Avoid these ingredients in your cosmetics

October 14, 2015

Many personal care products are designed to penetrate the skin, but few have been evaluated for safety. So it pays to take a little time to check what's in your lotions and potions. With a little knowledge and a bit of patience, your grooming won't cost a fortune – or affect your health.

Here are a few ingredients you should avoid.

Avoid these ingredients in your cosmetics

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)

These ingredients are found in facial scrubs, peels and masks.

Usually derived from citric or lactic acid, these acids work because they have an exfoliating effect on the skin. However, they can cause redness and irritation and regular use may increase your risk of skin cancer.

Artificial colours

The chemically created dyes and artificial colours FDC Red 4, FDC Red 1 (or Food Red 1) are banned in food, but may still be used in some cosmetics.

Coal tar

A petroleum derivative, usually described on labels as FD&C or D&C colours. This ingredient's antibacterial properties mean it is widely used in medicated soaps and shampoos; it is also used in some hair dyes.

Coal tar contains aromatic amines that are potentially carcinogenic.

Diethanolamine (DEA)

This ingredient is a toxic nitrosamine believed to cause tumours in laboratory animals.

It can cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals and can form carcinogenic compounds on the skin or in the body after it's absorbed.

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

This ingredient is usually listed as imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, 2-bromo-2-nitropane-1, 3-dio, DMDM hydantoin, or quaternium 15.

Formaldehyde can cause skin reactions such as dermatitis, and is a probable carcinogen.

Isopropyl alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol has antibacterial, antiseptic and astringent properties, so it's often included in toners and aftershaves.

However, this ingredient is a neurotoxin and can be toxic if inhaled in large quantities.


This ingredient is a preservative that may trigger allergic skin reactions. If it's inhaled, it may sensitize the lungs, resulting in asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.


These common preservatives can affect the endocrine system and trigger allergic reactions. Derivatives of these kinds of ingredients have the prefixes butyl-, ethyl-, methyl- and propyl-.


This ingredient is included in a wide variety of products, from hair removers to eye shadows and eye pencils. Prolonged contact with paraffin may cause irritation, particularly of the skin.


Perfluorochemicals are used in lotions, pressed powders, nail polish and shaving cream. They're linked to cancer and reproductive damage.


These ingredients are usually slipped into ingredient lists as "fragrance."

They've been linked to reproductive and developmental problems. Plus, the most commonly used phthalate, diethylhexylphthalate (DEHP), is a probable carcinogen.

Propylene glycol (PEG)

This ingredient is widely used as a hydrating ingredient. But, it is a skin sensitizer and causes other chemicals to penetrate the skin.

Sodium lauryl sulphate

This is a detergent and emulsifier used in shampoos, bath additives and cleansers. It can have an irritating and drying effect on skin.

Synthetic fragrances

These fragrances may be petroleum-derived. They can trigger adverse reactions, including headaches, dizziness and skin pigmentation.

Almost all synthetic fragrances contain phthalates (see above).

As an alternative, try to find products that use natural, essential oil-based fragrances.


Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient, often used in soaps and lotions marketed as "antibacterial."

The overuse of products containing this ingredient may be promoting the resistance of the so-called antibiotic-resistant superbugs (MRSA).

Triethanolamine (TEA)

This ingredient is used as an emulsifier. It can form carcinogenic compounds on the skin or in the body after absorption.

On the lighter side, it can also cause itching, burning and blistering of skin.


This is a long-used ingredient in soaps, lipsticks, shampoos and shaving cream. It's derived from the organs and tissues of sheep and cattle.

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