1. Home
  2. |
  3. Blog
  4. |
  5. 16 Toxic Chemicals To Avoid In Cosmetics And Skincare

Are you aware of what's going inside the products that you put on your face? Are the chemical ingredients safe for your skin and body? After researching the top 10 harmful ingredients in cosmetics and skincare, we wanted to brief it down for you. Here you go.

Harmful Effects Of Chemicals In Cosmetics

1. Sulfates

Sulfates are salts that are formed when sulphuric acid (H2SO4) reacts with another chemical. They are also produced from petroleum and plant sources like coconut and palm oil. They act as surfactants and are used for lathering purposes.

Sulfates can irritate your eyes and skin. But the bigger problem is that they can damage your lungs and kidneys, besides prematurely clearing off dye from your hair. There is also an ongoing debate about their use due to potential threats to the environment [1]. Deriving them from natural sources like palm oil is causing the destruction of rainforests. When they are washed away, they can be toxic for the aquatic species.

2. Parabens

Parabens are the preservatives used to keep your skincare and makeup fresh and germ-free [2]. They are found in a variety of products, from soaps to lotions and makeup. Research shows that they cause increased production of the hormone estrogen (female sex hormone) and interfere with reproductive and brain function.

Some studies explain that parabens enter your skin and mimic estrogen that triggers excessive cell division in the breast. This eventually leads to breast cancer.

3. Phthalates

Phthalates are salts or plasticizing chemicals  [3] used for the spreadability of a product. They are used in nail polishes, perfumes and lotions to name a few. Also used as softeners in shampoos, they are reproductive and developmental toxins.

4. Synthetic colors

Synthetic colors are derived from petroleum or coal tar [4]. Coal tar is made of hydrocarbons, carbon and water. It is a thick, dark and viscous liquid with a characteristic smell. Have you been looking for deeply pigmented lipsticks? Now is the time to think about what goes into these pigments. The heavier the pigment, the higher the chances of increased coal tar percentages.

Coal tar is also present in many of the commercially available eyeshadows. Synthetic colors can cause skin irritations, cancers, acne breakouts and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

5. Fragrance

Fragrances are found in skincare products like perfumes, moisturizers, shampoos, cleansers and conditioners. They are made with chemicals that are associated with respiratory disorders, skin allergies [5], dermatitis and side effects in the reproductive system.

There is no organization that restricts manufacturers from using fragrances. They do not require to reveal what’s actually inside their fragrances. Fragrances are potential carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), irritants and endocrine disruptors. So it’s time to switch to unscented products!

6. Triclosan 

Triclosan is a common chemical found in tubes of toothpaste, antibacterial soaps and deodorants. It is effective against microbes [6] (anti-bacterial in nature), but it is also an endocrine disruptor and a skin irritant. Some studies reported that triclosan can lead to gut inflammation and tumor growth in mammals.

Triclosan breaks down slowly and hence, is considered a potential threat to the environment. Like sulfates, triclosan too is dangerous for aquatic life.

7. Toluene

Toluene is a petrochemical solvent found in most hair dyes and nail polish [7]. They can be dangerous for your immune system and may carry the risk of birth defects and blood cancer. Refrain from using hair dyes and nail polish if you are an expectant mother as it can cause damage to the developing fetus.

Toluene can affect the human central nervous system and can lead to fatigue, headache, nausea and drowsiness. 

8. Talc

Remember how soft talcum powder feels? This is because talc is the softest mineral occurring naturally. Talc is used to absorb moisture and is majorly found in baby powders, eye shadows, blush, deodorants and some soaps.

However, talc is directly associated with ovarian cancer [8]. It first became a matter of concern when a woman who was using talc made by Johnson & Johnson for 35 years died of ovarian cancer. When inhaled, talc can cause lung tumors.

9. Lead

Lead is found in lipsticks [9], eye-liners, foundation and whitening toothpastes. Lead is not directly added to lipsticks but is a major contaminant in colorants used in lipsticks. Love wearing lipstick to work every single day? We do, too! And we needed this reality check!

Lead is a heavy metal that is naturally found in the earth's crust. We are already exposed to enough lead in our air, food and water. The U.S. FDA (food and drugs association) regulates cosmetics and has allowed lead in 0 to 20 parts-per-million (ppm).

