23 Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients You Should Avoid

There are many cosmetic products in the market which use ingredients that are harmful to our skin. When a product does some damage to our skin, we often blame the manufacturer!

Should they take all the blame? No! We should take some blame too as we failed to educate ourselves regarding the ingredients! In this digital age, anyone can easily type the ingredient name in Google and get all the info.

Since you are in this page, you don’t need to Google it as we have complied all the ingredients that can harm your skin. The list of 23 toxic ingredients with details of it are given below:


1,4-Dioxane is a heterocyclic organic compound, classified as an ether. It is a colorless liquid that has a mild and almost ether-like odor. This chemical is found in cosmetic products that produces suds like bubble baths, shampoos, and liquid bath soaps. It is also found in hair relaxers. The chemical is banned in some parts of the world as health studies have revealed that it 1,4 Dioxane is possibly carcinogenic and can cause cancer.

Aside from cosmetic applications, 1,4-Dioxane is also used as an aprotic solvent. It is found in products like adhesives, inks, and cellulose esters.

One study revealed that 1,4-Dioxane is not used in cosmetics which are certified by the USDA National Organic Program. Since the FDA does not require 1,4-Dioxane to be listed as an ingredient of a particular product, the best way to avoid using cosmetic products laced with it is to pick those that are approved by the USDA National Organic Program.


Aluminum is one of the most abundant chemical elements in the planet. It is used in almost every aspect of day-to-day life. It is used in packaging food and beverages, automobile and aircraft construction, electrical transmission lines, computer heat sinks, and cooking utensils. It is almost impossible for one person to go through their daily life without interacting with a product made, or partly made, from aluminum.

In terms of cosmetics and body care products, aluminum compounds are used in deodorants and antiperspirants. Aluminum Oxide or Aluminum Hydroxide is also widely used in makeups, even medicines and medical devices.

Aluminum is known to affect the blood-brain barrier. However, this only occurs when very high doses of the element penetrates the human body. The most common negative reaction to aluminum is from people who are allergic to the element. The allergic reaction occurs as result of blocked sweat glands. The blockage occurs when Aluminium interact with sweat glands. As a result of the blockage itching, contact dermatitis or acne may occur.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services classifies aluminum as a non-carcinogen.

Benzalkonium Chloride

Benzalkonium Chloride is an organic salt classified as a quaternary ammonium compound. This chemical is used as an excipient making it ideal for use in the production of laundry detergents and fabric softeners.

In terms of its cosmetic applications, Benzalkonium Chloride is widely used in exfoliants and skin peeling agents. It is also used by some cosmetic suppliers as anti-acne agents, anti-microbials, and emulsifiers. Personal care products such as deodorants, shampoos and hand sanitizers can also contain Benzalkonium Chloride.

Contact with Benzalkonium Chloride can cause extreme skin irritation and ocular toxicity, especially when it comes in contact with eyes. Reports claim that people who are allergic to the chemical suffer respiratory complications and gastrointestinal problems when even a small dose is ingested or come in contact with. Long term usage of the compound is associated with impaired immune function.

The best way to avoid being in contact with the chemical is to read product labels in order to determine whether they contain it. Using products that are made from organic materials is also an excellent way to avoid harmful chemicals.

Butylated Compounds (BHT, BHA)

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) are Butylated Compounds that are widely used as preservatives for a number of cosmetic and personal care products. Both compounds are also used in the preservation of foods. Several studies have showed that these two compounds are linked to various health problems like organ toxicity and endocrine disruption when used for prolonged periods of time.

Butylated compounds are usually found in hair products, deodorants, lipsticks, sunscreens, and perfumes. BHT, in particular, is also used in preservation of both personal care and food products.

Several international health organizations have linked Butylated Compounds to cancer and other health problems. Based on tests performed from animal subjects, the National Toxicology Program labels Butylated Compounds as human carcinogens.

