Eight harmful toxic ingredients in beauty products

set of cosmetics

The ugly truth of most beauty products is that they contain several toxic chemicals which could lead to health hazards like skin allergies and cancer.

set of cosmeticsOn average, an American woman uses 12 personal care products every day, each product containing 12 or more chemicals. Many of these are skin irritants, skin penetrators and endocrine disrupters which have been linked to cancer, tumours, itching and allergic reactions.

Even organic products are not chemical free. For example, some products claim that 98% of their elements are organic, but they don’t clarify what’s in the remaining 2%. It means that even the certified organic products are not entirely ‘natural’.

As a customer, it is your responsibility to understand exactly what is in the product you put on your skin. Here is a list of chemicals used in skin products that you may prefer to avoid or find a safe alternative.


Parabens is the widely used chemical in make-up, shampoos and moisturisers. Since it is easily absorbed by the skin, it can interact with hormone functions and mimic oestrogen, the primary female sex hormone. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions. In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin ageing and DNA damage.


Like parabens, phthalates are used in many cosmetics and personal care products such as nail polish, hair spray, perfumes and lotions. In industry, phthalates are used to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. They are harmful because they are endocrine disruptors and can increase the risk of breast cancer. They affect the breast development in girls and may cause reproductive issues in both males and females.

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Unfortunately, phthalates may not be mentioned on every product due to the “trade secret” policy of the company.


Triclosan is a common ingredient used in anti-bacterial products such as soap, lotions, and toothpaste. The excessive use of triclosan is believed to be one of the causes of the increased rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria. In the US, the FDA has also stated that tirclosan may alter the hormone levels in the body, potentially affecting reproduction, child development, and cancer.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)

Sodium lauryl sulfate is used in more than 90 percent of the foam-based personal care products like shampoo, body wash, face wash and mascara. It irritates your skin, eyes and even lungs. SLS is even more dangerous when it interacts with other chemicals to create nitrosamines, which may harm your kidney and respiratory system.


Toluene is a petrochemical which is obtained from petroleum and coal tar sources. It is a highly toxic chemical used in hair color, bleaching products, nail treatments and nail polish.

Toluene is often mentioned as toluol, benzene, phenylmethane, and methylbenzene on the labels. Besides being used in cosmetics, toluene is widely used to dissolve paint and as a paint thinner. It can cause skin irritation, immune system toxicity and nausea. Even worse, the chemical has been associated with toxicity to the immune system and blood cancers like malignant lymphoma.

Sunscreen chemicals

Sunscreen chemicals, as name implies, are the key ingredients to be used in sunscreen lotions and creams. They have a tendency to absorb the UV light.

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However, they are said to be endocrine disruptors because of their tendency to absorb into the body easily. In this way, they lead to cellular damage and cancer in the body. They are often listed as PABA, benzophenone, ethoxycinnmate, avobenzone, and homosalate on the pack.


Lead is a highly toxic metal associated with the neurological and organ toxicity. It can even lead to cancer. Several cosmetics products like lipstick, kohl, eyeliner, and progressive hair dyes contain lead.

Carbon black

Carbon black is a powder used in mascara, eye shadow and eyebrow shadow. Sadly, it is associated with cancer and organ system toxicity. Carbon black is showed up on the label as acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black, D&C black and thermal black.

What can you do?

While it is difficult to avoid every single cosmetic brand, you must do research and choose your products carefully to limit your exposure to them.

  • Choose EWG VERIFIED products as they are free from harmful substances
  • You can also choose certified herbal beauty products
  • Buy fragrance-free products wherever possible
  • Use DIY or homemade beauty solutions
  • Use hats and shade in the midday sun

If you would like more information on chemicals in your cosmetics, and advice on how to avoid them, have a look at the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic database.

About Alinn Smith

Introvert, internet trailblazer, blog aficionado, creator, avid thinker and hardcore yogini - currently I'm studying dermatology at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and writing about Numbingcream.com. I love to write upon skincare, sustainable living, organic food and healthy life.