12 Toxic Ingredients in Makeup & Skin Care Products

organic makeup

What actually are the Toxic Ingredients in Makeup and Skin Care Products to AVOID – A Buyer’s Guide

How much notice of the actual ingredients in your makeup and skin care products do you take? Do you fall for the great advertisement, eye catching packaging or a special offer price of commercial products? There is a lot of hype these days about buying organic food and now makeup and skin care products. Make sure you do not look at this as a fad, craze or hippy thing to do. Organic products are not a fad, they are just safe. Pure and simple.

Latest research shows commercial beauty products can contain toxic ingredients in makeup, skin care and sunscreen that have now been proven to cause cancer, disrupt hormone production, mild to severe allergic reactions, insulin resistance, acute toxicity to fish and the aquatic environment, skin and DNA damage, liver and kidney damage in children and be toxic pollutants. Here is a list of the top 12 toxic ingredients in makeup and skin care products to avoid. So check if they are present in your moisturisers, shampoo, conditioner, makeup, sunscreen, body washes and cleaning products. Use this list to check your bottles so you can make sure that you are not unknowingly putting your health at serious risk.

1. Propylene Glycol (PG) and Butylene Glycol (BG)

PEGs (polyethylene glycols) are petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers.PEGs are commonly used as cosmetic cream bases.They are also used in pharmaceuticals as laxatives. EPA considers Propylene Glycol so toxic it requires gloves, clothing, goggles and disposal by burying. EPA warn about skin contact to prevent brain, liver and kidney abnormalities.They easily absorbs through the skin to accumulate in the body organs and brain. 

toxic ingredients in cosmetics

2. FD&C Colour and Pigments

Coal tar dyes: p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as “CI” followed by a five digit number.In addition to coal tar dyes, natural and inorganic pigments used in cosmetics are also assigned Colour Index numbers (in the 75000 and 77000 series, respectively). Look for p-phenylenediamine in makeup and hair colour products with colours listed as “CI” followed by five digits.The U.S. colour name may also be listed (e.g. “FD&C Blue No. 1” or “Blue 1”). They have the potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals that are toxic to the brain. P-phenylenediamine is a particular coal tar dye used in many hair dyes, with darker hair dyes containing more phenylenediamine than lighter colours. 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.

toxic ingredients in skincare and cosmetics

3. DEA-related ingredients

Used in creamy and foaming products, such as moisturizers, liquid hand soaps and shampoos. Can react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Look also for related chemicals MEA and TEA. DEA and its compounds cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation. In laboratory experiments, exposure to high doses of these chemicals has been shown to cause liver cancers and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid.

4.BHA and BHT

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are used in cosmetics and are synthetic antioxidants used in lipsticks and moisturizers, among other cosmetics. They are also widely used as food preservatives. BHA and BHT can induce allergic reactions in the skin. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies BHA as a possible human carcinogen. BHA is listed as a Category 1 priority substance, based on evidence that it interferes with hormone function.Long-term exposure to high doses of BHT is toxic in mice and rats, causing liver, thyroid and kidney problems and affecting lung function and blood coagulation.BHT can act as a tumour promoter in certain situations. Limited evidence suggests that high doses of BHT may mimic estrogen and prevent expression of male sex hormones resulting in adverse reproductive affects. The European Union prohibits the use of BHA as fragrance ingredient in cosmetics. The State of California requires warning labels on products containing BHA, notifying consumers that this ingredient may cause cancer.

5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)


Toxic ingredients in skin care and cosmetics

Used in car washes, engine degreasers, garage floor cleaners and 90% of personal-care products that foam. Known to cause eye damage, depression, laboured breathing, diarrhea, skin irritation and death.

6. Parabens

Parabens are the most widely used preservative in cosmetics. They are also used as fragrance ingredients, but consumers won’t find that listed on the label. Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets, so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients (see also Fragrance/Parfum). An estimated 75 to 90 per cent of cosmetics contain parabens (typically at very low levels). Parabens easily penetrate the skin.The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed parabens as Category 1 priority substances, based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function. Parabens can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. They have been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions.

7. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Used in a variety of cosmetics, they slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer.

8. Sunscreen Chemicals

Avobenzone, benzphenone, ethoxycinnamate, PABA are commonly used ingredients found in sunscreens that are known free radical generators and are believed to damage DNA cells and lead to cancer.

9. Petrolatum

Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lip sticks and moisturisers. A petroleum product that can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer. 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 moisturisers and also in hair care products to make your hair shine.

Avoid toxic ingredients in skincare and cosmetics

10. Benzoyl Peroxide

Used in acne products. Studies indicate it as a possible tumour promoter. May act as a mutagen, producing DNA damage in human and other animal cells. Also toxic by inhalation. Eye, skin and respiratory irritant.

