Are Cosmetic Ingredients Getting Under Your Skin?

by Dr. Irene Reyzis



Short answer: yes!

It is possible for ingredients and chemicals to penetrate the skin. Some even make their way into the bloodstream if they are absorbed into deeper layers where blood vessels exist. A classic example is nicotine from nicotine patches, or menthol from muscle rubs.

However, not all compounds are able to penetrate deeper than the skin surface. It depends on several factors like the size, chemistry of the compound, and the skin area where the compound is applied. These factors make a difference in how likely a chemical is to penetrate the skin and be absorbed by the body.

Implications of ingredient and chemical penetration

Whether or not ingredient penetration is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of circumstance with no clear black-or-white answer. There are plenty of scenarios where penetration of ingredients is desirable! Think collagen-boosting and skin-soothing actives in your skincare products.

On the other hand, plenty of unwanted chemicals may be absorbed into the body from consumer products when they come into contact with skin.

Regulating agencies like the FDA deem that potentially harmful chemicals are safe for use in cosmetics below certain levels. However, it would be the preference of many health-conscious consumers to avoid potentially harmful chemicals altogether. This is especially the case with cosmetics where products are applied to the body surface as a direct pathway of chemical absorption.

Common penetration enhancers in cosmetics

The following is an incomplete list of ingredients that can act as penetration enhancers in cosmetic products. This means they change skin chemistry in a way that absorption of other ingredients and chemicals is increased.

  • Propylene glycol
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG) and related ingredients
  • Polysorbates like polysorbate-20, etc.
  • N-methyl pyrrolidone and related ingredients
  • Alcohol (Ethanol)
  • Cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, etc.
  • Fatty acids like stearic acid
  • Lecithin
  • Squalene
  • Glycerin
  • Sodium Hyaluronate

By themselves many of these ingredients are actually good for your skin, for instance glycerin, lecithin and fatty acids. However, in products that include these ingredients, any unwanted chemicals or baddies also present may absorbed by the skin in greater amounts. In other words, more of the bad stuff is getting into the body than usual.—peg-compounds-and-their-contaminants/

The Truth about Labels

An Introduction to “The Truth about Labels”

Let’s face it, ladies, when it comes to cosmetics there is TOO MUCH info on the labels. As overwhelming as all that text is, and tempting as it is to ignore the information and focus on the packaging and the {many times empty} promises of the product, Dr. Irene simplifies the process of understanding this important info before your next beauty purchase!

Dr. Irene explains how to easily identify which ingredients are in the product and why. Is the product you’re buying rich in quality ingredients, or full of junk? No one wants to pay for garbage, so do yourself a favor, and make sure that you know how to read cosmetics labels. Your face and your wallet will thank you.

Dr. Irene breaks it down for you so you can understand ingredients listed first are in the highest amounts, where active ingredients are listed, how to identify types of ingredients, fragrance and preservatives, and much much more.


The Truth about Labels

by Dr. Irene Reyzis



Have you ever been shopping for a new cosmetic or personal care product and been overwhelmed by the amount of information on the label? To most people it seems you need a PhD to be able to understand what ingredients are in products and why they are there. The label material and names of ingredients are so displaced from common language that it’s impossible for most people to tell if a product has good ingredients or if it is mainly composed of empty filler ingredients that don’t provide real benefit to the consumer.

Confusion over the ingredients isn’t surprising when product labels list dozens upon dozens of different ingredients with complicated chemical names. When the ingredient list goes on and on, taking up an entire side of the container or box, you may be inclined to think “are so many ingredients really necessary?” A lot of times they are not, yet it is common for companies to put in a lot of extras for various reasons. Extra ingredients may be used for creating a specific texture or simply making the formula seem more effective to consumers than it really is.

Yet all hope is not lost. There is a certain amount of familiarity a consumer can get with the language of labels, it only takes a little education. This article is intended to be a crash course on cosmetic labels that offers a wealth of insight on how to approach label information.



What product information should be displayed? 

The following information should be displayed on the packaging where the consumer is likely to see it under normal conditions of sale:

Image source:
  1. Product Identity
  2. Net Contents
  3. Directions for use/application
  4. Product Ingredients
  5. Warning and caution statements
  6. Manufacturer/Distributor information

Other information commonly displayed:

  1. “Period after opening” symbol, which indicates the number of months to use the product after opening it, provided the product is stored under normal conditions and not exposed to extreme temperatures. For example, “24M” means you should replace a product within 24 months after first opening it.
  2. Recycling symbol
  3. Origin of product (AKA “Made in USA”)

10 Symbol indicating to look at a product insert for additional information, like a leaflet, card or tag.

11 Batch numbers should be visible somewhere on the outside box or product container

All this information must be prominent, easy to read and easy to locate.



Image source –



  1. A) Order of Ingredients

For decoding the ingredient list, it is important to understand the order of ingredients on a label. The rule of the FDA (and most legal bodies worldwide) is that ingredients must be listed in descending order of predominance. In other words, those that make up the majority of the formula are listed first, and towards the end are those present in very small amounts. There are a few exceptions to the requirement of listing by predominance:

  1. Ingredients present at 1% or less may be listed in any order after ingredients present over 1%.

This is a really important rule to understand. The reason is that most cosmetics include a lot of ingredients at less than 1%. At some point in the middle of the list this group of ingredients starts and after that point ingredients can be listed in any order. The trick is identifying this point in the list; it can’t always be done with 100% certainty even for people who know the chemistry. However there are some ingredients to look for that are typically in the “less than 1%” category which can serve as landmarks. These include fragrance, preservatives, gums, carbomer, and some skin care actives such as vitamins.

  1. If the product is an OTC drug, the active ingredients should be listed before the cosmetic ingredients

This applies to acne products, dandruff shampoos, lip balm skin protectants, antiperspirants and hand sanitizers. The ingredient statement for one of these products reads as follows: “Active Ingredient: (name of drug ingredient and %). Other Ingredients: (cosmetic ingredients in descending order).”

  1. Color additives may be listed in any order at the very end of the list, after the listing of ingredients that are not color additives. 

It doesn’t matter if colorants are included at levels greater than 1% or not, all colorants in a cosmetic formula should be listed last.


Example of Ingredient Ordering – Lipstick

The following example shows a right and wrong way to order ingredients based on levels in a generic lipstick formula. You can see the correct way has Castor Oil, Lanolin, Beeswax, Candelilla Wax, Carnauba Wax and Ozokerite as the ingredient order, because their levels are 58, 8, 6.5, 5.5, 3 and 2%. The correct list also shows how colorants should be listed last and put in any order amongst themselves.

