Top Toxic Ingredients To Avoid

Our List of the Top Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics and Household Products

While it is important to know just what IS in the products that you are using, it is equally important to know what is NOT in them. The list below highlights ingredients that are commonly found in commercially-produced beauty and household products, but that you should take ardent steps to avoid due to known or potentially harmful effects. 

Skin Deep Cosmetics DatabaseExtensive research was conducted by the Environmental Working Group to produce the “Safety in Cosmetics Database” and by NaturOli Beautiful. This detailed information is summarized below for you to help make it easier for you to check labels when you’re purchasing your personal care products.

We hope that you carefully read the ingredients on all products, and avoid any product that does not fully disclose its ingredients or contains any of the following substances. Non-disclosure (or hiding) bad ingredients is a very common practice in the beauty and cosmetic industry… and they have become exceptionally clever in their methods.

Here is the list. The more we know, the better equipped we’ll be to find healthy, sustaining, non-toxic products.


(Alumina is the powdered form of aluminum.) Aluminum is mostly absorbed through the skin, lungs, and intestinal tract. High volume exposure may cause problems with metabolic processes, particularly those concerning calcium, phosphorus and iron. Aluminum may also contribute to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, dementia, and other neurological disorders. It is carcinogenic, toxic and mutagenic. It is a commonly used coloring agent found in eye shadows, toothpastes, hair dyes, antiperspirants, deodorants, lipsticks and other commercial beauty products.


This ingredient, known to be a neurotoxin in humans, is found in moisturizers, foundations, lipstick and sunscreens. There are contamination concerns of arsenic, lead, and heavy metals.


Known immune system toxicant which can cause itching, burning, hives and blisters. There is strong evidence that benzalkoium chloride poses risks as a respiratory intoxicant when used in products that can be airborne. Its use is restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan and Canada. Also listed as Alkyldimethyl, Chlorides and/or Quaternary Ammonium.


Penetration enhancer which allows other chemicals to penetrate deeper into the skin. Linked to neurotoxicity and organ system toxicity. Possible carcinogen. Restricted in cosmetics in Canada and Japan.

1,4 - DIOXANE:

Petroleum-derived contaminant created in the process, ethoxylation. It is a known animal and probable human carcinogen. Normally used in personal care as emulsifiers, 1, 4-Dioxane may be present in these ingredients or partial ingredient names:

Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)
Propylene Glycol (PEG)
Polyethylene glycol
Ceteareth-20 - not safe on damaged skin. Penetration enhancer.
Ingredients containing -eth- or -oxynol-

EDTA (Ethylenediamine Tetraacetic Acid). Also known as Disodium EDTA and/or Tetra Sodium EDTA:

Used as a preservative and chelator. Made from a number of toxic chemicals linked to heavy metal toxicity. May contain dangerous levels of ethylene oxide and/or dixane. EDTA could increase the penetration of other chemicals into the skin because of its ability to chelate calcium, it could therefore, affect the safety of other ingredients which were otherwise determined to be safe. May cause a variety of health problems, including infertility, birth defects and developmental delays in children. In addition, there is environmental data showing that chelators do not readily biodegrade in the environment.


A known carcinogen which may be an impurity in many person care products. It is used in ethoxylation, the manufacturing process for many emulsifying compounds, which is susceptible to contamination. Ethoxylated compounds are typically derived from petroleum. Ethylene oxide is prohibited in skin care products in Canada.

SYNTHETIC COLORS - Commonly prefixed with Food, Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C or D&C):

These color formulas are developed from coal tar (bituminous coal), and contain heavy metal salts, and lead that may deposit toxins onto the skin causing irritation. Synthetic colors are often tested on animals. These color formulations can be toxic to the body, overloading the liver and potentially triggering some cancers. The toxicity of lead primarily targets the nervous system, kidneys, bones, heart, and blood. It is also said to pose great risk to infants, young children and pregnant women. Synthetic dyes and colors are used in numerous personal care products. They will be listed on the label as FD&C or D&C followed by a color and a number. (FD&C Red No.6) Coloring is not necessary in personal care products. Choose a product using no coloring or only natural colorants.


Fragrance as listed on a label could contain any number of unknown ingredients. Some fragrances contain as many as 100 different chemicals. Companies are not required to reveal their fragrance formulas. They can use toxic chemicals without revealing them to us. This is particularly disturbing given that fragrance is found in the ingredient list of the majority of cosmetic and personal care products. The chemicals used to create synthetic fragrances have shown to compromise our cellular defense mechanism that prevents toxins from entering the cells. Many synthetic fragrances contain phthalates (see section on phthalates) and may contain benzene derivatives and aldehydes that have been shown to cause sever allergic reactions, cancer, birth defects and central nervous system disorders. In 1999, a petition was submitted to the FDA requesting that fragrance components be listed on labels. To date no action has been taken on this petition. Use only products that list ALL ingredients and are scented using natural essential oils and herbs.


