8 Ingredients In Beauty Products to Avoid

While it’s not always possible to use certified organic products, we strongly urge you to stay away from the ingredients listed here!

8 Ingredients to Avoid

When it comes to choosing beauty products, the best advice for consumers is that simpler is better. “Choose products with fewer synthetic chemicals, avoid synthetic fragrances, and use fewer products overall,” advises Stacy Malkin, co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. “It is especially important to reduce chemical exposures if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or have small children,” she adds.

We asked Malkin to share those ingredients that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found to be the most problematic, and you’ll find them listed below. Few cosmetics ingredients have been assessed for long-term health impacts, but those that have—and are known or suspected to be toxic—are still allowed in cosmetics.

1. Mercury

Toxic to the brain and reproductive system, possible human carcinogen, and linked to kidney damage. Mercury is found in some eye drops, ointments, mascaras, and skin-lightening creams.

2. Lead Acetate

This compound of lead is a known human reproductive and developmental toxicant and is banned from cosmetics in Europe. Found in some hair dyes and cleansers sold in the U.S.

3. Phthalates

These chemicals are linked to birth defects, infertility, and reproductive harm. Found in some nail polishes, fragrances, and hair sprays.

4. Fragrance

A mixture of chemicals that are not disclosed on labels, likely to contain phthalates. Many fragrances have also been found to contain sensitizing chemicals linked to breathing difficulties, headaches, and other allergy symptoms. Found in shampoos, lotions, deodorants, body sprays, perfumes, and colognes.

5. Hydroquinone

Toxic to the brain and skin and a possible human carcinogen, hydroquinone can also cause a skin disease called ochronosis that leaves irreversible black-blue lesions on skin. Found in some skin lightening products and moisturizers.

6. Nanoparticles

Extremely tiny particles which are largely untested and unlabeled in personal-care products, capable of being absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Found in some eye shadows, bronzers, sunscreens, lotions, and other personal-care products.

7. Placenta

Placenta produces progesterone, estrogen, and other hormones that can interfere with the body’s normal hormone functions and may cause an increased risk of serious health problems, such as breast cancer, when used in cosmetics. Sometimes used in hair relaxers, moisturizers, toners, and hair conditioners.

8. Petrochemicals

The byproducts of crude oil (appearing on labels as petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin, and petroleum distillates) may contain known or suspected human carcinogens as well as harmful breakdown chemicals that are not listed on product labels. Found in some hair relaxers, shampoos, anti-aging creams, mascaras, perfumes, foundations, lipsticks, and lip balms.

For more information, go to www.safecosmetics.org.


  1. Thank you for shedding the light on this under reported menace to every man woman and child. The way the system is running with the FDA corrupted is very disturbing in many ways. I feel their next move will be to drive the smaller players out of the market like what they trying to do with the food supply. I would like to use your article about the 8 Ingredients to Avoid in one of my blogs http://myhealthyhead.com . We need to get the word out.By Jackie on 11/16/2010
  2. I so wish we could do more to quickly persuade cosmetic & body care manufactureres to “take the high road” and use the most envionmentally & health friendly products in their formulations. I just received a ‘lovely’ gift of shower gels, hand soap & lotion from a very dear and health conscious person – from a co. who once had a very nice line of personal care products. So disappointing ! Smells like cheap perfume (?VOC’s-petrochem fragrences & ?? not even listed in ingredient list!) And another co. advertises “green” responsible & their body butter is a nightmare of strange compounds – and marketed to younger ‘women’ in the malls. Then there’s our trust neighbor who brings me all of the seasons catalogues, hoping I’ll find products satisfacctory – a few rate the ‘green’ label on Safe cosmetics, but many really do not !By Rene on 12/28/2010
  3. Thank you for sharing this! I have always been conscious of what I ate and put in my body but it wasn’t till recently that I realized how important what you put ON your body is also! I would always buy ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ beauty products and thought these would be healthy for me. I didn’t realize that the standards are so low and that any company can label themselves as these. My new obsession is a company called Raw Essentials. http://www.rawessentials.com/ I bought their face lotion at Duane Reade (honestly not a store where I thought you could buy good for you stuff) and it helped fade a scar on my chin! I checked their ingredient list and nothing you mentioned is on there! Yay!
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