Incorrect Label Copy:  Correct Label Copy:
Castor Oil (58%) 

Beeswax (6.5) 

Candelilla Wax (5.5) 

Carnauba Wax (3) 

Lanolin (8) 

Ozokerite (2) 

Blendof:Propylene Glycol (and) BHA 

(and) Propyl Gallate (and) Citric Acid (1.3) 

Tocopheryl Acetate (0.2) 

Ascorbyl Palmitate (0.1) 

Vanillin (0.7) 

Titanium Dioxide (2) 

D&C Red No. 21 (2) 

D&C Red No. 6 Barium Lake (4) 

D&C Yellow No. 5 Aluminum Lake (5) 

Fragrance (0.5) 

Castor Oil 



Candelilla Wax 

Carnauba Wax 


Propylene Glycol 


Propyl Gallate 

Citric Acid 

Tocopheryl Acetate 

Ascorbyl Palmitate 



Titanium Dioxide 

D&C Red No. 21 

D&C Red No. 6 Barium Lake 

D&C Yellow No. 5 Aluminum Lake 


  1. B) Names of Ingredients

The cosmetic industry has a global naming system called the International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients, or INCI. These ingredient names are recognized in Europe and most countries worldwide. In the US however the FDA requires ingredients to be listed by their common English names.

Common English names sometimes overlap with international names (like with glycerin), but this is not always the case. For example, the international system identifies water as “aqua” and fragrance as “parfum”. Many naturals go by their botanical names and each colorant is assigned a 5-digit color index (CI) number. The FDA is okay with using international names in addition to common names, sometimes with parentheses or by using a slash.

  1. C) Identifying Types of Ingredients

First few ingredients on the list are “main ingredients” and make up the bulk of the formula

Almost always the first 3-6 ingredients make up the majority of a formula, usually in the ballpark of 75-98%. It is common to see water as the first ingredient, and in this case it is likely to be more than 70% of the total formula. The rest of the main ingredients give the product its ability to fulfill its intended use. For example, in a shampoo the main ingredients usually include water and detergents (AKA surfactants). If you are looking at a lotion, the main ingredients are usually water, emollients and moisturizers.

Fragrance (Parfum)

Fragrance (or flavor in some lip products) is often found in the middle or toward the end of the list, depending on how much is in the formula. For the most part fragrance levels range from 0.1-2%, but some heavily scented products may include more. The individual chemicals in a fragrance may be identified as ingredients, but this is not usually the case and it is not required by the FDA.


A preservative is something used to protect the product from contamination with germs (bacteria, mold, fungi, etc.). It is common for a formula to include more than one preservative, and these don’t necessarily occur next to each other in the ingredient list. Total preservative are usually between 0.3-1.0%, so when there are multiple each preservative is almost certainly present at less than 1%.

Some common preservatives:

  • Ones that end with “isoazolinone” e.g. Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone
  • Ones that end with “azolidinyl urea” e.g. Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Parabens e.g. Methylparaben, Ethylparaben
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Food preservatives: sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate


Colorants or color additives are ingredients added to impart color or visual effects to a product. They include synthetic FD&C and D&C dyes, which give bright hues of color to a product like red, blue, and yellow. They also include mineral pigments like titanium dioxide, iron oxides, chromium oxide greens, etc. The amount of color included can vary greatly depending on the type of product, but all colorants should still be named at the end of the list.

 Fillers, thickeners, stabilizers

After the main ingredients formulas will often include smaller amounts of ingredients meant to modify  the product. These include thickeners like gums and carbomer, also solubilizers like Polysorbates and PEG ingredients. You may also see pH adjusting ingredients like citric acid or sodium hydroxide.

  1. D) Where do ingredients present at less than 1% start?

After the first few main ingredients, it’s not easy to tell how much of the remaining ingredients are in a product because of the “less than 1%” rule. Ingredient levels vary, so even landmark ingredients mentioned above are moving targets.

Yet it is possible to get a ballpark sense of where the less than 1% zone starts and whether beneficial ingredients are present in effective levels. Look to see if cosmetic actives occur before ingredients like preservatives, fragrance, polysorbates, carbomer, gums and cellulose. These ingredients tend to be in the 0.5-2.0% range or higher. If you see ingredients after preservatives, EDTA, BHA, BHT, citric acid or sodium hydroxide, likely the amounts used are miniscule and not enough to provide real benefit

See also:


  1. E) Examples of ingredient lists and how to decode them


  • Green = main ingredients
  • Purple = fragrance
  • Red = preservatives
  • Blue = colorants
  • Black = other ingredients (thickeners, fillers, vitamins, essential oils, etc.)

Ingredients in a basic lotion:

Ingredient Function
Water  Majority of the formula
Soybean (Glycine Soja) Oil  Natural emollient and skin conditioner
Cetearyl Alcohol Natural-based emollient and formula stabilizer
Glyceryl Stearate  Natural-based emollient and formula stabilizer
PEG 100 Stearate  Fatty acid with polyethylene glycol (PEG), used as a stabilizer
Glycerin  Natural humectant (moisturizer)
Dimethicone  Silicone that adds glide to the formula, also an emollient
Fragrance/Parfum  Scent
Aloe Vera Natural skin conditioner
Shea Butter Natural emollient
Methylparaben, Propylparaben Preservatives
Tocopherol  Vitamin E
Carbomer Thickener
Tetrasodium EDTA Metal chelator (sequester)
BHA Protects oils from oxidation
Sodium Hydroxide pH balancer
Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid pH balancer


Generic / Leading Brand Formulas – Lotions and Creams

INGREDIENTS: Water, Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum), Glycerin, Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride, Stearic Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Carbomer, Ceteareth 20, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Citrate, Panthenol, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Extract, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Fragrance, Citric Acid,  Ethylparaben

[Notice how Panthenol (Pro-vitamin B5) and Green Tea are not among the main ingredients, and are listed after Sodium Hydroxide and Sodium Citrate, which are usually present between 0.01-0.1%. Therefore with certainty both are “less than 1%” ingredients]



INGREDIENTS: Water, Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum), Stearic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Stearyl Alcohol, Fragrance, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Lanolin, Methylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Diazolidinyl Urea, FD&C Yellow 6 Aluminum Lake, FD&C Red 40 (CI 16035), D&C Red 33 (CI 17200)

[Notice how Cocoa Butter is not one of the main ingredients, and is listed after fragrance, which is usually present between 0.1-2%. Based on labeling rules, the level of Cocoa Butter will be less than the level of fragrance if they are present above 1%. If fragrance is present below 1%, Cocoa Butter must also be below 1% in order to be listed afterward. Therefore the estimated level of Cocoa Butter is roughly 2% at most but possibly much lower.]



INGREDIENTS: Water, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Isopropyl Myristate, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG 100 Stearate, PEG/PPG 18/18 Dimethicone, Tetrasodium EDTA, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Magnesium Aluminium Silicate, Xanthan Gum, Olea Europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract, Triethanolamine, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Diazolidinyl Urea, Niacinamide, BHT, Fragrance

[Notice how Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is listed after EDTA, Xanthan Gum and the preservatives, meaning it is present at less than 1% given typical use levels of these ingredients]



INGREDIENTS: Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Stearic Acid, Isopropyl Myristate, Mineral Oil, Glyceryl Stearate, Glycol Stearate, Dimethicone, Peg-100 Stearate, Petrolatum, Cetyl Alcohol, Tapioca Starch, Phenoxyethanol, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Methylparaben, Fragrance (Parfum), Acrylates/c10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Propylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Xanthan Gum, Stearamide AMP, Hydroxyethyl Urea, Propylene Glycol, Avena Sativa (Oat) Extract, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891).

