Harmful Chemicals to Avoid Using in Your Cosmetic Line

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Harmful Chemicals to Avoid Using in Your Cosmetic Line

Table of Contents Regardless of if you’ve chosen to realize your dream of creating your own cosmetic line by Private Label or starting from scratch at home, there are chemicals that you want to do your best to avoid utilizing in your products. You might be shocked at the number of dangerous chemicals that are common in so many cosmetics products on the market.chemicals to be aware of

Researchers in the USA have found that one in eight of the roughly 82,000 ingredients used in cosmetic and personal care products are hazardous industrial chemicals. What that means is that 10,500 dangerous chemicals ingredients, many of which are pesticides, carcinogens, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, degreasers and plasticizers, are put in the products we use daily. They go on our skin, in our hair, into our lungs and eventually out into the environment as well… Sadly major loopholes in US federal law allows the cosmetics industry to put thousands of synthetic chemicals into everything from lipstick and lotion to shampoo and shaving cream and more; even if those chemicals are linked to cancer, infertility or birth defects. At the same time as untested chemicals have been steadily introduced into our environment, cancer cases have risen dramatically.

Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics to Watch Out For

Below is a list of some of the worst hazardous ingredients commonly found in cosmetics and personal-care products (in no particular order):


Phthalatesfound in 72% of all personal care products, often listed as “fragrance”. These Phthalates, or plasticizers as they are more commonly known, are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. This harmful toxin, one million tons of which are produced each year, is used widely despite the fact that it is known to cause birth defects and reproductive mutations, particularly in males.  Phthalates also mimic estrogen which may affect breast tissue, causing breast cancer in women.

Diethanolamine (DEA),Triethanolamine (TEA) and Monoethanolanine (MEA)

Ethanolamines are ammonia compounds utilized in a very broad range of cosmetics as foaming agents or emulsifiers.  Counteracting the acidity of other ingredients, DEA also acts as a pH adjuster.  They are also used to reduce the surface tension of substances so that various water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients in the product can be blended together. This trio of ingredients can be found in products that foam, including facial cleansers bubble baths, body washes, soaps, and shampoos. Unfortunately they are also found, among others, in fragrances, blush, make-up bases and foundations, shaving products, and hair dyes. Repeated application of DEA-based detergents, especially for long term contact (IE not immediately washed off) has been linked to major increases in liver and kidney cancer.  DEA and its compounds cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation, and all three are hormone disrupting chemicals that can form cancer-causing nitrates.  

Parabens (methyl-,ethyl-,proyl-,butyl-,isobutyl-) or Phenonip
(a paraben blend)

Parabensare chemical preservatives utilized for over half a century to prevent the growth of bacteria, and they are found in a large percentage of personal care products. Because of this microbe discouraging characteristic, Parabens are most common in products that contain significant amounts of water such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial and shower cleansers, and scrubs. Repeated application of a product or multiple products containing parabens could mean almost continuous exposure, as parabens are not water soluble and can easily penetrate the skin. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals can also be absorbed into the blood and the digestive system. Parabens mimic estrogen which disrupt normal hormone function. Exposure to external estrogens have been linked to an increase risk of breast cancer and various reproductive issues. Conclusive evidence here, like in many of the other chemicals listed might not be 100% clear cut, but you certainly might want to limit, if not wholly cut out, these chemicals.

Sodium Laural Sulphate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulphate

are two compounds found in the vast majority of products that foam such as shaving cream, foaming bath products, and hair mousse. This inexpensive detergent is highly corrosive and readily attacks greasy surfaces, which is why it is used so much in the cleaning industry. This corrosive cleaning ability is the main reason children’s eyes may not develop properly when exposed to SLS. Sulphates are common sources of children’s eczema and skin irritation, and when found in toothpaste; they may be related to mouth ulcers. These compounds also dry the skin by stripping its protective surface lipids so it can’t effectively regulate moisture. SLS retention in a person’s body can last for up to five days and residual levels can be found in the heart, liver, lungs and brain. Sulphates, which penetrate through the skin easily, are a serious cancer worry, because they can be transformed into nitrosamines, which is a potent class of carcinogens.


TriclosanThis synthetic antibacterial and anti-fungal agent, which has a chemical structure similar to “Agent Orange,” is used in a large variety of personal care products such as toothpaste and tooth whitening products, soaps and detergents, antiperspirants/deodorants, shaving products, and creams. The EPA registers it as a pesticide, rating it as a high risk to human health and the environment. The benefits of using it seem to be far outweighed by the dangers. Triclosan can pass through skin and it is suspected of causing cancer and produces dioxin, a hormone disrupting chemical. Hormone disrupters pose enormous long-term risks which can change genetic material, decrease fertility and sexual function and foster birth defects. Like with antibiotics, over use of products with triclosan can contribute to bacterial resistance. Stored in body fat, this chemical can accumulate to toxic levels, damaging the liver, kidneys and lungs and may cause heart problems, paralysis, and brain hemorrhages.

