Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid

... Detox Your Skin Care

Cosmetic ingredients - avoid these common ingredients for safe skin care and peace of mind. If you're concerned about the chemicals that may be hiding in skin care products, read on. And rest assured, you can be safe and beautiful.

How? By using all natural skin care products!

Quality natural skin care is as effective as traditional skin care... without the harmful chemicals.

Who's protecting YOUR health?

In the United States, the personal care industry is largely unregulated. Surprisingly, the Unite Satess Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has little control over what goes into the skin care products we all use.

Americans must rely on the judgment of the industry's own Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel (CIR) to determine which ingredients are safe.

Yes, that's right, the skin care industry is policing itself! I'm not so sure they have your best interests in mind.

 Cosmetic Ingredients - Avoid

The choices you make for yourself and your family truly fall under the "buyer beware" category. So what should you be on the lookout for?

Cosmetic Ingredients - Avoid These!

Skin care products should never include the controversial chemicals listed below. Be vigilant ... check labels.

These are the worst offenders.

Diazolidinyl Urea

Used as an antiseptic in cosmetics. It may release formaldehyde, known to be highly toxic.

*Found in: body powders, cleansers and soaps, lotions and moisturizers, make-up and make-up removers, shampoo, shaving products, sunscreen.

Imidazolidinyl Urea

The second most commonly used preservative in personal care products (parabens are first). The American Academy of Dermatology recognizes it as a cause of contact dermatitis. Formaldehyde release is a hazard of this chemical. The CIR Expert Panel is reassessing its safety.

*Found in: baby and other shampoos, bath and body oils body powders, colognes and other fragrances, lotions and moisturizers, makeup, permanent waves, and rinses.

Diethanolamine (DEA)

Extensively used for its emulsifying and foaming properties. Associated with allergic reactions and eye irritation. The combination of DEA and DEA-related ingredients is associated with cancer in lab animals. The FDA is currently investigating this link.


Used as a detergent and dispersing agent. There is high sensitivity to its use. Prolonged contact is particularly irritating. Toxic to lab animals. The CIR Expert Panel recommends use only in small, concentrations, not to exceed over 5%. They also recommend limiting it to rinse off products, such as shampoo. However, some hand and body lotions include it. Combining TEA with nitrates results in cancer-causing nitrosamines.

*DEA and TEA are found in: bath powders, lotions, shaving creams, shampoos, and soaps.

Parabens: Ethyl, Butyl, Methyl, Propyl, and Parahydroxybenzoate

Parabens are the second most common ingredient in skin care products ... water is first. The most widely used preservatives in the United States, they may cause skin rashes and other allergic reactions.

Studies show they possess mild estrogen-like qualities. Preliminary research uncovered parabens in human breast cancer tumors. This does not prove a causal relationship, however. Parabens are ubiquitous. They are an estimated 75-90% of all personal care products. Even many so called "natural" and some organic skin care products contain parabens (check labels!).

There is a gradual phase out of these preservatives occurring in the natural skin care industry. Preservatives are essential. However, there are all natural, nontoxic preservatives that are both safe and effective.

*Found in: baby preparations, cleansers, deodorants, eye-products, lotions and moisturizers, make-up, personal lubricants, nail products, shampoos and other hair products, and sunscreens.


Also known as petroleum jelly. Purified petroleum is common to moisturizers and other cosmetic products. It forms an oily layer on the skin that prevents moisture evaporation. It purportedly smooths and moisturizers skin, but often has the opposite effect. It causes allergic reactions in some. Manufactures love petrolatum because it is very inexpensive (read: a cheap addition for manufacturers).

*Found in: baby creams, conditioners, creams and moisturizers, makeup, nail products, and wax depilatories.

Propylene Glycol

This is the most common moisture-carrying ingredient, excluding water itself, in personal care products. Extensively used in makeup. It is known to elicit allergic reactions, including hives, and is associated with eczema. Safer glycols are gradually replacing propylene glycol. The CIR Expert Panel maintains its safety in concentrations up to 50%.

