Toxins to Avoid in Skincare Cosmetics

Swatches of different skincare products

Protecting your skin from harmful chemicals

Your skin is your largest organ, and chemicals substances can affect it in a number of ways:

  • Acids and alkalis can irritate, burn, and corrode the skin.
  • Substances can trigger allergic reactions like dermatitis and eczema.
  • Substances can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream and affect vital organs in the body.
  • Chemicals such as solvents, bleaches, acids, and alkalis can remove natural fats from the skin, thus destroying its protective ability.

Products are not required to undergo approval before they are sold to the public. Companies are not required to prove performance claims or conduct safety testing. But the one thing that is required by the companies is to list the ingredients in descending order of quantity on the label. Leaving some consumers to believe that it must be safe if it is on the market. But that is not necessarily true.

Ingredients to avoid in cosmetics and skincare products

Here is a list of ingredients to avoid when you are shopping for deodorants, shampoos, soaps, and cosmetics.

Urea (Imidazolidinyl) and Diazolidinyl Urea

Urea is a preservative and antimicrobial agent used in cosmetics. These are one of the most common preservatives used in nearly all store brands of skin, body and hair care, antiperspirants, and nail polish. They release formaldehyde just over 10°. According to the Mayo Clinic, formaldehyde can irritate the respiratory system, cause skin reactions, and trigger heart palpitations. Exposure may cause joint pain, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pains, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and loss of sleep. Other possible side effects include weakening the immune system and cancer.

Parabens (Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and & Ethyl)

A very common group of cosmetic preservatives to extend the shelf life of products. They are used even though they are known to be toxic. Studies have shown that parabens are estrogenic. Which means they mimic estrogen in the body. They also combine benzoic acid with the methyl group of chemicals, which is very toxic.


Petroleum jelly, commonly known as Vaseline, is used in lotions, baby oil, cosmetics, and motor oil. It comes from crude oil, used in the production of gasoline. The skin is the body’s largest organ of elimination, it is vital that the skin be free to release toxins, including carbon dioxide. But mineral oil and petrolatum products suffocate the skin by forming an oil film. This ingredient actually coats the skin just like plastic wrap. It can actually cause abnormal cell development, resulting in premature aging, unhealthy sensitive skin that dries out quickly.

Internally it absorbs fat-soluble vitamins in the intestinal tract. It interferes or entirely depletes beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Propylene Glycol

This is the active component in antifreeze. There is no difference between what is used in industry and what is used in personal care products or even in food processing. Propylene glycol has a quick ability to penetrate the skin. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet, the EPA requires workers to wear protective gloves, clothing, and goggles when working with this toxic substance. Their safety sheet warns against skin contact because it has systemic consequences, such as brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities. But, there isn’t even a warning label on products such as stick deodorants, where the concentration is greater than that of most industrial applications.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

SLS/SLES is a detergent, wetting agent, and emulsifier. It is used in almost 98% of all “personal care” products such as hand and body creams, bubble baths, hair color kits, shampoos, conditioners, toothpaste, shaving cream, shower gel, facial cleansers, baby wipes, and others.

The American College of Toxicology did a study and concluded that it is safe in formulations designed for “discontinuous, brief use; concentrations should not exceed 1%.” But how long do we sit in bubble baths? and why is SLS in some products as the first ingredient listed, which means it comprises more than 1% of the product? Not to mention it could possibly be in every product we use during the day. This accumulates to be far more than the supposed “safe” amount.

SLS penetrates the eyes and tissues (such as the brain, heart, liver, etc), and shows long-term retention in those tissues. SLS denatures the proteins in the eye tissues and can damage the eye.

SLS can form nitrates and nitrosamines (potent carcinogens that cause the body to absorb nitrates at higher levels than even nitrate-contaminated food such as some hot dogs or bacon) In combination with DEA, TEA, and MEA, SLS/SLES has been found capable of producing carcinogens.

SLS/SLES can strip moisture and oils from the skin. It is a degreaser as well as a foaming agent. The American Toxicology report also states that SLS produces skin and hair damage, including cracking and severe inflammation. The denaturing properties can also separate skin layers.

Diethanolamine (DEA), Monoethanolamine (MEA), Triethanolamine (TEA)

These chemicals are hormone-disrupting chemicals known to form nitrates and nitrosamines. The National Toxicology Program completed a study in 1998 that found a link in the topical application of DEA and DEA-related products and cancer in laboratory animals.

DEA itself is used in very few cosmetics, but DEA-related products are widely used as emulsifiers or foaming agents usually used at levels of 1 to 5%. Some DEA-related products are Cocamide DEA, Cocamide MEA, TEA-Lauryl SulfateTEA, Oleamide DEA.

TEA is often used to adjust the pH in cosmetics and used with many fatty acids to convert acid to salt (stearate), which then becomes the base for a cleanser.

Alcohol (Isopropyl)

A solvent and denaturant (a poisonous substance that changes another substance’s natural qualities), alcohol is found in hair color rinses, body rubs, hand lotions, after-shave lotions, fragrances, and many other personal care products. It is a petroleum-derived substance and is also used in antifreeze. Inhalation of the vapor may cause headaches, flushing dizziness, mental depressions, nausea, vomiting, narcosis, anesthesia, and coma. The fatal ingested dose is one ounce.

OSHA, Occupation Safety & Health Administration states that it causes central nervous system depression and it increases the triglyceride levels in the liver. Can cause eczema and sensitivity.

Other Products to Avoid


Included in the antibacterial soaps and deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, toothpaste, and mouthwashes. The EPA registers it as a pesticide, giving it high risk to both human health and the environment. Included in the chlorophenol class of chemicals which have been suspected of causing cancer in humans

Synthetic Colors

Should be avoided. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. For example FD&C Red No. 6/ D&C Green No. 6. Synthetic colors are believed to be cancer-causing agents.

Synthetic Fragrances

Can have as many as 200 ingredients and only labeled as “fragrance”. There is no way to know what these chemicals are. Can cause skin irritation, hyperpigmentation, and other reactions.

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