Health, Makeup, skincare, Toxic Ingredients

Toxic and Harmful Ingredients in Cosmetics

Toxic Ingredients You Should Avoid

Check out my thoughts on toxic ingredients and what to do against them here.

Toxic Ingredients You Should Avoid


Also known as DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance. It is listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. It is common in nail polishes.
Health Concerns: Endocrine Disruption, Decreased sperm count, Cancer(Breast, Prostate, Ovarian), Developmental and Reproductive Toxicity, Asthma, Liver, Kidney and Lung Damage, Endometriosis.

Two decades of research suggest that phthalates disrupt hormones, which can lead to harm during critical periods of development. Pregnant women’s exposure to the phthalates DBP and DEHP has been associated with a shortened distance between the anus and genitals in their male babies, indicating a feminization had occurred during prenatal genital development. Exposure to phthalates, especially DBP and DEHP, can reduce fetal testosterone production, and these anti-androgenic effects may alter fetal cell differentiation and function, leading to altered male genital development. One of the ways that phthalates interfere with reproductive function is by reducing the levels of sex hormones, which are critical for development and functioning of the sex organs, including breasts.

DBP and DEHP are banned in cosmetics sold in the EU.

Try to look for “phthalate-free” products. Avoid products that list “fragrance” on the label since it can contain phthalates.


Also known as ethyl acrylate, ethyl methacrylate, and methyl methacrylate. It can be found in artificial nail products (for e.g. acrylic nails). Acrylates are derived from acrylic acid and are commonly found in cosmetic nail preparations. Direct contact and inhalation are the main hazardous forms of contact with the chemical and ethyl methacrylate and methyl methacrylate may block air vents.
Health Concerns: Cancer, Developmental and Reproductive Toxicity, Organ-system Toxicity, Cellular and Neurological Damage, Irritation.

Government regulations and occupational studies have linked ethyl acrylate and methyl methacrylate to cancer. Methyl methacrylate inhalation is associated with lung disease and damage to nasal passages, liver, and kidneys. Another study found lung damage and disease in rats after inhaling methyl methacrylate for 30 hours a week for 4 weeks. Ethyl acrylate is also toxic to the lungs, liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal system. Furthermore, ethyl methacrylate interferes with cell communication in the brain and spinal cord of rats. Studies showed that women and men with occupational exposure to methyl methacrylate presented symptoms of generalized and peripheral nerve damage. All three chemicals are skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritants. Case studies of workers exposed to ethyl methacrylate and methyl methacrylate report workplace-induced asthma. Although the Food and Drug Administration banned 100 percent liquid methyl methacrylate in 1974, no specific regulations prohibit its use at concentrations lower than 100 percent in cosmetic products. Across the United States, at least 32 states ban the professional use of methyl methacrylate in nail salons. Still, the FDA found trace amounts in 15 to 25 random samples of the chemical in powdered form and reports that it continues to be found in artificial nail products.

Butylated hydroxyanisole & butylated hydroxytoluene

Also known as BHA and BHT. They are used in personal care products. These chemicals are linked to several health concerns including endocrine disruption and organ-system toxicity. You can find it in Lip products, hair products, makeup, sunscreen, antiperspirant/deodorant, fragrance, creams.
Health Concerns: Cancer, Organ-system Toxicity, Endocrine Disruption, Developmental and reproductive toxicity, Irritation.

The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has determined that there is strong evidence that BHA is a human endocrine disruptor. Studies carried out in rats found that exposure to high doses of BHA resulted in weak dysfunction and underdevelopment of the reproductive systems of both male and female rats. Changes in testosterone levels, sex weight organs and sexual maturation were also observed. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Report on Carcinogens, 12th Edition, reports that BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from animal studies. One study found that dietary exposure to BHA caused both benign and malignant tumors in the stomachs of rats, mice and hamsters.

In food:

  • chips
  • baked goods
  • butter
  • meats, sausage, poultry
  • chewing gum
  • vegetable oils
  • beer

In your makeup and skin care products:

  • eyeliners, eye shadows
  • lipsticks, lip glosses,
  • blushes, foundations
  • perfumes
  • moisturizers
  • skin cleansers
  • diaper creams

You can find it in regular shampoos, liquid soaps, bubble bath, hair relaxers, others. 1,4-dioxane is generated through a process called ethoxylation, in which ethylene oxide, a known breast carcinogen, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh. This process creates 1,4-dioxane.
Health Concerns:Cancer.

For example, sodium laurel sulfate, a chemical that is harsh on the skin, is often converted to the less-harsh chemical sodium laureth sulfate (the “eth” denotes ethoxylation). The conversion process can lead to contamination of this ingredient with 1,4-dioxane. Research shows that 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin. 1,4-dioxane is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is listed as an animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program. It is included on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects.The FDA does not require 1,4-dioxane to be listed as an ingredient on product labels because the chemical is a contaminant produced during manufacturing. Without labeling, there is no way to know for certain whether a product contains 1,4,-dioxane, making it difficult for consumers to avoid it. Organic standards do not allow ethoxylation at all.


