The 411 on Harmful Ingredients in Beauty Products

Last week I wrote about why ingredients used in cosmetics, 80% in fact, are untested and virtually unregulated. Our federal laws on toxic chemicals are clearly broken, but there are many companies making non-toxic beauty products. Here’s a brief overview of the issue and most important, what can we buy that’s safer?

Are there hazardous chemicals found in cosmetics?


  • Some preservatives like parabens have been linked to breast cancer and hormone-disruption.
  • Phthalates are a class of chemicals, some of which are found in fragrances and perfumes and are linked to hormone-disruption.
  • Heavy metals like lead have been found in lipstick, colored blushes and some mineral powders.
  • The “toxic trio” have been found in nail polish and include problematic chemicals like formaldehyde.
  • Triclosan is a pesticide and is found in anti-bacterial hand soaps, toothpaste and yoga mats. (Minnesota was the first state to ban triclosan!)
Are men’s products safe?

This isn’t just a “women’s issue”. Men’s products like deodorant, aftershave and cologne fall under this same broken statue and may contain harmful chemicals. Some of the most notorious toxic chemicals are linked to decreased sperm quality, undescended testes and birth defects of the male reproductive system. Heavy stuff I know… there’s good news coming, promise.

What about perfumes, colognes & other fragrances?

For those that are paying attention to toxic chemicals in consumer products, “fragrance” has become a dirty word. Here’s why: fragrance can be listed on an ingredient list for a product, but the company doesn’t need to let the public know what chemicals are used to create that fragrance. Here’s the kicker, lots of nasty toxic chemicals are used to make things smell nice, especially when we’re talking about synthetic fragrance. Women’s Voices for the Earth found that many perfumes, colognes and scents contain allergens. And the chemicals used to bind the scent to our bodies and clothes – phthalates – are linked to hormone-disruption.

Are there safer products on the market?

Yes! The good news is there are some companies making safer products. It’s a minefield however, “greenwashing” is rampant and many companies make lavish claims about the safety of their products by putting things like “non-toxic” and “all natural”. I trust companies that are committed to 100% transparency, even if that means highlighting the pitfalls of making safer products. Even among the “greener” companies, when you use this criteria the list becomes pretty short.

non-toxic beauty products

I have fell in love with a company making safer and beautiful products: Beautycounter. (UPDATE: I now work for the company :))

One thing you’ll notice that sets Beautycounter apart from other companies is they not only restrict a list of over 1,800 ingredients from their product line, they also screen each ingredient for safety before using them in their products. To top it all off, the products work, proving that you don’t need to compromise performance for safety. You can view the product line here.

Resources to find safer products:

The problem of chemicals in our consumer products and food is vast. We need to break it down into bite size pieces. First we need to know about the problem, second we must take action and third, we can slowly introduce safer products into our homes and lives.

Transitioning away from toxic products is a lot of work. In my mind, work that we shouldn’t have to add to our daily to-do list. I encourage everyone to send a clear message to Congress that we need strong regulations of toxic chemicals in cosmetics and consumer products. And in the meantime we can support companies that are doing the right thing!

Want to learn more? Read Part I of the series: “The Ugly Truth About Harmful Chemicals in Cosmetics“.

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