Ingredients to Avoid


The following are a list of harmful ingredients used in everyday cosmetic /skincare products to be avoided. This is by no means exhaustive and is only listed here as a guide. Please see links for further reading. 


PARABENS (e.g. Methyl, Ethyl, Propyl , Butyl , isobutyl Paraben) A group of chemicals used as preservatives in many cosmetics and personal care products to inhibit microbial growth and to extend shelf life of products. University studies have shown that parabens can be absorbed into the blood stream and disrupt the hormonal system. Parabens have been detected in human breast tissue and, although they cannot yet be conclusively linked as a possible cause of breast cancer, evidence now suggests they can act as oestrogen mimics.


They are found in the majority of cosmetics products including: skincare, shampoos, moisturisers, toothpastes and baby products. Leave-on products such as face makeup and skin lotions are of greatest concern because of the long exposure time and opportunity for migration via the skin into the bloodstream. Not only can they cause skin rashes and allergic reactions, but also they are known to be highly toxic.


Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (Cancer risk) A low cost detergent found in the majority of shampoos, soaps, bubble baths and toothpaste. It is used for its harsh cleansing and foam-building properties. Also used in laboratories as a skin irritant in experiments using skin protectors. However it is very drying, and displays a significant level of skin penetration. Once it has been absorbed it has been found to act as an estrogen, which can cause a wide variety of problems in the body (linked to male fertility issues and an increased risk of breast cancer. Often derived from petroleum, it is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the phrase "comes from coconuts." It causes eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. May also damage liver and immune system. Also commonly used commercially to remove grease from car engines and as an industrial cleaner. Check your label for: Sodium Lauryl Sulphate Sodium Laureth Sufate SLS 


Ammonium Laureth Sulphate (family of SLS) Found in toothpastes, most cleansers such as soaps, shower gels, shampoos and bubble baths and in baby products. Not as bad as SLS but when combined with other chemicals can create nitrosamines, a potent form of carcinogens. It is frequently disguised in semi-natural products as "comes from coconut." 


Butylated Hydroxytoluene BHT E321 (carcinogen) Used as a synthetic antioxidant. Found in sun lotions, lipstick, face creams and mascara. Research indicates that it is a possible allergen, is linked to behavioural effects and reproductive problems. It is banned from baby foods. Causes allergic contact dermatitis. Contains toluene. See Toluene 


Harmful Ingredients in everyday Cosmetics / Skincare ProductsFormaldehyde (carcinogen) Formaldehyde Releasers: 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol, Quaternium 15, Diazolidinyl Urea , Imidazolidinyl Urea , DMDM Hyadrantoin ( Formaldehyde precursors react with other chemicals in the product , may break down in products into formaldehyde and also cause the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines under certain conditions). Formaldehyde is Widely used in cosmetics as a germicide, preservative and fungicide. It damages the respiratory system, weakens the immune system and is a known carcinogen. Formaldehyde is found in cosmetics (nail varnish), personal care products (soaps, deodorants) and household cleaners. The vapour irritates the eyes, nose and throat (mucous membranes). Can cause contact dermatitis, headaches and chronic fatigue. It's suspected as a powerful carcinogenic and mutagenic, damaging and inhibiting the repair of DNA. Banned in Sweden and Japan. Both Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea, formaldehyde derivatives, are widely used preservatives. The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains good anti-fungal agents, and they must be combined with other preservatives. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic. 


Diethanolamine (DEA), Monoethanolamine (MEA), Triethanolamine (TEA) — common pH stabilizers. Often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. The skin easily absorbs them, and research indicates a strong link to liver and kidney cancer. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. DEA and TEA are "amines" (ammonia compounds) and can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates. Toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period. DEA is a detergent and emulsifier, frequently used in both cosmetics and shampoos. It is used by itself and in combination as part of cocamide DEA, lauramide etc. In spite of US FDA warnings and recommendations to the cosmetics industry dating back to the 1970's, concerning the NTP (National Toxicology Program) findings that DEA has a relationship to cancers in animal testing, it is still widely used. The NTP tests revealed that DEA can cause cancer in rats by itself, and it can combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines which are also cancer causing. They also found that repeated skin application to mouse skin of DEA or cocamide-DEA, induced liver and kidney cancer and accumulated in organs, such as the brain, where it induced chronic toxic effects. DEA is also noted as a mild skin and severe eye irritant. Check Labels for: DEA, MEA, TEA These chemicals are already restricted in Europe due to known carcinogenic effects. Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois believes that repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents can result in a major increase in the incidence of liver and kidney cancer.