[Notice how Oat Extract is listed after the preservatives, EDTA and Xanthan Gum, which all have use levels of less than 1%, so Oat Extract is also present at less than 1%]



Generic / Leading Brand Formulas – Hair Conditioners 

INGREDIENTS: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Macrocystis Pyrifera (Kelp) Extract, Crithmum Maritimum Extract, Magnesium Sulfate, Ceteareth-20, Glycerin, Arachidyl Alcohol, Cetrimonium Chloride, Behentrimonium Chloride, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Polyquaternium-70, Polyquaternium-11, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Dipropylene Glycol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Fragrance, Linalool, Limonene, Hexyl Cinnamal, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Phenoxyethanol.

INGREDIENTS: Water, Stearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Cetyl Alcohol, Bis Aminopropyl Dimethicone, Fragrance, Benzyl Alcohol, Dicetyldimonium Chloride, Disodium EDTA, Panthenol, Panthenyl Ethyl Ether, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone


Generic / Leading Brand Formulas – Shampoos

INGREDIENTS: Water, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycol Distearate, Dimethicone, Sodium Citrate, Cocamide MEA, Fragrance, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Chloride, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Polyquaternium 6, Panthenol, Panthenyl Ethyl Ether, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

INGREDIENTS: Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Xylenesulfonate, Cocamide MEA, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Glycol Distearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Dimethicone, Vitis Vinifera (Grape Seed) Oil, Fragrance, Sodium Citrate, PEG-150 Distearate, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Salicylic Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Polyquaternium-6, Methylparaben, Yellow 5, Red 33


Generic / Leading Brand Formulas – Facial Cleanser

INGREDIENTS: Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Glycerin, Acrylates Crosspolymer, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide, Menthyl Lactate, Fragrance, Disodium EDTA, Cellulose, Citric Acid, Mannitol, Xylitol, Menthol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Polygonum Fagopyrum Flour (Buckwheat), Ethylparaben, Caffeine, Polybutylene Terephthalate, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Fruit Extract, Carica Papaya (Papya) Fruit Extract, Algin, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, Ethylene/VA Copolymer, Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Talc, Chromium Hydroxide Green (CI 77289), Iron Oxides, Yellow 10

The Lies my Makeup Told Me

An Introduction to “The Lies my Makeup Told Me”

There isn’t an official definition cosmetic companies follow to use the terms “natural” or “all-natural”. You know that “all natural” lipstick from your favorite brand in your makeup bag? Well, girlfriend, heavy metals and harsh chemicals can enter into cosmetics in trace without any sort of indication on the label, even in so-called natural products.

When a product is called “all-natural”, it means that all the ingredients inside come from natural sources. This means both “natural materials that have been processed only” and ingredients that are fully “naturally-derived”. If the product includes ingredients that are part-natural/part-synthetic derived, the product should NOT be called “all-natural”.

Some brands will skirt the issue by saying “made with natural ingredients”, or from our “all-natural line”. Here’s what they don’t tell you: the amount of the makeup you’re using that is not naturally-derived is NOT REQUIRED. Are you willing to trust these claims? Didn’t think so.

Never fear, Dr. Irene has the answers on how to protect yourself from the (literally) gross exaggerations of some unethical natural brands

Look for seals (logos) from third-party organizations like the NPA (Natural Products Association), who have developed a program for verifying that products meet a certain standard for natural.


The Lies my Makeup Told Me

 by Dr. Irene Reyzis




There are no federal regulations that define or oversee what it means for a product to be “natural”. To most people the term implies the ingredients come from natural sources and have been minimally processed post-harvest. It also implies a product is free from synthetic ingredients. To most people the term synthetic means ingredients that are not found in nature and/or that have been manufactured from industrial starting materials like petroleum.

Let’s explore this concept – what does it truly mean to be synthetic? The English dictionary (Merriam-Webster) defines synthetic as:

“made by combining different substances : not natural. Specifically (1) : of, relating to, or produced by chemical or biochemical synthesis; especially : produced artificially <synthetic drugs> <synthetic silk> (2) : of or relating to a synfuel”

So what does it mean to be synthetic in terms of cosmetic ingredients? Without getting into too much chemistry there are a couple ways to think about this question. The first way it can be defined is whether or not it took any kind of chemical reaction to make the ingredient or not. Was the ingredient generated by taking material A + material B to make material C in a chemical manufacturing plant? Or was it just a matter of taking a naturally-sourced material (like a plant seed or leaf), and processing it post-harvest to make something more pure like a seed oil or a leaf extract?

Looking more closely at the A + B = C way of making cosmetic ingredients, it is important to note that the starting materials A and B can come from either natural sources or “synthetic” sources like petroleum (crude oil) or silicone. When both A & B come from natural sources, C is usually considered to be natural as well. This is what it technically means to be “naturally-derived” (now you know!). These naturally-derived (but chemically-synthesized) ingredients a lot of times mimic compounds that exist in nature, even though there was a chemical reaction involved in their manufacture. The chemical reactions often resemble those that happen in nature too. This is sometimes referred to as “green chemistry”.

Example of chemical reaction to make a naturally-derived ingredient:

Vegetable Glycerin + Palm Fatty Acid => Glyceryl Palmitate (a naturally-derived ingredient)

When both A + B come from petroleum or other synthetic sources, the resulting chemicals may or may not resemble anything that exists in nature. That is also the case when A comes from natural sources but B does not.

The other thing to be concerned about when you start with synthetics is the chemical reactions are not always 100% complete, so you may end up with trace amounts of starting material contaminating your finished ingredient. When making ingredients like PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, for example, materials like ethylene oxide or dioxane may ultimately end up in the product which ends up on your skin. This is one way harsh chemicals can enter into cosmetics in trace amounts without any sort of indication on the label.

Example of fully synthetic reaction:

(Ethylene Oxide x 12) + Dimethicone = PEG-12 Dimethicone

Example of part-synthetic reaction:

(Ethylene Oxide x 20) + Stearic Acid (from Palm) = Steareth-20

So in summary, it is possible to categorize cosmetic ingredients by these two principles:

(1) origins of the starting materials: Natural (plant, animal, insect, mineral) vs. Non-natural (petroleum, silicones, coal tar).

(2) whether or not the starting materials were combined in a chemical reaction to make the ingredient

Illustrative table (two options):

Natural material that has been processed only, no chemical modification Chemically Synthesized, 100% natural starting materials Chemically Synthesized, 100% synthetic starting materials Chemically Synthesized, but both natural and synthetic starting materials

Examples: Sunflower

oil, Coconut oil,

essential oils, Beeswax,

Lanolin, Milk protein,

Green tea extract Glyceryl Stearate, Decyl Glucoside, Sorbitan Olivate, Cetyl Palmitate PEG-12 Dimethicone, Propylene Glycol, Carbomer PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Chemically Synthesized Processed only (includes plant extracts, refined oils, etc.)

