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Chemicals to avoid in cosmetic products

Chemicals to avoid cosmetic products

A few years ago, the topic of ingredient safety for personal care products became the corner stone of how I purchased my products. As consumers, we have become pros at eating better and being more conscious about what we put in our bodies but many of us have not been as keen for the products we put on our bodies. Let’s face it reading those ingredient labels on cosmetic products can be difficult and confusing especially when the ingredients listed are not in English. Learning to decode cosmetic ingredient labels can be time consuming. This guide will help you become familiar with a few ingredient classes you should pay attention to along with how to read the labels and a few comments on what to keep in mind.


1. Parabens

We hear so many different things about parabens and how they are not good for our hair and skin. Parabens are man-made preservative chemicals used by food, pharmaceutical & cosmetic manufacturers. Parabens have been linked to hormone disruption, DNA damage, Skin aging, some cancers and interruptions for the male reproductive system. Parabens also mimic estrogen which is naturally produced by our bodies and they are harmful because they act as potential hormone disruptors. It is important to know if the products you use contain parabens. When reading ingredient labels, avoid the following which mostly end with the word paraben listed below.

  • Methyl paraben 
  • Butylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Isobutylparaben
  • hydroxybenzoic acid
  • Hydrobenzoate

 2. Phthalates

I never actually knew what phthalates were. I knew I shouldn’t use them only because most products had them on labels. I was forced to do more research on them because of my allergies. Phthalates can be found in so many products including paint, water bottles, lotions, fragrance & perfumes. They are mainly used to soften plastic or as solvents in cosmetic and other consumer products. During my research, I have learned these chemicals have been linked to cancer, damage to liver, kidneys, lungs & fertility issues in recent studies but we do not know the full effect as studies are ongoing. When reading your ingredient labels, avoid products that contain the following:

  • Dibutyl/diethyl ester
  • 2-benzenecarboxylate
  • DMP
  • DEP
  • DEHP
  • DBP

3. Synthetic Fragrances

Have you ever looked at the ingredients on your perfumes or those body lotions that smell heavenly? To be honest, it was not until my allergy diagnosis that I started paying attention to cosmetic ingredients. I always had minor issues of breakouts to certain fragrances but after doing more research, I found out they tend to be allergens. I started eliminating fragrances opting for products using essential oils for fragrance which was not an easy task. The main thing to keep in mind is look for products that clearly state where their fragrance is sourced from. There are naturally occurring flowers such as lavender that can produce oils which can then be added to a product therefore the fragrance would be sourced from a natural ingredient.

4. Alcohol

Early in my natural hair care journey, I learned about the effects of alcohol in hair care products. As I started learning more and more about ingredients during my own DIY mixtures, I found out my assumptions that all alcohols are drying were not accurate. There are alcohols that dry your skin & hair and others that actually beneficial to both. For example, Vitamin A and E are both alcohols that benefit your skin and Hair. Alcohols that benefit your skin & hair are:

  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Stearyl Alcohol
  • Propylene glycol

When reading you ingredient labels, avoid any products that contain the following alcohols as these are known to dry your skin & hair:

  • SD alcohol 40
  • Denatured Alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Isopropyl Alcohol

5. Sulfates

During my research, I focused on trying to understand the chemical makeup of a sulfate which did not help me understand why I should avoid them. Once again, I followed the trend of buying sulfate free shampoo without truly understanding why I should not be using products that contain sulfates anywhere in my home. Essentially, sulfates are aggressive chemicals that are commonly used to remove grease or grime from any surface. They can be found in detergents/soaps, toothpaste, facial cleansers etc. The reason sulfates are not good for you is that they are surfactants which means they drain or remove oil from whatever surface they are used on. Think about them like something that sucks up all the oils naturally occurring in your skin and body ultimately dehydrating your body of the oils it produces naturally. When looking at ingredient labels, avoid products that end with sulfate such as:

  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

6. Formaldehyde

This ingredient is one that scares me the most yet it can be found in most of the products in our homes that we put on our skin.  Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable chemical used in building materials or in the production of many household products. The scary part about this is even when you google this particular ingredient, the first thing that comes up is formaldehyde is known as an irritant and known to cause cancer. When reading ingredient labels, avoid:

  • DMDM Hydation
  • Imidiazolidinyl urea
  • Methanamin
  • Quarterium-15
  • Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol)
  • 5-bromo-5-nitro-1, 3-dioxane
  • Hydroxymethglycinate

Keep in mind the FDA does not restrict the amount of formaldehyde that can be present in cosmetics sold in the U.S. Formaldehyde is pretty much everywhere around us and can be released in other things such as cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust, gas stoves etc. Baby products such as Johnson & Johnsons also contained Formaldehyde until last year when the company announced they would cease using this ingredient in their products. Check the label and if you see any of the items listed above, it would be best to avoid the product. Sodium benzoate is a much safer preservative. 

Even with the all the information I know about ingredients, I often check to see the rating for each ingredient in the products I use. another source would be to contact the company and inquire more information about their ingredients.

Check out your ingredient labels and let us know what you found!


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