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11 Most Harmful Ingredients Hiding In Your Cosmetics

Posted on Feb 24, 2008 at 9:28AM

woman putting on makeup
This is ongoing research on the harmful effects of ingredients in beauty products and cosmetics. The majority of modern cosmetics are complex mixtures of industrially produced synthetic chemicals. Individually these beauty products contain very small amounts of chemical ingredients. It is the cumulative and combined "cocktail" of applying these ingredients in the many everyday products which comprise our daily routine that give us women cause for concern.

Few of the ingredients have been assessed for long-term health impacts, but the few that have and are known to be toxic are still allowed in our beauty products and cosmetics. In addition, the cocktail effect of all these chemicals in combination is not fully understood.

  1. gas pump handle

  2. Petroleum Products: A byproduct of crude oil and appears on labels as petrolatum, mineral oil, and paraffin. Petroleum has been linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive damage, immune system toxicity, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity, and environmental harm. Sometimes found in hair relaxers, shampoos, anti-aging creams, mascaras, perfumes, foundations, lipsticks, and lip balms.

  3. Mercury: With 30 years' of knowledge that mercury has the ability to damage brain function at low levels, it is still used in cosmetics. As importantly, this is the controversial ingredient used in vaccines that is blamed as the cause for autism in children. It is sometimes found in ointments, mascaras, and eye drops.

  4. Fragrance. This ingredient is so unregulated that cosmetics companies don’t even have to list what is in their fragrances. Many fragrance ingredients are chemically-based, neurotoxic, and allergenic. Sometimes found in everything from shampoos to deodorants to lotions.

  5. Formaldehyde: A preservative that has been linked to cancer, cell changes, neurotoxicity, and developmental and reproductive harm. It is primarily used in nail polishes and hair bleach.
  6. Mink and Emu: If fat scraped from the back of the hide of mink and emu isn't something you'd like to lather on your legs for shaving, you might want to avoid some shaving creams, sunscreens, and hair sprays.

  7. Hydroquinone: Trying to lighten those pesky age spots? There has been media coverage recently on the FDA's warning to avoid skin lighteners with hydroquinone. "This skin bleaching chemical can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with disfiguring and irreversible blue-black lesions that in the worst cases become permanent." Sometimes found in skin care lighteners and moisturizers.

  8. Nonparticles: These minute little particles are capable of being directly absorbed into the bloodstream and can slide up the optic nerve to the brain or burrow inside red blood cells. Sadly, companies don't have to list that they're in beauty products, though Skin Deep found that more than one-third of all products contain ingredients now commercially available in nano forms. Sometimes found in eye shadows, bronzers, sunscreens and lotions.
  9. Phthalates: "Whether it's sperm damage, feminization of baby boys, or infertility, a growing number of studies link phthalates to problems in men and boys," according to Skin Deep. Pregnant women should avoid it in nail polish. Sometimes found in hair products, nail polishes and hairsprays.
  10. Petroleum Products: According to Environmental Working Group, the same factories making gas for your car also make emollients for your face cream. Adds a new meaning to "Fill 'er up," doesn't it? These ingredients include carcinogens in baby shampoo and petrochemical waste called coal tar in scalp treatment shampoos.


Fortunately, the good news continues: 600 companies have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to remove hazardous chemicals from beauty products and cosmetics and replace them with safer alternatives. Now that is brains on beauty.

(Sources: Breast Cancer Fund, partner in Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,
Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Fund,Newsweek)


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