Top 10 Chemicals to Avoid in Beauty Products

10 chemicals to avoid in beauty products. You'll want to Pin this one!
This offender here is rated 5 in the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database
On my last post I told you about the hidden dangers on beauty products. Unfortunately the industry is poorly regulated. Allowing just about any ingredient to be used in personal and beauty products, claims of products benefits to be misleading as well as the lack of testing for the safety of products and ingredients.
There are many ingredients that aren’t safe, but I have compiled a top ten to avoid. Based on toxicity and for being found in the majority of products.

Top 10 Chemicals to avoid

1. Phthalates:
Group of chemicals called “plasticisers”. Preservatives and binders. Used as fragrance in cosmetics.
Concern: Endocrine disruptors. Can cause male infertility, damages to the reproductive and hormone systems. Absorbed quickly by children. Increase cancer risk in males.
Found in: Shampoos, bubble baths, soaps, nail polish, hair spray, toys, food packaging, rain coats, detergents, shower curtains.
How to identify it: Anything listed as “fragrance”, BBP, DEHP, dibutyl,  diethylhexyl.
2. Paraben (Methyl, Propyl, Buthyl, Ethyl):
Fragrance ingredient. Preservatives in most cosmetics and personal care products.
Concern: Hormone disruptors. They accumulate in breast cancer tissue. Damages to the reproductive and hormone systems.
Found in: Any water based formulas–shampoos, lotions, make up, gels.
How to identify it: Look for the suffix “-paraben” or “-ester”. Also look for benzoic acid, fragrance, potassium salt.
3. PEGs (Polyethylene Glycol):
Chemicals often used as cleansing agents, emulsifier and skin conditioners.
Concern: Increased risk for cancer (breast, uterine, brain, leukemia). Often contaminated with  1, 4-dioxane, lead and arsenic. PEG open the pores on the skin enabling toxins to easily enter the body.
Found in: Oral pain relief, tooth paste, personal lubricant/spermicide, sunscreen, makeup, hair mouse, deodorants, shampoo, soaps and lotions.
How to identify it: Listed as polyethylene glycol or anything starting with PEG. Sometimes the acronym is accompanied by a number for example, PEG-7. The lower the number the likely it is absorbed by the skin.
4. Sodium Lauryl or Laureth Sulfate (SLS):
Foaming and thickening agents.
Concern: Skin irritant. Absorbed through the skin and retained in the heart, liver and brain for long periods of time. Coughing, headaches, nausea, vomiting.
Found in: Most shampoos and toothpaste.
How to identify it: Sodium laurel/lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate.
5. 1, 4-Dioxane:
Byproduct that occurs after using a process called ethoxylation. A carcinogen and neurotoxicant.
Found in: Most shampoos, body washes, lotions and toothpaste. In a study done by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 32 out of 48 children’s products were positive for 1, 4-Dioxane. Even found in some “natural” and “organic” products.
How to identify it: The thing is, you won’t see it listed on the ingredients. Look for PEG, or PEG accompanied by a number, the suffix “eth” like laureth sulfate or ceteareth-20.
6. Urea, DMDM hydantoin, Quaternium-15, Bronopol and Tetrasodium EDTA:
After parabens, these are the most commonly used preservatives. the concern with these is they may release or breakdown into formaldehyde and nitrosamine, both known to be carcinogens, and can affect the hormone and reproductive systems.
Found in: Shampoos, lotions and potentially any personal and beauty products. A study done by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 82% of children’s products were positive for formaldehyde. Quaternium-15 is found in those “gentle” and “sensitive skin” baby washes.
How to identify it: Look for any of these ingredients; Urea, DMDM hydantoin, Quaternium-15, Bronopol and Tetrasodium EDTA.
7. Triclosan:
It is a preservative and an antibacterial agent. The EPA classifies it as probable human carcinogen. When mixed with chlorine (like that in tap water) can create dioxins and chloroform, both known to be carcinogens. It is an endocrine disruptor, affecting the thyroid functions and hormonal and reproductive systems. It bioaccumulates, it is why it’s been found in blood and breast milk, it is absorbed by nursing babies. It can cause bacteria to be resistant, creating “super bugs.”
Found in: Household cleaners, soaps, body washes, hand sanitizers, mouthwash, just to name a few.
How to identify it: Triclosan, microban. According to the EWG it has about 10 different synonyms, when in doubt just avoid anything listed as “antibacterial”.
8. Methanol:
Fragrance ingredient, solvent. It is a human nervous toxicant, it oxidizes in cosmetics to formaldehyde. Be aware that products containing methanol can be marketed as “free of preservative.”
Found in: Conventional bath products.
How to identify it: Methanol or methyl alcohol.
9. Petrolatum (petrolium jelly and mineral oils):
Derived from crude oil, used as emollient in many personal care products for it’s low cost. It crates a barrier blocking the pores in the skin preventing it from eliminating toxins and exacerbating dry skin and acne, ironically it is sold and used to help the skin conditions it causes. Petrolatum in itself is not so harmful, it’s the impurities (1, 4-dioxane, coal tar) that are the concern, A study done by UCLA links high levels of exposure to mortality, lung cancer and melanoma.
Found in: Lipstick, baby lotion, baby oil, diaper rash creams, lotions.
How to identify it: Petrolatum, mineral jelly, petroleum wax, petroleum jelly.
10. Benzyl Alcohol:
An aromatic alcohol used as a preservative. It is a neurotoxin and a skin irritant. It can also act as an external analgesic.
Found in: Shampoos, baby lotions, baby wipes, perfumes, hair color, lip gloss, head lice treatments.
How to identify it: Benzyl Alcohol, phenylcarbinol, benzenemethanol.
Scary, isn’t it? But it is easy to stay away from these chemicals with some of my safety rules I created for myself in order to make the process easier. These are not scientific principals, rather just my own “standards”, if you will.
This other offender rates 6. It contains mineral oil, cethareth-6, fragrance and three out of four parabens! And moms everywhere are bathing their precious babies with all these carcinogens. No wonder Johnson&Johnson has been in hot water lately. No J&J products allowed in my home (including Aveeno, made by them).

