The Dirty Dozen: Beauty Product Ingredients that are Actually Ugly

Posted: Sep 15 2014


Do you know what is in your shampoo?  Your face cream?  Your lipstick?  

In a recent study that surveyed Canadians about the contents of their beauty products, a whopping 80% found that their products contained at least one of the following "dirty dozen" chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors. Many products include plasticizers (chemicals that keep concrete soft), degreasers (used to get grime off auto parts), and surfactants (they reduce surface tension in water, like in paint and inks). Imagine what that does to your skin, and to the environment:

1. BHA and BHT

Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer (BHA). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

2. Coal tar dyes: p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as "CI" followed by a five-digit number

In addition to coal tar dyes, natural and inorganic pigments used in cosmetcs are also assigned Colour Index numbers (in the 75000 and 77000 series, respectively).

Look for p-phenylenediamine in hair dyes and in other products' colours listed as "CI" followed by five digits.  Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.

3. DEA-related ingredients

Used in creamy and foaming products such as moisturizers and shampoos.  Can react to form nitrosamines which may cause cancer.  Harmful to fish and other wildlife.  Look also for related chemicals MEA and TEA.

4. Dibutyl phthalate

Used as a plasticizer in some nail care products.  Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant.  Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15.  Used in a variety of cosmetics.  Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde which causes cancer.

6. Parabens

Used in a variety of cosmetics as preservatives.  Suspected endocrine disupters and may interfere with male reproductive functions.  YIKES.

7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)

Any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics -- even some products marketed as "unscented."  Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma.  Some linked to cancer and neurotoxicity.  Some harmful to fish and other wildlife.

8. PEG compounds

Used in many cosmetic cream bases.  Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane which may cause cancer.  Also look for related chemical propylene glycol and other ingredients with the letters "eth" (e.g., polyethylene glycol).

9. Petrolatum

Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lipsticks and moisturizers.  A petrolatum product can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which may cause cancer.

10. Siloxanes

Look for ingredients ending in "-siloxane" or "-methicone."  Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten.  Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane).  Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

11. Sodium laureth sulfate

Used in foaming cosmetics such as shampoos, cleansers, and bubble bath.  Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane which may cause cancer.  Look also for related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the letters "eth" (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).  

12. Triclosan

Used in antibacterial cosmetics such as toothpastes, cleansers, and antipersperants.  Suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.  harmful to fish and other wildlife. 

Now that you've read this list, you may feel overwhelmed.  What's overwhelming is that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormore disrupters.  So this list has been narrowed down for you!  

If you'd like a wallet-sized list of the abovementioned ingredients to take with you when you shop, visit this website

courtesy of the David Suzuki Foundation

Be aware out there!


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