The best way to avoid being in contact with Butylated Compounds is to read product labels and as much as possible avoid products that contain either BHT or BHA. Personal care products that are made from organic materials is also an excellent alternative.

Coal Tar

Coal Tar is a semi-solid or thick liquid substance which is a by-product produce in a destructive distillation of bituminous coal. Coal tar is widely held by many medical institutions as a carcinogen and have been linked to organ system toxicity and cancer. Coal tar is a complex mixture of hundreds of compounds which are usually labelled polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Coal tar is known to be used in food and textiles products. Cosmetic and personal care products such as soaps, hair dyes, dandruff treatments, and lotions are known to contain some manufactured forms of coal tar.

Manufacturers have used many alternative names for coal tar in order to disguise it in their labels. Among the known derivatives are crude coal tar, impervotar, estar, high solvent naphtha, pertroleum benzin [3,4], benzin B70, and KC 261.

Despite the health risks that are linked to coal tar, the United States Food and Drug Administration have identified that products containing 0.5% to 5% of the compound are deemed effective and safe. Manufacturers are also obliged to display a warning lable if their products contain coal tar, so it is always important to check the label.

Ethanolamine Compounds

Also called monoethanolamine or 2-aminoethanol, Ethanolamine is an organic chemical compound. It is a colorless liquid whose smell is similar to that of ammonia.

Monoethanolamine or MEA is usually used in the production of detergents, corrosion inhibitors, pharmaceuticals, and emulsifiers. As for its application in cosmetic and personal care products, most Ethanolamine compounds are found in hair conditioners, shampoos, soaps, waxes, mascara, sunscreens, eye shadows, eyeliners, and perfumes.

Ethanolamine compounds come in several names. Be sure to check the product label for the following names when looking for ethanolamine compounds: triethanolamine, diethanolamine, DEA, TEA, DEA-cytel phosphate, lauramide DEA, myristamide DEA, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, and oleamide DEA.

The National Toxicology Program labels Nitrosodiethanolamine or NDEA as a human carcinogen. Experiments on the compound have found out that it causes kidney tumors and liver cancer in test rats, as well as nasal cavity cancer in test hamsters.

The best way to avoid Ethanolamine Compounds is to check product labels and be wary of ingredients that are labeled TEA, MEA, and DEA.


Formaldehyde, along with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, are some of the most commonly used compounds in the production of shampoos and baby soaps. These chemicals are essential in preventing microbes from growing in water-based products and spoiling them.

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with strong smelling attributes. It is has many applications in various industries. It is used in building materials, cabinets, walls, and furniture.

In terms of application in cosmetic products, formaldehyde is mostly used in liquid substances. Products like nail polish, nail glue, and hair gel are known to use this compound. Baby shampoo, body wash, and body soap also use formaldehyde.

Many medical studies have revealed that formaldehyde can be absorbed through the skin. The chemical has been linked to several cases of cancer as well as skin allergies.

Avoiding formaldehyde is relatively simple. Manufacturers are required to include warning labels on their product that contain this chemical. In certain regions, formaldehyde is completely banned from being added to products.

Formaldehyde Donors or Releasers

Formaldehyde donors or releasers are compound that slowly releases formaldehyde. These compounds are often used as antimicrobial preservatives for cosmetics. These compounds are essential in keeping and extending the shelf life of cosmetic products.

Among the most popular formaldehyde donors are DMDM Hydantoin, Methylisothiazolinone, and Diazolidinyl Urea. All these compounds, despite the different in chemical properties, have one thing in common: they are used as formaldehyde releasers for cosmetics and skin care products.

Formaldehyde is an essential compound that extends the shelf life of skin care and cosmetic products. They act in the same way that food preservatives preserve our food.

Due to its toxicity and volatility, many medical institutions have labeled formaldehyde as a human carcinogen and is treated as a danger to human health. Many activist groups have called for the complete ban of the compound from manufacturing use.

