Dangers of Cosmetic Chemicals – Series 1

cosmetic ingredients
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Hi friends! In this and the next series we shall be discussing some common toxic chemical ingredients that included in many cosmetics. Their degrees of toxicity sometimes vary over a period of exposure to such chemicals. In this series, we are going to discuss on carcinogenic chemicals while in the next series we shall discuss on chemicals causing endocrine disorders and neurotoxicity.

Cosmetics are basically used to enhance beauty. However, many of the care products we have in the market have varying degrees of toxic chemicals. Cosmetic products maybe classified into various types including:

  • •Skin care products (e.g. moisturizers)
    •Decorative/makeup products
    •Nail care products (polish and removers)
    •Sun protection products (e.g. sunscreens)
    •Hair care products (e.g. shampoo, dyes, regrowth treatment)
    •Fragrances (e.g. perfumes and colognes)
    •Shaving products
    •Oral hygiene products (e.g. toothpaste and mouthwash)
    •Deodorants and antiperspirants
    •Baby care products (e.g. baby oil, lotion, powder)
    •Foot care products (e.g. antifungicides)

Toxic chemicals including carcinogens, endocrine disruptors/reproductive toxins, and neurotoxins are present in many cosmetic products we use every day. For instance, most breast tumors depend on estrogen to grow and endocrine disruptors act like this estrogen hormone in the human body, making it conducive for these chemicals to thrive. Consistent use of these cosmetics products over a long time usually results in these hazards. According to a research, of the 10,500 chemical ingredients used in personal care products, only 11% have been safely assessed. In addition to allergens, cosmetics and toiletries contain several hazardous ingredients including 100 carcinogens and 15 endocrine disruptors particularly phthalates. The various harmful allergens present in cosmetics are grouped under phthalates, parabens, metals, chlorofluorocarbon propellants, dioxanes etc. Some of the harmful chemicals present in cosmetic products are coal tar colours (make-up and hair dye), diethanolamine

(shampoo), formaldehyde and its releasers (eye shadow, mascara, nail polish, shampoo, blush etc), glycol ethers (deodorant, perfume), lead (hair dyes, lipsticks), mercury (skin-lightening cream), parabens (deodorant, shampoo, cream, baby product, shaving cream, make-up etc), phenylenediamine (hairdyes), phthalates (fragrance, nailpolish, hair products, cream, lotion etc).
This is a known carcinogen derived from burning coal used in dry skin treatment, anti-lice and anti-dandruff shampoos, and hair dyes. Coal tar is a complex chemical mixture that also includes a number of suspected and known carcinogens, such as benzene, toluene, naphthalene, anthracene, xylene, creosote oils and benzo[a]pyrene, which is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). Experimental studies have found that exposure to and application of coal-tar produce skin tumors. Coal tar has also been associated with cancer of the lung, bladder, kidney and digestive tract. Benzo[a]pyrene, a constituent of coal tar, has been found carcinogenic through skin exposure. There have been many reports of skin cancer among patients using therapeutic coal tar preparations.


Formaldehyde and its preservative derivatives are toxic to the immune and respiratory systems; they are also carcinogenic to humans. They are found in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair smoothing products, baby shampoo, baby soap, body wash, color cosmetics. Formaldehyde and derivatives such as quaternium-15 (found in blush, mascara, lotion and shampoo), DMDM hydantoin (found in lotion, sunscreen and makeup remover), imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea (found in shampoo, conditioner, blush, eye shadow and lotion), sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (found in shampoo, moisturizer, conditioner and lotion), 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol –found in nail polish, makeup remover, moisturizer and body wash) and glyoxal (found in conditioner, lotion, nail polish and nail treatment) are what you see on the label. Vulnerable population include infants, hair salon workers, nail salon workers.

1,4-Dioxane is a human carcinogen found in shampoo, bubble bath, hair relaxers, liquid soap usually in present as sodium laureth sulphate , PEG compounds, chemicals that includexynol, ceteareth and oleth. 1,4-Dioxane generates through extholyation process in which ethylene oxide, a known breat carcinogen. Vulnerable populations include pregnant women, infants, and teenagers.


Acrylates are derived from acrylic acid and are commonly found in cosmetic nail preparations. Acrylates in form of ethylacrylate, ethylmethacrylate, and methylmethacrylate are ingredients found in artificial nail products. Ethylacrylate acts as an adhesive to apply artificial nails and eyelashes. We are only exposed to these chemicals through inhalation or skin contact. Acrylates are carcinogenic and cause toxicity to the reproductive system.

Petrolatum is a byproduct of petroleum refining. It has a melting point close to body temperature so when applied forms a water-repellant film around the applied area, creating an effective barrier against the evaporation of skin natural moisture and foreign particles or microorganisms that may cause infection. These qualities make petrolatum a popular ingredient in skin care products and cosmetics. Petrolatum may come in form of paraffin oil, mineral oil and white petrolatum. The primary concern with petrolatum is the potential contamination with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and PAH; studied to contain reasonably anticipated carcinogen.
With this insight you already have about your care products, you will know which is safe for continuity. However, this isn’t to scare you on using cosmetics, rather it is important for you not to expose yourself to these chemicals for a prolonged period.



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Babs Brainey
Babs Brainey

According to your point raised about petrolatum, how safe is my baby’s Vaseline?


People with acne and pimples should stay away from petrolatum because it can create blockade of skin pores thereby trapping moisture within


Thank you for that question. During the process of production of petrolatum, so carcinogenic chemicals are removed from the oil including PAH. Vase line is quite safe as it is however, some imitators that these carcinogens might not be totally removed from them making them unsafe. Vaulting is highly refined so regarded as safe.


Thank you for that question. During the process of production of petrolatum, so carcinogenic chemicals are removed from the oil including PAH. Vase line is quite safe as it is however, some imitators that these carcinogens might not be totally removed from them making them unsafe. Vaulting is highly refined so regarded as safe.