• Sue Williams

Could Your Beauty Products Be Toxic?

What you put on your face is just as important as what you put in your body, but less regulated. As a result, many cosmetic products are laced with less than healthy ingredients. If the first thing you look for at the grocery store is organic food, ask yourself why you would expect less from a beauty brand. The simple answer is you don’t know what is good and what is bad when you shop for healthy beauty products. The US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t give the beauty industry the attention it needs to keep consumers informed.

People tend to go on faith when it comes to these external products but it’s misguided. And in fact, some companies that sell the same products in the United States as in other countries remove the carcinogenic ingredients for those sold outside the US. Consider some of these toxic ingredients and carcinogens you want to avoid next time you shop for your healthy beauty essentials.


A paraben serves as a preservative in toxic skin care and hair care products. You’ll find them in:

  • Shampoos

  • Moisturizers

  • Shaving gels

  • Spray tanning products

  • Makeup

You might even find some in your favorite toothpaste. Manufacturers turn to parabens because they are easy to get and more effective than natural options despite the fact that they may be toxic. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology found parabens in 99 percent of the breast tissue tested. When applied or ingested, it can mimic a critical hormone — estrogen — leading to an imbalance and increased risk of breast cancer. The paraben category ingredients typically start with words that end in “yl”, like methyl and end with the word paraben, so avoid chemicals such as methylparaben when checking the labels.

Polyethylene Glycols

You’ll find this potential toxin in:

  • Skin creams

  • Toothpaste

  • Hair thickeners

They are a popular choice in the beauty industry because they improve skin absorption. The chemical itself isn’t bad, it’s the impurities that are a problem. Polyethylene glycol can come with ethylene oxide and 1.4-dioxane, both of which are known carcinogens, or cancer-causing elements. They can also irritate the respiratory tract, so you definitely what to avoid products with polyethylene glycol if you have a chronic respiratory problem such as COPD or asthma.


Petroleum is another common choice for manufacturers because it is cheap and lightweight. Like polyethylene glycol, it can contain elements that put you at risk like 1.4-dioxane. You’ll find petroleum in protective products like:

  • Lipstick

  • Baby lotions

  • Hair moisturizer

Anything designed with protection in mind because petroleum leaves a film that waterproofs skin and seals in moisture. When looking at the ingredients, petroleum will probably be listed as;

  • DEA (diethanolamine)

  • MEA (ethanolamine)

  • Butyl

  • Ethyl

  • Propyl

  • Methyl

Those last five words represent just part of the ingredient. For example, you might see methylparaben — that is an ingredient that contains petroleum.


Look for sulfates in:

  • Shampoo

  • Toothpaste

  • Shaving foam

  • Body washes

  • Facial cleansers

Anything designed to foam probably contains sulfates including the stuff you use to wash your car and floors. Sulfates look fresh and clean but they actually rob your skin of moisture. They are potentially carcinogenic and can combine with other chemicals to create a formula that may damage the kidneys and respiratory tract. Sodium lauryl sulfate is an example of a commonly used toxic ingredient in this class.


Phthalates are the key ingredient in plastic production, used to make vinyl flexible and pliable and also used to make beauty products like:

  • Hairspray

  • Nail polish

  • Nail polish solvent

  • Perfume

  • Sunscreen

Studies link this chemical to both breast cancer and birth defects.


You’ll see the term used in nearly all beauty products and it can mean the company used hundreds of chemicals in one “fragrance” but they don’t need to be disclosed, claiming their “trade secret”. Fragrance can include parabens, too. Even products marked “unscented” can have fragrances used to mask the unpleasant smells of other ingredients without giving it a recognizable scent like lavender. For more information check out the movie, Stink at stinkmovie.com. Watch the trailer below.

Watch Trailer

What to Look for in a Healthy Beauty Product

You can avoid toxic products by checking the labels before you buy. Look for things that use organic and real ingredients you recognize and are packaged in glass instead of plastic.

Beauty product labeling is also poorly regulated so just because the words natural, botanical or organic are used, it doesn’t mean there are no toxic ingredients. As a general rule, stick with brands that use ingredients that you recognize as natural like herbs and plant components. The fewer chemicals the better it is for your body.

Some Clean-ingredient Companies

  • Aubrey Organics

  • Burt’s Bees

  • Alba Botanicals

  • Dr. Hauschka

  • Dr. Bronner’s

  • Kiss My Face

  • Weleda

  • Avalon Organics

  • Origins

  • Herbivore Botanicals

  • 100% Pure


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