Toxins in Your Skin Care Products & Beware

The safety of cosmetic products has been underestimated from years even when several studies conducted to test the presence of toxic chemicals in the cosmetics revealed that the manufacturers are using the ingredients (either knowingly or unknowingly) which are known to possess toxic effects or whose safety is yet to be confirmed. The reason for this lenity is that there are many loopholes in the regulation of the cosmetic products and it was assumed that these chemicals are used at concentrations which are too low to cause any significant health effect. There was another misconception that these toxic chemicals are not absorbed by the body. Cosmetic products are not the only source of these toxins. They are frequently used in other industries including food and pharmaceutical industries, also. So even if these assumptions were true, the overall exposure to these chemicals is alarming.

Several studies done by individuals or organizations in the past few years have highlighted that these frequently used personal care products are not as safe as they were assumed to be and they contain various toxic chemicals which are of significant concern to human health. A list of frequently used toxic chemicals in the cosmetic and skin care products which are needed to be eliminated from use has been summarized here.


  1. Phthalates

Phthalates is a class of known environmental toxins. These compounds are widely used in industrial applications as plasticizers and additives in cosmetics. Two members of this group, namely dibutyl phthalate and dimethyl phthalate are not used as plasticizers instead they are used as solvents and fixatives in fragrances, additives in cosmetics, household, and personal care products. They are most commonly found in perfumes, deodorants, nail paints, hair sprays, lotions and other skin care products.

The reason for concern:

Phthalates are known to be Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).  As the name indicates, EDC’s disrupts the human endocrine system and causes various health hazards including fertility problems, respiratory diseases, childhood obesity and neuropsychological disorders.


  1. Parabens

Parabens are the class of antimicrobial compounds which are widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic products to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. They are commonly found in makeup products, body washes, deodorants, shampoos and facial cleansers.

The reason for concern:

These chemicals can easily penetrate human skin and can cause various toxic effects. They are known to possess estrogen-mimicking properties and are associated with increased risk of breast cancer, contact dermatitis, and other allergies.


  1. Triclosan

Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent that has been added to personal care products, including hand soaps, toothpaste, deodorants and other cosmetics.

The reason for concern:

They can be easily absorbed by the human body even if they are just applied topically. Several ADME studies indicate that triclosan possesses adverse health effects in humans. They are suspected to cause liver diseases, genetic alterations, endocrine disruption, immune disorders and even cancer.

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  1. Formaldehyde 

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals are frequently used in a number of skin care products like body washes, conditioners, shampoos, cleansers, eye shadows, and nail polish treatments as a preservative.

The reason for concern:

Formaldehyde is a well-known toxin deemed to cause various allergies like dermatitis, immune diseases, and cancer. It causes adverse effects even at very low concentrations. It also possesses endocrine disruption activity which can cause various other health hazards.


  1. PEG Compounds

Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are the compounds which are frequently used as penetration enhancers in the cosmetic products. They are used as surfactants, emulsifiers, cleansing agents and skin conditioners.

The reason for concern:

Although these compounds are not found to be harmful on their own but, due to their water-loving properties (penetration enhancing) they help in the absorption of other chemicals like parabens or phthalates, which are reported to be potentially dangerous to the human health.


  1. The sun protection chemicals

The sunscreen lotions contain chemical filters to block the carcinogenic UV –radiations present in the sunlight. Some of the common toxic chemicals used in these lotions include Oxybenzone, Octyl methoxycinnamate, PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid, p-aminobenzoic acid, 4-aminobenzoic acid).

The reason for concern:

Various studies have shown that the sunscreen lotions contain various ingredients which are claimed to cause adverse human health hazards like endocrine disruption, skin allergies, and cancer.


  1. The secret “Fragrance formula”

It is a huge catch of cosmetic industries that they do not have to unveil their secret “fragrance formula” in the products like perfumes, deodorants, body wash, moisturizers, and many other personal care products. But this advantage to the cosmetic product manufacturers has been found to be a serious concern regarding human health.

The reason for concern:

These secret combinations contain tons of chemicals that are hazardous to human health. These secret combinations of fragrances are found to be associated with various allergies like dermatitis, urticaria, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.


What can be done?

  1. One thing that you can do is to be informed, and keep yourself and your loved ones informed. Verify that the cosmetics you are using are free of such chemicals and avoid using suspected products.
  2. Another way which is safer, better and more convenient is to use purely natural or organic products. They are free of such harmful chemicals and are also 100% environment-friendly. The Environmental Working group is a sold resource where you can find listings of preferred and verified products that are safe.

Be aware and stay healthy. 


  1. Błędzka et al. (2014). From environmental studies to human health. Environ Int 67:27–42. 2014. DOI:10.1016/j.envint.2014.02.007
  2. Giménez-Arnau et al. (2016). Contact allergy to preservatives: ESSCA* results with the baseline series, 2009-2012. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. Accepted Author Manuscript. DOI:10.1111/jdv.14063.
  3. Katsikantamia et al. (2016). A global assessment of phthalates burden and related links to health effects. Environment International. Volume 97, December 2016, Pages 212–236.
  4. Lee et al. (2016). Phototoxicity and chronic toxicity of methyl paraben and 1, 2-hexanediol in Daphnia magna. Ecotoxicology. DOI: 10.1007/s10646-016-1743-6.
  5. Mei-Fei Yueh and Robert H. Tukey. (2016). Triclosan: A Widespread Environmental Toxicant with Many Biological Effects. Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Vol. 56: 251-272. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-pharmtox-010715-103417.
  6. Sotirios Maipas and Polyxeni Nicolopoulou-Stamati. (2015). Sun lotion chemicals as endocrine disruptors. HORMONES. 14(1):32-46. DOI: 10.14310/horm.2002.1572.

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