TOP 10 Harmful Chemicals Found in Skincare Products

October 14, 2016

harmful chemicals in cosmetics

To look for toxic substances in cosmetics might seem ridiculous. We are not surprised to find poisons in snake or spider venom or a wasp´s sting, or toxic substances in the polluted rivers that surround us or the air we breathe ... but in beauty products? Those luxurious and often expensive personal beauty care products? Advertising has extolled the advantages of cosmetic products, but has failed to mention the dangers.

We want to look young and fresh, and we don't want to smell or have oily hair and untreated nails. So we strive for the best body care. We use shampoos, conditioners, lacquers and lotions, shower gels, make-ups, lipsticks, and eye shadows. We also use toothpaste, nourishing creams, masks, lotions, treatments for rejuvenation. We take care of our body and want to look youthful for as long as possible.

The Skin as a Reflection of Our Health

We are born with soft, supple skin. There are no blemishes or flaws, wrinkles or large pores. As the body gets older, our skin ages. It loses its original smoothness, elasticity and mechanical resistance. The skin reflects our age. As skin weakens, we get spots, wrinkles, furrows, pouches, and other defects. The skin is also a mirror for our health. Eczema or various forms of acne may be a warning signal of a hormonal imbalance or kidney or liver disease.

But there is still a remedy – beauty care products that hide skin defects. Advertisement convinces us that many problems can be completely removed! Hair regenerates within a minute, and we can eliminate wrinkles within two weeks and cellulite after several applications. What woman could resist? Moreover, everything is considered controlled and safe.

Chemicals from Cosmetics Penetrate Through Our Skin and Travel into Our Body

The skin is an important organ of the human body and protects us from adverse environmental effects, secures the exchange of certain gases, and excretes a variety of pollutants. But it also prevents the entry of many substances into the body in order to protect us from harm. Many cosmetic products contain chemicals, which are able to penetrate through the skin and enter into the bloodstream or lymphatic system, which then allows them to travel through the body. However, not all chemicals in our beauty care products are safe. Many are poisonous. Do not be fooled. After application, a product may cause poisoning or some other adverse reaction. Toxins are stored in our body and may contribute to health problems at a later stage, especially as they accumulate over time.

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The Risk of Poisoning Is Different for Each Person

Not all chemicals in cosmetics are equally dangerous, nor are all people effected in the same way. Some of us are able to process toxins more efficiently, either because of healthy lifestyle habits or our own genetic makeup, while others of us are incredibly sensitive and react to toxic exposure.

When poisons penetrate into our body, our body tries to release them. Some get metabolized in the body; each metabolite is a different chemical substance to the originally penetrated chemical ingredient. Metabolites can often be more dangerous than the original substance. Different, too, is the mechanism by which the body and its organs produce pathobiochemical changes and cause poisoning. The risk of poisoning is different for each person. Let's take a closer look at the 10 dangerous and frequently used chemical ingredients in our personal beauty care products.

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Dimethicone (E 900)

Dimethicone is an optically clear, inert, non-toxic and non-flammable synthetic polymeric organic silicon compound. It is one of many types of silicone oils widely used in art and medicine. In cosmetics, it is used to prevent foaming during production or it can be used as a plasticizer or lubricant. Many creams contain dimethicone as it softens and smooths the skin. It is present in shampoos and conditioners as it makes the hair slick and shiny.

Dimethicone is a hormone disruptor. It interferes with the hormonal functions of humans and can decrease human fertility. Dimethicone also represents a danger for the environment. Since it is a very stable substance, it persists in nature for many years with a tendency for bioaccumulation.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS)

SLS is a synthetic surfactant in the form of a white powder, used as a thickener, emulsifier, and a foam stabilizer. It is widely used as a cheap and efficient cleaning agent in many products for everyday use, such as hair shampoos and toothpaste. It is also contained in mouthwash, liquid soaps, and shower gels and shaving foams. SLS irritates the skin, eyes, mucous membranes and respiratory tract. Contact with the skin may cause increased sensitivity or allergic reactions. It causes flaking of the skin and severe skin infections. Ingestion or inhalation is very toxic because it is easily absorbed by the mucous membranes. Larger amounts of SLS cause coughing, burning sensations in the mouth and throat, emesis, vomiting, breathing difficulties and malaise. It also threatens the immune system.

Ethylene Glycol and Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Ethylene Glycol is a colorless, syrupy liquid with a sweet taste. This dihydric alcohol is used in a wide range of products. It is used in the production of antifreeze, deicing fluids for automobiles, aircraft, airfields and ships, in cooling and heating systems, hydraulic brake fluids, electrolytic capacitors, and plasticizers. It is a raw material for the production of paints, varnishes, explosives, and in particular polyethylene terephthalate bottles (PET). Ethylene Glycol is a dangerous toxic substance with many human victims. The poisoning occurs most often when ingested. Poisoning follows a three-stage course: first comes nausea, vomiting, weakness, rapid breathing, hypothermia, facial paralysis, dizziness, blueness of lips and nails and disorientation. This is followed by metabolic acidosis associated with fluctuations in blood pressure, heart palpitations, headaches, slurred speech and failure, cardiovascular function, and finally acute renal failure. Clinical symptoms of poisoning are not directly caused by ethylene glycol, but by its metabolites - glycolic acid and oxalic acid.

Ethylene Glycol can be found in a variety of cosmetic products such as moisturizing creams, wipes, and disinfectant hand gels. Although there is not a high level of absorption by the skin, it may lead to skin irritation as well as liver and kidney damage.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is chemically inert and practically non-toxic polymer of ethylene glycol. Often used in toothpastes, it may cause allergic reaction on the mucosa of the mouth. Some people are allergic to PEG.

