Do you know what potentially toxic ingredients are in your makeup and skincare products? If you’re thinking of making the switch to cleaner beauty products, you’re probably already aware that some of the ingredients in your makeup, skincare and haircare might be less than desirable. If you’re wondering what are most common toxic cosmetic ingredients to avoid and why, you’re in the right place!
Toxic ingredients in cosmetics
Listed below are some of the most common ingredients you might see in your beauty products to avoid as a starting point while you’re still learning about potentially toxic ingredients in cosmetics, including makeup, skincare and haircare. It can be overwhelming at first and it’s taken me years worth of research to expand my ingredient knowledge. Please don’t just take my word for it! I highly recommend you start researching these ingredients for yourself and get empowered to read ingredients lists with confidence. It’s ok not to get it all straight away – baby steps are still steps in the right direction!
Click on the ingredient to jump to more info.
- Formaldehyde donors/releasers
- Sulphates (sulfates)
- Mineral Oil & Petrolatum
Check the label for: butylparaben, isobutylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben.
Often found in: high water content products like shampoo and conditioner
Parabens are commonly used preservatives to prevent bacteria and mould. While preservatives are often necessary, there are better, safer alternatives. Parabens have been reported as likely endocrine disruptors, meaning they have the potential to alter the body’s hormone functions.
BHA & BHT
Check the label for: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
Often found in: cosmetics like lipstick, eyeshadow
BHA and BHT are synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives to help products last longer. Research has shown these ingredients are likely carcinogens and endocrine (hormone) disruptors. They also have links with skin irritation.
Phthalates (can be hidden in “Fragrance”)
Including: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP)
Found in: nail polish and fragrance
Phthalates are chemicals used to make products more pliable and to increase the performance of synthetic fragrances to make them last longer. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest carcinogenicity and likely toxic to the endocrine system (hormone disruptors).
Including: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), germaben, germal, glyoxal
Formaldehyde itself is rarely listed as an ingredient. These formaldehyde-releasing chemicals are sometimes used as a preservative in cosmetics. Formaldehyde is one of the most documented and confirmed carcinogens.
Including: sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), sodium lauryl ether sulphate (SLES)
Sulphates are synthetic surfactants (detergents) used to increase cleansing performance. The concern comes with ethoxylated ingredients and potential contamination with manufacturing byproduct 1,4-Dioxane, which has been reported as a likely carcinogen. They are also notorious culprits for causing skin irritation.
Including: monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA)
These ingredients can form carcinogenic nitrosamines. They have been linked to allergies, skin toxicity, hormone disruption, and inhibited fetal brain development.
PEGs (polyethylene glycol)
Usually listed on the label as PEG followed by a number eg. PEG-10 laurate, PEG-12 dimethicone
Similarly to sulphates, there are contamination concerns with probable carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane and other toxic components like Ethylene Oxide due to manufacturing processes.
Mineral Oil & Petrolatum
Check the label for: paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum, petroleum, parrafin oil, mineral oil
Derived from petroleum, the concern with these ingredients is not only the unsustainable sourcing, but also the potential contamination with carcinogenic Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) depending on the refinement process. Say goodbye to Vaseline!
Are there more toxic ingredients to avoid?
Absolutely! Think of this list as a starting point with some of the most common ingredients to avoid. My personal list has gradually grown over the years as I delved in to more research. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide which ingredients are most important for you to avoid, but I hope this has been useful for you if you’re just beginning your journey! I totally encourage you to do some of your own research into these ingredients and more. Before you know it you’ll be reading the labels on your beauty products with confidence knowing which ingredients matter the most to you.
Unsure where to start with making the switch to less toxic / clean beauty? Learn more about what natural, organic, nontoxic and clean beauty mean and check out my tips for switching to organic beauty. You might also find my natural beauty brands directory helpful to discover some of my fave tried and tested brands that don’t use these ingredients.