Twelve Toxic Chemicals Hiding in Your Cosmetics —


Do you know the “Dirty Dozen” of makeup?

You may be familiar with the term “Dirty Dozen” when referring to organic produce, but did you know that there is also a “Dirty Dozen” in makeup? Certain chemicals slip through the cracks of FDA regulations and end up contaminating our beauty and personal care products. Here’s a list of the twelve toxic chemicals that are commonly found in cosmetics and personal care items.

1. BHA and BHT

BHA and BHT are butylated compounds that are often marketed as miracle products for hyperpigmentation, acne, and stabilizer for products. Unfortunately, it is debated whether or not these ingredients are harmful to humans.

You can often find these ingredients in:

  • Face wash
  • Scrub
  • Lipsticks
  • Moisturizers
  • Shampoos
  • Deodorant
  • Lotion

Salicylic acid, a popular BHA ingredient found in skincare products, can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. Even worse, BHA and BHT ingredients can be potential endocrine disruptors and carcinogens—specifically when they are ingested.

2. Talc

Many cosmetics products contain talc to improve the texture of the product or how it applies to the skin. Talc itself is harmless, but it is commonly mined near asbestos— a deathly mineral that can cause a slew of damage to your internal organs.

Talc or talcum powder contaminates products like:

  • Baby powder
  • Blush
  • Foundation powder
  • Eyeshadow
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Medication

Although many companies claim to self-regulate their talc to ensure that it’s asbestos-free, experts say that it is essentially impossible to separate the two minerals. Long-term exposure can lead to the development of different types of mesothelioma, a severe cancer with a low survival rate.

3. Coal tar dyes

Coal tar dyes are the byproduct of coal used in steel production. These vibrant colors are often used in lipsticks to create beautiful shades. The FDA has banned the use of certain color dyes in food; however, those colors are not always banned in the use of makeup and other products.

Coal tar dyes are often found in:

  • Lipsticks
  • Hair dyes
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo
  • Head-lice treatment
  • Foundation

These products will often have P-phenylenediamine listed in the ingredients. Exposure to coal tar dyes can cause various cancers, skin irritation, and behavior disabilities in children.

4. Formaldehyde

Although used in water-based cosmetic products to prevent bacteria from growing, formaldehyde is known to cause cancer. This colorless and flammable preservative can also irritate the skin, eyes, and throat.

You may find formaldehyde in:

  • Nail polish
  • Makeup
  • Shampoos
  • Haircare products
  • Body washes

There are a few different ingredients that can be listed as formaldehyde— including quaternium-15 and dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin— so it’s best to learn the different ways this chemical could be labeled.

5. Parabens

Parabens are often used in cosmetics in order to increase the shelf life of products. They work by reducing the bacteria growth in water-based products. This helps reduce the user’s chances of being exposed to infections and fungi. However, this chemical has been found to be an endocrine disruptor.

You may find parabens in a variety of products, including:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Face wash
  • Body wash
  • Shaving products
  • Toothpaste

Parabens are usually easy to spot in ingredient lists as the ingredient will have “paraben” in the name. The use of parabens has been linked to hormonal changes that could result in fertility issues.

6. Phthalates

Phthalates are another endocrine-disrupting chemical that is prevalent in personal care products. These plastics improve the durability and longevity of these products. Unfortunately, this group of chemicals has been linked to infertility.

Phthalates can be found in:

  • Nail polish
  • Artificial fragrances
  • Body wash
  • Lotions
  • Haircare products

Significant exposure to phthalates can cause infertility, specifically in men, and has been found to cause early-onset puberty in girls. Phthalates may also increase your risk of breast cancer.

7. Artificial Fragrances

You’re likely aware that seeing the word “fragrance” in the ingredients is a red flag, but do you know why? Although they make your products smell amazing, this catch-term can stand for a variety of chemicals—not all of which are legal— and could potentially have adverse effects on your health.

You may find artificial fragrances in:

  • Soaps
  • Laundry detergent
  • Makeup

Cosmetic companies can hide many dangerous or illegal substances in their products by labeling them as “fragrances.”Common ingredients include phthalates and heavy metals but every product has a unique formula—meaning that there’s no way to know how safe the product is or what illnesses they could cause. It’s best to avoid this word altogether when you can.

8. PEG Compounds

PEG compounds are used to make creamy-based products absorb into the skin easier and prevent the ingredients from separating. While this man-made chemical is not toxic on its own, it can sometimes be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane— a known carcinogen.

PEGs can be found in a large variety of products. Some of the most common include:

  • Skin moisturizers
  • Lotions
  • Shampoo
  • Skin scrubs
  • Night creams
  • Hair Dye

Exposure to 1,4-dioxane has been linked to kidney damage, skin irritation, and fluid build-up in the lungs, as well as various types of cancer.

9. DEA

Manufacturers include DEA or diethanolamine ingredients in cosmetic products to make them foamy or sudsy. Although the correlation between DEA compounds and cancer was mainly found in animals, high doses of this harmful chemical have been known to cause skin and eye irritations.

You may find this emulsifier in your bubbly products such as:

  • Soaps
  • Scrubs
  • Cleansers
  • Shampoos

10. Triclosan

This bacteria-preventing ingredient may actually be doing more harm than good. Unfortunately, the ongoing studies regarding the detrimental effects of triclosan in humans fail to yield any conclusive results. What we do know is that triclosan could be damaging to the immune system and intestine.

Look out for this chemical in:

  • Antibacterial soaps
  • Toothpaste
  • Body washes

11. Siloxanes

Do you ever wonder how your shampoo makes your hair so silky smooth? That would be with the help of a chemical called siloxanes. Unfortunately, smooth hair may come with a price. There is some concern that D4 and D5, siloxane compounds, may cause both uterine tumors and fertility issues.

Siloxanes often appear in products with a creamy texture:

  • Shampoo
  • Deodorant
  • Moisturizers
  • Skin Creams

12. Petroleum

You may be familiar with petroleum jelly, another term for petrolatum. This mineral oil jelly is used in very common moisturizing products, like Vaseline or Aquaphor. So what could possibly be wrong with a soothing ingredient like this? Well, petrolatum could be contaminated with carcinogens called PAHs if not refined.

Petrolatum is used in:

  • Moisturizers
  • Lip balms
  • Hair Care products
  • Shaving cream
  • Lipstick
  • Mascara

Products that contain fully refined petroleum, or white petroleum, have no known health effects. However, contaminated batches of petroleum have been linked to cancer, kidney failure, and other health risks.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from these toxic chemicals is to read the ingredients list of all of the products you buy and become familiar with how these chemicals can be listed. Even consumer products marketed as “natural” or “toxic-free” could contain harmful ingredients that could affect your health. The good news is that it takes years of long-term exposure to experience health issues for most of the items on this list. Set a goal to avoid these ingredients as much as you can, and always communicate with a doctor if you’re worried about your exposure to these chemicals.

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