Ingredients to Watch Out For in Cosmetics

I’m slowly catching up on my newspaper readings. Although most people would toss the Sunday paper within a couple of days of getting it, I generally like to make sure I skim through the contents in case I happen to run across a food review, recipe, or an article that might inspire/teach me something new. The downside is the clutter, but all that can be relatively managed by a more dedicated effort to go through the papers more promptly. (Note to self…)

Most of us have the common sense to avoid what makes us sick. But do we do the same when in comes to cosmetics? Unless you have allergies to certain ingredients, chances are you don’t read labels. Better start reading them because it can make a world of difference to your skin health.

Here are some ingredients in cosmetics to avoid:

Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben) are preservatives often found in cosmetics. The concern is that they mimic estrogen and have been found in breast cancer tumors.

Pthalates have been linked to male reproductive problems.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is used to produce the lather in soaps and shampoos and causes irritation to those people with sensitive skin.

Petrolatum or mineral oil—petroleum-based products which are supposed to help lock in moisture and help smooth out rough spots, but if you put these ingredients on your face, chances are you’re doing your skin a disservice. As one cosmetologist puts it, “it’s like putting plastic wrap on your skin” and will cause you to break out.

Bismuth oxychloride often found in dye- and mineral-free makeup may irritate sensitive skin.

Fragrance is often a generic term companies use and aren’t obligated to list all the ingredients; often contains dozens of ingredients, many of them irritants; often used to mask unpleasant by-product odors.

Alcohols (any chemical ending with -ol) often used in astringents to remove excess oil and act as an antiseptic, but it often dries out the skin and causes breakouts when dead skin flakes clog pores.

Quaternium-15, a preservative that releases formaldehyde and causes allergic reactions.

P-phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical found in hair dyes, is a common allergen; when used in dark henna tattoos, it can be particularly dangerous as extended exposure to skin can cause scarring.

Lanolin, a lubricant, may cause a allergic reaction.

Cocamidopropyl betaine (found in some bath preparations) is a known human immune system toxicant (allergen), suspected environmental toxin

Tosylamide formaldehyde resin (found in nail polish) sometimes causes eyelid rashes when people scratch their face

Other notes:

  • Be wary of products marketed as “natural,” “organic,” “dermatologist-tested,” or “hyperallergenic,” as the FDA doesn’t have standards for those claims and doesn’t require companies to substantiate them.
  • Although FDA and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review have set some guidelines/limits for certain chemicals, the concern is the repeated chronic exposure to these chemicals over time. Even if you are exposed to low dosages, there is no guarantee that you are safe.
  • “Simplify. Choose products with fewer ingredients, and choose fewer products overall.” (Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry)
  • Dyes/color additives to avoid: D&C red #19, 31, 36; D&C yellow #11; toluene-2; 5-diamine; p-amiophenol; nickel, cobalt, chromate.
  • To learn more visit and

[From March 14, 2010, Chicago Tribune article, “Saving Face” by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, and]


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