15 Toxic Beauty Ingredients to Avoid

12/21/2011

Beauty cabinet photoIn my experience, reading the ingredients on beauty products can be just as intimidating as reading the ingredients on the foods you eat. The confusion is especially apparent when products claim to be natural and organic. You have to be able to read labels to know which ingredients are considered toxic, carcinogenic, or otherwise bad for your health. 

Your cells absorb what you put on your skin in the same way that they absorb the food you eat. Your skin is the body’s largest organ, which in fact unloads 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of metabolic waste each day. In order for it to be effective at its ever important job, it must be fed healthy foods that come from nature, rather than toxic ingredients. 

It's about controlling the total chemical and toxic spectrum. This means reducing the amount of toxins that can potentially attack your cells, making them susceptible to disease and aging. The total chemical spectrum comes from your environment, your diet, and your beauty regimen. All three should be as clean as possible.

Take a look at your beauty cabinet. Is it the most toxic room in the house? If you’re not sure, this list will help you deal with any potential problems. 

1. Avoid Aluminum Zirconium

Found in deodorant, it’s banned in the EU but still legal in the U.S. It’s been linked to Alzheimer's and breast cancer.

2. Benzalkonium Chloride and Benzethonium Chloride 

Found in deodorant and skin moisturizers, it may trigger asthma and be a possible organ system toxicant. 

3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Found in various personal care products like soaps, shampoos, and toothpastes, it’s what causes them to foam up. It could cause irritation, PMS, and breast cancer.

4. Fragrance

Found in various body products, most fragrance is derived from synthetic ingredients and often listed on the label simply as 'fragrance'. While it’s an innocent name, fragrance can be a dangerous proposition because manufacturers rarely list what it’s derived from and it’s normally not a natural source. 

5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Found in various personal care products, it’s a suspected carcinogen. It may be damaging to the immune system and it may do damage to the hair follicles. 

Facial photo

Photo: Thinkstock

6. Benzyl/Benzene

Used in cosmetics, shower gels, shampoos, and bubble baths, it’s a known carcinogen. 

7. Formaldehyde

Found in nail care products, shampoo, bubble baths, deodorants, hair dye, perfume, toothpaste, and hair spray, it’s a known carcinogen. 

8. Benzyl Acetate

Found in cosmetics and other beauty products but often hidden in fragrance, it's linked to pancreatic cancer and also a toxicant to the liver and respiratory system. 

9. Bronopol

Used as a preservative in moisturizers, body wash, facial cleansers, makeup removers and anti-aging creams, it’s a feared immune system toxicant and skin irritant. It’s use is restricted in Canada.

10. Toluene

A solvent used to improve gloss and sheen, it’s a liver toxicant and a possible carcinogen. 

11. Triclosan

Used in anti-bacterial products, it’s listed as a possible carcinogen by the EPA, an endocrine disruptor, and an irritant. 

12. Parabens (listed as methyl, propyl, butyl, isobutyl, and ethyl)

Used as preservatives in a number of products, these are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. You can find many products out today that are listed as paraben free. 

13. Talc (talcrum powder)

It’s used in condoms, blush, baby powder, and foot and bath powders and shown to cause tumors in animals.

14. Dibutyl Phthalate 

Used in a number of personal care products, it’s noted for developmental and reproductive toxicity, immune issues, and allergies. 

15. Phthalates 

Used in a wide variety of personal care products in the U.S., though it's banned in the EU. It's known for causing developmental issues and cancer. Dibutyl Phthalate falls within the phthalate group.

Deodorant photo

Photo: Thinkstock

Take Back Your Medicine Cabinet

Without enough regulation, manufacturers are using more and more toxins in their products each year. But it’s easier than you think to avoid this slew of chemicals. 

First, take a long hard look at your beauty cabinet. While organic products are not stringently regulated by the FDA in the same way that foods are, a number of beauty product manufacturers are doing a great job producing safe products. Research any ingredients that you’re not sure what they are to see if they are safe and why the manufacturer is using them.

Cut down on your daily regimen. My beauty cabinet consists of an organic shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, moisturizer, foundation, bronzer, and lip balm. The more natural the look, the easier it is to control what you use. Keep your nails, hair, and face as natural as you feel comfortable. You can look great without coating your face and in fact, in a few years your skin will thank you. 

In the same way that food is our daily medicine, our skin care regimen is as well. Use the same mindfulness and care that you do in your diet to hand pick the beauty products that you use. And on a karma note, make sure no products that you buy are tested on animals or use animal derived ingredients.

Photo: Stockbyte

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More on Beauty 
Are You a Green Beauty? 
How to Make Your Own Minty Toothpaste
Make Deodorant out of Cornstarch and Baking Soda


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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