Derived from petrochemicals or sugar cane. Overuse or long-term use may lead to trapped toxins and result in damage to skin tissue which may interfere with the skin's natural regenerative capacity. The skin may become hypersensitive to damaging sunrays. Glycolic acid is very commonly found in wrinkle creams, facial gel, toners, cleansers, facial and body exfoliants, acne treatments, and mud masks. For many of us, this is so common that we often expect to see it listed. We bet the name is familiar to you already.


This ingredient is used in skin lightening creams as it decreases the production of melanin pigments in the skin. It is a confirmed animal carcinogen that is toxic to skin, brain, immune system & reproductive system. Hydroquinone is banned by the European Union and determined unsafe for use in cosmetics by the International Fragrance Association Codes & Standards and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessments. BUT it is allowed in US in concentrations of up to 2%. (Although FDA did recently issue a warning about using lighteners) Note: Mercury and chromium has been found in skin lightening creams sold in Asia and Mercury has been found in products made in China and Taiwan.


An animal by-product made from sheeps wool. It may be contaminated with carcinogenic pesticides.


Found in facial products, there is strong evidence of neurotoxicity. It is a possible developmental and organ system toxin and carcinogen. It has been determined as unsafe for use in cosmetics by the International Fragrance Association Codes and Standards. 2-methoxyethanol is banned for use in cosmetics by the European Union. Also listed as:

Methoxyethylene glycol
Methyl Glycol
Methyl Oxitol
Monomethyl Ethylene Glycol Ether


A derivative of crude oil and petrolatum is mineral oil jelly. Both are used as industrial lubricants. Because it causes toxins to build up on the skin, it can accelerate free radical damage and speed up aging. It has no proven benefit to the skin and used mainly as filler. Mineral oil cannot be absorbed so moisturizers containing it cannot effective hydrate. In addition, because it is not water soluble it cant be washed off. It clogs pores, is drying and promotes skin photosensitivity. It has not been assessed for safety in cosmetics use. Petrolatum has many of the same harmful properties. Also listed as:

Hydrocarbon Oils


The health of nanomaterials in cosmetics and sunscreens remain largely unknown. Long-range studies have recently begun. However, hundreds of personal care products already contain nano-sized ingredients before they have been proven safe. Nanoparticles have the potential to penetrate unusually deeply into the skin and organs. Animal studies show that nanoparticles can penetrate cells and tissues, move through the body and brain and cause biochemical damage.


There is a direct link between Nitrosamines and cancer. Many body care products contain chemicals that can create nitrosamine contamination. A chemical reaction can result in harmful carcinogenic nitrosamines that are absorbed through the skin and accumulate in organs such as the brain, liver and kidneys. Since there is no way to know which products may be contaminated, all ingredients that are susceptible should be avoided. There are safer alternatives. These ingredients have been banned or highly restricted for use in cosmetics in most countries. In addition, many of these ingredients are known immune system, and skin toxicants and are rated as harmful to the environment by the EPA.

Nitrosamine will not be listed on the label but these ingredients will:

Diethanolamine (DEA) - commonly used as an emulsifier, foaming agent, solvent, detergent, or humectant. Used in brake fluid, industrial degreasers and antifreeze. Easily absorbed through skin. and can accumulate in the organs. Animal studies show a link to damaging affects to the liver, kidney, brain, spinal cord, bone marrow and skin.

Triethanolamine (TEA) - pH adjuster, surfactant. Known skin irritant. Organ toxicity at low doses. Possible endocrine disruptor and carcinogen.

2-bromo-2nitro-propane-1 3-diol

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate also called Sodium Laureth Sulfate-lathering agent. Proven skin irritant, can lead to formation of dioxin a toxic compound which can cause skin rashes and discoloration, liver damage and may cause cancer.

Formaldehyde - a preservative. Toxic to the immune system and is carcinogenic. The following contain or may release or break down into formaldehyde:

2-bromo-2-nitropropane-, 3-diol
DMDM hydantoin
Imidazolidinyl urea
Diazolidinyl urea-Know immune system toxicant. Strong evidence of skin toxicity.
Formic aldehyde
Methyl aldehyde
Polyquaternium - 10
Padimate O (Octyl Dimethyl PABA/PABA Ester). Also see PABA


Absorbs through the skin in significant amounts. Associated with photoallergic reactions. Organ system toxicity at moderate doses. Possible carcinogen.


