5 Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics and Safer Products that Work

Due to the unregulated nature of the beauty industry, companies can—and do—use chemicals linked to cancer in makeup. The last several years however there has been a rise in companies creating “non-toxic” aka “safer, greener, and cleaner” cosmetics. So how do you understand which products are actually safer? And of those companies, which products actually work?

First it’s important to know what to look for when finding makeup free of harmful chemicals. (If you want to skip to the good stuff, my vetted favorite makeup products are listed below.)

Ingredients to Avoid in Color Cosmetics:


Why they’re a problem:

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are common preservatives that are used in both food and makeup products. Not all preservatives are bad, but BHA and BHT have been linked to skin irritation, organ toxicity and hormone disruption. In fact the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption classified BHA as a “class 1” hormone disrupting chemical.

What you can do: 

To find safer preservatives read THIS article and enjoy some preservative myth busting HERE (or shop the makeup selections I’ve outlined below).

2 – Fragrance/Parfum

Why it’s a problem:

Did you know that companies don’t need to tell you what ingredients are used in the fragrance listed on the label? Hiding behind that simple word “fragrance” on your ingredient list are dozens of different known allergens and hormone-disrupting chemicals; we call this the “fragrance loophole”.  Case in point, phthalates are a class of chemicals linked to disrupting your body’s natural hormone system, and some phthalates are used in fragrances and perfumes. Due to this loophole, they won’t appear on the label, which is why it’s best to avoid products with “fragrance” on the label. Fragrances can be used in cosmetics to scent the blush, lipstick or concealer pen.

What you can do: 

Skip cosmetics that have “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label, because this means the company isn’t telling you everything and they likely contain phthalates and other known allergens. You can also review this list of common allergens found in fragrances via Women’s Voices for the Earth.

3 – Heavy metals

Why it’s a problem:

Heavy metals like lead have gained media attention after they were found in lipstick, colored blushes and some mineral powders. The topic of heavy metals is complicated and it’s most relevant to color cosmetics (rather than skin care), since the metals are naturally occurring in the earth and can tag along in raw ingredients that create the beautiful pink blush or bronze color you’re looking for. Heavy metals are not intentionally added to cosmetic products, they are a well-known contaminant of raw materials and the manufacturing process.

What you can do: 

The problem is heavy metals won’t be listed on the ingredient list, you will need to ask your favorite cosmetics company if they are 1) testing for heavy metals and trying to control for the lowest levels possible (claiming to be lead-free is virtually impossible) 2) test every batch, since metal concentrations vary by batch and product.

4- Carcinogens

Why it’s a problem:
Chemicals used in cosmetics have been linked to cancer, some of the biggest offenders are listed below:

  • Coal Tar: hair dyes, shampoos, dandruff/scalp treatment and redness/rosacea treatment
  • Mineral oil: eye shadow, moisturizer, lip gloss, lipstick, conditioner, hair color and bleaching, facial treatment, styling gel/lotion, blush and concealer
  • Crystalline silica: lipsticks, lip gloss, eye shadow, eye liner, foundation, sunscreen, lotion and shampoo

What you can do: 

Avoid products formulated with those ingredients (read your labels) or shop with my favorite safer cosmetic products below ;).

5 – Petrolatum

Why it’s a problem:
When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns. However, with an incomplete refining history, petrolatum could potentially be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), lists 14 PAHs as probable or possible carcinogens and one PAH as a known carcinogen. A study on Long Island, NY, found that those women with high levels of PAH-DNA adducts had a 50 percent greater risk of breast cancer.

EWG says, “There’s petrolatum in one out of every 14 cosmetic products on the market, including 15 percent of lipsticks and 40 percent of baby lotions and oils.”

What you can do: 

Skip lipsticks that are formulated with petrolatum. Simple!

Safer Makeup That Actually Works:

After years of working to eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products, here are my top picks for safer makeup! All of these products have been designed, tested and formulated by one of LA’s top celebrity makeup artists, so when I say they work, they do.

  • Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 20dewy, delicious, also helps reduce uneven skin tone. (I use #3.)
  • Foundationlasts all day, doesn’t clump or move, natural look, buildable. (I use “honey”.)
  • Concealercovers dark eyes, spots, and scars. (I use “light”.)
  • Blushboth cream and powder blush deliver great results. The cream blush can double as lipstick!
  • Eye Shadownatural tones for a natural look
  • Lipstickcreamy, try the Scarlet, a universally flattering red
  • Brow pencil: beautiful pigment, comes with a shaping brush
  • Lipglossnot tacky, hints of vanilla, Bare Shimmer is my favorite shade
  • Bronzerfor a summer kissed glow, or contouring, whatever floats your boat

Is one of your favorite makeup products not listed above? Leave a comment and I can help weigh in on safer options!

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