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10 toxic chemicals found in beauty products

10 toxic chemicals found in beauty products

Your cosmetic and personal care products may contain a cocktail of toxic chemicals that are known to cause major health problems. Thousands of chemicals in beauty products are currently being used by millions of people around the world. These toxins are know to cause skin irritation, endocrine disruption, organ toxicity and are even carcinogenic. When buying beauty products, always read the label and ingredient list to avoid exposure to these harmful chemicals. Here are the top 10 most common synthetic chemicals to avoid:


Parabens have been used as a preservative in beauty products since the 1950s. They grew in popularity because they are both inexpensive and effective in preventing the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. Sadly, parabens possess estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with an increase in breast cancer and reproductive issues, with researchers finding parabens present in malignant breast tumors. They are most commonly found in makeup, body washes, food, deodorants, shampoos and facial cleansers.


SLS and SLES are common and inexpensive chemicals found in many mainstream personal hygiene products. They were originally used as an industrial degreaser and are now used to make soap foamy, being found in more than 90% of personal care and cleaning products. SLS’s are known to be skin, lung and eye irritants with studies that point to residual levels of SLS in the brain, lungs, liver and heart after external use. SLS’s can be commonly found in products such as shampoo, makeup, toothpaste, mouthwash, body wash and soap. 


Synthetic colours are used to make a cosmetic “pretty”. They will often show up on product labels as FD&C or D&C, followed by a colour and a number. Many of these synthetic colours are derived from petroleum or coal tar and may contain heavy metal salts like arsenic and lead that can deposit toxicity into the skin. These chemicals increase your risk of skin sensitivity and irritation, and are known for increased acne breakouts and blocked pores. Synthetic colours are also believed to be a human carcinogen and are linked to ADHD in children.FRAGRANCE


Fragrance is a very ambiguous term. Many products list “fragrance” on the label but often don’t specify the ingredients that make up a “fragrance”. The term was originally crafted to protect a company’s secret formula. This is scary because some fragrance chemicals, such as phthalates, are linked to serious health problems such as cancer, dermatitis, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies and sensitivities. It can be found in products such as perfume, cologne, conditioner, shampoo, body wash and moisturisers. 


Banned in the EU for cosmetics and California for children’s toys, Phthalates are plasticizers that are present in many beauty products to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. The main phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products are DBP and DEHP. These chemicals are linked to endocrine disruption with an increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, lower sperm counts and infertility in males. Unfortunately, phthalates are not listed in every product as it is commonly added to fragrances (see Fragrance section above). Phthalates are often found in deodorants, nail polishes, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays and moisturisers. 


Triethanolamine, or TEA, is used in cosmetics and personal care products to control the pH levels and act as an emulsifier to help ingredients better blend together.  TEA can cause skin, hair and eye irritation and inflammation, with studies also showing negative effects or organs, the immune system and respiratory system. It is currently approved by the FDA and CIR for use in cosmetics intended for “discontinuous use” (meaning to be washed off briefly after application), however because of its toxicity, it may be absorbed in small amounts from a number of different products per day, resulting in a large dose of this toxic substance. It can be found in up to 40% of beauty items currently on the market, including perfumes, fragrances, hair products, hair dyes, shower gel, shaving creams, skin creams, serums and makeup.


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are colourless, flammable gases often used in cosmetics to protect against contamination of bacteria during storage. It is known to cause skin irritation, hair loss, a reduced immune system and is considered a human carcinogen by many expert and government bodies, with studies showing a link between formaldehyde and leukemia. Formaldehyde is often found in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair products, shampoos, cleansers and body soap.


Triclosan is a widely used antimicrobial agent that was initially developed as a surgical scrub for medical professionals that is now used in a variety of consumer products in order to kill bacteria and fungus, and to prevent odours. Triclosan is a known endocrine disruptor that impacts thyroid function and reproductive hormones. There is also mounting evidence linking the use of triclosan with the promotion of bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant. Triclosan is most commonly found in antibacterial soaps and detergents, toothpaste and tooth whitening products, antiperspirants/deodorants, shaving products and cosmetics. 


Toluene is a toxic chemical derived from petroleum or coal tar sources. It is commonly listed on labels as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane or methylbenzene. It is commonly used in the making of paint thinners, adhesives, rubber and hair dyes.  Toluene is a potent solvent that can affect your respiratory system, organ system or cause development and reproductive toxicity. Expecting mothers should avoid exposure to toluene vapors as it may cause developmental damage in the fetus. Toluene can be found in nail polish, nail treatment and hair dyes.


Talc is a mineral substance used most often in powder form. As a powder, it absorbs moisture and helps reduce friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry, softening and preventing rashes, such as the commonly used product, talcum powder. In its natural form, it may contain the known carcinogen asbestos which is shown to causes cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled. Case studies of infants inhaling talc-containing baby powder showed severe respiratory disease. Talc should be avoided from all personal care and cosmetic products. It may be found in baby powder, body and shower products, lotions, feminine hygiene products, makeup and face masks.

The most important thing for you to do when deciding on purchasing a new product is to read the ingredient list carefully and avoid synthetic chemicals at all costs, even if they are widely used across the industry. Always look for natural and organic products, both for your cosmetics and for your wider household cleaning products, groceries and air fresheners in order to limit the amount of toxins your body is exposed to. Read labels and ingredient lists thorough to look out for your personal health and the health of your family. 







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