Toxic Ingredients in Cosmetics Glossary

This glossary covers commonly recognized, potentially toxic ingredients in cosmetics.

We suggest definitely avoiding the “10 Major Offenders” in the first section.

The second section lists ingredients that are definitely questionable in terms of safety and to be avoided when possible.

10 MAJOR OFFENDERS

#1 SODIUM LAURYL/LAURETH SULFATE (SLS AND SLES)

Found in: just about anything that foams; shampoo, body wash, face wash, hand soap, toothpaste, bubble bath.

A foaming agent used to break down water in grease. It’s so powerful that it’s also used in concrete floor cleaners, engine degreasers, and car wash detergents. A well-known skin irritant, it is rapidly absorbed and retained in the eyes, brain, heart and liver, which may result in harmful long-term effects. It can slow healing, cause cataracts in adults, and prevent children’s eyes from developing properly, corrode hair follicles and impair ability to grow hair. These surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. SLES is often contaminated with formaldehyde releasing 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethoxylation.

#2 PETROLEUM/PARAFFIN/MINERAL OIL

Found in: baby oil, lip balm, lip stick, lip gloss, mascara, moisturizers, concealer, foundation, face powder, hair gel, body wash, eye shadow, paraffin treatments, petroleum jelly, and hair conditioner

A petrochemical pollutant derived from crude oil, found in an overwhelming number of products. It seals off the skin creating a barrier which feels slick, but doesn’t allow the skin to breath, which is essential for the proper functioning of this organ. Ultimately causes slowing down skin’s function and normal cell development, resulting in premature aging and many other health and skin disorders such as contact dermatitis.

#3 FORMALDEHYDE

Found in: nail polish, shampoo, body wash, eyelash glue, and hair products, the Brazilian Blowout and other straightening treatments

You won’t find this listed as “formaldehyde” except perhaps in a few remaining brands of nail polish.

It hides behind ingredient names such as: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), glyoxal and oxaldehyde.

Recognized by the EPA as a carcinogen, it’s linked to lung cancers, Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia, and myeloid leukemia. It permeates through inhalation and can also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; reproductive and developmental toxicity; asthma; neurologic and behavioral toxicity; and immunological toxicity. It’s banned for use in cosmetics in Sweden and Japan.

#4 HYDROQUINONE

Found in: skin lightening creams

A skin lightening chemical that inhibits the production of melanin and is a linked to cancer, organ toxicity and skin irritation.

#5 MERCURY (THIMEROSAL AND MERTHIOLATE)

Found in: ear and eye drops; may be used in mascara

Metallic element used as a preservative and antiseptic known to damage brain function.

#6 PARABENS (ISOBUTYLPARABEN, BUTYLPARABEN, METHYLPARABEN, PROPYLPARABEN)

Found in: almost every type of personal care product

Parabens preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. They can mimic the hormone estrogen disrupting the endocrine system, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers. Parabens can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis and Rosacea in individuals with paraben allergies. Studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage. These chemicals are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to fertility problems.

#7 PHTHALATES (DBP, DEHP, DEP)

Found in: Found in: synthetic fragrance, nail polish, hairspray.

A class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and may cause birth defects. They have been linked to damage of the kidneys, lungs, and liver, as well. (see also Synthetic Fragrances)

#8 SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCE/PARFUM

Found in: almost any type of personal care product

The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are because formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets. On the label it will simply read “fragrance.” Some problems caused by these chemicals include including hormone disruption, headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation—the list goes on. Don’t buy a cosmetic that has the word “fragrance” on the ingredients label. Look for labels that say, “phthalate–free”.

#9 PROPYLENE GLYCOL

Found in: cosmetics, baby wipes, lotion, toothpaste, shampoo, and deodorant

Propylene Glycol will cause serious health conditions, including liver and heart damage and damage to the central nervous system if sufficient is absorbed by the body. Used in anti-freeze solutions, in brake and hydraulic fluids, as a de-icer, and as a solvent. There is no difference between the propylene glycol used in industry and that used in personal care products. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema.

#10 TRICLOSAN

Found in: antibacterial products such as soap, hand sanitizer, deodorants, toothpaste, and cosmetics

Studies have shown that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and enables bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant. The CDC states that it is found in 75% of the population’s urine. The American Medical Association advises against the use of antibacterial soap at home to prevent the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibacterial soap has been found no more effective than regular soap. Antimicrobial pesticides toxic to the aquatic environment; may also impact human reproductive systems.

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