Science Gone Mad! 10 Harmful Chemicals In Cosmetics

Whether you use shampoo, makeup or beauty creams, you need to know about the 10 most harmful chemicals in cosmetics – and avoid them!

By Laila Fathi

More people are becoming aware of the fact that personal grooming products can be loaded with nasty stuff. But learning from a long ingredients which could be the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics is no easy task. You practically need a PhD in chemistry to know what’s what!

Cosmetic manufacturers are always changing their formulae. And too often, consumers have no idea what the ingredients on the boxes mean anyway.

But just as you wouldn’t consider eating products that contained nasty chemicals or cancer causing agents, you should be equally scrupulous about cosmetic products. After all, they are absorbed by your skin and they DO enter your bloodstream.

Think about it: if this were not the case, nicotine patches, birth control patches and medicated creams would never be prescribed, right?

Not sure where to start looking for the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics? There are some fantastic apps, like Think Dirty and Cosmetics Maze that can help you determine which are safe (of course, some are harmless!) or harmful.

After some consideration and lots of research, we’ve come up with what we think are the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics, which should be immediately banned from your beauty routine.

Top 10 Most Harmful Chemicals In Cosmetics

harmful chemicals in cosmetics

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

These foaming agents are found in almost all shampoos, shower gels, toothpastes and other foamy products. Strong evidence shows that both SLS and SLES are irritants to skin, eyes and the respiratory tract.

SLES has also been found to be contaminated with the carcinogen 1.4 dioxane.

2. Mineral Oil and Petroleum Jelly

You might think of mineral oil and petroleum jelly (Vaseline) as being benign. But they’re actually some of the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics. These petroleum-industry by products are found in shampoos, creams, lipsticks, eyeshadows, foundations, and of course, baby oil, which is just 100% mineral oil.

Petroleum is commonly used to coat the skin like plastic wrap, but by doing so, the skin’s natural immune barrier is disrupted. The skin then loses its ability to breathe and release toxins, which can then promote acne and other skin disorders, including diaper rash.

This process also slows down skin function and normal cell development, causing  the skin to prematurely age.

3. Fragrance

Of all the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics, this is probably the most common. Yet for some reason, manufacturers are not required to disclose the specific chemicals they use for fragrance in their brand’s list of ingredients.

Sometimes called parfum, this is considered to be a ‘trade secret’. But it’s a ‘secret’ that could harm your health. Anything that smells nice, including deodorants, perfumes, makeup, shampoos, sunscreens, skin care, body care and even baby care products, probably contains chemical fragrance.

Many of the compounds in fragrances are carcinogenic or otherwise toxic. Even one single ‘fragrance’ listing on a product can actually indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients. Most or all of these are usually synthetic.

Symptoms related to fragrance sensitivity include headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation.

Clinical observation by medical doctors has shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, and other behavioural problems. Fragrance is definitely one of the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics.

 4. Cyclomethicone and Siloxanes

Widely used in moisturisers, makeup, and hair care products, these silicone-based compounds are used to soften, smooth, and hydrate. They make hair products dry more quickly and deodorant creams slide on more easily.

They are also used extensively in moisturisers, facial treatments, medical implants and lubricants. But these chemicals are thought to build up toxicity in the liver and gastrointestinal system and are also toxic to wildlife.

5. DEA (diethanolamine) MEA (monotaholamine) and TEA (tiethanolamine)

These foam boosters are another of the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics. They’re found in shampoos, hair styling products, facial cleansers, soaps and shower gels. All can cause contact dermatitis. They are easily absorbed through skin to accumulate in body organs, even the brain. Repeated use can result in major increases of liver and kidney cancer.

DEA and MEA are usually listed on the ingredient label in conjunction with the compound being neutralised. That means you need to look for names of these chemicals, like Cocoamide DEA or MEA, or Lauramide DEA. These are hormone disrupting chemicals and are known to form cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines.

6. FD&C Colour Pigments

Found in lipstick, mascara, eyeshadow, blush, and other facial makeup, many colour pigments cause skin sensitivity and irritation. Absorption of certain colours can cause depletion of oxygen  in the body and even lead to death in some rare cases.

Synthetic colours from coal tar contain heavy metal salts that deposit toxins in skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Moreover, animal studies show that many are carcinogenic.

7. Midazolidnyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin

These are two of the many preservatives that release formaldehyde in cosmetics (formaldehyde-donors). They are found in nearly all mainstream brands of skin, body and hair care products, antiperspirants and nail polish.

Formaldehyde can irritate the respiratory system, cause skin reactions and trigger heart palpitations. Extended exposure  to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness and loss of sleep. It can also aggravate coughs and colds and trigger asthma. More serious side effects include weakening of the immune system and cancer.

8. Parabens 

Parabens are the most widely used preservative in cosmetic products (they are also used as fragrance ingredients, but of course, consumers won’t find that listed on the label).

These easily penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. They can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, and have been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association with cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions.

In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB rays, leading to increased skin ageing and DNA  damage. It has been estimated that the average woman is exposed to 50mg of parabens per day.

9. Triclosan

This is another of the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics. It’s a common ingredient in many grooming products, including toothpaste, facial washes, and deodorants. But it is mainly found in antibacterial hand washes, soaps, gels and household cleaners. It is commonly used to kill bacteria, even though a U.S. FDA advisory committee has found that using products containing it has no benefits over plain soap and water.

The chemical can cause liver damage, and even small amounts have been linked to thyroid problems. It is so dangerous that the American Medical Association recommends that triclosan not be used in the home, mainly because it may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics and cause cancer. No wonder the media recently reported that toothpastes like Colgate with Triclosan should be avoided like the plague!

10. BHT (Butylated Hydroxy Tolulene)

We saved the worst for last. This is certainly one to avoid! This preservative found in lipstick, eye shadow, lip gloss and skin cream penetrates the skin and stays put in fatty tissue. When the body metabolises BHT, it creates free radicals in your body that can create damage to cell’s DNA, causing cancer.

Despite the cancer risk, it’s still found in many common brands of makeup and skincare ranges, including Revlon, L’Occitane and Cover Girl. It is even a food preservative found in certain cereals, soft drinks and chewing gum. Scary!

It can certainly be confusing learning about the harmful chemicals in cosmetics. But luckily, there IS one way to ensure you won’t be contaminating your body with chemicals – just buy organic!


HuffPost: Dangerous Chemicals in Beauty Products 

David Suzuki: Dirty Dozen Chemicals

Think Dirty App

Dr Axe: The Dangers of Synthetic Scents

EWG Skindeep

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3 thoughts on “Science Gone Mad! 10 Harmful Chemicals In Cosmetics”

  1. Pingback: Is non toxic nail polish really existing? - Healthy Pleasures

  2. about dioxane – also PEGs are contaminated by this, and manufacters are not obligated to mention about this compound in the ingredients list. If somebody wants to know more about cancer types, factors and how you can try to avoid them, read this book – net-bossorg/do-i-have-caner

  3. Thanks for this, Yes its too much reactant in our day to day life.. Specially in our cosmetics, it burns our cells and tissues.. totally harmful and fast reactive..Better to avoid and use Herbal product, and go with Ayurveda.

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