Skincare Products You May Have Never Realized

16 Toxic Ingredients in Skin Products You Don’t Know

As the saying goes, “Beauty is only skin deep.” One may ask, “Why skin?” As we know, the skin, with its protective function, covers the largest area in the human body. Known as the Integumentary system, the skin is composed of several layers and is home to an intricate system composed of blood vessels and sensory receptors linked to body organs and the brain. The skin reflects our outward appearance, and is the area that takes on the effects of sun, wind and weather, as well as everything else that goes on it, from soap, lotion, and other beauty care products used to maintain outward freshness.

When Did It All Begin?

Skin Ranshes

What many people do not know, is that these beauty care products have evolved from the simple plant-based extracts formulated during our grandparents’ time, to the complex chemical combinations that are being marketed today. This evolution did not come about without its accidents and negative effects. In fact in the 1930’s, serious disfigurements and developmental disasters that resulted from the use of an eyelash darkening product containing the mercury compound “calomel” and the depilatory cream that contained the rat poison “thalium acetate” were events that prompted the Food and Drug Administration to publicize these fraudulent and dangerous products which consumers continued to use for decades and through the federal court and department of justice, pressure its manufacturers to withdraw them from the market.

From then until now, we find that the agency’s regulatory power was limited; it could neither directly address potentially dangerous products nor impose pre-market testing for cosmetics. Manufacturers maintained that the FDA’s legal powers were limited to drug companies, which were mandated to conduct extensive pre-market product testing; there was however, no such mandate for cosmetics.

Increasing the Awareness of the Harmful Ingredients in Skincare Products
It was only in 2004 that the Environmental Working Group (EWG), in its effort to increase consumer awareness on these potentially dangerous skin care ingredients, launched an online resource, where the results of research conducted by EWG scientists on popular cosmetics and beauty care products are posted. While the battle between agencies pressuring manufacturers to forego these dangerous ingredients and replace with safer ones is ongoing, it is up to the consumer to increase awareness of these dangerous components and shy away from them.

Each chemical ingredient is rated by EWG scientists and given a score; higher scores mean higher toxicity.

  • 0-2 LOW HAZARD …………………………… Green zone
  • 3-6 MODERATE HAZARD ……………….. Orange zone
  • 7-10 HIGH HAZARD ………………………….. Red zone

What Toxic Ingredients Are Included In Skincare Products Millions Of People Use?

Below is a list of 16 of these toxic skin care ingredients which are public knowledge to manufacturers, but still find their way into the popular skin care products being sold in supermarket shelves:

1.Mineral Oil

Many of us who are under the impression that mineral oil is a safe ingredient are sadly mistaken. It is highly viscous oil derived from petroleum, similar to those used in the automobile industry. Because of its viscosity, it produces a slippery lotion which allows hands to glide with ease across the skin, but causes the following adverse effects:

  • Comedogenic. It blocks skin pores and encourages comedone production which result in pimples and blackheads. Blocked pores are hindered from absorbing any beneficial effects from other ingredients.
  • Tumorigenic. Laboratory testing in animal subjects shows increase in tumor growth with prolonged use.
  • It is a known carcinogen, linked to autoimmune disease and a variety of diseases and health problems.
    It is also known as: Albolene, Drakeol, Adepsine, Lignite, Liquid Paraffin, Petrolatum, Mineral Seal Oil, White Oil and Baby Oil.

2. Heavy Metals

Heavy Metals

These are not normally listed on the list of cosmetic ingredients; they are included in impurities, either from the raw materials, or are by-products from the manufacturing process. Scientific analysis has determined the presence of lead in 96% of the products, followed by Beryllium (90%), Thallium (61%), Cadmium (51%), Arsenic (20%), Selenium, Nickel and Mercury in smaller concentrations. A popular lip gloss brand, for example, was found to contain both arsenic and lead, at 70 ppm and 60 ppm respectively. Direct application of skin care products is even worse than eating it; the skin does not possess the enzymes present in saliva and the digestive tract which break down toxins and flush them out of the body. Instead, these toxins are absorbed through the skin, straight into the bloodstream which provides direct transport to the body organs. Daily use of these skin care products cause heavy metals to accumulate in the body at a whopping 5 lbs. a year! FDA and the European Union still allow the use of mercury as a preservative in mascara and other eye area cosmetics.

3. 1,4-dioxane


It is a highly toxic by product of ethylene oxide, which is itself a carcinogenic petrochemical used in the ethoxylation process to reduce the effects of harsh chemicals and make them milder With an EWG score of 8, it has been labeled as a neurotoxicant, damaging the renal and pulmonary systems as well. It is known by other names such as PEG, Polyethylene glycol, Polyoxyethylene, Oxynol, and other ingredients with “eth” such as ceteareth, laureth, myreth, and oleth.

