Harmful Chemicals To Avoid In Cosmetics And Skin Care Products

Laura Tolentino

harmful chemicals in skincare products

Most people have no idea what ingredients are included in the products they use for skin care. This is not a good thing since many of the chemical ingredients used are actually not safe for your body or your skin.

While we can talk about many different ingredients that you have to avoid in cosmetics and skin care products, the following harmful chemicals need to be really high on the list of what you should never use.


These are salts that appear when there is a reaction between sulphuric acid and other chemicals. Also, they are produced when petroleum and some plant sources (like palm oil and coconut oil) are introduced in skin care products. Sulfates are utilized for lathering and act as surfactants.

The problem with sulfates is that they will irritate your skin and eyes. They will prematurely clear off the dye from your hair. Also, it is possible that there are some potential threats that appear to our environment. Even deriving them from the natural sources is a bad idea since it is only possible through rainforest destruction. As you wash them away, they are quite toxic for aquatic species. This is why it is just best to avoid them.


These are preservatives and are used to keep makeup and skincare products germ-free and fresh. You can find them in so many products, ranging from makeup to lotions and soap. According to research parabens increase estrogen production and will interfere with brain and reproductive functions.

Basically, parabens will enter skin and then mimic estrogen. This triggers excessive breast cell division. Unfortunately, this can eventually lead to the development of breast cancer.


These are plasticizing chemicals or salts that are used for product spreadability. You find them in perfumes, lotions, nail polishes, and more. Sometimes, even shampoos use these as softeners. Unfortunately though, they are developmental and reproductive toxins that should be avoided.


We see fragrances in several skincare products, including moisturizers, cleansers, conditioners, shampoos, and perfumes. Unfortunately, the are made with the use of chemicals. They are bad because they are associated with skin allergies, reproductive system side effects, dermatitis, and respiratory disorders.

Synthetic Colors

These are usually derived from coal tar or petroleum. In the case of coal tar, it is made out of water, carbon, and hydrocarbons. This liquid is dark and thick. It has a very characteristic smell. If you love deeply pigmented lipstick, you need to be careful. When the pigment is heavy, it has a higher percentage of coal tar.

We also often see coal tar included in commercially available eyeshadows.

Basically, you have to remember that synthetic colors are very bad because they cause cancers, ADHD, breakouts, and skin irritations.


This very common chemical is included in antibacterial soaps, deodorants, and toothpaste. We see it used because it is anti-bacterial. However, triclosan is a skin irritant and an endocrine disruptor. Many studies showed that it can cause tumor growth and gut inflammation.

Another problem is that triclosan will break down very slowly. Due to this, it can be dangerous to the environment. Similarly to sulfates, the chemical is very dangerous for life in our oceans.


Talc is a very soft natural mineral. It is used in order to absorb moisture in several products. We often see it used in blush, soaps, deodorants, eye shadows, and baby powders.

The problem is that talc is linked to ovarian cancer. In fact, it was so problematic that many companies do not even use it these days. If you inhale talc, it can lead to the appearance of lung tumors.


This petrochemical solvent is often used in nail polish and hair dyes. They are dangerous for the immune system and can potentially lead to blood cancer and birth defects. Do not use nail polish and hair dyes if you are pregnant since it will cause fetus development damage. In addition, toluene can potentially affect our central nervous system. This leads to drowsiness, nausea, fatigue, and headache.


The chemical is often recommended when affected by dry skin since it has a strong softening effect. Moisturizers and lip balms thus often contain petrolatum. It will create a barrier that will prevent the escape of water but it can also prevent moisture absorption. The skin eventually dries out and you are quickly tempted to apply more lip balm. In addition, when it is not properly refined, very dangerous chemicals can be retained inside it.


All of us love body washes, shampoos, and foaming cleansers. However, diethanolamine, which is the ingredient that will help produce foaming, is cancer-causing. It is also a respiratory toxin. With this in mind, make sure that you avoid all shampoos, bubble baths, cleansers, and body washes that include it.


In many skincare products we see alcohol added because it can help absorb products better. This is particularly important for lotions and creams. The problem is that alcohol is quite toxic as a skincare ingredient. It will leave your skin flaky and dry. As a result, the natural skin renewal process will be disrupted.

The good news is that there are some alcohols that are not bad. This is why you should only use those products that have fatty alcohols.

PEG – Polyethylene Glycol

The chemical is a thickening agent we often see in sunscreen, shampoos, and lotions. PEG is known to cause respiratory disorders and cancer. In addition, it can remove sebum from the skin to then trigger sebaceous glands to make much more sebum. This will basically make your skin greasy.


Fortunately, formaldehyde is no longer that common but it is still a preservative we often see in skincare products. This colorless gas was added to prevent bacteria growth.

Formaldehyde is often added to hair straightening treatments, nail hardeners, hair gels, deodorants, makeup, and lotions. You want to avoid it since it was associated with hair loss, developmental toxins, neurotoxicity, asthma, and scalp burns. If inhaled, it will cause suffocation and dizziness.


This might seem strange for you but lead is often added to eye-liners, lipsticks, whitening toothpastes, and foundation. The reason why you might not be aware of this is that lead is not going to be directly added. It is just a big contaminant that comes from colorants used in lipsticks.

Remember that lead is a dangerous heavy metal. According to the US FDA, cosmetics can only use lad at rate of under 20 parts per million.

Is The Product You Use Dangerous?

Speaking strictly about the harmful chemicals that we highlighted above, the best thing you can do to figure out if the product you use includes them is to:

  • Read labels before buying.
  • Look for SLES and SLS as the 2 most common sulfates.
  • Parabens include chemicals under propyl, butyl, and methyl classes.
  • PEGs can be seen as numbers like 75, 40, or 32.
  • Formaldehyde is present when you see mentions like bronopol, glyoxal, formaldehyde, and formalin.
  • DEA is the abbreviation used for diethanolamine.
  • Buy from the beauty brands that are completely transparent, those that disclose ingredients.
  • Artificial colors are represented by D&C or FD&C.
  • Don’t instantly think that natural brands are only using plant-derived, natural ingredients. Even if they do, they might be a skin irritant for you.