We’re talking about chemicals found in the majority of our beauty and skincare products here in the U.S. They’re dirty, toxic, and definitely not natural. We believe that safe skincare and non-toxic ingredients should be the norm. The more we know, the more we can each be advocates for our own bodies and a healthier standard overall.
When we say “non-toxic,” we’re referring to formulations made without harmful ingredients known to have toxic effects on our health (including, but not limited to, irritants, carcinogens, hormone and endocrine disruptors, etc.). Although it’s a term not regulated by the FDA (Side note – Did you know that the European Union does regulate this kind of stuff? While the U.S. has not passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products since 1938, in the last twenty years, the EU has banned more than 1,300 chemicals and toxins found to be unsafe for our bodies and the planet. Mind blown.), it is a term that is widely used by “natural” beauty brands.
Here are the “dirty dozen” of cosmetics, the most toxic ingredients:
1 / BHA/BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene)
BHA and BHT are synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lipsticks and moisturizers. They can cause allergic reactions as well as liver, thyroid and kidney problems. Also, they mimic estrogen, can have an adverse impact on reproduction, and may be a possible carcinogen. More than one reason to stay far away from products with these ingredients!
2 / Phthalates (Dibutyl phthalate or DPB)
They are commonly used in nail products as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer that prevents nail polishes from becoming brittle. They have shown to potentially cause a slew of terrible things, such as developmental defects, reproduction and fertility harms, early puberty in girls, and a risk factor for breast cancer. If you love doing your nails, there are tons of non-toxic options like this, this, and this.
3 / Sulphates (Sodium laurate, lauryl sulphate, or SLS)
They are primarily used as foaming agents or detergents found in shampoos, cleansers, and bubble bath products. Sulphates can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. They are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethoxylation, which is used to process other chemicals in order to make them less harsh, but has been linked to harming the nervous system.
4 / Parabens (Methyl-, Ethyl-, Propyl-, Butyl-, Isobutyl-)
Parabens are a group of compounds widely used as an antifungal agent, preservative and antimicrobial in a vast array of cosmetic and beauty products – an estimated 75-90% of cosmetics contain parabens. Parabens are easily absorbed by our skin – they can mimic estrogen and have been detected in human breast cancer tissues.
5 / Formaldehyde
It is a known carcinogen commonly found in cosmetics as a preservative. It is present where quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), and several other preservatives are listed. It has a long list of adverse health effects, including immune-system toxicity, respiratory irritation, neurotoxicity, and cancer. Also, we don’t know about you, but definitely don’t want to think about dead bodies when we’re going through our beauty routine.
6 / Coal-Tar Dyes
They are a byproduct of coal processing used as a colorant and an anti-dandruff agent. Coal-tar dyes are known carcinogens, and colors may be contaminated with low levels of heavy metals and some contain aluminum (a neurotoxin). This is a huge concern when used in cosmetics that may be ingested (i.e. lipstick).
7 / DEA Compounds (Diethanolamine)
They are used to make cosmetics creamy or sudsy, such as for moisturizers and shampoos. They cause mild skin and eye irritation. DEA can form cancer-causing nitrosamines and is also a possible hormone disruptor. In high dosages, it may cause liver cancer and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid.
8 / PEG Compounds (Polyethylene Glycols)
PEGs are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. PEGs opens the skin’s pores, allowing harmful ingredients to penetrate more deeply. PEG and other “ethoxylated” ingredients (which usually have chemical names including the letters “eth”) may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane (similar to SLS).
9 / Petrolatum
Petrolatum is used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin in a variety of moisturizers. It is also used in hair care products to make your hair shine. Look out for the terms “petroleum” or “liquid paraffin.” It is a petrochemical and possible carcinogen, and it can be contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and 1,4-dioxane.
10 / Parfum/fragrance
Apart from being used in perfumes and deodorants, they are used in nearly every type of personal-care product. Of the thousands of chemicals used in fragrances, most have not been tested for toxicity, alone or in combination. These are often irritants that can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms and worse they have been associated with cancer and neurotoxicity.
11 / Siloxanes
Ingredients ending in “siloxane” make hair products dry quickly and deodorant creams slide on easily. They are also used extensively in moisturizers and facial treatments to soften and smoothen. For example, cyclotetrasiloxane is an endocrine disruptor, which interferes with human hormone function. It has also been linked to possibly impairing human fertility, causing uterine tumors, and harming the reproductive and immune systems.
12 / Triclosan
Triclosan is used mainly in antiperspirants, deodorants, cleansers, and hand sanitizers as a preservative and an antibacterial agent. It can pass through skin and can affect the body’s hormone systems—especially thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism—and may disrupt normal breast development. There are plenty of non-toxic deodorants to chose from! Check out this, this, and this.
Still looking for more information? Here are some of the most helpful comprehensive lists: 1/ The Never List 2/ Dirty Ingredients to Ditch 3/ Think Dirty, Shop Clean 4/ Tips for Safer Products 5/ We All Deserve Better
And, if you’re looking to replace some of your current products with non-toxic ones, check out our Instagram. We’re constantly sharing our favorite brands and products!
Disclaimer: All material on The Care Counter website is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet or other health related program.