10. Chemicals In Sunscreens

Chemicals like PABA, benzophenone, oxybenzone [10], ethoxycinnmate and homosalate are used in sunscreens. They are believed to absorb light, but they cause more damage to the body instead of protecting. These sunscreen chemicals are endocrine disruptors.

11. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

PEG is used as a thickening agent in skincare products like lotions, sunscreen and shampoos. It can cause cancer and respiratory disorders. It can also strip off the natural oils (sebum) from your skin and trigger the sebaceous glands (oil-producing glands) to make more sebum that can make the skin greasy.

12. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is often used as a preservative in skincare. It is a colorless gas and is used to prevent the growth of bacteria. Formaldehyde can be found in nail polishes, hair straightening treatments, hair gels, nail hardeners, shampoos, deodorants, lotions and makeup. It is associated with developmental toxins, hair loss, scalp burns, asthma and neurotoxicity.  When inhaled, formaldehyde can cause dizziness and suffocation.

13. Diethanolamine

We love the foaming cleansers, body washes and shampoos. Don't we? But are you aware of the ingredient that helps in foaming. It is diethanolamine. It is a foaming agent that is commonly found in body washes, shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. It is a cancer-causing agent and a respiratory toxin.

14. Alcohol

Alcohol is a common solvent in skincare products. It is helpful in absorbing the products better and hence, a great fit for certain creams and lotions. But alcohol is a toxic skincare ingredient.  Alcohol (drying alcohol) in skincare can leave the skin dry and flaky. It disrupts the skin renewal process. However, not all alcohols are bad for your skin. Fatty alcohols are derived from natural fats and oils and are great moisturizing agents. 

15. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is used in skincare for skin lightening. It is used to treat pigmentation related to acne scars, freckles, melasma, age spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Hydroquinone functions by reducing the melanin pigment-producing cells (melanocytes).

However, hydroquinone is a known carcinogen. Prolonged use can lead to whitening of the skin, as it reduces melanocytes to a great extent.

16. Petrolatum

Petrolatum has a softening effect and is recommended for dry skin. Lip balms and moisturizers contain petrolatum. While it creates a barrier to prevent water from escaping, it also prevents absorption of moisture from the air. Your skin drys out eventually and this is the reason why you are tempted to reapply your lip balm. Also, if not refined well, harmful chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be retained in it.

How Do I Know If A Product Contains Harmful Chemicals?

  • Read the labels on your skincare products before you buy them.
  • SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) are the common sulfates that you spot on the labels of your shampoos and other personal care.
  • Chemicals under methyl, butyl, propyl classes fall under parabens.
  • Toluene is often labelled as benzene, phenylmethane, toluol and methylbenzene.
  • PEGs can be spotted as numbers like 100, 120, 14M, 30, 32, 40, 75 and so on.
  • Formalin, formaldehyde, glyoxal and bronopol on the labels of skincare products indicate formaldehyde.
  • Diethanolamine is abbreviated as DEA on skincare products.
  • Ethanol, methanol, denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol are all drying alcohols.
  • Mineral oil, benzene, paraffin wax and compounds that end in -eth are also petrolatum ingredients.
  • FD&C or D&C represent artificial colors. F means food and D&C means drugs and cosmetics.
  • Look for beauty brands that are transparent and disclose all their ingredients.
  • Consider natural brands that are not just safe, but also contain potent ingredients.
  • Don’t be quick in judging a natural brand as some of the natural, plant-derived ingredients can also turn out to be an irritant for you.

What Are Non-Toxic Skin Care And Makeup?

Non-toxic skincare ingredients include everything that is not a red flag ingredient. These ingredients are not hormone disruptors, carcinogens or allergens. They are safe to use and are not listed as toxic by environmental agencies. Most of the natural ingredients from plant sources come under the category of non-toxic skincare and cosmetic ingredients.

The makeup and skincare industry will not make it a priority to make us aware of what goes into their products. But we should. Do your own research, switch to safer ingredients for a healthy skin and body. Got questions about your current makeup or skincare? Write to us in the comments below.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

2 lakh women trust & use SkinKraft Get FREE Skin Analysis