Mineral oil/ Petrolatum: (Petroleum Jelly). This is a by-product of crude oil and it is used as a very cheap emollient base ingredient. It has no nutrient value and can interfere with the body’s natural moisturising ability. It is moderately comedogenic and can interfere with normal perspiration, as well as clog the skin preventing it from taking in oxygen and releasing toxins. Can exacerbate eczema. Moreover, Petrolatum is listed as a probable human carcinogen in the European Union's Dangerous Substances Directive (UNECE 2004). In fact its use in cosmetics has been banned unless it can show its full refining history. However there is confusion as to what that means and that the standards are not consistently applied. 


Phthalates: Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Butyl Benzyl Phthalate (BBP or BzBP). Dibutyl Phthalate is banned in Europe because it has been linked to cancer. Found in products such as: hair sprays, perfume, (it is used to retain scent in a product, sneaked into deodorant) nail polishes. Used to soften plastic, skin moisturisers and skin penetration enhancers in cosmetics. Research indicates: Known to cause serious reproductive and developmental effects in lab animals. Linked to premature breast development in young girls. Interference with reproductive development in male foetuses: new research linking high phthalate levels with feminized genitals in baby boys. A recent government-funded study by Dr. Shanna Swan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester, correlated prenatal phthalate exposure with a shortened anogenital distance (AGD) in male babies. 


The higher the levels of phthalates in the mother during pregnancy, the more likely the researchers were to find the shortened AGD. When this occurred, the boys were more likely to have incomplete testicular descent and smaller penises. The changes occurred at phthalate levels that have been measured in about one quarter of women in the United States.


Propylene Glycol — Derived from petroleum - Usually it is a synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant. It is so dangerous that the EPA requires workers to wear protective wear when working with it. The National Toxicology Program classifies Propylene Glycol as a skin and eye irritant, possible carcinogen and known to cause brain, liver and kidney damage. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. Can cause contact dermatitis. When you see PEG (polyethylene glycol) or PPG (polypropylene glycol) on labels, beware -these are related synthetics. Linked to depression of the Central Nervous System. 


PEG (Polyethylene Glycol): PEG's are used to dissolve oil and grease, and to thicken products. They are used in many personal care products as well as in oven cleaner. They are also potentially cancer causing and strip the skin of its natural moisture factor. 


PVP/VA Copolymer A petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, styling aids and other cosmetics. It can be considered toxic, since inhaled particles can damage the lungs of sensitive persons. 


Stearalkonium Chloride A quaternary ammonium compound used in hair creams and conditioners. Developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, it is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which are beneficial to the hair. Causes allergic reactions. Toxic. 


Synthetic Colours — Used to make enhance cosmetics visual appeal. Synthetic colours, along with synthetic hair dyes, should be avoided at all costs. They are labelled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a colour and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6. Impurities found in commercial batches of other cosmetic colours such as D&C Red 33, FD&C Yellow 5, and FD&C yellow 6 have been shown to cause cancer when applied to the skin. Colors with FD & C pigments are made from coal tar, ( banned in Europe) and studies have shown that it is carcinogenic Some artificial coal tar colours contain heavy metal impurities, including lead and arsenic, which are also carcinogenic. 


Synthetic Fragrances: There are over 200 synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics. “Parfum” is blanket term making impossible to distinguish, which particular chemicals are in your product and the label will simply state Fragrance. Some problems caused by these chemicals include: headaches, dizziness, rashes, hyperpigmentation, coughing, vomiting, skin irritation. 


Talc (Magnesium Silicate): A natural mineral found to be a lung irritant. It is widely used in makeup and body powders as well as baby powder. Scientific studies have shown that routine application of talcum powder in the genital area is associated with a three-to-fourfold increase in the development of ovarian cancer. Talc has been linked to lung cancer. It is NOT biodegradable. 


Toluene: Found in lacquers and nail polish. Research indicates that it is a skin irritant and is harmful if absorbed by the skin. May cause liver damage, narcotic in high concentrations. Attacks the central nervous system, eyes, blood, liver, kidneys and skin. Occupational studies show women exposed to it are at risk of spontaneous abortions.