Steph’s safety guidelines

  • Always, always, always  read the labels.
  • If the ingredient list is way to long and with names you can’t pronounce, skip it.
  • Don’t trust the terms “natural”, “clinically tested”, “pediatrician recommended”, “gentle” even “organic.” Always read the labels
  • Stop using anything labeled as “antibacterial. Warm water and soap is all you need. And for the love of all that is holy, please stop using those sanitizer gels, especially the ones with fragrances, they’re nothing but synthetic scents, a double whammy.
  • Check trusted resources like the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Where you can search by ingredient or brand and or product.
  • Try reducing the number of beauty products. Instead search for one that can be more versatile, for example, coconut oil. I use it as a face/body moisturizer, deep moisturizer hair treatment, deodorant, diaper rash cream, eczema treatment…to name a few!
  • Lastly, always, always, always, read the labels.
Disclaimer: I’m not a chemist nor a doctor, this post is the product of about eight hours of research. Please if you share this list (and please do share!) link it back to this post or at least credit me as the source. I spent many hours, really, working on this post.

This post was proudly feature on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and at: Simply Natural Saturdays

About Stephanie

Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom to her curly-haired two year old son, a nursing student, dog lover, and yoga enthusiast. She loves to share her tips on making green and healthy living attainable to families getting
started in the wonderful world of eco-consciousness. She believes in
real food and living as natural as possible…and why not, leaving behind a
better planet for our children.


  1. Anonymous says:

    What do you buy then and how do you afford it? I make our household cleaners and just recently sunscreen. Have been wanting to use better personal products, but cant afford everything. We are a family of 8 and go through a bottle of shampoo or toothpaste super fast!

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s not expensive to live without those bad products. Just get yourself washing soda for laundry and dishwashing, castile soap for body wash and shampoo and baby wipes, corn starch for powder (or arrowroot powder), you can make your own essential oils. You can use just honey as a toothpaste because its a natural antiseptic.

    • Really good suggestions! You are right, if anything it is cheaper to be more natural 🙂

  2. Changing to all store bought natural products can be expensive, however there are ways to make them at home which come up very affordable. I’m working on a post with some of my recipes. For example, shampoo: mix equal parts Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap with coconut milk, best shampoo ever (super cheap too), or you can use just baking soda and apple cider vinegar. Toothpaste: I buy either Trader Joe’s brand or Tom’s when on sale (just bought one for 1.99) you can make your own too. You can even make your make-up! Please consider subscribing via email so you don’t miss my posts coming up on this subject! And thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I just subscribed, look forward to your future posts on this.
    We bought TJ’s toothpaste ($2.49) last week but after we got home I saw it still had flouride, bummer.
    Yes, I guess the only way to afford it is to make it myself. I just need some extra time in my day. With 6 children, homeschooling, making food from scratch, all the other stuff, and having a debilitating chronic illness, time, strength and energy is very limited.
    Perhaps my children can make some things and it will become a part of their chores! I think I might have come up with a solution.
    Thanks again,

  4. We try, but there are a ton of things that are on this list in our house..but I’m not a fan of antibacterial anything..those gels are why we have so many resistant bacterias, in my opinion.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh my god

  6. Thank for posting Natural Beauty Products related safety rules.

  7. Thanks, and I saw to those wondering how you can afford it…..just start with something and then keep eliminating to minimize exposures. It is a journey…. Don’t stress, just start 🙂 Check EWG for safety levels of your products.

  8. Vicki PS says:

    Gee, a whole 8 hours’ research? When do you submit your doctoral dissertation? And you didn’t come across any of the hundreds of warnings that EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database was alarmist pseudoscience? You didn’t find out that some parabens occur naturally, like methylparaben in blueberries? You never learned that liquid soap (plain old soap, not detergent) is a potassium salt with no relation at all to parabens? Your recommendations amount to superstition, and telling people that ignorance is their best defence.

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