Your Online Guide to Identifying the Chemical Hazards of Beauty and Personal Care


Also known as 2-propenamide, this chemical is found in moisturizing lotions, eye creams, and anti-aging formulations. It is also a common impurity in myriad shampoos, conditioners, firming lotions, sunscreens, and cosmetics. Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen* and known skin, eye, and respiratory irritant.


Aluminum is effective at minimizing perspiration, hence its widespread occurrence in antiperspirant formulations. Sweating however, is a critical mode of detoxification that becomes compromised with persistent antiperspirant use. Aluminum is also known to breach the blood-brain barrier and has been found in abnormally high levels in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.


The amine family consists of monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA), and triethanolamine (TEA). These have numerous applications in cosmetics and personal care products, serving as emulsifiers, pH adjusters, foaming agents, and preservatives. They appear extensively in shampoos, soaps, cleansers, moisturizers, sunscreens, hair products, foundations, concealers, and face powders. Avoid products listing the amines, as these chemicals are skin and eye irritants, hormone disruptors, and carcinogens linked to liver and kidney disease. Their reactions with other chemicals in the body can also produce cancer-causing nitrosamines.


Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are synthetic preservatives present in numerous cosmetics and skincare products including lipsticks, moisturizers, and anti-aging formulations. Both have been shown to induce skin allergies. BHA is a known endocrine* disruptor and suspected carcinogen. BHT is a strong skin, eye, and respiratory irritant, with research also demonstrating a link to organ and glandular toxicity.

Coal tar

Coal tar is a petroleum-derived medley of chemicals with extensive application as colorants in the cosmetics industry. Look out for p-phenylenediamene, paraphenylene, PPD, p-diaminobenzene, p-aminoaniline, and 1,4-benzenediamine.


This antimicrobial preservative is found in shampoos, conditioners, shower gels, antiseptic hand wash, bubble bath, hair products, lotions, nail polishes, cosmetics, make-up remover, and mouthwash. Look out for formaldehyde-releasing ingredients like DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and hydroxymethylglycinate. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and teratogen*. It has been linked to allergic reactions and contact dermatitis, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, eye damage, joint and chest pain, and immune system dysfunction.


Beware of ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ in ingredient listings, as these can represent a primarily synthetic cocktail of up to 4,000 different chemicals. Toxic parabens, phthalates, and toluene are often among them. The unlisted constituents of ‘fragrance’ include thousands of chemicals known to induce allergies, asthma, and migraine headaches.


Often part of the chemical cocktail of ‘fragrance’, this chemical also serves as a hair colorant and skin bleacher. It appears in skin lightening formulas, moisturizers, and hair dyes. Beware of listings synonymous with hydroquinone, such as benzenediol, dihydroxybenzene, p-dioxybenzene, and hydroxyphenol. Hydroquinone is a known skin, eye, and respiratory toxicant.

Methylisochlorothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone

These are widely used disinfectants and preservatives, appearing in cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, and moisturizing lotions. Both are known skin allergens. Research has also demonstrated the neurotoxicity* of methylisothiazolinone.


This UV-absorbing chemical is most commonly found in sunscreens and dual sunscreen/cosmetic formulations, but also appears in shampoos and conditioners, fragrances, nail polishes, lip balms, and moisturizers. Avoid products listing benzophenone-3 or phenylmethanone among their ingredients, as these are synonymous with oxybenzone. This toxin has high absorptive potential and is linked to photoallergic reactions (skin reactions induced by toxin interacting with sunlight). Oxybenzone has been shown to generate free radicals, which damage DNA and increase the risk of disease development. It is also linked to endocrine disruption and organ toxicity.


Methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl parabens are antimicrobial preserving agents found in hair conditioners and styling gels, nail and skin creams, sunscreens, deodorants, fragrances, foundations, and concealers. Parabens are known to mimic natural estrogens in the body, thus potentially contributing to muscle loss, increased fat storage, male breast growth, and cancer development. They have been repeatedly linked to estrogen-driven cancers of the breast. Methyl parabens are of particular concern, as these may react with UVB radiation to induce chromosomal damage of skin cells. The methyls also appear to promote systemic toxicity spanning metabolic, hormonal, and neurological systems.