Polyethylene and Propylene Glycol

Are carcinogenic petroleum ingredients that reduce skin’s natural moisture. Used in hand sanitizers, moisturizers and shaving creams as a thickening agent (not to mention anti- freeze for your car radiator), though not as bad as its cousin ethylene glycol, I would still steer clear if possible.

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats)

toxic chemicalsThese are chemical preservatives which may be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. You can find them listed as benzalkonium chloride, cetrimonium bromide, quaternium-15, and quaternium 1-29. Quats are used in a wide range of products as preservatives, surfactants, and germicides. Some are also used as conditioning agents, giving skin and hair a slippery and smooth feel. They’re used in a wide variety of products, including liquid hand soap, hair conditioners, body washes, moisturizers, bubble bath, shaving cream, styling gel/cream, sunscreens, styling mousse, makeup, antiperspirant/deodorant, hairsprays, baby wipes, and acne treatments.
Like many synthetic preservatives, however, some Quats can be hazardous, causing irritation and allergic reactions, and contributing to environmental harm.

Formaldehyde releasers

Formaldehyde releasersBronopol, DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, and Imidzaolidinyl urea: Cosmetics preservatives that slow form formaldehyde to kill bacteria growing in products. They release small amounts of formaldehyde into the skin which can become cellular toxins. Formaldehyde can cause many health issues including joint discomfort, chest pains, and chronic fatigue. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. The preservatives and the formaldehyde they generate can trigger allergic skin reactions. Formaldehyde is also an asthmagen, neurotoxicant and developmental toxicant, and was once mixed into many personal care products as antiseptic. Though this use has declined some hair straighteners are still based on formaldehyde’s hair-stiffening action and release substantial amounts of the chemical.

Isopropyl Alcohol (SD-40)

Isopropyl AlcoholAn eye and respiratory irritant, which may cause headaches, flushing, dizziness, mental depression, nausea, vomiting and coma, this nasty chemical is found in toners, moisturizers and cosmetics. It is a drying, irritating solvent that strips skin’s moisture and immune barriers, causing a person to be vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. It is made from petroleum derivatives found in shellac and antifreeze, and may promote brown spots and skin premature aging.

Paraaminobenzoic acid (PABA)

PABA and PABA derivatives are commonly used in sunscreens as ultraviolet B (UVB) filters, and skin ointments such as those used for dermatomyositis. This chemical has been associated with liver problems and anorexia, and it may alter thyroid activity, and cause breathing problems, tightness in throat or chest, chest pain, rashes, skin hives, or itchy or swollen skin, upset stomach or fever. Vitiligo (patches of white skin) have also been reported by those using PABA. PABA use has declined over the years, but its derivatives are still around today.


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT(butylated hydroxytoluene) are closely related synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lip products, hair products, makeup, sunscreen, antiperspirant/deodorant, fragrance and creams. BHA and BHT can induce allergic reactions in the skin. These chemicals are linked to several health concerns including endocrine disruption and organ-system toxicity. BHT can act as a tumor promoter in certain situations. Limited evidence suggests that high doses of BHT may mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, and prevent expression of male sex hormones, resulting in adverse reproductive affects.Long-term exposure to high doses of BHT is toxic in mice and rats, causing liver, thyroid and kidney problems and affecting lung function and blood coagulation.

Silicone Derived Emollients

These emollients, which include- dimethicone, dimethicone copolyol, and cyclomethicone, are chemicals that coat your skin like plastic wrap-and even worse, can accumulate in your liver and lymph nodes, possibly promoting tumor growth.

Coal tar dyes

Coal tar dyesp-phenylenediamine and colors listed as “CI” followed by a five digit number- Coal tar is a mixture of many chemicals, derived from petroleum. Coal tar-derived colors, which are known carcinogens, are used extensively in cosmetics. P-phenylenediamine is a particular coal tar dye used in many hair dyes. Darker hair dyes tend to contain more phenylenediamine than lighter colors. Used in dry skin treatments, anti-lice and anti-dandruff shampoos, also listed as a color plus number. Hair stylists and other professionals are exposed to these chemicals in hair dye almost daily.

PEG compounds

PEGs (polyethylene glycols) are commonly used as a base for cosmetic creams and lotions. They are also used in pharmaceuticals as laxatives. Depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs can be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are possible human carcinogens. Ethylene oxide can also harm the nervous system. While carcinogenic contaminants are the primary concern, PEG compounds themselves show some evidence of genotoxicity and if used on broken skin can cause irritation and systemic toxicity. Also, PEG functions as a “penetration enhancer,” increasing the permeability of the skin to allow greater absorption of the product — including harmful ingredients. 1,4-dioxane is also persistent. In other words, it doesn’t easily degrade and can remain in the environment long after it is rinsed down the shower drain.


PetrolatumPetrolatum is mineral oil jelly (i.e. petroleum jelly). It is used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin in a variety of lip balms, moisturizers and also in hair care products to make your hair shine. It is a petroleum product that can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in petrolatum can also cause skin irritation and allergies.