Natural starting materials

(plants, animals, insects) Glyceryl Stearate, Sorbitan Olivate Sunflower oil, Jojoba oil, Beeswax, Silk Protein

Non-natural starting materials

(petroleum, siloxanes) PEG-12 Dimethicone Mineral oil, Petrolatum

Both natural and non-natural

starting materials PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil Does not exist

Natural and Organic Claims

So now that we fully understand the nature of what it means to be natural, let’s look at claims relating to natural ingredients in cosmetic products. Most of the time, when a product is called “all-natural”, it means that all the ingredients inside come from natural sources*. This means both “natural materials that have been processed only” and ingredients that are fully “naturally-derived”. If the product includes ingredients that are part-natural/part-synthetic derived, like PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, the product should technically not be called “all-natural”.

For products that aren’t truly all-natural, a lot of times you will see the claim “made with natural ingredients”. While it is probably true for most products that say it, the disclosure of just how much of

the formula is actually natural or naturally-derived is not required. It may be 1% or even less of the formula that is actually made of natural ingredients, but the claim is still perfectly legal. That is why it helps when looking at products to see if they share what percent of the formula is natural exactly.

Take-home point: there is no official definition or criteria with which cosmetic companies must comply in order to use the terms “natural” or “all-natural”. Companies are of course legally obligated not to make blatantly false claims on their labels, but since there is no binding definition, the fine lines are blurry, there are multiple shades of grey, and interpretation of the term throughout the cosmetic industry is inconsistent and loose. It often helps to look for seals (logos) from third-party organizations like the NPA (Natural Products Association), who have developed a program for verifying that products meet a certain standard for natural.

As a side note, products labeled “organic” must be certified to have met the government’s strict organic standards by an USDA-accredited, third-party certifier. The terms “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable. Organic tends to refer more to how natural products were cultivated in terms of agricultural, wild-harvesting and animal husbandry practices. There is a focus on avoiding use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, as well as sustainability and techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control to maintain good soil condition.

Table: Summary of ingredients allowed and not allowed in natural products certified by the NPA


Synthetic fragrance – fragrances that use petroleum-

based solvents for extraction as well as purely

synthetic additives Fragrances made with compounds that exist in natural (like Limonene, Citronellol, Cinnamic acid). Any natural fragrance ingredients are allowed, as long as their production uses allowed process as stated in The Natural Standard.

Chemical preservatives such as

Methylisothiazolinone, DMDM Hydantoin/Diazolidinyl

Urea, Parabens Natural preservatives such as Lactoperoxidase, Gluconolactone, Benzoic Acid, Capryloyl Glycine, Glyceryl Caprylate

Chemical anti-oxidizing agents such as BHA and BHT Antioxidants like Vitamins E and C

Synthetic thickeners made from petrochemicals like

Carbomer, PVP/Acrylates (may contain residual PAHs

which are widespread pollutants) Natural thickeners like Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, Cellulose

Synthetic emulsifiers – have a petroleum-derived

component, like Polysorbates, ingredients ending with

“-eth” (e.g. Laureth-4), and those with “PEG” in the

name (e.g. PEG-150 Distearate) Naturally-derived emulsifiers made through allowed processes like Glyceryl Stearate, Sorbitan Olivate, Cetearyl Glucoside, Cetyl Alcohol.


Most people understand a vegan product as one that does not include any animal-derived ingredients or by-products, and did not involved any animal testing in its production. The next question is usually “what are animal by-products?” Those would be ingredients that come from animals or materials sourced from animals like milk, eggs, tallow (beef fat), gelatin, collagen and keratin.

It is important to note that “vegan” is not a regulated term. Producers are allowed to put it on labels and packaging without having to prove to anyone how vegan the product is. There is no universal authority on the matter, so producers are allowed to go by their own definition of it. Consumers often have to

take the manufacturer’s word for it when products are labeled vegan. Unfortunately that may not be enough reassurance for some folks. For those who are truly concerned about using vegan and cruelty-free products, they can look for products with specific logos meant to verify the product is actually vegan and not tested on animals.

The thing about animal-derived ingredients is it’s not always clear what they are by names on the label. An example is lanolin. Lanolin is a waxy substance commonly used in lip balms and products for dry skin. Not everyone realizes this ingredient is derived from purification of oils found on sheep’s wool, and wool is also where most cosmetic keratin is sourced. The making of lanolin and keratin is not necessarily a harmful to sheep, but technically these materials are still animal by-products because of their sheepish origins.

The other aspect of veganism that not everyone thinks about is that some ingredients are derived from insects. This applies to products containing beeswax – they are technically not vegan in the eyes of a purist. Neither would be any colored cosmetic containing the red pigment carmine derived from a species of beetle found in South America. Additionally, there are plenty of hair products out there that feature silk proteins as ingredients, which some people know come from fibers produced by the silk worm.

A word about logos and certifications

A lot of organizations legally “own” logos that verify a product is natural, organic, cruelty-free, vegan, etc. They allow companies to use them on labels only if products are deemed to meet certain quality standards or criteria set up by the organization. Federal and independent, third-party organizations certifying a product is what it says it is according to their criteria offers customers reassurance that there is some degree of validity behind product claims.

The caveat is that many companies who have products that are truly natural, vegan, cruelty-free, etc will opt not use logos for various reasons. Usually because the work involved in getting one can be tedious and costly. In truth not all companies will go through the effort, even if they make products that happen to be the same quality as products that do use the logos. Outside of relying on logos, it also helps to do your own research on ingredients and directly contact cosmetic companies when you have any questions about their claims.

Contains XYZ beneficial ingredient

It is not uncommon for companies to put trace amounts of desirable ingredients in a product, AKA the cosmetic actives. Ingredients that are skin-beneficial like vitamins are often included at levels of less than a hundredth (0.01%) or even a thousandth (0.001%) of a percent. Realistically there is a very low likelihood that ingredients are doing anything helpful for the skin when present in such low amounts. However, it is still permissible for companies to describe this ingredient on the label and give consumers an impression that it is providing some kind of skin care benefit.

For all cosmetics and most types of OTC products, no proof of effectiveness is required ? to be able to market a product for a particular claim.


People with skin allergies may react to a variety of ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. That’s one reason why the FDA provides no official definition for classifying these products as hypoallergenic. However there are a few ingredient categories where the members on average are more likely to trigger allergic skin reactions compared to most other ingredient types. These ingredient categories include fragrances (both synthetic and natural) and chemical preservatives.