PEG Compounds

The polyethelene glycols (PEGs) are petroleum-derived softeners, thickeners, and moisture-retaining agents. They thus appear extensively in cosmetics and personal care products, including body lotions and cleansers, hair conditioners, creams, and lipsticks. PEGs are linked to skin irritation and possible genotoxicity*. The chemical manufacture of PEGs also results in their contamination with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, and 1, 4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen.  Look out for related chemicals propylene glycol and butylene glycol, shown to cause skin and respiratory irritation, neurotoxicity, and organ disruption. These are linked to rashes and dermatitis, liver and kidney dysfunction, CNS* depression, and brain damage.


This petroleum-derived chemical is a common feature of hair products and moisturizers. Petrolatum and similarly derived chemicals like mineral oil and paraffin coat and clog the skin, promoting the accumulation of toxins and premature aging. Petrolatum may also be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are linked to skin irritation, allergies, and cancer.


These solvents and plasticizing agents are found in fragrances, nail polishes, body lotions, and deodorants. Be careful to avoid products listing ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ among their ingredients, as these chemical cocktails can contain phthalates. Phthalates are estrogen-disruptors and carcinogens linked to lung, liver, and kidney cancer. They are strongly associated with reproductive toxicity and birth defects.

Retinyl Palmitate

This synthetic vitamin A derivative appears extensively in moisturizing lotions, anti-aging treatments, lipsticks, foundations, and sunscreens. This chemical has high absorptive potential and has been shown to induce chromosomal damage when exposed to UVA radiation.

Silica, Siloxanes

Silica is an anti-caking, opacifying agent used in cosmetic formulations.  Silica-laden products that are easily inhaled, such as face powders, may induce respiratory toxicity. Siloxanes are silicone-based smoothing, softening, and moisturizing agents present in cosmetics, hair products, deodorant creams, and skin treatments. Look out for cyclotetrasiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, and the combination of all three, cyclomethicone. These toxins have been linked to endocrine and neurotransmitter* disruption, reproductive and immune system toxicity, and tumor development.


Sodium laureth/lauryl sulphate (SLS) is a common emulsifying and foaming agent present in shampoos, scalp treatments, bath salts, body cleansers, shower gels, hand soaps, foundations, and toothpaste. The chemical manufacture of SLS results in its contamination with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, and 1, 4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen. SLS has been linked to skin irritation and inflammation, eczema and dermatitis, eye irritation and damage, endocrine disruption, kidney and liver damage, and toxicity of reproductive and nervous systems. Also look out for ammonium laureth/lauryl sulphate (ALS), another skin and eye irritant.


Talc is hydrated magnesium silicate, and serves as another anti-caking, opacifying agent in cosmetic applications. It appears in antiperspirants, dual sunscreen/makeup formulations, foundations, concealers, bronzers, blush, and eye shadow. Talc may be contaminated with aluminum and asbestos fibres, and is thus a possible respiratory toxicant and carcinogen. Some forms of asbestos-free talc have also shown carcinogenic potential.


Also known as toluol and methylbenzene, this chemical is a petroleum-derived solvent commonly found in nail polishes, hair colouring/bleaching products, and fragrances. Toluene is a known skin and respiratory irritant linked to developmental, immune, and nervous system toxicity. Exposure has been associated with dizziness, headaches, anemia, and organ damage.

Triclosan, Triclocarban

These broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents appear extensively in cosmetics, antiperspirants, soaps, and toothpaste. Triclosan and triclocarban are endocrine disrupting chemicals associated with lowered immunity. Triclosan is also linked to reproductive toxicity and birth defects.



Carcinogen – Cancer-causing agent
CNS – Central Nervous System (brain + spinal cord)
Endocrine – Relating to hormone activity and regulation
Genotoxic – Toxic to DNA
Neurotoxic – Toxic to the nervous system
Neurotransmitters – Chemical messengers used for signaling in the nervous system
Teratogen – An agent that is toxic to a fetal development



1. David Suzuki Foundation – ‘Dirty Dozen’ Cosmetic Chemicals to Avoid

2. EWGs Skin Deep Cosmetics Database

3. Dr. Mercola, ‘Do you know what’s in your shampoo?’

Dr. Mercola, “The ominous truth behind cosmetic beauty claims…’

4. Natural Skincare Authority

5. Methylisothiazolinone Research:

6. Retinyl Palmitate Research:

7. Coal Tar Supplemental Research – Environmental Defence

8. Oxybenzone-Supplemental Research

9. Triclosan, Triclocarban Supplemental Research

10. The Institute of Holistic Nutrition Lecture Series
Nutrition and the Environment, instructed by S. Dobec, CNP
Nutrition and Health: The Fundamentals, instructed by P. Demeda, CNP, ROHP


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