It is used in many personal care products like shampoos and liquid baby soaps. You can find in Nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap, body wash, color cosmetics.
Health Concerns: cancer, irritation.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas used in a wide range of industries and products including building materials, walls, cabinets furniture and personal care products. Formaldehyde is considered a known human carcinogen by many expert and government bodies, including the United States National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. A 2009 review of the literature on occupational exposures and formaldehyde shows a link between formaldehyde and leukemia. A 2014 study found that formaldehyde initiates and promotes tumor formation. When formaldehyde is present in personal care products, people can be exposed by inhaling the formaldehyde that is off-gassed from the product, by ingesting it or by absorbing it through the skin. Most studies of the cancer potency of formaldehyde have focused on risks from inhaling it; cancer risks from ingesting formaldehyde or absorbing it through the skin are not as well studied. Banned from use in cosmetics and toiletries in Japan and Sweden; in the EU, restricted in personal care products, and labeling is required in products that do contain these chemicals; concentration restrictions in Canada. The EU allows the use of Quaternium-15 up to 0.2% as a preservative in cosmetic products.

Ethanolamine Compounds

It can be found in cosmetics, personal care products and household cleaning products. You can find it in regular soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners and dyes, lotions, shaving creams, paraffin and waxes, household cleaning products, pharmaceutical ointments, eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases, foundations, fragrances, sunscreens.
You can also find it as: Triethanolamine, diethanolamine, DEA, TEA, cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearamide MEA, TEA-lauryl sulfate.
Health Concerns: Bioaccumulation, Cancer, Organ System Toxicity
Nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA) is listed as a carcinogen in the National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens. Experimental studies show that NDEA causes liver cancer and kidney tumors in rats and cancer of nasal cavity in hamsters. Studies show that 52 to 68 percent of DEA in hair dyes, body lotions and shampoos remain on the upper layers of the skin after exposure. DEA alters sperm structure, causing abnormalities that affect the sperm’s ability to swim and fertilize the egg. DEA accumulates in the liver and kidney, causing organ toxicity and also possible neurotoxic effects such as tremors. Another study suggests that memory function and brain development in offspring could be permanently affected by mothers’ exposure to DEA.
TEA is a fragrance ingredient, pH adjuster, surfactant, and emulsifier. It’s found in soaps, hair care, lotions, make up, perfumes and sunscreens. The health concerns include cancer, organ system toxicity, allergic reactions and bioaccumulation in the skin.
Avoid products which containing DEA, TEA and MEA!


Storing products in cheap plastic shows a lot about the quality of the skin care. Opt for BPA-free plastic when glass is not possible, because Bisphenol A (BPA)—the compound found in plastic—can leach into skin care products. Research has shown that BPA can be absorbed through the skin and we don’t need any more estrogen-mimicking happening in our bodies. 100% Pure and Annmarie Gianni are using BPA-free plastic bottles when glass they can’t use glass. Look for these brands!


Also known as Bronopol.
Toxic, it can cause allergies and dermatitis.


Health Concerns: Cancer.
Toxic and it must be carefully washed. It shouldn’t be applied in skincare products. It is a potential carcinogen when it absorbed through the skin.

Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40)

Health Concerns: Cancer, Irritation, Premature Aging.
It is a very drying and irritating solvent which removes the skin natural acid mantle, making it much more vulnerable to bacteria, viruses and molds. It is made from Propylen which is a Petroleum derivative. The result is water loss in the area which leads to whitening and drying of the skin and may result in cracking, secondary infection, and dermatitis. It may also promote brown spots and premature aging of your skin.


Some studies have linked aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease, though recent research has cast doubt on the connection. Other studies have indicated that aluminum may be linked to breast cancer and other brain disorders. Aluminum, in the form of powder, is used in self-care products such as antiperspirant deodorants. The average person will consume, absorb and/or eat three pounds of aluminum in their lifetime. Wow! Think about that next time you reach for Dove or Old Spice on the shelf.

Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY

This is a synthetic antiperspirant which can irritate your skin. It is selected for its ability to obstruct pores in the skin and prevent sweat from leaving the body. Its anhydrous form gives it the added ability of absorbing moisture. Recent research suggests that it can be responsible for the formation of breast cancer.

Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES), Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS)

Also known as Anionic Surfactants, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Nitrosating agents.
Health Concerns: cancer.
Primarily used as a foaming agent or detergent to be found in shampoos, facial cleansers, bubble bath products, household and utensil cleaning detergents.

