7 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Makeup and Skincare Products

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Makeup is a sword with two edges — no one denies it. But more worrying is that the same goes for personal care products too. It’s actually terrifying to know that something supposed to do good can actually mess up with your skin. That’s the world we live in, where American women use an average of 12 personal care products that contain no less than 168 different chemicals. “While most cosmetic chemicals likely pose little or no risk to human health, exposure to some chemicals used in cosmetics and other personal care products has been linked to serious health problems, including cancer and reproductive harm,” states EWG.

Yes, we are the ones who have to pay the price, and that is to be cautious with any ingredient. And it is not our fault. We don’t want to point fingers but think that more than 40 countries have banned 1400 chemicals in cosmetic products, while the U.S. has banned only 9. That’s happening because the Food and Drug Administration has little authority to restrict chemicals in cosmetics. What are the consequences? Hundreds of makeup and skincare products containing chemicals linked to serious health issues and banned in many countries are still available on the U.S. market. 

We know you want to feed your skin with nutrients and not poison it. You don’t have to let your health and overall wellbeing be negatively affected for the sake of beauty and confidence. When up to 60% of what you put on your skin is deeply absorbed into it, you need to think twice before purchasing any cosmetic product. 

Ingredients to avoid

Allergies, hormonal disruptions, cancer, reproductive issues are just a few of the problems that can develop if some ingredients are applied to the skin too often. We are exposed to pollution and chemicals in food, clothing, basically everywhere. There isn’t a lot we can do at some points, but regarding cosmetics, the right approach would be avoiding using products that contain known toxic compounds.

Triclosan

Triclosan is added to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It’s mostly found as an antimicrobial agent in toothpaste, body washes, detergents, and cosmetics. Triclosan can change the bacterial flora on the skin. In turn, a change in the bacterial composition of good bacteria can increase the risk of developing allergies. Even the FDA announced that “consumer antiseptic washes” containing triclosan were prohibited, in December 2017. This compound has been linked to hormonal disruptions, impaired muscle function, bacterial resistance, impaired immune function, and increased allergies. It’s OK to use naturally antibacterial & antiseptic agents such as tea tree oil, thyme, eucalyptus, or lavender.

Aluminum

Aluminum is a metal that has estrogen-like effects and can disrupt the natural function of the endocrine system. In cosmetics, aluminum is used as a pigment and thickening agent, while aluminum compounds are active ingredients in antiperspirants and antacids. Dermatologists affirm that it’s crucial not to use cosmetic products containing aluminum on damaged skin, especially after shaving. That’s because aluminum is absorbed through the skin, and the absorption rate is increased in these circumstances. 

The potential toxicity of aluminum in cosmetics has been a concern for several years and is still often accused of increasing the risk of breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. While this is still uncertain and research is ongoing, more than twenty-five aluminum compounds are among the substances present in cosmetic products. Aluminum Chlorohydrate is one of the most widely used, particularly in antiperspirants.

Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl, and butyl)

Parabens are meant to prevent bacterial and mold growth, but they can also contribute to hormone imbalance. That’s because parabens are synthetic estrogens that act like estrogen disrupting the hormonal system. Parabens are mostly found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, cleansers, makeup, moisturizer, but they are actually everywhere. They are not water-soluble and can penetrate the skin, thus the repeated application of a paraben product means almost continuous exposure. 

Studies suggest that parabens can lead to UV-induced skin cell damage and increase cell proliferation in human breast cancer, especially if applied daily. Cosmetics typically contain different types of parabens, like methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl- and isobutyl. Some of these (isobutyl and isopropyl), are actually restricted in EU and Southeast Asian nations, yet  EWG has found them in U.S products. However, things are going in the right direction, as many products have switched to paraben-free formulas. 

PEGs

Polyethylene has been observed to irritate the skin and should never be used on wounds or damaged skin. They penetrate the skin so quickly and can weaken the protein and cellular structure while reducing the skin’s natural moisture factor. PEGs found in body washes and scrubs are not filtered by our sewage systems, meaning they can travel into waterways, where marine animals and fish consume them — not friendly!

Ethylene oxide 

Ethylene oxide is classified in group 1 by The International Agency for Research on Cancer, meaning it’s a proven carcinogen. In Canada, its use in health products and cosmetics has already been prohibited. While it’s among the top seven hidden ingredients, ethylene oxide is associated with cancer, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, and sensitization. Since labels do not mention these contaminants, check labels for the presence of chemicals with PPG, PEG, and polysorbate in their name and ingredients that end in –eth such as laureth, steareth, ceteareth.

Synthetic fragrances

Even if fragrance looks like it’s one ingredient is more likely a blend of many compounds. It’s the only ingredient allowed to hide under a cloud and doesn’t have to say what it really is. The FDA allows cosmetic companies to use as many fragrance-forming ingredients as they like, and still, “fragrance” takes up just one spot on the label — so unfair for consumers. While most fragrance chemicals are not disclosed, some are linked to severe health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies, and sensitivities.

According to AAD, fragrance is the most common cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis. More than that, based on a survey, 34.7% of the population reported health problems, such as migraine headaches and respiratory difficulties, when exposed to fragranced products. One solution could be to look for beauty products that plainly state what is scenting it or products that use essential oils instead of fragrance.

Siloxanes

Usually, it’s found in conventional shampoos due to its ability to reduce frizz and add shine. In cosmetics, it’s used to improve performance in terms of lubricity and smoothness, even if it is a synthetic chemical, toxic and endocrine-disrupting. Also, siloxane is known to influence neurotransmitters in the nervous system. Spotting siloxane on the ingredients list is not easy as it appears under many terms.

How to keep your skin safe

  1. DIY — create your own products.
  2. Research labels — have a proper look at the ingredients.
  3. Less is more — pick products that have fewer & simple ingredients.
  4. Take action — you can sign this petition to demand toxic-free beauty.
  5. Advise Safe Cosmetics to see all chemicals of concern.
  6. Check the product hazardous score on EWG.
  7. Look for chemical-free label.
  8. Know your skin sensitivities.
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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Women's Concepts relies on the latest scientific research to provide accurate, complete, and fact-based information in skincare, on which we're willing to stake our reputation. Our team includes skincare experts who are highly regarded in their fields and committed to upholding the best standards of research. We spend quality time vetting every single product we recommend and double-checking all the facts shared on Women's Concepts. We always stand on the side of inclusivity, and our mission is to help everyone fix their skin issues as they arise and leverage the products they buy to achieve their goals. You can view our expert review board and everything about our editorial guidelines here.
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