4. Phthalates

These are esters of phthlalic acid widely used in the cosmetic industry as low cost solvents in perfumes, eyeshadow, moisturizer, liquid soap, nail polish nail polish remover, lipstick and hair spray. EWG scores of different molecular structures of phthalates range from 3 to 10, with the lower R and R’ scores used for skin care products. This toxin has been linked to birth defects in boys, lower sperm motility and testicular atrophy in adult men, structural abnormality and liver cancer.

5. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT or MI)

It is widely used in personal care products such as cosmetics, moisturizers, lotions, shampoos and sunscreens. It has a EWG score of 5, is cytotoxic and allergenic, negatively affecting the nervous system and brain. It is a potent biocide which prevents bacterial growth; workers need adequate protection to prevent skin exposure to this potent toxin.

6. Toluene

It is a highly toxic (EWG 10) organic aromatic hydrocarbon that occurs naturally in tolu trees and crude oil. Due to its volatility, low to moderate inhalation of this neurotoxicant can result in confusion, weakness, fatigue, memory loss, anorexia, loss of hearing and color vision, and nausea; these symptoms stop when exposure is withdrawn. High level inhalation may cause somnolence, drowsiness, light-headedness and nausea, which can result in loss of consciousness and even death. In the cosmetic industry, this substance is used in the formulation of synthetic fragrances, nail polish and nail polish remover, is linked to immune system toxicity, blood cancers such as malignant lymphoma. Chronic exposure from use of skincare products and cosmetics are linked to anemia, renal or hepatic damage, lowered blood cell count and fetal developmental defects. Its other names are Phenylmethane, Toluol, and Anisen.

7. Triclosan

It has been in use since the 1970’s as an antibacterial agent. Similar in chemical structure to Agent Orange, it is classified as a pesticide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) , registering high scores in the EWG toxicity scale. Classified as a chlorophenol, it is a known carcinogen whose manufacturing process produces other toxic substances such as Dioxin, a hormone-disrupting chemical whose toxicity is measured in parts per trillion or equivalent to just a drop in 300 Olympic size swimming pools. At commercial concentrations (0.10 to 1.00%), Triclosan acts as a bacteriostatic by limiting fatty acid synthesis. It acts as a biocide at higher concentrations (2%) as in hospital surgical unit preparations and washes. With a moderate toxicity EWG score of 7, Triclosan is incorporated in formulations for toothpastes, deodorants, soap, body wash, cosmetics, kitchen and furniture polishes and preparations. Chronic exposure is linked with changes in regulatory hormones, heart disease, heart failure, reduced muscle function, and impaired skeletal muscle contractility.

8. Quaternium 15

It is used as surfactant and antistatic agent in cosmetics. Also known as hexamethylenetetramine chloroallyl chloride, this “quat” is an aquaternary ammonium salt which exhibits antimicrobial properties and discourages the growth of a variety of organisms except Mycobacterium tuberculosis, endospores and non-enveloped viruses. Because it releases formaldehyde, it triggers allergic reactions, particularly contact dermatitis of the hands, depending on the concentration. It is known by other names such as N-(3-chloroallyl) hexaminium chloride, hexamethylenetetramine chloroallyl chloride, and 3, 5, 7-triaza-1-azoniaadamantane; 1-(3-chloroallyl)-chloride. At higher concentrations, it can also cause respiratory irritation, caustic gastrointestinal burns, hypotension, convulsions, coma and even death. It is one among the Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives (FRP) which has been pinpointed as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Release on Carcinogens (IARC) and linked to nasopharyngeal and nasal cancers. It is an ingredient in shampoos, body washes and nail care products.

9. Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol

It is an organic alcohol in the form of gaseous hydrocarbons used in sunscreens, conditioners, makeup, moisturizers and hair sprays. As such, they can easily penetrate the skin and act to weaken protein and cellular structures within. In fact it is a potent substance used industrially to remove barnacles from boats. This substance is deemed to be such a dangerous toxin that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strictly regulates the disposal of this chemical and imposes safety standards such as the wearing of goggles, gloves and protective gear in the handling and disposal of PG and its close relative, BUTYLENE GLYCOL. It carries with it the risk for allergic reactions, dermatitis and hives even in very low concentrations and because of its capacity to quickly penetrate the skin; it also has detrimental effects on the body’s complex detoxification network, the liver and kidneys.

