12 Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid

Green beauty has been a concept that has been on the rise for a number of years. While many people in the beauty industry initially regarded this as a passing trend, the numbers don’t lie. Each and every year, both in the mass market and luxury spaces, green beauty continues to grow. People are increasingly becoming more conscious about the products they put onto their skin and hair, and are trending toward more natural and safe products.

What does that mean? Well, it means consumers are searching for products that don’t contain many of the toxic cosmetic ingredients found in many mainstream makeup, hair, skin, and body care products.

If you’re one of the countless people that are interested in learning more about toxic cosmetic ingredients, how they can affect your life, and what products to avoid, this article is for you. The list of toxic cosmetic ingredients to avoid is extensive but to get started, in no particular order, we’re discussing the 12 you’ll want to avoid ASAP.

• Butylated Compounds (BHT, BHA) – BHT and BHA are popular toxic cosmetic ingredients that are used in many products across industries as preservatives. Preservatives are used to help extend the shelf life of products and are typically one of the most debated toxic cosmetic ingredients. In cosmetics, you’ll commonly find BHT and BHA in many makeup products including everything from eyeliner to foundation. These two toxic cosmetic ingredients are also found in many common skin care products like cleansers, toner, and moisturizers. So why do butylated compounds make our toxic cosmetic ingredients list? There are a number of reasons. One of the main issues with BHT and BHA is that they may cause skin allergens and have also been connected to toxicity affecting organs and the reproductive system.

• Coal Tar – The name alone sounds pretty scary right? Coal tar is a toxic cosmetic ingredient that is commonly used as a colorant but has been found in many products that treat dry hair and skin conditions. You won’t find the exact words ‘coal tar’ on any product labels but, instead you’ll want to look out for the text “FD&C” followed by a color and a number. While coal tar is a prominent ingredient in many color cosmetics it makes our toxic cosmetic ingredients lists for the reasons that it’s one of the most easily contaminated colorants. Many times, coal tar is found to be tainted with heavy metals that are particularly toxic to the brain. When not contaminated, coal tar isn’t exactly safe either.

• Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives – Yes, another preservative makes our list of toxic cosmetic ingredients. Unlike the aforementioned preservative, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are preservatives that once broken down, release formaldehyde gas. Again, you won’t see the words “formaldehyde-releasing preservative” on an ingredient label so you’ll have to do a little investigative work when it comes to this one. One of the most popular is quaternium-15 which is found in many makeup products like eyeliners and mascara. Aside from formaldehyde-releasing preservatives being especially concerning for those with skin sensitivities and allergies, it’s considered a toxic cosmetic ingredient due to the risks associated with inhalation.

• Fragrance – Speaking of sneaky toxic cosmetic ingredients, of all, fragrance definitely tops the list. When you notice ‘fragrance’ on a product label, it’s highly likely there are a number of toxic cosmetic ingredients inside. Fragrance is found across cosmetics, hair, skin, and body care products and it’s one of the most tricky to discuss because a fragrance can technically be any mixture of ingredients. In fact, there are over 3,000 ingredients that can be classified as fragrance.

• Lead – When you think about lead and all the terrible things you’ve heard about it, it’s hard to believe it’s a chemical that can be found in many makeup and other personal care products. It’s not even in paint anymore! Yet, lead—a chemical toxin that has been linked to developmental issues, fertility problems, and even miscarriage—has been found in products like foundation and lipstick. To be fair, lead isn’t exactly a toxic cosmetic ingredient as it isn’t intentionally put directly into cosmetics. Lead is usually a byproduct of contamination from other color additives. However, if you think lead contamination is rare, you’d be wrong. Many of the most popular mainstream lipstick brands have tested positive for lead contamination in the past.

• Parabens – Even if you’re not a green beauty enthusiast, you’ve probably heard the buzz surrounding the toxic cosmetic ingredient, parabens. Parabens are probably the most well known toxic cosmetic ingredient as it is one of the ingredients that many mainstream brands have been intentionally removing from their products. Today, it’s not surprising to see a shampoo bottle or foundation compact proudly displaying that it’s “paraben-free”. Parabens are a type of preservative that is found in countless cosmetic products. So why are parabens on everyone’s most toxic cosmetic ingredients list? Well, for starters, they are extremely easy to be absorbed through the skin. And once they’ve entered your body, they have been linked to issues with the nervous system, immune system, and reproductive system.

• PEG Compounds – PEG compounds are a toxic cosmetic ingredient that is used in many cosmetic products to improve their penetration abilities. For example, those moisturizers that claim to penetrate deep beneath the skin for optimal hydration. That said, you’re likely to find this toxic cosmetic ingredient in many cream based products. PEG compounds alone aren’t specifically harmful, however like a few other toxic cosmetic ingredients on this list, they are commonly contaminated with carcinogens. To identify PEG compounds in your products look for ingredients with “eth” in them like polyethylene glycol.

• Phthalates – Phthalates are another type of toxic cosmetic ingredient that has become pretty well known. Phthalates are used in cosmetic products to help maintain their color or scent. You’ll typically find this toxic cosmetic ingredient in products like lip balm and deodorant and many times phthalates are hidden under the “fragrance” description. Phthalates have been linked to development issues and neurological damage. They have also been connected to reproductive problems in both women and men.

• Siloxanes – Siloxanes are one of those toxic cosmetic ingredients that are in many of your favorite beauty products. Siloxanes are generally added to cosmetics to help them feel soft and smooth when applied to the skin. This toxic cosmetic ingredient is probably most commonly found in eyeshadows and other color cosmetics that have that soft velvety feel to them. Like many of the toxic cosmetic ingredients on this list, siloxanes are known to cause damage to the reproductive and endocrine system. Avoid products that include ingredients that end in both siloxane and methicone to be safe.

• Sulfates – This is yet another toxic cosmetic ingredient that has been at the forefront of many conversations regardless of how knowledgeable you may be about green beauty. Sulfates have been the talk of the town when it comes to any kind of cleansing cosmetic whether that be a shampoo or a face cleanser. Sulfates are what gives many traditional cleansing products their foamy, soapy characteristic. Sulfates are one of the toxic cosmetic ingredients that are easily absorbed into the skin and have been linked to respiratory and skin issues. It’s also common for sulfates to be contaminated with certain carcinogens so it’s best to avoid them altogether.

• Triclosan – Triclosan is one of the trickier of the chemicals on our toxic cosmetic ingredient list. At first glance, triclosan seems like it would be a positive additive for your health and beauty products but, dig a litter deeper and you realize that isn’t necessarily the case. This toxic cosmetic ingredient is a pesticide that is used in antibacterial products. It’s used primarily to combat bacteria growth, which is good, but on the flip side, it has also been linked to hormonal issues in the body.

• 1,4-dioxane – We’ll wrap up our list of toxic cosmetic ingredients with 1,4-dioxane. This toxic cosmetic ingredient is a carcinogen that is used to lessen the effect of other harsh chemicals. The thing about that is, you’re simply trading one harmful attribute for another. 1,4-dioxane is another toxic cosmetic ingredient that you’ll never find listed on a product label but you can identify products that might be affected by avoiding products that contain ingredients with “eth” in them. We know this one might sound complicated and difficult to trace but here’s some food for thought. A study done by the EWG concluded that 57% of baby washes distributed in the United States contained this toxic cosmetic ingredient.

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