11. Triclosan

Used in antibacterial cosmetics, such as toothpastes, cleansers and antiperspirants. Suspected endocrine (hormone) disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. EPA registers it as a pesticide, posing risk to human health and the environment. Classified as a chlorophenol, chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

12. Dibutyl phthalate

Dibutyl phthalate (pronounced thal-ate), or DBP,is used mainly in nail products as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer that prevents nail polishes from becoming brittle.DBP is absorbed through the skin. In laboratory experiments, it has been shown to cause developmental defects, changes in the testes and prostate, and reduced sperm counts. The European Union classifies DBP as a suspected hormone disruptor on the basis of evidence that it interferes with hormone function, and as toxic to reproduction on the basis that it may cause harm to the unborn child and impair fertility. Evidence suggests that exposure to phthalates may cause health effects such as liver and kidney failure in young children when products containing phthalates are sucked or chewed for extended periods. The European Union classifies DBP as very toxic to aquatic organisms. Under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, DBP is listed as a Chemical for Priority Action. Source: THE “DIRTY DOZEN” INGREDIENTS INVESTIGATED IN THE DAVID SUZUKI FOUNDATION SURVEY OF CHEMICALS IN COSMETICS.



Calafat, A. “Urinary Concentrations of Triclosan in the U.S. Population: 2003-2004.” _Environ Health Perspect _116, 3(Mar 2008):303-307. Gee, RH et al. “Oestrogenic and androgenic activity of triclosan in breast cancer cells.” Appl Toxicol.28, 1 (Jan 2008):78-91. Calafat, A. “Urinary Concentrations of Triclosan in the U.S. Population: 2003-2004.” Environ Health Perspect 116, 3(Mar 2008):303-307http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info:doi/10.1289/ehp.10768 European Commission. Regulation (EC) 1272/2008 , Annex VI, Table 3.2. Sep 2009. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:353:0001:1355:en:PDF “Environmental News.” _Environmental Science & Technology _36, 13 (June 1, 2002): 230A. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es022325g?cookieSet=1 Canosa, P. et al. “Aquatic degradation of triclosan and formation of toxic chlorophenols in presence of low concentrations of free chlorine.” Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 383, 7-8 (Dec 2005): 119-1126. Yang, J. “Experts concerned about dangers of antibacterial products.” The Globe and Mail. Aug 21, 2009. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/experts-concerned-about-dangers-of-antibacterial-products/article1259471/ Black RE, Hurley FJ, and Havery DC. “Occurrence of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetic raw materials and finished cosmetic products.” Int J PharJ AOAC Int. 84, 3 (May-Jun 2001):666-70. Brashear, A. et al. “Ethylene oxide neurotoxicity: a cluster of 12 nurses with peripheral and central nervous system toxicity.” _Neurology _46, 4 (Apr 1996):992-8. California. EPA. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. _Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity. _February 5, 2010.http://www.oehha.org/prop65/prop65_list/files/P65single020510.pdf Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia. _Guide to Less Toxic Products._Halifax: EHANS, 2004. http://www.lesstoxicguide.ca/index.asp?fetch=personal#commo. CIR. Alert for Sodium Laureth Sulfide and Sodium Lauryl Sulfide. http://www.cir-safety.org/staff_files/alerts.pdf(viewed Mar 17, 2010) Environment Canada and Health Canada. Screening Assessment for the Challenge: 1,4-Dioxane. March 2010.http://www.ec.gc.ca/substances/ese/eng/challenge/batch7/batch7_123-91-1.cfm WHO. ILO. International Chemical Safety Card for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (ICSC 0502). Aug 1997.http://www.ilo.org/legacy/english/protection/safework/cis/products/icsc/dtasht/_icsc05/icsc0502.htm ATSDR. ToxFAQs for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). Sep 1996.http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts69.html#bookmark06 European Commission. Regulation (EC) 1272/2008 , Annex VI, Table 3.2. Sep 2009. http://ecb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/classification-labelling/ Ulrich, G. et al. “Sensitaization to petrolatum: an unusual cause of false-positive drug patch-tests.” Allergy 59, 9 (2004): 1006-1009. European Commission. Cosmetic Directive 2003/83/EC, Annex II, Ref. 904.http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/cosmetics/cosing/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.results&annex=II&search U.S. National Library of Medicine, in Haz-Map: Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Agents, 2010, http://hazmap.nlm.nih.gov. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans vol. 17 (Paris: International Agency for Research on Cancer), vol. 40 (1986). Study on Enhancing the Endocrine Disrupter Priority List with a Focus on Low Production Volume Chemicals, Revised Report to DG Environment (Hersholm, Denmark: DHI Water and Environment, 2007),http://ec.europa.eu/environment/endocrine/documents/final_report_2007.pdf. UNEP and OECD, 2,6-di-tert-butyl-p-cresol (BHT) Screening Information Data Set: Initial Assessment Report (Paris: OECD, 2002),http://www.inchem.org/documents/sids/sids/128370.pdf. Baur, A.K. et al., “The lung tumor promoter, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), causes chronic inflammation in promotion-sensitive BALB/cByJ mice but not in promotion-resistant CXB4 mice,” Toxicology 169, no. 1 (December 2001): 1-15. Wada, H. et al., “In vitro estrogenicity of resin composites,” Journal of Dental Research 83, no. 3 (March 2004): 222-6. Schrader, TJ and GM Cooke, “Examination of selected food additives and organochlorine food contaminants for androgenic activity in vitro,” Toxicological Sciences 53, no. 2 (February 2000): 278-88 “OSPAR List of Substances of Possible Concern. Fact sheet for Butylhydroxyanisol.” (OSPAR, April 15, 2002), http://www.ospar.org. UNEP and OECD, 2,6-di-tert-butyl-p-cresol (BHT) Screening Information Data Set: Initial Assessment Report.