10. Hydroquinone

It is commonly used in skincare products as a skin lightener, acting as a skin depigmenter. Rated among the top toxic skin care additives by the EWG, its use has been banned in the UK after having been linked to human reproductive deficits and birth defects, thyroid hyperplasias and renal tubule adenomas. Its carcinogenic potential has not been ruled out; thus, the U.S. FDA has revoked its approval of hydroquinone, and imposed a ban on all over-the-counter preparations in 2006 as a response to the rallying of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Studies conducted by EWG scientists have revealed that if taken orally, it carries an additional risk of developing a disfiguring condition called exogenous onchronosis, where blue-black pigments are deposited into the skin. Although topical preparations are considered safe, they have to be used in consonance with a high PPD sunscreen which also has its own toxicity risk factors. Hydroquinone is also combined with exfoliators such as alpha hydroxyl acids in concentrations up to 2% to hasten the whitening process; preparations with higher concentrations are administered with caution under strict medical supervision.

11. Silicone-based Emollients

These are used in skin care products to create a feeling of softness in the product. These however, are not biodegradable, clog pores and prevent respiration through the skin, causing tumor growth and irritation. They can be found in conditioners, facial creams, lotions, shampoos and sunscreen products.

12. TALC

It is the smooth stuff from which baby powder is made of, and is also an ingredient in eyeshadow, blush on, deodorant and antiperspirant. Similar in composition to asbestos, talc has been linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory diseases.

13. Placenta Extract

It is used in many skin and hair care products. It disrupts the function of the endocrine gland by imitating the action of estrogen in the body.

14. Paraphenylenediamine (PPD)

It is a white solid organic compound which oxidizes to red and violet dyes. It is a widely used ingredient in hair dyes and other matching hair colorants for eyebrows, eyelashes and other body hair, in combination with other aniline analogues and derivatives such as tetraaminopyrimidine and indoanilines and indophenols, 2,5-diamino (hydroxyethylbenzene) and 2,5-diaminotoluene. Derivatives of diaminopyrazole yield the colors red and violet.

Aside from hair dye, PPD is also a substitute for Henna in non-permanent tattoos which can trigger allergic reactions and severe contact dermatitis, and was voted Allergen of the Year in 2006 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. The long-term effects on body organs and the extent of damage to the immune system have not yet been quantified.

15. Aluminum Chlorohydrate

For use in the cosmetic industry is formed by combining and reacting aluminum hydroxide with hydrochloric acid; it is commonly listed as the active ingredient in commercial deodorants and antiperspirants. Although it is found to be effective in controlling body odor, studies linking aluminum-containing deodorant exposure and long-term use to the subsequent development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have been conducted, showing an almost negligible result. This, however, is not conclusive because accurate research on chemical or drug effects take years. Also, still inconclusive studies warning of the shaving-aluminum-based deodorant tandem have been conducted, showing that the aluminum does not concentrate in the inner breast tissue; it is found in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, which is a common site for the development of breast tumors and cancers.

16. Fragrance

It is among the most dangerous of the toxic substances mentioned above, since consumers do not know what goes into it. The term was coined to safeguard the manufacturers’ company secret formulae, which could be a deadly combination of hazardous chemicals with equally dangerous by-products. The EWG Skin Deep Database has linked fragrance with allergic rhinitis, asthma, respiratory distress, dermatitis, potential reproductive disorders and birth defects.


In the first part of Hosea 4:6 it says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” This is very true with the situation that we are encountering here today, regarding the unregulated manufacture and indiscriminate use of skin care products. In the past, it was mostly the women who were conscious about their skin and preserving youthful looks. Now, the men have eagerly joined the bandwagon of skin health maintenance, and are conscious about smelling good, and looking young. Even in the music scene, we find songs such as “Young Girls Are My Weakness,” and “Forever Young,” which emphasize youthful looks.

Armed with this new awareness of the risks involved, there is now a need to look for safer alternatives to maintain skin health and preserve youthful looks. We can’t expect to maintain good skin if we sleep late, eat all the wrong stuff, and maintain a diet high on sugars, sodas and processed food. If we look closely, Mediterranean and Asian women have great skin, which comes from a diet rich in organic oils, vegetables, water, and sufficient rest. We could also make our own personal care products using organic based oils, adding our choice of essential oils for scent, use henna extract or fresh flowers such as hibiscus to color our hair, and aloe vera or gugo bark shampoo, to name a few. The solution is to go back to the basics – Go organic, eat more unprocessed food, exercise, and live healthy.

Get the latest Solvaderm news, skin care tips and advice straight to your inbox!

Get Email Updates »