*Found in: antiperspirants and deodorants, baby lotions, hair strengtheners, moisturizers, mouthwashes, shaving products, sunscreens, and stick perfumes.

PVP/VA Copolymer

Considered toxic. Some individuals develop thesaurosis, which is foreign bodies in the lung, due to inhalation of PVP in hairspray. Rats ingested intravenously with PVP developed tumors.

*Found largely in: bronzers, eye makeup, and hair products.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

A detergent, emulsifier, and wetting agent. It is drying and often irritating to skin. Associated with eczema. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology states this chemical has a "degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties" and that "high levels of skin penetration may occur at even low use concentration." The CIR Expert Panel is reassessing it for safety.

*Found in: bubble baths, emollient creams, cream depilatories, hand lotions, permanent waves, shampoos, soaps, and toothpastes.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Acts as a water softener and a foaming and wetting agent. Often in products designed for mildness, such as baby shampoos. Yet it leads to eye and skin irritation in some. The CIR Panel is reexamining its position on this chemical also.

*Found in: shampoos, including baby shampoos. (Look for all natural shampoo to avoid controversial lathering ingredients).

Stearalkonium Chloride

The Fabric industry developed this as a fabric softener. It softens hair, allowing easier combing. Known to cause allergic reactions and irritation to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. Considered toxic. CIR Expert Panel is reassessing for safety guidelines.

*Found in: hair conditioners and creams.

Synthetic colors

These are categorized as either D&C-- Drugs&Cosmetics, or FD&C-- Food, Drugs&Cosmetics. Personal care products contain both categories. "D&C" followed by a color holds certification for external use only. You will not find it in lipstick or other products intended for mucous membranes.

(Note: Since skin absorbs much of what is applied, "external use" provides little protection.)

Unlike most ingredients used by the industry, synthetic colors are regulated by the FDA. Yet, most are derived from coal tar. Many people are allergic to coal tar. Of greater significance is the association of coal tar and cancer. Most all coal tars cause cancer when subcutaneously injected in lab mice. In fact, many formerly approved colors are now banned in the US because of recognized carcinogenic properties.

*Used in a large variety of personal care products, most notably hair dyes. What color is that drugstore shampoo ... neon green anyone? Nontoxic all natural skincare products, as opposed to traditional skin care, rely on botanical ingredients for subtle color.

Synthetic Fragrances

There may be up to 200 ingredients encompassed by the term "fragrance". Furthermore, manufactures are not required to disclose actual ingredients in their formulas. They receive protection for such proprietary formulas. Reactions to fragrance in personal care include: coughing, dizziness, headaches, hyper-pigmentation, rash, skin irritation, and vomiting.

(An aside: I can personally vouch for hyper-pigmentation. Years ago I asked my dermatologist about the unsightly brown spots on my neck. He advised me to stop applying perfume there. I ditched the perfume and the spots disappeared!)

*Synthetic fragrances lurk in the majority of traditional personal care products. Even many so called natural products use synthetic fragrance. To be safe, look for 100% "all natural skin care products." Natural essential oils are the ideal fragrance.

All Natural Skin Care Products

This list of cosmetic ingredients to avoid are the most important chemicals you should stay clear of. Yet it is in no way exhaustive. There are more than 10,500 ingredients in personal care products and the vast majority have never been evaluated for safety.

What's a person to do?

One approach is to investigate various companies, selecting products from those that use only safe, nontoxic skin care ingredients. Examine the list of ingredients and avoid anything suspicious.

Of course, safety is not the only requirement. Effectiveness is essential... or what's the point?

Some of the companies I trust include Aubrey Organics, Dr Hauschka Skin Care, and Weleda Skin Care. These are but a few natural skin care lines that avoid toxic cosmetic ingredients and are created entirely from safe, effective botanical ingredients.

Want more healthy skin care tips?

Hampton, Aubrey. "10 Synthetic Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid". Article.
Vance, Judi, Beauty to Die For. San Jose, New York, Lincoln, Shanghai: To Excel Press, 2000.
Winter, Ruth, M.S., A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, 6th edition. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005.

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