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Expert Advice: 5 Toxic Chemicals In Beauty Products You Should Avoid

Categories: Beauty & Makeup Expert Advice Features Nail Care

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Editor’s Note: It all started on one rainy evening when I had a dinner date with my friend Liv, a professional makeup artist. She specialises in natural cosmetics. I was complaining about strange things happening to my skin and when I told what brand of skincare I was using, she laughed, “No wonder it’s full of toxic chemicals!”. It struck me that we buy all these expensive beauty products in the hope of looking younger, more glowing, blemish free etc but in fact we could be slathering our skin with toxins and cancer-causing chemicals.

So asked Liv to enlighten us about what ingredients she considers toxic and should be avoid at all costs. To make it even easier for you, the amazing designer and  friend Valerie, created this infographic. Make sure you share it with your friends. We’re consumers and as such, we have the right to know how we can make informed choices that may help us to avoid health issues in the future. Read on beauties!  – Maria, xx

toxic chemicals in cosmetics

Do you know what’s in your skin care or the amazing new makeup product or nail polish you just bought? Did you read the label? You totally should. Because many beauty products that offer some kind of magical solution to your skin, hair or nail problems may in fact contain toxic ingredients that can cause negative long term effects. You should know about these chemicals and avoid them at all costs!

Here are the worst 5 toxic chemicals that hide in your beauty products:

1. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES)

Found in: More than 90% of personal care and cleaning products (think foaming products), i.e. shampoo, body wash/cleanser, mascara and acne treatments.

Why you should avoid it: It’s so strong that it is used in concrete floor cleaners, engine degreasers and car wash detergents. Not so glamorous right? SLS’s are known to be skin, lung, and eye irritants that can slow down the skins healing process. It is also dangerous when in contact with the eyes. It stops your hair from growing properly by corroding the hair follicles when used in shampoo. Need another reason? SLS has the potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen. These combinations can lead to a host of other issues like kidney and respiratory damage.

2. Petroleum/Liquid Paraffin/Mineral Oil

Found in: All sorts of products, such as lip balm, lipstick, lip gloss, mascara, moisturizer, concealer, foundation, body wash, eye shadow, baby oil and hair conditioner.

Why you should avoid it: This is a petrochemical pollutant derived from crude oil and is found in many skin care products. It seals off the skin creating a barrier and makes it feel smooth but beware, while it feels good at first it doesn’t allow the skin function properly. This ultimate result is premature aging and possibly other skin disorders such as contact dermatitis.

3. Formaldehyde

Found in: Nail polish, shampoo, eye shadow, body wash, eyelash glue, and hair products, the Brazilian Blowout and other straightening treatments. Unfortunately, this won’t be listed as ‘formaldehyde’ on the label. You will need to look for ingredients such as: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), glyoxal and oxaldehyde.

Why you should avoid it: This chemical was deemed as a human carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC) and has been linked to occupational related cancers: nasal and nasopharyngeal. It can cause eye, nose, throat irritation, asthma, potential effects on the reproductive and neurological systems.

4. Parabens (Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben)

Found in: Almost every type of personal care product, i.e. makeup, body washes, deodorants, shampoos and facial cleansers. Also, in food and pharmaceutical products.

Why you should avoid it: Parabens are widely used preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria and mold in cosmetic products. Sounds good right? Not so fast, they do more than that. Parabens possess estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer and may cause fertility problems and disrupt the endocrine system. Methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB rays in the sun leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage.

5. Synthetic Fragrance

Found in: in many products such as perfume, cologne, conditioner, shampoo, body wash and moisturizers.

Why you should avoid it: This term often gets used to protect a company’s ‘secret formula’ but as the consumer you could be putting on a concoction that contains about 200 chemicals that are hazardous to your health. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database, fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, headache, dermatitis, hyperpigmentation, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. We suggest you don’t buy a cosmetic that has the word ‘fragrance’ in the ingredients list unless it clearly states that the fragrance used is all natural.

– Liv Livlundelius,
Professional Makeup Artist, Sydney
Photos and edit: Maria Vlezko
Infographic: Valerie Iliadis / VO Design.

P.S. Make sure you keep this Toxic Ingredients in Beauty Products chart handy. Pin it, save it to desktop or your smartphone or, if you’re like me, an old-school print out.

P.P.S. Also, it appears some sunscreens are not good for you either – check out full list here.

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  • Eugenia

    I live in Italy and in European Union all nail polishes should be 3 Big Free by law, you just can’t sell such products on the European market. Most of European nail polish brands now are 5 Big Free, yes they are a little bit costy, but our health is much more important :)

    • I wish we had the same law in Australia. Here it’s still ok to sell products that contain formaldehyde, even though it’s like a poison.

  • Saving this post for later, I’m always nervous about what is in my makeup!

    • I know how you feel! Like any beauty addict I have boxes and boxes of makeup, skincare and polish – I’m going now through everything with this list. I only use 3-free and 5-free polishes (for a couple of years now) and I’ll be definitely using only natural beauty products from now and on.

  • Cat

    Hi Maria, thanks for this alarming post! :O It left me wondering just what the heck products CAN I use without fear of cancer and other issues?? I mean, when an ingredient is in most products — the one that makes shampoo foam, for instance — we don’t have many alternatives, do we? (I suppose I’ve just given you an idea for a future post!!) And nowadays, we all use so many more personal care products than the generation before us, so we are more exposed to the danger than our elders ever were. Yikes!

    • My pleasure! I really enjoyed putting this article together and having such an amazing expert as Liv on board helped a lot to make it as informative as possible. And yes, I’m currently investigating healthy choices, ie. natural beauty products. The problem is that there are a lot of brands that claim they are ‘natural’ but in reality they contain the same bad chemicals…. So I’ll do a very thorough research on this subject, for nail polishes too, and we’ll write the best natural beauty brands round-up :)

    • Liv

      Hi Cat,

      there is actually an abundance of products that are safe to use! I actually write a blog about this:
      livlundeliusblog.com where you can find reviews and articles of truly natural beauty products!
      Many online shops have already done the hard work for you and you can buy products free of nasties from e.g. nourished life, i am natural store etc, just google them! I hope this helps!

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