYLENEDIAMINE in hair dyes and colours identified as “C.I.” followed by five digits in other products. Potential to cause cancer and can be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.

Used as : Coal tar-derived colours are used extensively in cosmetics, generally identified by a five-digit Colour Index (C.I.) number. The U.S. colour name may also be listed (“FD&C” or “D&C” followed by a colour name and number). P-phenylenediamine is a particular coal tar dye used in many hair dyes. Darker hair dyes tend to contain more phenylenediamine than lighter colours.

Health Hazards: Coal tar is a mixture of many chemicals, derived from petroleum, Coal tar is recognized as a human carcinogen and the main concern with individual coal tar colours (whether produced from coal tar or synthetically) is their potential to cause cancer. These colours may as well 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 colours are not approved as food additives, yet they are used in cosmetics that may be ingested, like lipstick. (In the U.S. colour naming system, “FD&C” indicates colours approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in foods, drugs, and cosmetics. “D&C” colours are not approved for use in food.)

 P-phenylenediamine has been linked to tumours in laboratory tests conducted by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. A review of the epidemiologic literature confirmed statistically significant associations between hair dye use and development of several types of cancer although the authors concluded that the evidence was insufficient to determine that the hair dyes had caused the cancers. A separate study found that women who used hair dyes — especially over extended periods — had an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system). However, there is conflicting evidence, with other research suggesting no strong association between cancer and hair dye use. The International Agency for Research on Cancer therefore concluded that personal use of hair dyes is currently “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity in humans.” The European Union classifies p-phenylenediamine as toxic (in contact with skin, by inhalation, or if swallowed), and as very toxic to aquatic organisms, noting that it may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.

13. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)

In moisturizer, makeup, etc. Can cause cancer and interfere with hormone function.

Used as : BHA and BHT are closely related synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lipsticks and moisturizers, among other cosmetics.

Health hazard: BHA and BHT can induce allergic reactions in the skin. BHA as a possible human carcinogen and interferes hormone function. BHT can act as a tumour promoter in certain situations. Limited evidence suggests that high doses of BHT may mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, and prevent expression of male sex hormones, resulting in adverse reproductive affects.

14. Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

Look for DMDM HYDANTOIN, DIAZOLIDINYL UREA, IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA, METHENAMINE, or QUARTERNIUM-15. Widely used in hair products, moisturizers, etc. Formaldehyde causes cancer.

Used as: These formaldehyde-releasing agents are used as preservatives in a wide range of cosmetics.

Health Hazards: These ingredients are slowly and continuously release small amounts of formaldehyde, classifies as a known human carcinogen. Formaldehyde may off-gas from cosmetics containing these ingredients and be inhaled. DMDM hydantoin and quaternium-15 can also irritate skin and eyes and trigger allergies at low doses. Formaldehyde is an ingredient in some nail hardeners. Health Canada allows concentrations up to 5 per cent in these products. Tosylamide/formaldehyde resin, used in nail polishes, may contain residual formaldehyde concentrations up to 0.5 per cent.

15. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

In products that foam such as shampoo, cleansers, bubble bath. SLES can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. SLS may damage liver. Irritates skin, eyes and respiratory tract. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

Used as : SLES is used in cosmetics as a detergent and also to make products bubble and foam. It is common in shampoos, shower gels and facial cleansers.

Health Hazards: Over-exposure to SLS has been linked to eye damage, depression, labored breathing, diarrhea and severe skin irritation. SLS has been suspected to also damage the skin’s immune system by causing layers to separate and inflame.

16. Talc

Commonly found in baby powders, face powders, body powders. Talc is a known carcinogen and is a major cause of ovarian cancer. It can be harmful if inhaled as it can lodge in the lungs, causing respiratory disorders

Used as: Talc is a mineral, produced by the mining of talc rocks and then processed by crushing, drying and milling. Talc is found in a wide variety of consumer products ranging from home and garden pesticides to antacids. Talc is used for its anti-moisture properties in baby powder, medicated powders, perfumed powders and designer perfumed body powders. Because talc is resistant to moisture, it is also used by the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture medications and is a listed ingredient of some antacids. Talc is used in smaller quantities in deodorants.

Health Hazards: Talc is toxic. Talc particles cause tumors in human ovaries and lungs. Numerous studies have shown a strong link between frequent use of talc in the female genital area and ovarian cancer. Talc particles are able to move through the reproductive system and become imbedded in the lining of the ovary. Talc poses a health risk when exposed to the lungs. Talc is used on babies because it absorbs unpleasant moisture. Clearly, dusting with talcum powder endangers an infant’s lungs at the prospect of inhalation. Exposing children to this carcinogen is unnecessary and dangerous.

17. Ethanol, Acetone, and Ethyl Acetate 

Toxic Chemicals in Celebrity Fragrances are packed with toxic chemicals such as ethanol, acetone and ethyl acetate, which are all chemicals cited by the EPA as hazardous waste. Ninety-five percent of chemicals in perfumes are derived from petroleum. Fragrances have even been detected in the fatty tissue of fish and shellfish. These drastically dangerous scents can cause central nervous system disorders, kidney damage, respiratory failure and mucous membrane irritation. Ecorazzi cites J.Lo (by Jennifer Lopez), Acqua di Gio (Georgio Armani’s signature scent) and Halle (Halle Berry’s scent) as harmful perfumes.

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