Top 10 Toxic Beauty Ingredients to Avoid
Many of the beauty supplies on store shelves contain toxic ingredients. Here are 10 of the worst toxic beauty ingredients in those bottles.
There are really two major problems with toxic beauty ingredients: they impact our health and they impact the environment. Our skin is great at absorbing, which means products that we put on our skin also end up inside of our bodies. When we wash those products off, they go down the drain and enter the water supply, polluting waterways and harming wildlife.
Related Reading: The Dangers of Triclosan and How to Avoid it
Until we see real chemical reform, it’s up to us as consumers to suss out toxic beauty ingredients and make healthier choices. From deodorants and lotions to lipstick and mascara, it’s important to read the labels so you know exactly what you’re putting on your body and into the water supply.
What’s extra frustrating about the toxic beauty ingredients below is that they’re not always clearly labeled. The FDA labeling laws for cosmetics are kind of a joke. Companies can omit or hide things on their ingredient lists if they say those ingredients are part of a proprietary recipe. In the list below, I also try to help you read beyond what’s on the label to see what’s not listed there that could be harmful.
That’s the bad news. The good news is you can educate yourself and avoid these dangerous toxins! Check out the list below, and I also suggest checking out these alternatives to store-bought beauty supplies:
Top 10 Toxic Beauty Ingredients to Avoid
1. Triclosan – Triclosan is one of the worst offenders on this list. There are a laundry list of problems with this chemical, but my biggest issue with this chemical is that it creates resistant bacteria. This might not sound serious, but it’s a huge public health concern.
2. Methylisothiazonlinone – On labels, you may see the full name, or it may be called MI or MIT. This chemical is a strong skin irritant that’s in many skin products like baby wipes and lotions.
3. Fragrance/Parfum – When you see this on a label, you might imagine plant extracts and essential oils, but fragrance or parfum is actually a term that can refer to any one of hundreds of chemicals. Some are totally safe. Some are carcinogens, allergens, or endocrine disruptors. You have no way of knowing, and companies don’t have to tell us. Of course, store-bought perfumes contain this ingredient, but so does almost every beauty product. Careful label-reading or making your own are your best options.
4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate – These ingredients are both skin irritants, and you may see them on labels with their full names or as SLS/SLES. These chemicals increase your skin’s absorption, which means you absorb more of the other chemicals in your beauty products. Of the two, SLES is the most toxic, since it is often contaminated with 1, 4 dioxane (see below for more on this chemical).
5. 1,4 Dioxane – A known carcinogen, this won’t always be on the label if it’s in your products. You also want to avoid SLES, because it’s often contaminated with 1,4 dioxane.
6. Oxybenzone – This ingredient is most common in spray-on sunscreens, including children’s sunscreen. This chemical is a major hormone disruptor, so you do not want to use it on yourself, and you especially want to avoid it in products that your kids are using.
7. Lead – The tricky part with lead is that companies don’t list this on the label. The lead is a contaminant that they don’t have to disclose. Many commercial brands of lipstick are contaminated with lead, but you can find lead-free alternatives.
8. Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene – Abbreviated BHA and BHT, these are used as preservatives in beauty products. They are endocrine disruptors, and they are banned in the EU.
9. Diethanolamine and Triethanolamine – Also look for the abbreviations DEA and TEA. These are foaming agents and emulsifiers that are also skin irritants and possible carcinogens. The major concern with DEA/TEA is that it combines with nitrites in beauty products to form carcinogenic compounds. Companies don’t have to label nitrites, so you have no way of knowing if your mascara or body wash contains a recipe for cancer or not.
10. Petrolatum – This is a petroleum product that has a few different names. You also want to look out for mineral oil, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil jelly. Petrolatum contains chemicals linked to cancer, allergic reactions, and skin irritation.
Another great resource for finding safer beauty products is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database. The database has thousands of beauty products and ingredients, so you can search your favorite products and see how they stack up. I use the Skin Deep Database to check products regularly, and it’s a huge help. I like their traffic light and numbered rating system that shows you how safe or unsafe something is at a glance.