Published: 2010-10-11 by Ines Markovic in Health

The fear from numerous potentially dangerous chemicals is completely justified, especially when you consider the fact that they are not present just in agressive detergents and abstergents but also there where they would be least expected – in skin care products, even those targeted for sensitive baby skin.


If you count how many creams, lotions, milks and balms you apply every day onto your skin, it becomes perfectly clear that the amount of toxins that goes into your body is not so small and innocent. It's hard to manage in the forest of products and ingredient lists, especially if you don't know what you're looking for. To protect yourself from the ''chemical attack'', we bring you a list of the most used and most dangerous chemicals in the cosmetic products, with an advice on how to discover and avoid them.


These extremely toxic chemical compounds are used as plastificators in PVC plastic and all kinds of food packaging, in the pharmaceutical industry, but also in numerous cosmetic products, where we can distinguish three most frequently used types: Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), Dimetil phthalate (DMP) and Dietil phthalate (DEP). They serve as plastificators in nail polishes and hair sprays and in cosmetics – even baby cosmetics – as solvents or fragrance fixators (they allow for slower fragrance release). But they are mostly not specified on the declarations. The manufacturers are obligated to specify the list of the ingredients but not the list of indvidiual ingredients that are used in the product scent, so the customers can't know if phthalates are hiding under the names ''fragrance'', ''scent'' or ''perfume''.

They are dangerous because they provoke different developmental or reproductive disorders in children, hormone disorders, allergies and DNA damage. Phthalates also present a health risk in fetal development. Despite the claim that they are present in cosmetic products in small amounts, have in mind that you use these products several times a day and you're also exposed to them on every step.

HOW TO AVOID THEM: The safest way is to look for products with ''fragrance-free'' label or those that contain essential oils, like citrus oil or lavender oil.


It's a group of chemical compounds that are used in cosmetics as preservatives, due to their antibacterial and antifungal properties. The six mostly used parabens in cosmetics are: Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Butyparaben and Benzylparaben, and they are present in almost all hygiene and skincare products: shampoos, moisturizing creams, sun creams, make up, deodorants, shaving foams, toothpastes, baby skincare products. You can also find them in the products with the label ''natural'' or ''organic''.

It is proven that these compounds penetrate the skin and they are present in your blood only a few minutes after you apply the product. They acumulate in body tissues with no changed structure. Science studies have shown that parabens are can be related to breast tumor. They can also damage the skin tissue, especially methyparaben that is frequently used in comsetic products as an antiseptic, and according to some studies, it causes skin allergies and skin sensibilisation.

HOW TO AVOID THEM: Give advantage to the products with the label ''paraben-free''. Also, have in mind that the mark ''natural'' or ''organic'' does not present a guarantee that such product does not contain parabens. These marks guarantee only that at least 95% of the ingredients are natural and the other 5% can contain parabens.


This chemical compound is a very important ingredient of almost all antibacterial and antimicrobial hygienic products, such as deodorants and toothpastes. It obstructs the acitivity of sex hormones and can cause carcinogenic changes in the cells. A long-term use of these products can contribute to the development of so called super bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

HOW TO AVOID IT: Triclosan and triclocarban are two mostly used chemical compounds with antibacterial effect that manufacturers don't specify on the declaration. So it would be best to avoid the products with the mark ''antibacterial''. You can maintain your personal hygiene with regular soaps and natural cleansers.


This carcinogenic compund is also one of the most dangerous preservatives and it's present in almost every skincare product. Formaldehyde is toxic for your immune, respiratory, reproductive and nervous system, and with a long-term use it can cause unwanted effect on your skin. In most of the hair care and skin care products it's present in minimal, ''allowed'' amounts as an antimicrobial substance and as a preservative. But if you use 5-10 products that contain formaldehyde daily, you surely insert into your organism more formaldehyde that allowed.