Given the lack of legally-binding criteria for calling a product hypoallergenic, it is no surprise how often this term is used throughout the cosmetic industry. Any dermatologist would agree the claim is used describe a wide range of products with varying potential to actually trigger allergies. It may be used to describe products loaded with harsh irritating chemicals as much as it may be used to describe something that truly has a lower likelihood to cause skin reactions. The worrisome part is that this happens without any way for consumers to discern the difference between legitimate hypoallergenic claims and ones that are just thrown out there to make a product seem more desirable in the eyes of the consumer.

On the industry side there is a common practice of validating hypoallergenic claims that includes conducting clinical skin patch tests, but this is not a legal requirement. It is performed at the discretion of cosmetic companies for their own reassurance that they have scientific data backing up their claims in case of a lawsuit. Many of the large-size, mass-market companies will front this cost because they have a lot of money and a lot to lose if somebody were to press charges. On the flip side, there are many small and medium-sized companies that would rather save on the cost of conducting clinical tests and use the claim without any sort of substantiation.

Basically the claim is out there for cosmetic companies to use however they want, and each is allowed to have their own interpretation of what it actually means for a product to be hypoallergenic.

Given the lack of legally binding criteria and how the definition of hypoallergenic can be different from company to company, from product to product, there stands an important question – if there was a universal definition of hypoallergenic, what should it be? Well, there was a time when the FDA did try to establish one. They proposed it in 1974, and said using the claim should require scientific tests to show significantly lower rates of adverse reactions in human skin from use of the products with the claim versus products without it. However, two large-scale producers of hypoallergenic cosmetics challenged this rule in court with the charge that the FDA had no authority to issue it, and the regulation was ruled as invalid. (read more about this in Medscape article)

“Baddies” – Overview Of Unwanted Chemicals In Cosmetics

by Dr. Irene Reyzis






“Baddies” – Overview Of Unwanted Chemicals In Cosmetics

Can chemicals in cosmetics affect your health?

You may be wondering, if a chemical is bad for your health, why would it be used in cosmetics? The FDA does not usually ban ingredients even if they are known to be hazardous to human health. There is a reason for this. When it comes to harmful chemicals, negative health effects that may be associated with them are usually dose-dependent.

What does dose-dependent mean? It means the amount of a chemical you are exposed to determines how much harm it does. Being exposed to either a large amount all at once or small amounts over a period of time could potentially cause harm. Think about cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke. Smoking one pack of cigarettes by itself will not cause cancer. But smoking one pack a day for several decades will put someone at a very high risk for various types of cancer and a lot of other medical issues.

In summary, these are some important factors to consider when determining if a substance is harmful:


  • Frequency of exposure – how often do you come into contact with the chemical? Once or many times?
  • Level of exposure – how much of the chemical are you exposed to at once? Is the chemical present in the product in high amounts? – sometimes referred to as the “concentration” in a product.
  • Route of exposure – what body part is interacting with the chemical? Are you putting it on your skin, hair, lips, eyelashes? Are you ingesting or inhaling any of it when you use products containing the chemical? How much of the chemical is actually absorbed through the skin?


Long-term exposure to chemicals in cosmetics

It is a federal law that all cosmetics and personal care products be safe for consumers when used as directed. As a result, any not-so-healthy chemicals are present in low amounts so they won’t have immediate impacts on health. However, if you think about how often cosmetics and personal care products come into contact with skin, the frequency of exposure is on the high side of the scale.


Most people use products in their bathroom on a daily basis. So even though levels of bad chemicals are low, the number of times they come into contact with your body on a long-term basis is high. Consider this and the fact that people use multiple products every day in their personal care routine. Each product used contributes to a larger total dose of bad chemicals your body sees everyday.



Many products = many chemicals

Would you expect the average woman to only use one product in her beauty regimen? She’s more likely to use a handful of different products, usually somewhere in the ballpark of 15 or more. If you tally up a typical day’s worth of cleansers, soaps, scrubs, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, toners, lotions, masks, shaving products and make-up… pretty soon the total chemical exposure isn’t quite so miniscule.


This even applies to men, who usually don’t just wash themselves with soap and go. Men tend to use things like shaving products, toothpaste, mouthwash, hair gels, deodorant, cologne, maybe lotion or hand sanitizers on occasion. Beyond the bathroom, even more chemicals come into contact with skin through products used in everyday activities like household maintenance and childcare. Diaper creams, baby wipes, dish soap, countertop spray… all these products make contact with the skin for a path of bodily exposure to the chemicals they contain.



You say how many chemicals?

It is estimated that the average woman puts anywhere from 160 to over 500 different chemicals on her body everyday. Some cosmetic companies, industry groups and chemical manufacturers make the argument that skin is “dead tissue” and negligible amounts of unhealthy chemicals actually penetrate it. However, there is plenty of research out there suggesting otherwise. Health agencies like OSHA report that many chemicals are readily absorbed through skin and can cause health effects without being noticed by the user. If substances like nicotine can get through the skin to the bloodstream from a nicotine patch, rest assured certain chemicals can get into the body from cosmetics rubbed into the skin.



The take-home message: 

Industry groups and the FDA find many potentially harmful chemicals to be safe in low doses as when they are present in cosmetic products. However concern still exists about damage they might cause from repeated exposure over time and cumulatively with each other, because there isn’t a lot of research or data for this. Even if bad chemicals are allowed because the FDA believes low levels are acceptably safe for consumers, exposure is still happening, and there is still some level of risk involved. Given the multiplicity of products people put on their bodies everyday, it’s almost impossible to tell just how big that risk is for any one person.


So the question you need to ask yourself is – how comfortable are you with unknown risk regarding your body? Are you willing to take that risk just to use certain brands of cosmetics? It might not make sense if there are viable alternatives out there, alternatives that stay away from use of controversial, potentially bad-for-you chemicals. Here at BodiSafe we call those chemicals “baddies”.–515-chemicals-women-bodies-day.html


The “Baddies”

Below is a review of the top baddies we avoid using in our products as part of our philosophy to keep your body safe:

Phthalates are a group of chemicals found in a wide variety of consumer goods. They are mostly used to soften plastic, but they can also be used in cosmetic ingredients. Phthalates may be added to products directly, you might find them as ingredients in hair spray, conditioners, deodorants, makeup and perfumes. Dibutyl phthalate is sometimes used as an additive in nail polish to increase its flexibility. The chunky glitter found in eyeshadows, eyeliner and nail polish is usually made from polyethylene terephthalate.


Phthalates tend to slip in undercover in many cosmetics as part of the fragrance, or as an impurity. In synthetic fragrances they are used to carry other chemicals in the blend. When phthalates are present in ingredients like fragrance, this is usually NOT noted on product ingredient labels.


In the body phthalates are known to disturb hormone activity. Studies have linked phthalates to early puberty in girls, low sperm counts in men, and increased risk of breast cancer. Environmental and consumer health groups claim phthalates may contribute to the rising incidence of reproductive problems in women and testicular cancer in men, as well as infertility in both genders. Heavy, short-term exposure to phthalates may cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, eye irritation, dizziness, and headache. Repeated, long-term exposure may cause damage to the kidneys and liver. Pregnant women should consider their level of exposure most of all, as phthalates can be harmful to the developing fetus and cause birth defects.



