The Dirty Dozen: Ingredients in Cosmetics to Avoid

Source: Maria Morri


Go grab any cosmetic item in your makeup bag. Does it have the ingredients listed? If it does, read the first five ingredients. Do you recognize all of them? Most likely not. Modern day cosmetics are a mish mash of chemicals and additives, all with the intent of making the product last longer or wear smoother. Is it worth it, though? I say no–poisoning my body isn’t worth any amount of beauty! Luckily, though, there ARE green beauty products that won’t harm you and might actually be good for you! Not all of them are labeled as such, so grab your makeup bags and prepare to throw away any ingredients using any of the following ingredients.



These chemicals have been classified as possible carcinogens. Unfortunately, they are used in moisturizers and lipsticks as preservatives, which means they are getting absorbed into your skin and licked into your mouth. Long term exposure to these products has been shown to cause problems with the kidney, thyroid, and liver. These chemicals are harmful to fish and other wildlife.


This sneaky ingredient can also be listed as “P-phenylenediamine” or “CI” followed by a number. This is a possible carcinogen, and products with this ingredient might be contaminated with heavy metals which can cause brain toxicity. Coal Tar Dyes are often found in pigmented cosmetics such as lipsticks.


DEA is a foaming agent used in moisturizers and shampoos to make them creamy and lush. It is a hormone disruptor and can cause stunting in fetal brain development. There is limited evidence of it being a carcinogen, but I wouldn’t chance it. This chemical is harmful to fish and other wildlife.


This is a toxin and endocrine disruptor often used in nail care products. It has been observed to cause problems with the kidney, thyroid, and liver. It is harmful to fish and other wildlife.


Formaldehyde has been shown to cause many adverse health effects, including immune-system toxicity, respiratory irritation and cancer. For some reason, it is still used in baby soap, nail polish, eyelash glue and hair dyes. Keep an eye out for ingredients like DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, as they break down and release tiny amounts of formaldehyde in your body, which can build up and cause the issues listed above.

6. PARABENS (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl-, isobutyl-)

About 70-90% of cosmetics contain parabens, which means that this will be a difficult one to avoid, but thankfully now that the green beauty movement is gaining more speed, there are more paraben-free products on the market. Parabens have been shown to cause interference with male reproductive functions. Parabens break down in the body to form a chemical that has been linked to estrogenic activity in breast cancer cultures (translation: that is bad news!).


This is another difficult one, because it seems that every cosmetic product has a fragrance in it–even mascara! There are over 3,000 different products used to create fragrances, but in an ingredients list they will all be lumped together as ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance.’ The problem with this is that some fragrance products can trigger asthma or allergic reactions, and others can be linked to cancer or neurotoxicity. Many fragrance products are also harmful to fish and wildlife.


PEG compounds are use as thickening agents, moisture carriers, and solvents in cream based cosmetics. PEG compounds aren’t inherently bad for you, but depending on how they are processed, they can be contaminated with carcinogenic substances like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Even on their own, PEG compounds can cause skin irritation so it is best to avoid this product.


Petrolatum is a petroleum jelly that is used in hair products to add shine and in lip balms, lip sticks, and moisturizers as a moisture barrier. This product is often contaminated with PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), which are known carcinogens. In smaller doses, Petrolatum can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. On the ingredients list, also look for it listed as “petroleum” or “liquid paraffin.”


These ingredients are often used as smoothing agents in shampoos and deodorants. Many have been found to impair fertility and cause hormonal disruptions, and they are also harmful to fish and other wildlife. Look for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone.”


Similar to PEG compounds, this ingredient can contain 1,4-dioxane which is a known carcinogen. These are often found in foaming substances such as shampoos, bubble baths, and cleansers.


This is an antibacterial agent which is a suspected endocrine disruptor and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. It is found in cleansers, toothpastes, and deodorants. It is important to limit your use of antibacterial items as overuse is ultimately harmful.



Eighty percent of cosmetic products contain one or more of these dirty dozen chemicals. When you check your makeup bag for these ingredients, you might find that your percentage is even higher! It is important to stay vigilant about the ingredients of the products you use. It doesn’t make much sense to obsess over eating organically just to smear your face with carcinogenic products, does it? With so many harmful ingredients at large, it can be pretty overwhelming trying to keep your bag clean. Next post I will suggest some tips to help you shop for green beauty products!