The Cost of Beauty

Throughout the ages, humans have always been looking for ways to improve their appearance, some ways ended up being much more harmful for us and the environment than we ever thought possible. People were powdering themselves with lead or bathing in tubs that contained mercury. While we may think ourselves more technologically advanced, the fact remains that many beauty products still contain ingredients that serve as toxins for both humans and the environment.

Lead and mercury in makeup may sound like a thing of the past, however many beauty products like shampoo and mascara contain these poisonous materials. One of the biggest distributor of toxic chemicals is the fragrance industry. Over three thousand chemicals can be listed under the umbrella term “synthetic fragrance” and while not all of the are hazardous, according to EWG’s Cosmetic Databse, 1 in 20 of them received the high hazard score and 1 in 6 received the moderate [Source: Enviroblog]. Many of these fragrances contain neurotoxins and are among the top five allergens around the world. One of the main ingredients, phthalates, has been shown to affect developing children. Scientists at Mt. Sinai showed that women with high levels of phthalate were 2.5 times more likely to have children with attention problems like ADD or ADHD [Source: The Daily Green]. The chemicals do not stop affecting us if we stop using these products however since many of them make their way to our water supply. Soaps, body wash, shampoo and other products contain just as many toxins and often get washed down the drain or toilet. These chemicals have been known to pollute ponds, feminize fish and may even cause cancer [Source: Helium]. By not informing the public of the actual ingredients in these fragrances, consumers not only harm their health but the environment as well.

While the fragrance companies have been running amok for years, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has taken the first steps in improving transparency and safety. According to the IRFA, there are 174 substances which have been banned or restricted all of which are available for public view at their site. Not only that, but the IRFA has also enforced a compliance program to make sure that no consumer products contain any of the 174 substances. During the fourth cycle for the program, the IRFA stated that all fifty products that were randomly tested all complied with standards [Source: Cosmetic Design Europe].

Although fragrance is the number one toxin in health and beauty products, other substances include:

  • Propylene Glycol: PEG, PGG
  • Formaldehyde: formaldehyde, formalin, formic aldehyde, oxomethane, oxymethylene
  • Hydroquinone: 1,4-Benzenediol, 1,4-Dihydroxybenzene, P-Dioxybenzene, 4-Hydroxyphenol, P-Hydroxyphenol,1,4Benzenediol
  • Petrolatum/Petroleum: petrolatum, petroleum jelly, trioxaundecanedioi acid, toluene, 4-amino-2-hydroxytuolene, BHA
  • Mercury: mercurous chloride, thimerosal
  • Mineral oil: liquidum paraffinum, paraffin oil, paraffin wax.
  • Lead
  • Colorants/Synthetic colors: D&C, FD&C
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Anhydrous Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Irium, SLS, SLES, MSDS, ALES, ALS [Source: Best In Beauty]

Several of these toxins are illegal in most of the world except for the US (including formaldehyde, hydroquinon and phthalates). The EU and Members of Parliaments (MEPs), in fact, have been working towards safer cosmetics and in 2009 agreed on a more stringent cosmetic legislation. According to the new rules: nanoparticles used in products must be labelled and defined and there would be stricter usage of substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction [Source: European Parliament].

While various governments are trying to find ways to control these beauty manufacturers, new companies are appearing to offer non-toxic bath and beauty products. The quest to create a healthier product have even spurred teenagers like Ava Anderson to create her their own lines. Organic companies also offer toxic free items. Still the best and healthiest way to look good is to do it yourself. Here are some resources for DIY skin and beauty care:
All Natural Beauty
Safe Cosmetics
Fat Free Kitchen

Humans have been literally killing themselves for beauty ever since they first saw their reflection. However, the more we poison ourselves with these products, the more we also poison the environment. The cost of beauty may eventually cost us our planet, and with so many non-toxic alternatives, there’s no reason why we can’t look good, be healthy AND help the earth.

Toxic Beauty
Jasmine Greene


Kimmy H.
Kimmy H4 years ago

Some time ago, I did a search for cruelty-free cosmetics and those are the only ones I buy. Thank you for the list in your article.

Annamarie Molloy
Anna Molloy7 years ago

SLS has been the subject of a mud-slinging campaign which was spread through the internet and alternative health outlets. It was very difficult to trace its source but it was finally tracked back to a manufacturer of a rival surfactant which shamelessly exploited people's good intentions to sell more of its stuff.

Pete C.
pete c9 years ago


Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran9 years ago

i usually buy avon's stuff especially since they haven't tested on animals since the '80s. be very wary of the other "natural" / "earth friendly" products as well. i purchased an eyeliner from annique that is supposedly made from rooibos. imagine my shock when i read the label and triethanolamine and other chemicals were listed as ingredients.

Cynthia Leaphart
Cynthia Leaphart9 years ago

Check out Nicole Miller cosmetics.

Erin F.
Er F9 years ago


Ornella Michelini

Go IFRA !!!
Control in production of fragances and cosmetics !!

Wenda K.
Wenda Kundasamy9 years ago

Thank you for this very interesting article, will be more carefull when purchasing make up. we need to be more carefull for our own good and for the planet.

Alison A.
Alison A9 years ago

This is the problem, not all of them carry ingredients, a lot of the time people do not know what is in the products they are using.

I will only buy from companies that do not test on animals and are kind to the environment, it is really hard though, I have looked manufacturers up on the internet and one site will say a company is on the 'good list' and another will say it is on the 'bad list'.

Did you know that The Body Shop is on the bad list, they are now owned by L'Oreal and L'Oreal continue to test on animals.

Please read and share, rescued horses will die without your support.

Mervi R.
Mervi R9 years ago

Intersting and scary, thanks for the info!