Barrett JR. Chemical Exposures: The Ugly Side of Beauty Products. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2005;113(1):A24.


López-Carrillo L, Hernández-Ramírez RU, Calafat AM, et al. Exposure to Phthalates and Breast Cancer Risk in Northern Mexico. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2010;118(4):539-544. doi:10.1289/ehp.0901091.


Martino‐Andrade, A., & Chahoud, I. (2010). Reproductive toxicity of phthalate esters. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 54(1), 148-157.


Saillenfait, A., Sabaté, J., Robert, A., Rouiller‐Fabre, V., Roudot, A., Moison, D., & Denis, F. (2013). Dose‐dependent alterations in gene expression and testosterone production in fetal rat testis after exposure to di‐ n ‐hexyl phthalate. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 33(9), 1027-1035.


Singh, S., & Li, S. (2011). Phthalates: Toxicogenomics and inferred human diseases. Genomics, 97(3), 148-157.–Manufacturing/Business-Education/Business-Guidance/Phthalates-Information/





Formaldehyde shows up in cosmetics and personal care products in different forms. According to the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and other health authorities, formaldehyde is a human carcinogen based on evidence from human research studies and supporting lab data. There are other groups who classify formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen like the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the EPA through their Integrated Risk Information System. The types of cancers of highest concern when it comes to formaldehyde are those of the nasal cavity and upper airways, and bone marrow cancers like leukemia.


Exposure to formaldehyde fumes can cause a range of short-term health issues such as eye irritation, headache, burning in the throat, labored breathing, and asthma attacks in some individuals. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that formaldehyde is a sensitizing agent that can trigger various responses of the immune system including allergies. They say it is highly irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, and may lead to asthma-like respiratory problems and dermatitis with long-term exposure.


Formaldehyde can act as a skin allergen and has a high likelihood to cause skin reactions. Skin absorption of formaldehyde does occur, and according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) formaldehyde can cause an allergic skin rash (contact dermatitis) that is itchy, red, and may become raised or develop blisters.


Although formaldehyde can cause cancer and many other health issues, it is still allowed in consumer products, including cosmetics like nail polish and salon hair smoothing treatments. It is permitted to include formaldehyde in cosmetics as an ingredient, but it may also enter products through carrier ingredients like methylene glycol, formaldehyde resins and the formaldehyde-producing preservatives: DMDM hydantoin, Quaternium-15, Imidazolidinyl Urea, and Diazolidinyl Urea.


Most carrier ingredients do not have the word “formaldehyde” in their name, so most consumers would not recognize them as sources simply from reading the label. This is why it helps to be knowledgeable about the names of specific formaldehyde-producing ingredients.


The FDA places no restrictions on formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing ingredients in cosmetics or personal care products. Yet Japan and Sweden ban their use in such products, and use levels are limited in Europe. The state of Minnesota has banned in-state sales of children’s personal care products containing formaldehyde.



Arici, S., Karaman, S., Dogru, S., Cayli, S., Arici, A., Suren, M., Karaman, T., & Kaya, Z. (2014). Central nervous system toxicity after acute oral formaldehyde exposure in rabbits: An experimental study. Human & Experimental Toxicology, 33(11), 1141-1149.


Boyer, I., Heldreth, B., Bergfeld, W., Belsito, D., Hill, R., Klaassen, C., Liebler, D., Marks, J., Shank, R., Slaga, T., Snyder, P., & Andersen, F. (2013). Amended Safety Assessment of Formaldehyde and Methylene Glycol as Used in Cosmetics. International Journal of Toxicology, 32, 5S-32S.


Danièle, L., Annette, L., Denis, B., Paul, D., Michel, G., Ewa, O., Manolis, K., Stefano, B., Isabelle, B., Ulrich, B., Louise, B., Pietro, C., Lennart, H., Richard, H., Corrado, M., Enzo, M., Susan, P., Thomas, V., Wei, Z., & Paolo, B. (2002). Sinonasal cancer and occupational exposures: a pooled analysis of 12 case–control studies. Cancer Causes & Control, 13(2), 147-157.


Ke, Y., Qin, X., Zhang, Y., Li, H., Li, R., Yuan, J., Yang, X., & Ding, S. (2014). In vitro study on cytotoxicity and intracellular formaldehyde concentration changes after exposure to formaldehyde and its derivatives. Human & Experimental Toxicology, 33(8), 822-830.


Krakowiak, A., Górski, P., Pazdrak, K., & Ruta, U. (1998). Airway response to formaldehyde inhalation in asthmatic subjects with suspected respiratory formaldehyde sensitization. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 33(3), 274-281.


Lobo, F., Santos, T., Vieira, K., Osório, V., & Taylor, J. (2015). Determination of formaldehyde in hair creams by gas chromatography‐mass spectrometry. Drug Testing and Analysis, 7(9), 848-852.

Luce, D., Gérin, M., Leclerc, A., Morcet, J., Brugère, J., & Goldberg, M. (1993). Sinonasal cancer and occupational exposure to formaldehyde and other substances. International Journal of Cancer, 53(2), 224-231.


Luce, D., Gérin, M., Leclerc, A., Morcet, J., Brugère, J., & Goldberg, M. (1993). Sinonasal cancer and occupational exposure to formaldehyde and other substances. International Journal of Cancer, 53(2), 224-231.


NTP (National Toxicology Program). 2014. Report on Carcinogens, Thirteenth Edition. Research Triangle Park, NC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.


Sandvik, A., Klingen, T., & Langård, S. (2014). Sinonasal adenoid cystic carcinoma following formaldehyde exposure in the operating theatre. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology (London, England), 9(1).
Wang, F., Li, C., Liu, W., Jin, Y., & Guo, L. (2014). Effects of subchronic exposure to low‐dose volatile organic compounds on lung inflammation in mice. Environmental Toxicology, 29(9), 1089-1097.


Zhang, L., Freeman, L., Nakamura, J., Hecht, S., Vandenberg, J., Smith, M., & Sonawane, B. (2010). Formaldehyde and leukemia: Epidemiology, potential mechanisms, and implications for risk assessment. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, 51(3), 181-191.





Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient used in many soaps, cleansers, hand washes, deodorants and dental products. In recent years a lot of scientific data has emerged pointing to both negative health effects and environmental toxicity. Studies suggest triclosan may be linked to a variety of health issues, including hormone disruption, weakened muscle function, heart problems, cancer, liver toxicity, birth defects and developmental problems in children. The widespread use of triclosan also promotes drug-resistant strains of super bacteria.


Triclosan is not easily cleared by the body and tends to accumulate in the fat cells of humans and animals. In the majority of people triclosan can be detected in body fluids like blood, urine and breast milk. Triclosan also accumulates in the environment and is harmful to many types of aquatic life. It shows up in tap water and reacts with the chlorine present to form toxic byproducts such as chloroform.