Fragrance Chemicals

Fragrance products like colognes and perfumes are prime suspects for containing carcinogenic substances. The application method of these products, which are usually sprayed to the body, is also considered by many medical experts to be the easiest way for carcinogens to enter the human body.

Many manufacturers only put “fragrance” on the label of their products without a detailed description of the chemicals that are used to produce it. This lack of proper disclosure prevents consumers from knowing what carcinogenic chemicals are included into their favorite perfumes.

Medical studies performed on a variety of perfumes have found out that chemicals like solvents, UV-absorbers, preservatives, and stabilizers are among the harmful chemicals that are included in the product.

Current laws do not require manufacturers to explicitly declare the ingredients of their perfumes or colognes. The best way to avoid this kind of deception is to simply avoid or refrain from using perfumes that simply contain “fragrances” or “scent” on its list of ingredients.


Gluten is something that is usually associated with dietary habits. It is a composite of storage proteins called prolamins and glutelins. It is usually found in wheat, barley, rye, and oat. While glutens are not usually labeled as carcinogen, some people are intolerant or allergic to it. Allergic reactions to gluten are often accompanied by abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, heartburn, diarrhea, and anemia.

Gluten is used in cosmetic and personal care products like shampoo, toothpaste, lipstick, soap, and lotions. People who are allergic to gluten will experience symptoms like asthma and dermatitis when they come in contact with these products.

Avoiding gluten is relatively easy nowadays. Due to an uptick in reports of gluten allergy cases, manufacturers have come up with the “Gluten Free” label found on their products. However, there are suspect ingredients that need not to be overlooked. Among these are wheat germ, hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, avena sativa, triticum aestivum. Be wary of these labels as they are also associated with gluten.


Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the Earth’s crust. It is present in plants, water, soil, air, and dust. Lead is considered harmful to the human body when exposed for extended period of time or when taken in large doses.

Several studies have concluded that workers who are exposed to inorganic lead for extended period of time are prone to several types of cancer. High levels of lead in the human body can cause kidney damage, reproductive health problems, low sperm count, bone and joint pain, bone marrow damage, and various digestive symptoms.

Lead is one of the most popular element used for cosmetics. Lead being used as cosmetics traces its roots in Ancient Egyptian times. Nowadays, lead is used in cosmetic products like lipsticks and makeups. Studies reveal that lead is only toxic or fatal when used for prolonged periods of time. The best way to avoid lead is to check the labels of cosmetic products and be wary of those that list lead as its ingredient.


Parabens are a series of parahydroxybenzoates which are widely used as preservatives of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. It is used primarily due to its effective fungicidal and bactericidal properties.

Parabens are used in almost every aspect of cosmetics and personal care products manufacturing. They are found in shampoos, moisturizers, lubricants, makeup, toothpastes, and shaving gels. They are also used as food additives.

Parabens were once considered safe but new study confirms that it is linked to breast cancer. It is because Parabanes acts like estrogen and can stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.

The tricky part is that manufacturers do not simply put parabens on the label of their products. They hide it in words like ethylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, and isopropylparaben. When checking the labels of a particular product, make sure to check for ingredients that ends in –paraben.

Some manufacturers have also found the initiative to label their products “paraben-free,” the only downside to these types of products is that their shelf life only lasts somewhere between six months to a year. Some manufacturers are also using natural and organic ingredients as an alternative to paraben.

PEG Compounds

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is a compound of polyether that has applications ranging from industrial manufacturing to medicine and cosmetics. Depending on its molecular weight, PEG can also be called polyethylene oxide or polyoxyethylene.

Regarding its commercial use, PEG compounds are usually found in skin creams and personal lubricant products. PEG compounds are also used as a dispersant for toothpaste products.

Medical experts consider PEG compounds as biologically inactive and safe. However, like gluten, some people are intolerant and allergic to it. Symptoms of PEG allergies are usually diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, cramping, blood in stool and bleeding from rectum.

