List of 15 Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in Personal Care Products

toxic chemicalsThe US personal care and cosmetic industries greatly lack oversight and regulation. In today’s climate it is necessary to arm yourself with the essential knowledge to be your own product police. Unfortunately, this is what it has come down to.  Companies put their bottom line before the well-being of their consumers’, and load their products with toxic chemicals.

The average adult uses nine personal care products a day, with roughly 120 chemicals spread among them, many of which are incompletely tested for toxicity. That is why Natural Cosmetic News wants to provide you with a list of 15 toxic chemicals to avoid in personal care products. And be aware, just because a company claims to be natural does not mean there really are. Read the ingredients list, and use a discerning eye.

Natural Solutions magazine, in collaboration with Whole Foods Market, has created the following list of toxic ingredients that you don’t want in your personal care and cosmetic products.

1. Synthetic fragrances often contain phthalates (pronounced THAY-lates), synthetic chemicals commonly used to stabilize fragrances and make plastic more pliable. These endocrine disrupters mimic hormones and may alter genital development. Avoid products that list fragrance as an ingredient unless the label states that it’s derived from essentials oils,
or look for a phthalate-free label on the packaging.

2. Parabens, ubiquitous in skincare, preserve other ingredients and extend a product’s shelf life–but these antimicrobial chemicals also have hormone-disrupting effects.

3. Ureas, formally known as diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, or DMDM hydantoin and sodium hydroxymethyl-glycinate, are preservatives that have the potential to release formaldehyde in very small amounts and are a primary cause of contact dermatitis.

4. 1,4-dioxane, a chemical carcinogen, is created when ingredients are processed with petroleum-derived ethylene oxide. Common ethoxylated compounds include sodium laureth sulfate and polyethylene glycol (often listed as PEG). To avoid it, skip any product with the following ingredients: myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth (or any other -eth), PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, or oxynol.

5. Petrochemicals are derived from crude oil. Petroleum-based ingredients such as petrolatum, mineral oil, and paraffin (derived from nonrenewable sources) form a barrier when applied to the skin that does not allow it to breathe and can clog pores.

6. MEA/DEA/TEA are “amines” (ammonia compounds) and can form harmful nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates. Used as foaming agents, synthetic stabilizers, and to adjust the pH of cosmetics, they can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation, and dryness of the hair and skin.

7. Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl and sodium laureth, are harsh detergents that give cleansers, soaps, and shampoos their latherability. Often derived from petroleum, sulfates can also come from coconut and other vegetable oils that can be contaminated with pesticides. Sulfates can cause eye irritation and skin rashes.

8. Chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate, have been shown to disrupt endocrine activity. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are safer alternatives.

9. Quats, such as benzalkonium chloride, steardimonium chloride, cetrimonium bromide, and cetrimonium chloride, give a positive charge to conditioners in order to prevent static. They are necessary for conditioners, but we have allowed only the mildest quats in our Beauty With a Conscience standard: guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, hydroxypropyltrimonium oligosaccharide, and SugaQuats.

10. Antibacterial compounds, such as triclosan and chlorphenesin, do not break down in the environment and may contribute to bacterial resistance.

11. Synthetic polymers, such as sodium polyacrylate and carbomer, come from petroleum and give viscosity to skincare products. They are highly processed and their manufacture
creates toxic by-products.

12. Synthetic colors are made from coal tar. They contain heavy metal salts that may deposit toxins onto the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number.

13. Chelators, such as disodium EDTA and tetrasodium EDTA, are used in personal care products to remove impurities from low-quality raw materials. They do not readily biode-
grade in the environment.

14. Nanos are a new technology with inconclusive but potentially hazardous study results. Research suggests that when tiny nano particles penetrate the skin, they may cause
cell damage.

15. Animal testing: A grim history of cruelty to animals lies behind many cosmetic ingredients. But scientists are developing new technologies to test cosmetics before a European Union ban on animal testing begins in March 2009.

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Posted by on Oct 5th, 2010 and filed under TOXIC PRODUCTS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses for “List of 15 Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in Personal Care Products”

  1. Hi there,
    I really enjoy these updates and would like to share them with my followers on Twitter etc, but your URLs are too long for the Twitter feed, so you’re not getting the exposure you can with these as people can’t share them without saving and renaming them (which makes the inclusion of the Twitter button a little redundant).
    Just thought you should know 🙂

  2. Craig Payne says:

    Hi Emily. Thanks for the heads up. Here is a link you can use for you Twitter feed that points to this page: or in the future you can also try using a URL shortener like

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Jana says:

    Thank you for concise and fairly short articles explaining the dangers behind using the conventional skin care and cosmetics! Always like to share it with my friends. Big corporations have been abusing the system for far too long…Thank you, Jana

  4. Maxine says:

    Great list! I just wish it was easier to find more products without all this junk.

  5. Katie says:

    There’s tons of places to get chemical-free cosmetics, etc. My favorite online places are: Spirit Beauty Lounge and Saffron Rouge. There are also places like Whole Foods that sell Dr. Bronner’s soaps, etc. It’s really very easy to get the chemical-free stuff!

  6. lala says:

    What do you think of Arbonne? I love the stuff and I think it meets the criteria above.

  7. suman sarkar says:

    in india a lot of people use FAIR & LOVELY but in this product ,a lot of above toxic materials are used . I think somebody needs to make people aware of this !:-)

  8. cornelia dum says:

    New resource: Guide of Non-Toxic Hygiene, Beauty and Cosmetics Products available for free on
    This Guide demystifies the issue of the safety in cosmetics, explains the logos and certifications, the hazards of the fake bio, shows what to avoid, how to read labels, what resources are available to the costumer to analyse the products available on the market and especially provides healthy and environmentally friendly alternatives. It identifies, based on their safety, over 500 products with no danger for children, men and women available in the Quebec and Canada market. All the products have been scrutinized, analysed one by one and ingredient by ingredient using scientific tools that are explained in the Cosmetology Portal.
    The founder of this non-profit website is Cornelia Dum who did this extensive work with passion, following a breast cancer. This informational website is meant to be a reference for those who wish to cease polluting their body and the environment and is dedicated especially to the sick people facilitating at the same time women’s task who often take in charge the entire family’s health.

  9. Lily Lolo says:

    Yes Paraben is one of them which is used as a preservative in cosmetics and food products has been found in tissue samples from 40 women with breast cancer.. Its time to create the awareness of these products which should be banned for making these skin products.

  10. milagritos says:

    yo quisira q’ me informaran un poco más por fis

  11. john stokes says:

    titanium dioxide…one of the worst…attacks dna…leaves you wide open to sickness

  12. Allen Dawson says:

    Awareness on such topics is necessary. Many beauty products contain toxic substances that are very harmful. We can also minimize the use of such substances.

  13. This is very good, clear and simple list. It is nice to see all of them like this and to become more aware of the risks.

  14. Smaz says:

    Parabens are only toxic in doses that are so large they aren’t even allowable.

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