Anionic Surfactants

Anionic surfactants used in personal cleansing products include sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. Surfactants are also often used in insecticides, ski wax, toothpastes, paints and adhesives because of their wetting, dispersing, emulsifying, foaming or anti-foaming properties. These detergents pose a serious threat to health.

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS)
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES)
  • Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate
  • Sodium Lauroyl Sarsocinate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate
  • Potassium Coco Hydrolysed Collagen
  • TEA (Triethanolamine) Lauryl Sulfate
  • TEA (Triethanolamine) Laureth Sulfate
  • Lauryl or Cocoyl Sarcosine
  • Disodium Oleamide Sulfosuccinate
  • Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate
  • Disodium Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate and so on.
Benzalkonium Chloride

Highly toxic, irritates the skin. Direct contact should be avoided. Symptoms: muscle paralysis, low blood pressure, central nervous system depression and weakness.


Benzoic acid, Benzophenone-3, Benzyl alcohol, Benzyl salicylate,
Implicated in wide variety of health problems including testicular cancer, cell mutation and other cancers.
Health Concerns: cancer, it irritates the skin, allergen.

Cetrimonium chloride

It is a preservative, human toxicant and allergen. Also suspected to be an environmental toxin.
Health Concerns: toxic, allergen.


Methylchloroisothiazolinone (5-chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one), also referred to as MCI, is a preservative with antibacterial and antifungal effects within the group of isothiazolinones. It is effective against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, yeast, and fungi. Methylchloroisothiazolinone is found in many water-based personal care products and cosmetics. Methylchloroisothiazolinone was first used in cosmetics in the 1970s. It is also used in glue production, detergents, paints, fuels, and other industrial processes.
It is toxic for the skin and it can cause dermatitis.
Health Concerns: Toxic, dermatitis, cancer.


It has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, asthma, and other health issues, and have been found to affect hormones in humans. A 2012 study found that BPA and phthalates may be linked to lower thyroid levels. At high levels of exposure, the chemicals could reduce thyroid hormones by 10 percent. A 2013 study found that BPA may have a direct effect on fertility in women, and may affect the maturation of the egg. Researchers also noted that BPA could affect chromosomes, potentially increasing the risk for birth defects. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences states that endocrine disruptors may interfere with the body’s hormonal systems, potentially increasing risk of fertility problems, some cancers, and causing developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in people and wildlife. These chemicals, they note, include dioxins, pesticides, plasticizers (like BPA and phthalates), and polychlorinated biphenyls. All can be found in plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame-retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.

CI 15510 (D&C Orange #4)

This is an orange coloring agent which can be hazardous to the eyes. This material must not be used in products that are used around the eyes in the EU.
Health Concerns: allergic reactions, irritating, toxic.

CI 42051 (Acid blue)

This is a blue coloring agent which is allowed in the EU but banned in the USA. This can cause allergic reactions and it irritates the skin.
Health Concerns: toxic, it irritates the skin, allergic reactions.

CI 42090 (FD&C Blue #1)

This is a blue coloring agent, toxic.
Health Concerns: toxic, it irritates the skin.

CI 60730 (Ext. D&C Violet #2)

It is also a coloring agent which is very harmful for the body. According to the EU regulations, this ingredient must not be in contact with eyes, nose, mouth or genital areas. Toxic and dangerous. Cannot be used on mucous membranes.
Health Concerns: Toxic, sensitive skin, it irritates the skin.

Citrus limonum

It is also known as lemon oil, Citrus limonum, Lemon, Lemon peel, Lemon extract, Citrus Medica Limonum Peel. Usually it is mixed into cosmetic products because its fresh citrusy scent. Generally it is a synthetic fragrance causing allergic reactions. It irritates the skin.
Health Concerns: allergic reactions, it irritates the skin.

Coal tar

It is used in anti-dandruff shampoos, tt causes cancer. Long-term use of this product can cause hair follicle problems (tar acne).
Health Concerns: cancer, sensitive skin, it irritates the skin.

Cocoamidopropyl Betaine

It contains cancer-causing ingredients which may seriously jeopardize your health.
Health Concerns: Cancer, dermatitis, allergic reactions.


It is banned in foods in the US. It is used in cosmetic products as a fragrance. Warfarin which is actually a rat poison, also contains coumarin.
Health Concerns: cancer.

DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine)

They’re used to control the pH level of products. You’ll find these ingredients in products that foam, including bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps, and facial cleaners. They’re also found in eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases and foundations, fragrances, hair care products, hair dyes, shaving products, and sunscreens. According to the FDA, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a study in 1998 that found an association between the topical application of DEA and certain DEA-related ingredients and cancer in laboratory animals. All ingredients with DEA cause cancer. These chemicals are already restricted in the EU due to known carcinogenic effects.
This chemical highly irritates the skin tissue and corrosive to the eyes.
Health Concerns: Cancer, skin irritation.