There are a lot of legal issues surrounding the use of triclosan. One is its status as a “Category III” active ingredient in the FDA’s proposed set of rules for antibacterial personal care products. This means the FDA has not yet determined whether triclosan is actually safe and effective for killing bacteria or not. They need more scientific data in order to do so. A final rule on whether this chemical is acceptable for everyday use in personal care products is pending, as it has been for 17 years.


Triclosan continues to appear in many products because this is permitted while an active ingredient is in pending status. Companies can make the claim “antibacterial” when using this ingredient, although in reality it may not be an effective germ killer, or may be causing health and safety issues where the risks outweigh the benefits to be gained from using the ingredient.


In places like Minnesota action has already been taken against triclosan due to its questionable effects on human health and bacterial drug resistance. In 2014 the state passed a law banning triclosan-containing personal care products that will go into effect January 1st, 2017. The law says “In order to prevent the spread of infectious disease and avoidable infections and to promote best practices in sanitation, no person shall offer for retail sale in Minnesota any cleaning product that contains triclosan and is used by consumers for sanitizing or hand and body cleansing.”





Stoker TE, Gibson EK, Zorrilla LM. Triclosan exposure modulates estrogen-dependent responses in the female wistar rat. Toxicol Sci. 2010 Sep;117(1):45-53. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfq180. Epub 2010 Jun 18. PubMed PMID: 20562219.

Yazdankhah SP, Scheie AA, Høiby EA, Lunestad BT, Heir E, Fotland TØ, Naterstad K, Kruse H. Triclosan and antimicrobial resistance in bacteria: an overview. Microb Drug Resist. 2006;12(2):83-90. PubMed PMID: 16922622.–20130210_1_triclosan-plain-soap-sarah-janssen




BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) are related chemicals used to extend the shelf life of products with oil ingredients, including moisturizers, lotions, body oils, shaving creams, perfumes, fragrances and lipsticks. They are added in low amounts with typical use levels ranging from 0.0002% to 0.5%. Both BHA and BHT have been linked to hormone disruption and cancer, according agencies like the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Toxicology experts say these chemicals can penetrate skin, but are absorbed by the body at a slow rate, with most of the applied ingredient accumulating in the living skin layers.


Many health authorities find the scientific evidence concerning enough that restrictions have been passed on use of these chemicals. Europe prohibits their use in fragrances, and California requires a warning label on all products that contain BHA about its possible negative health effects. In addition to being a human health concern, BHA negatively impacts the environment because of its tendency to accumulate in water and cause harm to aquatic wildlife. While many products with oily ingredients require protection from oxidation, this can also be accomplished with alternative ingredients, like certain forms of Vitamin E (tocopherol or mixed tocopherols) often used in cosmetics.—bha-and-bhti/




Parabens are a group of chemicals commonly used as preservatives that stop bacteria, mold and fungi from growing in cosmetic products. They are found in a variety of products including cleansers, body washes, hair products, moisturizers, lotions and skin care products.


Parabens are known to mimic the activity of hormones like estrogen in the body. Parabens are easily absorbed through skin and research studies have found evidence of parabens in breast tumors. However, the scientific evidence does not clearly demonstrate that parabens can actually cause breast cancer.


Many scientists and most governing bodies consider the hormone effects of common parabens too weak to cause any real harm, particularly with low doses applied to the skin as is typical with cosmetics. However, some newer research points to the conclusion that parabens interact with breast cancer cells in ways that are not yet fully understood. A study published in October 2015 in Environmental Health Perspectives found that for certain types of breast cancer cells, parabens stimulate their growth and be more potent at lower concentrations than previously thought. At the end of the day, there is still a lot of scientific uncertainty about whether parabens have the ability to contribute to breast cancer development and to what extent.


Parabens can also cause skin irritation, contact dermatitis and/or rosacea in individuals with a paraben sensitivity or paraben allergy, albeit this is a small percentage of the general population. There is also a small number of research studies indicating that parabens applied to the skin may interact with UV light in ways that accelerate skin aging and DNA damage.


The use of parabens in cosmetics is regulated in Europe, with five different parabens being banned completely, and others being allowed only in levels of 0.4% or less. Typical use levels of individual parabens range from 0.1 to 0.3%. In the US there is no limit on the amount of parabens permitted in cosmetics and personal care products.




Propylene Glycol comes from petroleum and has very widespread use in cosmetics. It can perform multiple functions in products, including stabilizing other ingredients, controlling bacteria inside the product, and binding water to act like a moisturizer. In many ways it is kind of like a synthetic version of glycerin. It can be found in moisturizers, lotions, toners, makeup, sunscreens, makeup, cleansers and hair products.


For years the dermatology community has known about propylene glycol’s ability to cause irritation and skin reactions in some individuals. In cases of sensitivity propylene glycol can cause rashes that resemble eczema on skin areas where products have been applied. It has been associated with causing dermatitis as well as hives at concentrations as low as 2 percent, which is not uncommon in cosmetics. Also a skin penetrator, propylene glycol can enhance bodily absorption of other baddies present in a product.





Synthetic Fragrance is a type of ingredient used to impart scent to cosmetic formulas. It is not just one chemical, but a mixture of many different chemicals and compounds. The entire mixture is listed as one ingredient – “Fragrance” or “Parfum” – on labels because cosmetic fragrances are given trade secret status by the FDA. It is not a legal requirement for the multiple chemicals that constitute a fragrance to be disclosed on the label. Typical cosmetic fragrances are composed of about 20 to 100 different chemicals. Also there are about 2,600 different chemicals currently in use for making synthetic fragrances, and about 95% of these are synthetic meaning they are derived from petroleum.


There are a lot of chemicals used in synthetic fragrances that don’t contribute to scent but are meant to carry aroma chemicals into products. These are not shown on the label either, and might be thought of as incidental ingredients. In 2002 the Environmental Working Group tested 72 off-the-shelf beauty products and found about three-quarters of them to contain phthalates. Due to the fragrance labeling loophole, none of the products tested (which included many from leading brands) had the word “phthalate” listed on the ingredient label.


Fragrances are also not the best thing for people who have sensitive skin, allergies or asthma. Some of the compounds used in fragrance are among the top known skin allergens, and inhaling fragrance could possibly trigger respiratory allergies or asthma attacks in some individuals. Also fragrance chemicals tend to be smaller on the molecular scale and tend to easily penetrate skin for bodily absorption.



