The Dirty Dozen: 12 of the Most Toxic Beauty Product Ingredients

Modern women love their beauty products. From moisturizers, cleansers and hair products to lipsticks, sunscreen and body wash, these products have become essential to the lifestyles of women all over the world. Globally the personal care products industry has become a $250 billion a year business. The scary part about this industry is that it’s not regulated, so in terms of the ingredients used in these products, anything goes. Many mainstream products contain slews of chemicals, additives and fillers, and when used they get absorbed into your body and slowly toxify your system. Here are 12 of the most toxic ingredients to avoid:

  1. Parabens: The most widely used preservative in beauty products. Parabens are often used in fragrances, which are considered trade secrets, so they may not be listed on the label. Health Impacts: Parabens have been shown to disrupt hormones and mimic estrogen and have been associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
  2. Phthalates: A group of chemicals used to help make plastics softer and more flexible. Often used in nail polishes, perfumes, hair spray and lotions. Like parabens, phthalates are often used in fragrances, which are considered “trade secretes” and not legally required to be listed on the label. Health Impacts: Known endocrine disruptors that have been linked to breast cancer and birth defects.
  3. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)/ Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): A former industrial degreaser now used as a foaming agent in over 90% of personal care and cleaning products. Health Impacts: Can combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a known carcinogen. SLS has also irritating to the lungs, skin and eyes.
  4. Propylene Glycol (PG): A synthetic liquid that is used as the key component in newer automotive anti-freezes. In the food and cosmetic industries, it is used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in certain products. Health Impacts: Allergic reactions and skin irritations, especially in people with eczema.
  5. Fragrances: This term was created to protect a company’s formula by keeping certain ingredients a secret. This category is vague and could potentially contain a slew of toxic ingredients that you are putting on your skin. Health Impacts: Fragrance mixes have been linked to allergic reactions, respiratory problems, skin conditions and adverse effects on reproductive health.
  6. Petrolatum: Petrolatum is basically crude oil. Yep, the same kind of oil used in motor oil. It is used in many beauty products and goes by many names including mineral oil, paraffin wax and Petrolatum. Health Impacts: This type of oil suffocates the skin, making it difficult for the skin to “breathe” and thus disrupting the body’s natural detoxification process. It also ages the skin prematurely by slowing the renewal rate of skin and damaging collagen, connective tissue and elastin. Petrolatum has also been linked to increased cancer rates.
  7. Talc: A powdery substance similar to Asbestos. Found in baby powder, eye shadow, blush and deodorant. Health Impacts: Linked to respiratory issues and increased risk for Ovarian Cancer.
  8. Triclosan: A chemical widely used in antibacterial products. Health Impacts: Has been shown to irritate skin and disrupt thyroid and reproductive hormones.
  9. BHA and BHT: Synthetic preservatives often used in lipsticks and moisturizers. These preservatives are also often used as preservatives in processed foods. Health Impacts: Can cause allergic reactions on the skin and is classified as a possible carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Cancer. There is also evidence that these preservatives interfere with hormone function.
  10. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRP’s): Used in cosmetics to help prevent growth of bacteria. Health Impacts: Is a known carcinogen and has linked to increased risk of cancer, allergic reactions and compromised immunity. This ingredient has been banned in the EU.
  11. DEA related ingredients: DEA, otherwise known as diethanolamine, is used as a wetting agent in cosmetics and gives shampoos a rich lather and lotions a silky smooth consistency. Health Impacts: DEA can combine with other ingredients in beauty products to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is easily absorbed through the skin and has been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers.
  12. Coal Tar Dyes: These are often listed on labels as a color plus number (think FD&C Red No. 6) and found in dry skin treatments, anti-lice and anti-dandruff shampoos. Health Impacts: This known carcinogen has been banned in the EU, but is still used in North America.