Toxic Ingredient Glossary

Bismuth Oxychloride

While this may not be a truly toxic ingredient, it is an irritant to about 80% of people.  It’s found in many mineral powder makeups, the biggest concern about using Bismuth Oxychloride is that it frequently causes irritation and sensitization such as redness, itching, rashes and inflammation. Because of its molecular crystalline shape, many people experience itching from this ingredient, particularly when they sweat.


An ingredient found in most cosmetics with reddish dyes and colorings. It’s an insect based ingredient. So, if you have allergies are sensitivities to insects and/or their bites, you may want to steer clear of items containing carmine.

Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea

Found in skin, body and hair products, antiperspirants and nail polish. These formaldehyde-forming preservatives can cause joint pain, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pain, chronic fatigue, dizziness, insomnia and asthma. They can also weaken the immune system and can even cause cancer.

DEA, MEA and TEA (Diethanolamine, Cocamide and Triethanolamine)

Found in most personal care products that foam, including bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps and facial cleansers. Ingredients which are linked with kidney, liver, and other organ damage according to several government-funded research studies. They can cause hormone disruption, irritation of the eyes, skin, respiratory tract, sore throat, asthma and allergic contact dermatitis.


Formaldehyde may be found in nail polish, eyelash glue, and hair products (especially the Brazilian blowout straightening treatment). Recently recognized by the EPA as a carcinogen, it’s linked to lung cancers, Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia, and myeloid leukemia.  It permeates through inhalation and can also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; reproductive and developmental toxicity; asthma; neurologic and behavioral toxicity; and immunological toxicity. It’s banned for use in cosmetics in Sweden and Japan. Imidazolidinyl urea and Hydantoin (DMHM), Glyoxal and Oxaldehyde are ingredients found in some hair products that also release formaldehyde and should be avoided.

Parabens (Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben)

Parabens can mimic the hormone estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers. Parabens can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis and Rosacea in individuals with paraben allergies. Studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage. These chemicals are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to fertility problems.

PEG (polyethylene glycol)

It is to dissolve oil and grease. PEG’s contribute to strip the natural oils of the skin leaving the immune system vulnerable. They are also potentially carcinogenic.

Petroleum/Mineral Oil

A petrochemical pollutant derived from crude oil, found in an overwhelming number of products including, baby oil, lip balm, lip stick, lip gloss, mascara, moisturizers, concealer, foundation, face powder, hair gel, body wash, eye shadow, paraffin treatments, petroleum jelly, and hair conditioner. It seals off the skin creating a barrier which feels slick, but doesn’t allow the skin to breath, which is essential for the proper functioning of this organ.  Ultimately causes slowing down skin function and normal cell development, resulting in premature ageing of the skin and many other health and skin disorders.


They have been linked to damage of the kidneys, lungs, and liver, as well as the reproductive system. (see also Synthetic Fragrances)

Propylene Glycol

Used in anti-freeze solutions, in brake and hydraulic fluids, as a de-icer, and as a solvent. It’s even found in some cosmetics, baby wipes, lotions, toothpastes, shampoos, and deodorants. There is no difference between the propylene glycol used in industry and that used in personal care products. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. Propylene Glycol will cause serious health conditions, including liver and heart damage and damage to the central nervous system if sufficient is absorbed by the body.

PVP/VA copolymer

A petroleum-based ingredient used in hairsprays. Petroleum derived found in cosmetics and hair products. Considered toxic.

Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate

A foaming agent used to break down water in grease.  Found in shampoo, hand wash, facial cleanser, toothpaste, etc. It’s so powerful that it’s also used in concrete floor cleaners, engine degreasers, and car wash detergents. A well-known skin irritant, it is rapidly absorbed and retained in the eyes, brain, heart and liver, which may result in harmful long-term effects. It can slow healing, cause cataracts in adults, and prevent children’s eyes from developing properly, corrode hair follicles and impair ability to grow hair.

Synthetic Colors

Used to make cosmetics “pretty,” synthetic colors, along with synthetic hair dyes, should be avoided as many can be carcinogenic. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6.

Synthetic Fragrances

The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are, since on the label it will simply read “fragrance.” Some problems caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation—the list goes on. Don’t buy a cosmetic that has the word “fragrance” on the ingredients label.  Look for labels that say, “phthalate–free”.


Found in large percentage of cosmetic powders, like eyeshadow, blush, etc.  Talc has been linked to ovarian cancer. Its particles are similar to asbestos and data suggests that it can cause tumors in the lungs as probable respiratory toxin in larger amounts.

Thimerosal or Merthiolate

Found often in mascaras these ingredients are pseudonyms for the toxic chemical, Mercury.


Found in antibacterial products such as soap, hand sanitizer, deodorants, toothpaste, and cosmetics. Studies have shown that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and enables bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant. The CDC states that it is found in 75% of the population’s urine. The American Medical Association advises against the use of antibacterial soap at home to prevent the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibacterial soap has been found no more effective than regular soap.

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