Similar red lists:



Baddie Label ingredient name(s) IngredientCategory/Function Used in Concern Bans and regulations
Phthalates DibutylPhthalate, Butyl Benzyl Phthalate


Solvents, plasticizers, fragrance carriers Perfumes,some synthetic fragrances, nail polishes, hairsprays Linked to hormone disruption, possibly leading to fertility issues, premature puberty in girls and/or irregular reproductive development in boys prior to birth. May also cause allergies,asthma, liver and kidney damage. Banned from children’s toys in the US, similar ban in Europe.
Formaldehyde & Formaldehyde-producers DMDMHydantoin,Quaternium-15,ImidazolidinylUrea,DiazolidinylUrea, Methylene Glycol, Formaldehyde Resin Preservatives, hair-straightening, nail hardening, disinfectants Cosmetics and personal care products that contain water, salon hair treatments, nail products A humancarcinogen according to theNational Toxicology Program(NTP) and other health authorities.Fumes can causeeye irritation, headache,throat irritation, labored breathing, andasthma attacks. Can act as an allergen and skin irritant with the potential to cause contact dermatitis (itchy, red skin rash with or without blisters). Absorption through the skin does occur.


Formaldehyde-releasingingredientsare banned fromcosmetics and personal care products in Japan and Sweden. Europe hasrestrictionson use levels.Minnesota has a ban onchildren’s personal care products containing formaldehyde.
Triclosan Triclosan Antibacterial agents, preservatives Antibacterialsoaps, cleansers, hand washes, deodorants, dental and oral care products Linked tohormone disruption, muscledysfunction, heart problems, cancer, liver toxicity, birthdefects, childhood development problems. Persists in the body and in the environment, can promote formation ofdrug-resistantbacteria strains. Minnesotapassed law prohibitinguse oftriclosanin retail consumerhygiene productsthatwill go into effect Jan1, 2017. Europe has restrictions onlevelsoftriclosanin cosmeticsand toiletriessince2014.
BHA & BHT BHA, BHT Anti-oxidation Products that have natural oils, perfumes, synthetic fragrances Linked to hormone disruption and cancer, according tothe National Toxicology Program (NTP),the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and other health authorities.Bothpenetrateskinbut are absorbed by the bodyat a slow rate,accumulatingin living skin layers. Europeprohibitsuse ofBHAin cosmetic fragrances.California requires warningson productscontainingBHA, notifying consumers thatthis ingredientmay cause cancer.
Parabens Methylparaben,Propylparaben,Ethylparaben,Butylparaben,Isobutylparaben Preservatives Cosmetics and personal care products that contain water Mimic estrogen inside the body and can react with breast cancer cells. They have been shown to be present in breast tumors. It is unclear if they can play a role in the development of breast cancer. For someindividualsparabens can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.


Europe has a ban on 5 different parabens (not listed here) andlimitsthe use levels of others.
Propylene Glycol Propylene Glycol


Solvents, ingredient carriers, humectants All sorts of cosmetic and personal care products Can cause skin irritation and dermatitis in some individuals, enhances penetration of other ingredients and chemicals None
Synthetic Fragrance Fragrance/Parfum Scent All sorts of cosmetic and personal care products Often containsphthalates which do not appear on the label; Common source of skin allergens and irritants, alsomaycause breathing difficulties and trigger respiratory allergies; typical fragrancesarecomposed ofabout 20-100 different chemicals Europe has a law for26 fragrance allergensthatif any are above certain levels inaproduct they must be listed as ingredients on the label

NOTE: In addition to the concerns listed in the table, all of these baddies are derived from petrochemicals. A petrochemical is a chemical, material or substance that is made from chemicals present in petroleum. Petroleum is basically the market version of crude oil, a non-renewable fossil fuel used to make gasoline and many consumer goods like plastics, synthetic fibers, polyester fabric, and the list goes on.


The 5 Common Makeup items That are Poisoning Your Body

Helen is an awesome woman on a mission to give you simple and actionable health advice. Since 2012, she’s been armed with the goal of making it easy to read health and nutrition labels.  Visit this blog post on her website here or message her directly on Twitter at @healthambition 


Pain is beauty. You’ve heard the expression before, and it holds true whether you’re thinking of body hair removal or ripping off a pore strip. However, cosmetics have the potential to cause a different kind of pain in the form of serious health conditions.

History has produced many instances where people (usually women) became ill or even died due to the use of toxic cosmetics.

We tend to scoff today at the lead-based red and white makeup used in the 1800s. The fact of the matter is that we’re still using products that contain harmful ingredients.

Cosmetics tend to be full of potentially harmful chemicals, and you may not even realize it. However, there are natural beauty alternatives out there if you spend the time to find them.

While the products may not look, feel, or smell exactly like the original, potentially less safe versions we’re used to, they are better your health.

Let’s look at some ingredients to avoid if you’re trying to break free from chemicals in your daily life.

>> Are you looking for a natural pathway to overall health and beauty? Look no further!


1. Parabens and Other Preservatives

Parabens, sulfates, and other cosmetic preservatives are ridiculously common ingredients. They’re found in almost all mainstream cosmetic products.

In recent years, food and health product preservatives have been put under the microscope to find out if they’re really safe. The answer was a resounding “no” all around.

What’s the issue with these ingredients? Parabens have been found to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic hormones or affect your body’s production of hormones. This hormone disruption is attributed to other health issues like breast cancer, infertility, and the early onset of puberty.


2. Petroleum-Based Ingredients

Aside from the environmental impact of petroleum-based products, empirical evidence points to this family of products as a potential carcinogen.

While the U.S. government still gives it the okay for use in health and beauty products, any substance that may cause cancer should be avoided.

3. Formaldehyde

You probably already know that formaldehyde can be dangerous. Did you also know it could be hiding in your makeup bag or medicine cabinet under a different name?

Formaldehyde is frequently found in hair products, nail lacquer, body wash, and false eyelash glue. Other names for the same chemical are methylene oxide or methyl aldehyde.

Formaldehyde can cause cancer. It is also attributed to other health issues like menstrual disorders, even at low levels.


4. Synthetic Fragrances

Synthetic fragrances are found in almost all commercial cleaning and cosmetic products. They can be composed of any number of different chemicals.

The real issue is that they are largely untested. Companies aren’t even required to reveal the formulation of their fragrance ingredients!

Synthetic fragrances have been shown to cause respiratory issues, migraines, and many other health conditions. The fact that these ingredients are largely untested is enough to ward off circumspect consumers.

Though these ingredients are found everywhere, there are viable alternatives. Essential oils, for example, provide a perfect, natural solution to the fragrance issue.


5. Triclosan

Triclosan is a substance frequently found in antibacterial products like hand soap, hand sanitizer, and even toothpaste. While our world today is all about waging chemical warfare on germs, it may not be such a great idea in the long run.

Animal tests have shown that triclosan may interrupt hormone production. It is also thought that the antibacterial properties of triclosan may be partially responsible for the development of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains.

Closing Thoughts

It can be difficult to contemplate your beauty routine with the absence of commercial products at its foundation. However, there are healthier, more natural ways to look and feel beautiful, inside and out.

While most of these chemicals are considered safe in small quantities, a tiny bit of toxic product doesn’t seem like the ideal path to health and beauty to me.

Living a healthy life can seem complicated in this toxic world, but with a little help, you can achieve amazing results with no chemicals at all. Find out more here!