Once a common sunscreen ingredient, now avoided due to allergic dermatitis and photosensitivity. Penetration enhancer. PABA has carcinogenic potential. Prohibited for use in cosmetics in Canada. Also listed as:

Aminobenzoic Acid
Ocyl demethyl PABA
Benzoic Acid - Also see benzoic acid - salicylic acid.

PARABENS - Includes ethyl, butyl, propyl, and methyl paraben:

All are cheap preservatives. Although parabens are effective as inhibitors of microbial growth and in extending shelf life of products, these preservatives are known to cause many allergic reactions and skin rashes. They remain widely used even though they are known to be toxic. Parabens have the potential to cause cancer because of their estrogenic activity and they are endocrine disruptors.


Phthalates are found in numerous products that we use every day, including personal care. They are found in nail polish, perfumes, hair sprays, lotions, clothes, household cleaners, baby toys, toothbrushes, food packaging, medical tubing, gum, candy aspirin, PVC, many pliable plastics and more. Amazingly phthalates are used in cosmetics because they help them penetrate the skin. Phthalates are regulated as toxic substances under environmental laws but there are no limitations in the US on their use in consumer products (except in California). The European Union has banned certain phthalates from childrens toys and cosmetics. Phthalates disrupt estrogen metabolism and can contribute to cancers. They build up in body fat and are linked to liver toxicity. Scientists are concerned about the effects of phthalates especially after a study found the phthalate, DBP in the bodies of every person tested. The chemical causes severe birth defects in lab animals. According to studies, DBP can harm nearly every physical structure in the developing male reproductive system. Several studies have linked DBP to infertility.

Di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate - DEHP - Banned by EU in toys & cosmetics
Diisodecyl phthalates - DIDP
Diisononyl phthalates - DINP
DBP - Banned by EU in toys & cosmetics (most toxic)
BBP - Banned by EU in toys & cosmetics


Products containing placenta supposedly make hair stronger and more manageable, but they also contain estrogenic hormones that are linked to early puberty and breast cancer. African American women under the age of 40 have a higher incidence of breast cancer than White women in this age group. Researchers believe that this is due in part to the hormone-containing personal care products they use such as hair products with placental extracts.


A cheap moisture-carrying ingredient. Derived from petroleum products propylene glycol is commonly used in antifreeze, brake fluid and is found in polyester, paint and paint solvents. It is what is used to carry the active ingredients in transdermal patches into the body. Propylene glycol is suspected of compromising the immune and respiratory systems and interfering with brain function. It can also cause liver abnormalities, kidney damage and contribute to cardiac arrest. It is known to cause eye skin irritations, allergic reactions and rashes. In the short term propylene glycol works by preventing the escape of moisture however it ultimately dries the natural body fluids in the skin which can destroy the skins natural functioning. Some uses are banned by EU.

Other names/variations: likely to be contaminated with dioxane.

Polyethylene glycol
Polyether glycol

TALC - Magnesium Silicate:

Again, this is so common that the name probably rings a bell. Talc is highly toxic. This is recognized as a known carcinogenic and has been linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer as well as urinary tract disorders. It is another very commonly used primary ingredient found in bath powders, face powders, eye shadows, blushers, face creams, cake makeup foundations, liquid foundations.


Used as a solvent in nail Polish, nail treatment, and cuticle treatment. It is a common solvent found in paints, varnishes, glues and gasoline. Toluene occurs naturally at low levels in crude oil, and can be produced in the process of refining gasoline. Also used as an octane booster in some gasoline additives.
There is strong evidence that toluene is a human developmental and nervous system toxicant. It is also a suspected human reproductive and organ system (sense organs, cardiovascular, kidneys) toxicant. Toluene enters the body upon inhalation or is absorbed through your skin. Long-term exposure even at low levels can adversely affect the kidneys.

Note: This ingredient also poses environmental concerns and is regulated by EPA.

Also Listed As:

Benzene, methyl-; methybenzene; toluol; methyl-benzene.


Used as a substitute for organic ether. Found as an impurity in liquid washes, deodorants, acne treatment, facial moisturizers, and lipstick. Suspected of endocrine disruption and organ toxicity at low doses. Irritant to eye, skin or lungs. The EPA registers Triclosan as a pesticide, going it high scores as a risk both human health and the environment. It can store in the body. Restricted for use in cosmetics in Canada and Japan.

More to come...

As we learn of more studies revealing additional information regarding any common industry ingredient, it will be posted here. We welcome and appreciate your input and feedback. We strive to provide current, accurate information for the betterment of us all. It is a search for the truth. Together we will find it.