15 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics and Skin Care Products

( - They say beauty is pain, and in the case of toxic chemicals wreaking havoc on your health, this certainly seems to prove true.

The beauty industry is a big deal. From personal hygiene products to cosmetics, people rely on them to feel fresh, clean, groomed, and beautifully enhanced to their liking. And while all that seems personal and positive, there’s a big bad cloud looming over it.

Many skin care products, both regular and organic, contain harmful chemicals. From your face creams and cleansers to your makeup, there are ingredients being used that may disrupt your hormones and fertility, expose you to cancer-causing pesticides, and penetrate your skin with with harmful toxins.

But how are we supposed to know this? Labels on cosmetics and body care products are impossible to decipher. And the industry itself is incredibly unregulated, making it difficult to trust the claims that products are “natural,” or “organic.”

In the U.S., researchers have found that 1 in ever 8 ingredients used in cosmetics contains a chemical, and many of them were created to remove grease from auto parts and keep concrete soft. Meanwhile, we absorb 60 percent of what we put on our skin.

While in the US, the FDA has banned a mere eight industrial chemicals, European authorities have banned more than a thousand. This brings up a major point: You can’t trust labels.

To avoid subjecting yourself to bad-for-you products, avoid the following 15 ingredients at all costs:

1. BHA and BHT

Banned in Europe, these ingredients are used to lighten skin, but the National Toxicology Program claims they’re a likely carcinogen. They’re bad for the environment, too, causing harm to fish and other wildlife.

2. Sodium Borate and Boric Acid

Banned in Europe and Canada, these chemicals, which are easily absorbed through the skin, interfere with hormones and regular exposure can result in low sperm counts. They’re also used in diaper creams.

3. Coal Tar

Although it’s recognized as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, coal tar still makes its way into a plethora of products including hair dyes, dandruff and psoriasis shampoos. Other names it goes by include: aminophenol, diaminobenzene and phenylenediamine.

4. Formaldehyde-releasing Preservatives

Formaldehyde is known to harm the brain, cause cancer, interfere with the growth and development of children, and induce asthma. Manufacturers rely on it to keep skin care products from spoiling. Look out for these other names on the ingredients list too: DMDM Hydantoin (very common), diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, and quaternium-15.

5. PEG Compounds

Petroleum-based compounds go by many names and are typically used in many cosmetic cream bases. They can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Look out for names like propylene glycol, polyethylene glycols, or polyoxyethylene, as well as words with “–eth” or “–oxynol.”

6. Mercury

Easily absorbed through the skin, enough of it can cause mercury poisoning. While it’s well-known for being toxic, some cosmetics still use mercury to help lighten the skin. Other names it goes by include: calomel, mercurio, and mercurio chloride.

7. Hydroquinone

Yet another skin lightener, hydroquinone causes a skin disease called ochronosis. Animals studies have found that it can even lead to tumor development as well.

8. Oxybenzone

This chemical is often found in sunscreens to absorb UV light. In humans, it’s been found to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, while research has found that it mimics an endocrine disruptor.

9. Triclosan

Often used in antibacterial cosmetics like toothpastes, cleansers, and antiperspirants, triclosan is a suspected endocrine disrupter and may cause antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

10. Parabens

Parabens are used in a slew of cosmetics as preservatives, but because they’ve been so widely suspected as endocrine disruptors, many products have marketed themselves as “paraben-free.” To prevent reproductive problems such as fertility, avoid products with them at all costs.

11. Parfum (a.k.a. Perfume, Fragrance)

Any of these terms refer to a mixture of ingredients that can involve three thousand or more chemicals. And the cosmetic companies don’t have to legally let you know exactly what they are. Some fragrances have been found to cause allergic reactions, asthma and even cancer.

12. Phthalates

These dangerous chemicals, which are common ingredients in fragrances, block testosterone and damage a man’s reproductive system. They’ve also been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

13. Petroleum Distillates

These ingredients are often used in mascara as well as hair products for shine, and a moisture barrier in lip balms, lip sticks, and moisturizers. But products with petroleum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.

14. Siloxanes

These also go by the name “methicones,” and are used in products to smooth and soften skin. They are thought to disrupt hormones, interfere with fertility, and cause a low libido.

15. Sodium Lauryl (Laureth) Sulfate

This is a common chemical that’s used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, cleansers, and bubble bath. It can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, linked to cancer. The California EPA has also labeled it as a potential developmental toxin.

When choosing healthy beauty products remember that organic doesn’t mean safe. Look carefully at product labels and avoid any cosmetics with these ingredients.

Written by Alexa Erickson
Inspired by balance, Alexa finds that her true inner peace comes from executing a well-rounded lifestyle. An avid yogi, hiker, beach bum, music and art enthusiast, salad aficionado, adventure seeker, animal lover, and professional writer, she is an active individual who loves to express herself through the power of words. See more articles by this author
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