As a precaution, it is always important to read the label of every products before using it. This is true not only for cosmetic products but for processed foods, drugs and other substances as well.


Phthalates are a group of materials that add more flexibility to plastics. It has a wide range of application including toys, vinyl flooring, detergents, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and personal care products.

Due to its wide range of application, extensive studies about phthalates have been conducted in order to determine its effects to the human body. Some medical institutions have linked these compounds to certain types of cancer while the European Union have completely banned the use of products in cosmetics.

In the United States, manufacturers continue to use phthalates in some color cosmetics, body washes, hair care products and fragranced lotions. The best way to avoid products that contain phthalates is to read their labels. Some manufacturers label phthalates as DEP, DBP, DEHP, or fragrance.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol or PEG-10 is a polyethylene glycol ether. This compound, which is also part of the PEG group, is typically used in formulation of bath products, personal care products, shampoos, and hair care products.

Medical studies have showed that acute oral toxicity of propylene glycol is very low. Experts deemed that large quantities of this chemical is required in order to cause health damage to humans. Nevertheless, experts also believe that excessive use of products that contain this compound for long periods of time may also cause serious toxicity.

The most common negative reaction to propylene glycol are allergies. People who are allergic to this compound might experience inflamed skin when it comes in contact to the human body.

When checking for labels, propylene glycol can also be called as 1,2-propanediol, 1,2-dihydroxypropane, methyl ethyl glycol, and methylethylene glycol.


Siloxanes, also called as cyclomethicones, is a term used to describe both individual and mixture of cyclic siloxane materials. These materials are derived from silicon and oxygen. It is mostly used in personal care products, particularly hair conditioners. These materials are also present in deodorants, antiperspirant, sunscreens, shampoos, lotions, and moisturizers.

The safety use of siloxanes have been reviewed on several occasions by experts in both the United States and European Union. Medical experts in both regions have concluded that the use of siloxanes in cosmetic products are safe, provided that they are administered in very small doses. Nevertheless, experts are still closely monitoring the residual effects of siloxane.

Siloxanes are relatively safe to the human body. However, they are fatal when administered in very large doses. Moreover, some studies have also revealed that people who have allergic reactions to the compound might suffer inflamed dry skin when they come in contact to the chemical.

Individuals who are allergic to siloxanes are highly advised to check the labels of personal care products before using them.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are surfactants that are used in many personal care and cosmetic products. SLES, in particular, is an inexpensive and very effective foaming agent.

Both SLS and SLES are very effective compounds that are used in cleansing products like lotion and creams. These ingredients are also effective in forming foams and have excellent lathering properties which make them ideal for bubble baths.

While there are claims that SLS and SLES can cause cancer, these allegations are widely unsubstantiated and have been flagged as false. Medical institutions in the United States claim that both SLS and SLES are safe for consumer use given that they are administered in proper condition.

Nevertheless, there are reports about allergic reactions to SLS and SLES. Both compounds are also known to be irritants. Experiments conducted on lab animals have shown that both compounds can cause eye and skin irritation.


Sulfate compounds, or more commonly referred to as sulfates, are widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. Chances are, if you are using cosmetics and personal care products daily, at least one of those contain sulfate compounds.

There are hundreds of sulfate compounds. The most commonly used of these are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). While these two common derivatives of sulfate are safe, there are some compounds that are not.

The most common negative reaction to sulfates are allergies. With relatively small amounts added to daily personal care products, these compounds are not harmful to the human body. Experts believe that very large doses are needed for these compounds to be lethal.

If you are allergic to sulfates, or at least some derivatives of it, make sure to check the product’s label before using it. Some products also contain the label “Sulfate Free” in order to distinguish it from other’s that contain sulfates.

Sunscreen Chemicals

Sunscreens are products that absorb or reflect the sun’s ultra-violet radiation. These products are used to protect the body from sunburn.

