7 Toxic Ingredients To Avoid In Makeup And Skincare Products

Did you know that an American woman uses an average of 12 personal care products that contain 168 different chemicals? And that more than 40 countries have banned 1400 chemicals in cosmetic products, while the US 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 toxic ingredients linked to serious health issues are still available on the US market. “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.

When your skin absorbs up to 60% of what you put on it, you must think twice before purchasing a beauty product. Allergies, hormonal disruptions, irritation, cancer, and reproductive issues are just a few of the problems that can develop if your skin is exposed to dangerous chemicals for prolonged periods. To stay on the safe side, avoid the following ingredients in your skincare and makeup products. Their continued use has been linked to severe health problems, and skin experts (ourselves included) recommend avoiding them at all costs:

Ingredients to avoid in cosmetic products


Triclosan is added to cosmetics to reduce and 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 allergies. This compound has also been linked to hormonal disruptions, impaired muscle function, bacterial resistance, and impaired immune function. Even the FDA announced that “consumer antiseptic washes” containing triclosan were prohibited in December 2017. Instead of triclosan, look out for naturally antibacterial and antiseptic agents in your cosmetic products, such as tea tree oil, thyme, eucalyptus, or lavender.


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. Its potential toxicity 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 present in cosmetic products. 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. 


Parabens are meant to prevent bacterial and mold growth but can also contribute to hormone imbalance. That’s because parabens are synthetic estrogens that disrupt the hormonal system. Parabens are primarily found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, cleansers, makeup, and moisturizer. Since most parabens are oil-soluble, they can penetrate the skin. Studies suggest that parabens can lead to UV-induced cell damage and increase cell proliferation in human breast cancer, especially if applied daily.

Cosmetics contain different types of parabens, like methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl-, and isobutyl. What’s worrying is that isobutyl and isopropyl are restricted in EU and Southeast Asian nations due to their high risk of health issues, but they’re still available in the US. However, things are going in the right direction as more and more brands have switched to paraben-free formulas.


Polyethylene (PEG) is a polymer used as an abrasive and adhesive agent and emulsion stabilizer in eyeliners, mascaras, eye shadows, and other cosmetic products. It’s well established that PEG irritates the skin by weakening the protein and cellular structure and should never be applied to wounds and damaged tissue. Another bad thing about PEG is that it’s not filtered by the sewage systems, meaning they can travel into waterways, where marine animals and fish consume them — not environmentally friendly.

Ethylene oxide

Ethylene oxide is classified by The International Agency for Research on Cancer as a proven carcinogen. Its use in health products and cosmetics has already been prohibited in Canada. While it’s among the most dangerous ingredients in personal care products, ethylene oxide is associated with cancer, reproductive effects, and neurotoxicity.

Synthetic fragrances

Even if fragrance looks like it’s one ingredient on the product label, it is a blend of numerous compounds. It’s the only ingredient allowed to hide under an umbrella term and doesn’t require mentioning what it really is. The FDA allows cosmetic companies to use as many fragrances as they like, and still have”fragrance” takes up just one spot on the label.

Even though they sound harmless, prolonged exposure to synthetic fragrances is associated with severe health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies, and sensitivities. According to AAD, synthetic fragrances are the most common cause of 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 are often found in conventional shampoos due to their ability to reduce frizz and add shine. In cosmetics, they’re used to improve the performance of the formula in terms of lubricity and smoothness. Even if it is a synthetic chemical, toxic and endocrine-disrupting, a lot of brands still use silicones in their products. Also, siloxane is known to influence neurotransmitters in the nervous system.

How to keep your skin safe

  • Research labels — have a proper look at the ingredients.
  • Less is more — pick products that have fewer and gentle ingredients.
  • Take action — you can sign this petition to demand toxic-free beauty.
  • Check Safe Cosmetics to see all chemicals of concern.
  • Check the product hazardous score on EWG.
  • Look out for the chemical-free label.
  • Know your skin sensitivities.
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder and editor-in-chief of Women's Concepts. She has over 5 years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and dermatological research and was an acne sufferer for over a decade. Ana is now an IAO and CPD-accredited skincare consultant keen to teach others about the importance of a consistent routine. She covers a wide range of topics in skincare—from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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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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