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5 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Lotions and Beauty Products

Jar of face cream Just as you are concerned with the safety of the foods and supplements you consume, you should be careful about what you put on your skin. The skin is the largest body organ. Toxins are eliminated through its pores in the form of sweat, and the skin absorbs extraordinarily large amounts of what is applied to it. Transdermal medications and over-the-counter drugs (i.e. Nicoderm) are effective for this reason.

Beauty is more than skin deep. And, just as cleansing face washes, nourishing moisturizers, makeup and other products are great for enhancing your external appearance, so should they allow your internal beauty to shine through. Unfortunately, however, the list of toxic (or potentially toxic), health-damaging ingredients found in the myriad of beauty and skin care products on the market expands daily.

Many raw ingredients, whether they have been found to be effective in clinical studies or not, are used in skin care and beauty products as preservatives or fillers. If you are like most people, you probably assume that the ingredients found in the products you put on your face and body have been thoroughly tested for safety before they make it on to store shelves. But as more studies are done, we are learning that many “inactive” ingredients actually have harmful effects within the body.

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5 Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in Your Beauty Products:

1. Lead

Lead is a toxic heavy metal which has unfortunately become quite prevalent. It is found in many products, such as whitening toothpastes and lipsticks, and in other substances such as water, either through direct or indirect contamination. The adverse affects of lead exposure are thoroughly documented and include, but are not limited to, neurotoxicity (brain damage), seizures, gastrointestinal issues, reproductive dysfunction such as reduced sperm count and motility, and kidney dysfunction.

2. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a chemical that may be inhaled or absorbed transdermally (through the skin). It is used in nail polishes, shampoos, including baby shampoos, and liquid body soaps. Side effects include skin irritation and nausea. Formaldehyde exposure may be a contributing factor in cancer development, according to the International Agency for Research.

3. Parabens

These chemicals are most often used as a preservative and are noted as propylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben. They are found in body creams, lotions and shampoos, as well as in almost any beauty product that has water added to it. Parabens have been shown to not only disrupt hormones, but also to potentially cause cancer.

4. Phthalates

According to SafeCosmetics.org, phthalates were found in at least 72 products they tested, although it was not listed on their list of ingredients. The only exception was nail polish. This toxic chemical is a fragrance used in vinyl shower curtains (it gives vinyl its smell), air fresheners, detergents and more. Like parabens, phythalates have been shown to disrupt hormones and decrease sperm count.

5. Nitrosamines

Nitrosamines are not often listed as an ingredient on cosmetic products because they are seen as impurities, not actual ingredients. This toxin is so prolific, it is found in almost every skin care product. It’s in baby shampoos, sunless tanning lotions, mascara, concealer — the list goes on and on. Many studies link nitrosamine to cancer and in 1996, the FDA suggested cosmetic manufacturers remove from their products ingredients that when combined, create nitrosamine. This suggestion has apparently, been largely ignored, as the Environmental Working Group found that 1 in 10 cosmetics still contain combinations of ingredients that create nitrosamines.

This toxic ingredient list is not limited to the five chemicals listed above, but they are among those most commonly found in popular beauty products, and the main ones worth avoiding.

How to Go Chemical Free: Take Baby Steps and Read Every Labels

Now, you may want to throw all of your current products away and start fresh, which is not the answer. When it comes to buying products that are free of toxic substances, they can be costly. This is because they have more active ingredients than the products that contain the toxic chemicals. Because they contain more active ingredients, a little goes a long way.

Instead of throwing away everything on your dresser, start with one or two products at a time. When you go shopping, read the ingredients. It is not enough to read the name of the product. Today, even if the product name has words like “clean,” “natural” or “organic” on the label, that does not mean much. It’s often a marketing ploy. Turn the bottle over and read the ingredients label. If you don’t understand what an ingredient is, research it or ask someone who may know. Overall, you should be able to understand almost everything on the ingredients list. To learn more about the safety of skin care products, consider reading Not Just a Pretty Face by Stacy Malkan. You can also find more information on SafeCosmetics.org and on the Environmental Working Group’s website.

You may find it to be a bit of a challenge to find chemical-free products that are as effective as ones made with dangerous chemicals, but they do exist!

Badger, for example, makes excellent body oils and deet-free bug sprays. Another brand to check out is Shea Moisture. They’re best known for their line of chemical-free soaps.

Furthermore, PurGevity by Stop Aging Now sells an incredibly revitalizing hand and body cream formulated with CoQ10, as well as a whole line of skin care products, which are free of chemicals and safe enough for the skin.

To learn more about PurGevity’s PurQ10 cream, click here.


Chen J, Ahn, KC, Gee, NA, Gee, SJ, et al. (2007). Antiandrogenic properties of parabens and other phenolic containing small molecules in personal care products. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology (221) 278 – 84.

Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/formaldehyde

Lead Exposure in Adults: http://www.health.state.ny.us/publications/2584/

Lead and Other Heavy Metals: www.safecosmetics.org

Lead Toxicity: Where is Lead Found?: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/lead/pbwhere_found2.html

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