Sunscreens contain chemicals like avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, octisalate, homosalate, and octinoxate. While medical experts believe that these chemicals are safe to use, some agree that prolonged usage might be toxic to the human body.

One particular ingredient is the oxybenzone which is considered as an endocrine disruptor. It is known to reduce sperm count in men and can cause endometriosis in women.

The best way to avoid these chemicals is to use a mineral sunscreen. Mineral sunscreen contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide which creates a physical barrier to protect the skin from UV rays of the sun. Alternatively, there are also sunscreen products that use botanical ingredients rather than chemicals, and these products are deemed safe to use.

Synthetic Colors

Synthetic colors are used not only in cosmetics, but also as food colorings. In cosmetics, synthetic colors are used to produce colors for makeups, lipsticks, and hair dyes.

Most synthetic colors are made from coal tar, a known carcinogen. Due to the carcinogenic properties of coal tar, some manufacturers have resorted to using petroleum for their synthetic colors.

When picking cosmetic products, make sure to avoid those with ingredients like Diazolidinyl Urea, Paraben, Petrolatum, Propylene Glycol, PVP.VA Copolymer, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Stearalkonium Chloride, and Triethanolamine. Moreover, some manufacturers will not include Synthetic Colors in labels of their products and instead label it as FD&C or D&C which is then followed by a color name or number. Example, FD&C Red No. 45 or D&C Blue No. 18.

Synthetic Polymers

Synthetic Polymers are widely used in cosmetics and personal care products due to its excellent thickening and emulsifying properties. The human body contains natural polymers. Through the years, scientists were able to produce polymers synthetically therefore maximizing their use in medicine as well as industrial and commercial applications.

Synthetic polymers are produced from petroleum oil. Examples of synthetic polymers are Teflon, epoxy, polyester, and polyethylene. Synthetic polymers are essentially derivatives of plastic.

Two of the most common synthetic polymers that are found in cosmetic products are carbomer and sodium polyacrylate. These two ingredients are not necessarily toxic to the human body. However, manufacturing process can sometimes result to these two ingredients being contaminated by harmful toxic substance.

With growing concerns about the negative health effects of synthetic polymers, some cosmetic manufacturers have resorted to using natural polymers. These products are a bit pricier compared to those that contain synthetic polymers, but they are exponentially safer to the human body.


Toluene is toxic chemical that is usually found in nail polish and hair dyes. Direct exposure to this chemical can cause temporary headaches, cracked skins, and dizziness. However, experts have found out that prolonged exposure to Toluene have more serious effects like respiratory complications and reproductive damages.

Toluene is naturally found in the tolu tree and crude oil. This chemical is added to gasoline in order to produce industrial products like rubber, adhesives, and paint thinners. It is also used to dissolve other substances such as plasticizers and resins.

The Food and Drug Administration have reviewed the safety of Toluene and allows the use of the substance, provided it is used in small dosages and controlled applications.

Salon workers are more likely to interact with toluene, given the nature of their work. As a safety precaution, it is highly advised to use face masks when working with nail polishes and hair dyes that contain toluene. Moreover, there are also nail polish products that use less toxic substances than toluene.


Triclosan is an antifungal and antibacterial agent which is usually found in consumer products. The substance is found in liquid soaps, toothpastes, detergents, deodorants, color cosmetics, whitening products, and shaving creams.

Triclosan has excellent antimicrobial and antibacterial properties which make it effective in odor-causing bacteria. It is also extremely effective in slowing bacterial growth which makes it an effective preservative.

In previous studies, the Food and Drugs Administration have found no evidence that soaps containing triclosan are more effective compared to plain soap and water. Moreover, reports about allergic reactions, endocrine (hormone) disruptor, disrupting immune system to the substance have forced some manufacturers to drop the use of triclosan in some of their products.

The European Commission allows that use of triclosan in personal care and cosmetic products at a maximum concentration of 0.3%.

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