HOW TO AVOID IT: Since it is used in very small amounts, the manufacturers are not obliged to put on the product a mark that says formaldehyde. So you will never find it listed on the ingredients list as formaldehyde, but as ''formalin'', ''lysoform'' or ''formalit''. If you don't find these on the list, you still can't be sure that the product is formaldehyde-free because there are a few compounds that have a property to release certain amounts of formaldehyde: DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Hydroxymethyl Glycinate, Quaternium-1, Benzylhemiformal, 2-Bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane and Methenamin.


It is a a common antifreeze for radiators or motors. The same chemical, a petroleum product is one of the most used ingredients in the cosmetic products, which uses it as a tenzioactive, solvent or hydration because it has the ability to vezanje big amounts of water to it and a power to penetrate the skin.

It's known that it has neurotoxic effect, and some manufacturers are replacing it with less harmful Butylen and Polyethylene Glycol, but it's still present in the most makeup products, hair care products, deodorants, toothpastes, after shave lotions, self-tanning products, as in numerous baby lotions. It's interesting that products that contain it, but they are meant for industrial use, have a warning that you should avoid skin contact because PG can cause liver and brain damage. But there is no such warning on cosmetic products which you apply generously on your skin.

HOW TO AVOID IT: Give advantage to products that use glycerin of natural origin, that is a result of nusproduct fatty acids from natural oils, and that protects your skin equally efficent from dehydration.


Vaseline, mineral oils, parafin, petroleum, and lots of other petroleum derivates are used in decorative and preparative cosmetics and baby cosmetics. They make the creams more smearable, soften the skin, make it smooth and velvety and they are much cheaper than the natural alternatives.

Many of them are carcinogenic, and they often cause allergic reactions on your skin. And their moisturizing properties are just an illusion: in fact they create a barrier between the skin and the external ambient, and that way the harmful microorganisms stay captured underneath that protective film layer and often cause skin irritation and precipitate the apperance of acne.

HOW TO AVOID THEM: Look for natural cosmetic products that use herbal base oils or herbal organic waxes as moisturizing ingredients. Besides being rich in minerals and vitamins, they are similar to sebum of the skin and the skin absorbs them perfectly.


This aromatic ether alcohol is abundantly used in the cosmetic industry for scent and as a preservative, and as a less harmful alternative to parabens. But even in small amounts it can cause brain and nervous system damage and according to some studies, it causes infertility. It's toxic for the reproductive system and it increases the risk of premature labor, it weakens the immune system, and works stimulative on eyes, lungs, and skin. Even though you can get it easily from natural sources, the manufacturers give advantage to synthetic phenoxyethanol.

HOW TO AVOID IT: Choose products that contain phenoxyethanol gained from grape or some other natural source.


It is used as UVA/UVB rays absorbent and chemical sunscreen in sun protection products, self-tanning lotions, make up and many creams. Although the manufacturers claim that it's safe, some researches relate it to skin cancer, and eye and skin irritation. It's also proven that it accumulates in mother's milk and works as estrogen. It can be sorted in the group of so called xenoestrogens, toxins that imitate estrogens.

HOW TO AVOID IT: Look for products that use natural alternatives, such as Titanium dioxide that reflects sun rays and does not absorb into skin.


As a cleaning agent and a tenzioactive it is used in shampoos, baths, lotions, shower gels and toothpastes because it provides bubbles and foam. This compound is the commonly used ingredient in the concrete and paving stone cleansing agents, for degrase of engine and car washing. It causes eye and skin irritation, skin drainage, eczema and even DNA modification.

HOW TO AVOID IT: There are products that contain natural, sugar based tensides, for example Coco-Glucoside or Sodium Coco-Glucoside Tartrate

You can find extra info on the possible toxicity of the cosmetics you use on the web page of the SKIN DEEP ORGANIZATION: There you can find the list of the ingredients of almost all cosmetic products on the market, with the mark of toxicity for every ingredient.


Ines Markovic


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