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Have you ever taken a good, hard look at the ingredients on your beauty and body care products?

I'm talking about your deodorant, body lotion, facial wash, shampoo, makeup, and everything else we put onto our skin.

You may see things like methylparaben, benzene, diethyl phthalate, and other scary-sounding words.

What are these substances?

These are just a few of the examples of the chemicals that are added to products for the purpose of preservation, scent, texture, and so forth. And typically, they make products easier and cheaper to manufacture.

But how do we know that these chemicals are truly safe?

After all, it was not that long ago that we believed smoking cigarettes was perfectly healthy. In fact, doctors even promoted it.

Doctors recommend cigarettes

Here you’ll find a number of toxic substances definitely not in our products.

Petroleum Based Chemicals PEGs, Fragrances, and Dyes

Chemical fragrances that are bad for you

Okay, we all like to smell nice, right?

But, do you know that a lot of the fragrances and dyes found in your products are derived from petrochemicals? By that, I mean the chemicals made from petroleum. Yes, like the stuff you put in your car.

Pin the 9 chemicals that are bad for youMany fragrances used in the products you know and love are made of a complex cocktail of different things, often containing petrochemicals. Synthetic colors (shown as FD&C or D&C on ingredient lists) are derived from petroleum and coal tar sources as well.

But here’s what’s weird. Artificial fragrances and dyes do nothing to improve the effectiveness of the product. Even worse, they can be very irritating to sensitive skin.

It makes me wonder why the companies who make these products choose to use these chemicals instead of natural essences for scent and color? It seems obvious that natural ingredients are better for the consumer. But hey, what do I know?

Also, polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are petroleum-based compounds used in cosmetics. These compounds may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane during manufacturing. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies ethylene oxide as a known human carcinogen (causes cancer). Yes, cancer.

All these petrochemicals, as you can imagine, are also harmful to the environment.

Clearly, petrochemicals are bad news all around yet they are found everywhere. It is time to take a stand against these toxic substances.

Phthalates: Plastic in Your Beauty Products

Phthalates are a group of chemicals whose main job is to make plastics more flexible.

They can also be used as dissolving agents and are found in hundreds of products such as raincoats, inflatable pool toys, vinyl flooring, and automotive plastics.

Guess where else they are found?

Soaps, hairsprays, and nail polishes. I don't know about you, but I don't even need to see the science to know I don’t want plastic seeping into my skin.

But in case you do, research shows that phthalates are known to be "endocrine-disrupting chemicals", meaning these are substances that interfere with our hormones that have to do with reproduction, thyroid, and metabolism.

Recent work has shown that the ovary is a target of phthalate toxicity, leading to infertility and premature ovarian failure (menopause occurring way too early).

Need I say more?

Parabens: Link to Breast Cancer?

Parabens and breast cancer

Parabens are used in many personal care products to inhibit mold and bacteria growth.

However, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the use of parabens because of their potential risks.

Parabens are agents thought to mimic estrogen in the body, so another endocrine disruptor. Estrogen disruption has been linked to breast cancer and other problems with the reproductive system.

There was a study in 2004 in which parabens were found in cancerous breast tumors. However, critics said that the study did not examine healthy breast tissue for parabens. Since then, research has been a bit conflicting as to how strong the estrogenic effect is in parabens.

In my mind, why take the chance? I say “no” to fake estrogen.

Alcohol: Bad for Skin!

You may see alcohol as a top ingredient in many skincare products, especially those made for oily skin.

Why? Because it tends to dry that oil right up, giving a quick drying finish that feels “weightless” on the skin.

But alcohol actually tends to weaken the skin all-around.

The ill-effects include over-drying, erosion of the surface of the skin, and increased difficulty for the skin to renew. All that damage leads to more bumps and enlarged pores— the exact opposite of what you want.

If you see isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, or denatured alcohol as one of the first few ingredients, put that bottle down. Bonus for the pun.

Silicones: One Way Ticket to Clogged Pores

As far as silicones go, you will find these in many beauty formulations.

Silicones are used to give products a smooth, silky texture and they are water-resistant which theoretically helps to lock in moisture.

However, silicones promote clogged pores by trapping in dirt and grime, leading to acne and congestion.

It also makes skin dull and less able to shed dead skin. This makes it more difficult for skin to repair things like hyperpigmentation (discoloration of the skin, for example, those ugly age spots), scarring, and fine lines.

Look for ingredients ending in -cone, -siloxane, and -conol.

Silicones have not been found to be particularly harmful to human health but may cause harm to the environment.

Benzoyl Peroxide: Only for the Acne Prone

benzoyl peroxide toxic and bad for you

Benzoyl peroxide is a very common ingredient found in over-the-counter acne formulations. 

It works to reduce acne-causing bacteria and promotes peeling of the skin. Probably something you do not need if you are not an acne-ridden teenager.

Benzoyl peroxide even bleaches clothing, towels, and other fabrics if you are not careful.

Put on my skin? No thanks.

Triclosan Leads to Bacterial Resistance and Other Problems

Triclosan in soap bad for you

Triclosan is an ingredient added to various products, particularly hand soap and toothpaste and acts as an antibacterial agent.

Very recently, the FDA said that it was removing triclosan from products because it provides no benefit over normal soap. In fact, it has become well known that overuse of antibacterials can lead to antibiotic resistance.

Even more troubling is that triclosan has been associated with decreased thyroid hormone levels in rat studies.

In this particular study, pregnant rats were given triclosan which significantly lowered their thyroid hormone (thyroxine) levels in both the rats and their offspring. This is indicative of hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid which means weight gain, sluggishness, difficulty concentrating, among other issues.

Oxybenzone: Even Your Sunscreen is Dangerous

Oxybenzone and chemicals in sunscreen

You would think sunscreen is safe, right? Hate to break this to you.

One ingredient commonly found in sunscreen, oxybenzone, is actually quite toxic.

The Environmental Working Group says to avoid oxybenzone for a number of reasons-- allergic skin reactions, estrogenic effect, and potent anti-androgenic effects. Uh oh, sounds like another endocrine disruptor. Androgens are the male hormones that make guys who they are (for better or worse).

Researchers even found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements had significantly lower testosterone concentrations.

As you can imagine, this could cause problems with further growth and development.

Safer sunscreen ingredients include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Formaldehyde: Causing Cancer?

You may know formaldehyde as the stuff used in embalming fluid to preserve dead bodies.

It is a colorless, flammable gas also often used in many different types of cosmetics to prevent bacterial contamination. Formaldehyde is also used in the production of fertilizer, paper, and plywood.

It turns out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogen. However, experts say that the likelihood of cancer is typically only a problem in those people with prolonged exposure such as industrial workers, embalmers, and even salon workers. Still, I do not want to want to take my chances.

Look for ingredients like diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, and sodium hydroxylmethylglycinate. What a mouthful those are.

The Good News

As you can see, these chemicals are still all around us in the products we use every day.

But there’s a silver lining.

The word is getting out. People like you are getting smarter and savvier about the products you buy. Science is getting better, which means non-toxic, natural products have become more effective than ever. It is also easier than ever before to find these products.

And with the internet giving access to limitless options, it’s incredible to think that we can (dare I say) change the world each time we cast a vote for better products when we open our wallet. Your voices are being heard.

Did we miss anything? Let us know.

Shannon Brosek, Copywriter, Nurse
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at 

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