SiloxanesLook for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone.” These silicone-based compounds are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten. They make hair products dry more quickly and deodorant creams slide on more easily. They are also used extensively in moisturizers and facial treatments. Siloxanes can also be found in medical implants, water-repelling windshield coatings, building sealants and lubricants.They are suspected endocrine disrupters and reproductive toxicants. Cyclotetrasiloxane and cylcopentasiloxane , also known as D4 and D5 , are toxic, persistent, and have the potential to bio-accumulate in aquatic organisms . D5 has been shown to cause uterine tumors and harm to the reproductive and immune systems. D5 can also influence neurotransmitters in the nervous system.

Ethoxylated surfactants and 1,4-dioxane

Never listed because it’s a by-product made from adding carcinogenic ethylene oxide to make other chemicals less harsh. Avoid any ingredients containing the letters “eth.” Ethylene oxide is used to sterilize surgical instruments. It can also be a contaminant of personal care products such as shampoos and body washes, because it is used to buffer the harshness of some sudsing agents, and trace amounts can be left behind. It is classified as a known human carcinogen.


One of the most toxic ingredients used in personal care products, hydroquinone is primarily associated with use in skin lighteners marketed to women of color. It is also used in facial and skin cleansers, facial moisturizers, hair conditioners, finger nail coating products. It has been linked to cancer, organ-system toxicity and respiratory tract irritation.


LeadLead is a proven neurotoxin, linked to learning, language and behavioral problems. It has also been linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility in men and women, and delays in puberty onset in girls. Found in various cosmetics, lead and inorganic lead compounds have been classified as probably carcinogenic to humans, and High-level acute exposures can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsion, coma, and death. In the body, lead will either accumulate in tissues, especially bone, but also in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and lungs. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable because lead can cross the placenta with ease and enter the fetal brain. Lead can also be transferred to infants via breastfeeding and lead stored in bone serves source of fetal lead exposure.


MercuryMercury is a neurotoxin. Various forms of mercury are toxic. The form of mercury plays a role in how much is absorbed via dermal or oral routes. Organic (methyl) mercury is of greater concern than inorganic mercury, however, all forms of mercury are absorbed through the skin and mucosa and dermal exposure can result in systemic toxicity. It is a known allergen that impairs brain development, and is found in various products, including-moisturizer, lip gloss, lip liner, eye liner, mascara, brow liner, baby lotion, lipstick, and eye shadow. Mercury has been found in skin lightening, anti-aging, antiseptic and anti-wrinkle products. The literature on the health effects of mercury is extensive. Most of the literature focuses on effects following inhalation exposure to metallic mercury vapors and oral exposure to inorganic and organic mercury compounds. Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences. It can cause damage to the kidneys and the nervous system, and can interfere with the development of the brain in unborn and young children. While the amounts of mercury in the cosmetics are typically low, mercury accumulates in the body. Mercury is also readily absorbable through skin. It can also cause symptoms such as irritability, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression, and numbness and tingling in hands, feet or around mouth.


Cadmium from body and hair creams can be absorbed into the human body through dermal contact. Cadmium is absorbed into the body, accumulating in the kidney and the liver, although it can be found in almost all adult tissues. Absorbed cadmium is eliminated at a rate of 50 per cent 10-12 years after exposure. Cadmium and cadmium compounds are considered to be carcinogenic to humans, and are considered toxic because of their environmental effects.


poisonArsenic was found in different colors of eye shadow, and has also been found in skin bleaching creams. Ingested arsenic compounds are readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and distributed throughout the body, including to developing fetuses, and can mostly be found in the liver, kidneys, lungs, spleen, and skin within 24 hours.  Arsenic and its inorganic compounds are considered to be carcinogenic.

Paraphenylenediamine (PPD)

Is a chemical substance that is widely used as a permanent hair dye, and can be found in dark colored cosmetics. It is toxic to the skin and immune system. Severe allergy to PPD can result in contact urticaria and rarely, anaphylaxis. Reactions caused by the use of hair dye in mild cases usually only involves dermatitis to the upper eyelids or the rims of the ears. In more severe cases, there may be marked reddening and swelling of the scalp and the face. The eyelids may completely close and the allergic contact dermatitis reaction may become widespread.


TalcSome talc may contain the known carcinogen asbestos, therefore it should be avoided in powders and other personal care products, unless it is known to be asbestos-free. Even asbestos-free talc should be avoided in the pelvic areas. It is used in baby powder, body and shower products, feminine hygiene products, lotions, eyeshadow, lipstick, foundation, face masks and deodorants. Talc is linked to ovarian cancer, respiratory problems, irritation and organ system toxicity.


I have listed some of the more widely used chemicals but there more I haven’t listed. Stay informed. Stay current on what is dangerous. The move towards natural products is not just a silly fad; it is really about being healthy and staying away from dangerous ingredients such as the ones above. Keep your products as natural, pure and eco-friendly as possible and your customers will not only really benefit, but the environment will too.

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