  • Cocamide DEA
  • Cocamide MEA
  • DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
  • DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Myristamide DEA
  • Oleamide DEA
  • Stearamide MEA
  • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
  • Triethanolamine

Chemical byproducts that are known animal carcinogens. Over 50 cosmetic ingredients may be contaminated with this chemical, including sodium myreth sulfate, PEG, oxynol, ceteareth, oleth, polyethylene, and more.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Industrial chemicals used in coolants, insulating materials, and lubricants.

Phenols and phenolic derivatives

Man-made chemicals produced from petroleum and used in making plastics and related materials. Found in dental sealants, sunscreen, lotions, hand soap, and toothpaste.


This ingredient is in every products from cosmetics to household cleaning products. This label can be more than 4.000 components which are also toxic and carcinogenic. According to the USDA FDA reports, the symptoms can be: headache, allergic reactions, dizziness, coughing and vomiting, skin irritation or skin discoloration. Clinical observation proves that fragrances can affect the central nervous system causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability and sleep disorders.

Quaternium-15 and Other Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

When some chemicals break down, they release harmful formaldehyde gas, classified as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Researchers and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Look for:

  • DMDM hydantoin
  • BHUT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
  • bronopol
  • diazolidinyl urea
  • sodium hydrozymethylglycinate
  • imidazolidinyl urea
  • methenamine
  • quarternium-15, Quaternium-18, Quaternium-26

Quaternium-15 is one of the more common ones, used in mascara, pressed powders, and eyeliners. In addition to potentially causing cancer, this ingredient can cause skin sensitivities and irritation.


Polyethylene glycols, or PEGs, are petroleum-based compounds that are used to thicken, soften, and gelatinize cosmetics, making them a common ingredient in cream-based products. The main issue with PEGs is that they are often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Ethylene oxide is a known human carcinogen, potentially harmful to the nervous system and human development. 1,4-dioxane is a possible human carcinogen that can remain in the environment for long periods of time without degrading.


It is used in hair care products to make your hair shine. Look out for the terms “petroleum” or “liquid paraffin.” A petrochemical, it can be contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The European Union considers petrolatum a carcinogen and restricts its use in cosmetics.

Propylene Glycol

This chemical is used in deodorants. Propylene glycol is a petroleum based substance that is used to create a soft and sleek consistency. It’s a low cost ingredient with a versatile function, which is why it is so common in self-care products. There have been reports on its potential toxicity, linking it to issues such as:

  • cancer
  • reproductive complications
  • developmental abnormalities
  • neurotoxicity
  • endocrine complications

Cyclomethicone and ingredients ending in “siloxane” make hair products dry quickly and deodorant creams slide on easily. They are also used extensively in moisturizers and facial treatments to soften and smoothen and in medical implants. Cyclotetrasiloxane and Cylcopentasiloxane —D4 and D5 — are endocrine disruptors, interfere with human hormone function and possible reproductive toxicants that may impair human fertility, cause uterine tumors and harm the reproductive and immune systems.

Tetrasodium EDTA

This is cytotoxic and genotoxic. Clinical tests show that tetrasodium EDTA increases the penetration of other chemicals.

Thanks for reading!

Sharing is Caring

If you find this post helpful please share it with your friends and family. It would mean a lot to me if you shared it. 🙂

Pin it for later?
Pin it!

If you have any questions, concerns, suggestions feel free to message me anytime by using the contact form or in the comments. I would love to hear from you.

Sign up now!

Wanna read more? I’d like to invite you to my e-mail list community for free! By signing up you will get notifications about the newest posts on the blog, beauty tips, the newest discounts and sales at organic and cruelty-free brands, I will also create some cheat sheets, templates and I’m also working on a free e-book and when I release it, my subscribers will be the first who will get it. Just click on the sign up button! 🙂

Recommended posts:

Lv, C., Hou, J., Xie, W., & Cheng, H. (2015). Investigation on formaldehyde release from preservatives in cosmetics. International journal of cosmetic science.
International Agency for Research on Cancer. “IARC classifies formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans.” Press release. June 15, 2004.
Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition (2011) Available Online: Accessed November 5, 2013.
raeling, M. E. K., Yourick, J. J., & Bronaugh, R. L. (2004). In vitro human skin penetration of diethanolamine. Food and chemical toxicology, 42(10), 1553-1561.
Ronit Machtinger, et al., “Bisphenol-A and human oocyte maturation in vitro,” Human Reproduction, July 30, 2013; 28(10):2735-2745,
Ben Forer and Suzan Clarke, “Study: Chemical in Many Household Products Associated with Early Menopause,” ABC News, March 25, 2011,
Catanzaro JM, Smith JG, Jr. Propylene glycol dermatitis. J Am Acad Dermatol 24(1):90–5 (1991 Jan).

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of