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Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics

It’s the beginning of 2017 and I couldn’t think of a better time to share this post. Talk about starting the year off right, I wanted to take you down the back alley of the cosmetic industry. It may seem like a dark place to start the year but I promise, there is a light at the end.

The only way we can make better choices is to first become knowledgeable. And that’s exactly what I hope to achieve with you today.

You may be aware of the fact that cosmetics can contain chemicals that have not been tested for safety or that are known to cause harm to internal organs, cause cancer or tumors. It’s been becoming something more people are concerned with as the rates of cancer and disease are seemingly out of control.

In 2012, there were 14 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide. The number of new cancer cases will rise to 22 million within the next two decades. (source) These facts are downright disturbing!

And yet there are still products on the market that contain chemicals known to cause cancer.

Did you know that Europe has restricted or banned over 2000 chemicals in cosmetics and the United States has only restricted or banned 11. Health Canada isn’t much better either restricting or banning only 500 chemicals.

It looks as though those of us in North America can’t depend on our governments to look out for our health, I’d say it’s time we started looking out for #1. The first thing we can do is start reading the ingredient lists of our cosmetics.

Although this list would be pretty hard to memorize, it never hurts to familiarize yourself with these toxic substances found in many cosmetic products. In fact, if you head to your local department store, you may not find a single product free of all of these chemicals. It’s sickening!

This is why making the switch to truly natural brands or making your own cosmetics is the way to go. It’s up to you which of these if not all you would like to avoid, but I can guarantee after reading the side effects of each, you’ll be ready to set fire to your entire cosmetic collection.

Avoid these Chemicals

DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine) & TEA  (triethanolamine)

DEA is a chemically modified form of coconut oil used as a foaming agent or thickener in soaps, shampoos, conditioners and more. It is a known carcinogen and is illegal in the state of California to contain in products without a warning label. The US Department of Human Health Services showed that DEA could also induce tumors. (source)

Phthalates (Including Dibutyl Phthalate “DBP”)

Found in hairspray, nail polish, soap, shampoo and perfume and could have potential health risks to the fetus. Cosmetic companies are not required to declare ingredients in perfumes and artificial scents, which can contain phthalates. (source)

Formaldehyde (DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Methenamine, Quaternium-15, and Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate)

Formaldehyde is commonly used for embalming bodies after death to preserve them but also found in cosmetics, particularly nail care products. Although formaldehyde occurs naturally at low levels, when used in industrial production there are no restrictions on low-level use. Inhalation of formaldehyde is cancer causing. (source)

Coal Tar (including P-Phenylenediamine)

Used in anti-dandruff shampoos, hair dyes, psoriasis treatments, and is a known carcinogen causing DNA damage. Coal tar dyes can also increase skin sensitivity to sunlight, increasing chance of sunburns and skin cancer. (source)


Most common substance in cosmetics, used to preserve and prevent fungal and bacterial growth found in shampoos, moisturizers, toothpaste and more. Parabens can mimic estrogen, causing the spread of cancers; studies have found parabens in breast tumors. (source)

Petrolatum (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons “PAH”)

Used in hair products for shine and moisture barrier in lip balms, lip sticks and moisturizers. It is a mineral oil jelly (petroleum product) that can be contaminated with cancer causing chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Exposure to PAHs is associated with cancer, and is classified as a carcinogen and restricted in the European Union. (source)

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Petroleum based compounds widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners and moisture carriers and commonly used in cosmetic cream bases. PEGs may contain ethylene oxide a known carcinogen and harmful to the nervous system. PEGs can also contain 1,4-dioxane (see 1,4-Dioxane later in this post). (source)

Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics | Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics | Natural Beauty | Green Beauty | Safe Cosmetics | Natural SkinCare

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/ Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS)

Used in cosmetics as a detergent and to cause a product to foam or bubble. During the manufacturing process SLES can be contaminated with carcinogens such as ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane (see 1,4 dioxane later in this post). (source)


A byproduct of chemical manufacturing found in many cosmetics. It is known to induce cancer in animal studies and high levels in humans can cause organ damage. The full effects of 1,4 dioxane are not fully understood. Ingredients that may be contaminated with or contain 1,4-dioxane are PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene, and polyoxynolethylene. (source)

Parfum (Synthetic Fragrances)

Found in a vast majority of cosmetics, even some that claim to be “unscented” may contain fragrance with a masking agent that prevents the brain from perceiving odor. Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets, so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients.

There are over 3,000 chemicals used as fragrances most have never been tested safe for human contact and researchers have reported these chemicals to be the second most common cause of allergy in patients at dermatology clinics. (source)


Highly toxic metal found in color dyes, lipstick and imported cosmetics. Associated with neurological and organ toxicity, cancer development and is especially dangerous for children. (source)


Triclosan is used in antibacterial products such as soaps, lotions, and toothpaste. The overuse of triclosan is thought to be causing the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria, meaning a bacteria that can no longer be treated with antibiotics. It can also alter hormone levels in the body, affect reproductive organs, child development and cause cancer. (source)

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)

Synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lipsticks, moisturizers and more. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies BHA as a possible human carcinogen and long-term exposure to high doses of BHT was found to be toxic in animal studies, affecting the thyroid, kidney, lung function, and blood coagulation. BHT can also act as a tumor promoter and can mimic estrogen resulting in reproductive affects. (source)

This post was not meant to scare you into tossing your cosmetics, but to educate you a little more on what that ingredient list actually says. And if this has caused you to restrict which chemicals you allow in your cosmetics, good for you!

At the end of the day it’s all about our safety and that of our families. I can tell you, having a daughter at home (although she may only be a year and a half) this information is extremely concerning.

My hope is that if I start changing our habits now, with over a decade until she uses these products, I will have engrained in her some knowledge of potential toxins. And if she stands in that makeup aisle and actually turns that foundation bottle around to see the ingredient list, I’ve done my job.

A little dramatic?

You get the point.

If you use any cosmetic brands that score an A+ in your books, please share them! We could all use some suggestions on alternatives to these nasty things.

And cheers to a toxic free year!



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1 Comment

  • Reply
    January 12, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Ok this post totally rocks Kate! I so agree about the chems and I am on a quest due to health reasons to be proactive and safe with my beauty products & makeup. This is a great post for me to save in my Pinterest to share with others and reread for myself! So happy to find your blog at the homemaking party today. Visit me too anytime! Be blessed!

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