Propylene glycol (PG)

Propylene glycol (propane-1,2-diol) is an organic compound that can be extracted from alcohols like ethylene glycol. It is a slightly viscous liquid that is colorless and odorless. The substance is widely used in many technical applications. It is the main ingredient in the antifreeze liquid we put into our cars during the winter. We find PG in coolant, food additive (E1520), electronic cigarettes and lubricants. In cosmetics, it is used as a humectant. Propylene glycol is found in shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, skin creams and masks, foams and gels for shaving, in toothpastes, and decorative cosmetics.

The oral toxicity of propylene glycol is low and so this substance is considered to be safe. Although research on laboratory animals has shown that the substance is not harmful since it is neither mutagenic nor carcinogenic, it may be dangerous for some people in certain circumstances. It may, for instance, be dangerous for children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and elderly sick people. Propylene glycol causes allergic dermatitis for people who use topical corticosteroids.


Parabens, esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid, are used in the cosmetic industry as a common preservative to deliver an antimicrobial effect. The most important include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and sodium salts. Although parabens are considered to be practically non-toxic substances, the daily use of cosmetics containing them can pose a risk of allergies and other health problems. There is a suspicion that there could be a connection between the use of antiperspirants and deodorants containing parabens and breast cancer. Some pharmacological researches have demonstrated the estrogenic activity of parabens, which proposes a new angle to the health risk evaluation.

There is a possible link between parabens and the higher incidence of breast cancer associated with the use of antiperspirants in combination with shaved armpits. Shaving causes slight damage to the skin so parabens can now easily enter into the body. Although the link between parabens and the possibility of breast cancer has not been clearly demonstrated, precaution is recommended.


Phthalates are esters of phthalic acid. They are widely used in the plastics industry, in particularly in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). They increase flexibility and resilience in many products. They work as softeners. Phthalates are hazardous to the human body and cause many serious health problems. They can cause congenital malformations of male genital organs or a lower sperm quality. They may negatively impact blood clotting. Their negative effects on the liver, kidneys and lungs is well known, too. Phthalates are a risk factor leading to the development of asthma and allergies. Phthalates act as hormone disruptors and significantly disrupt the metabolism of hormones.

Phthalates can be found in toys and baby products. They are also found in products for the home. For example, they can be found in plastic shower curtains and table clothes. They are banned for use in personal beauty care products, but despite this fact they are still used in cheaper cosmetic products. They are found mainly in antiperspirants, deodorants, nail polishes, shampoos and perfumes. We can find them on labels as DEP (diethyl phthalate) or DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate). Phthalates can be released in cosmetic products that contain alcohol or from the walls of plastic packaging. If we touch phtalates directly, they will be transferred directly into the blood stream. If they touch mucous membranes, phthalates are transmitted directly into the blood stream. This can happen when using gel erotic tools.

Musk Xylene

Musk xylene is a synthetically produced ingredient that acts as a splint that keeps the flavor stability in perfumes, deodorants, air fresheners, and cleaning products. It is a cheap substitute for natural musk (musk), a pungent substance from the glands of Musk deer. (Moschus moschiferus). Musk xylene toxicity in tests on laboratory animals is low, but the substance is carcinogenic and its long-term effects on humans, especially in the prenatal and early postnatal period, is not known. It acts as a hormone disruptor and its use should be strictly regulated.

Galaxolide and Tonalide

Galaxolide and tonalide are synthetically produced substances from the group of polycyclic organic compounds. They are used in cosmetic beauty products as fragrance fixators. They are therefore used as fragrance ingredients in detergents, perfumes, cosmetics and other personal care products. They act as hormone disruptors in the endocrine system and disturb the physiological functions of endogenous hormones. An unpleasant feature of these compounds is that they are chemically very stable. From wastewater sewage, it can contaminate water and then the ground. The result is the ever-increasing accumulation in the environment and in food chains. Substances from this group of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can be found not only in surface waters and fish caught in the river, but also in the human body and even in breast milk. Currently it is difficult to find anyone in developed countries who does NOT have some trace of galaxolide tonalide in their blood stream.

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHA)

The organic alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are natural organic substances. You can find many of them in fruits. They cause a sour taste and are called fruit acids. E.g. glycolic, citric, tartaric, malic or lactic acids. These acids are widely used in cosmetics like body creams. They can remove the horny layer of the skin, so they act as a chemical peeling. Acids work by disrupting the protein bonds between dead cells on the skin surface; they remove them and reveal healthy cells underneath. This process cleans clogged pores, improves skin tone and smooths wrinkles. At the same time, they improve small skin problems (acne, inflammatory pimples, pigmentation spots). AHAs also have a high moisturizing effect, and promote collagen production. They keep the skin clean and supple. It looks like finding the elixir of youth! However, there are some problems.

There are basically two health concerns connected to AHAs:

  1. After AHA application, the skin is deprived of its surface layers. Because the new skin is prone to pigmentation, it may not be exposed to sunlight for at least 2 months. Regeneration and production of new collagen in the dermis (skin layer) is a slow process and if not completed, the solar radiation can damage the skin. The best time for a chemical peeling is from autumn to spring, when sunlight has a lower intensity.
  2. The second problem is that the long-term use of chemical peeling leads to irreversible changes to the skin. After several years of using creams containing AHAs, the skin looks exhausted. Since the reasons for this undesirable effect is not known, a remedy is difficult.

Different beauty care products have different amounts of fruit acids. The higher the percentage, the more intense is the effect, and the higher the risk for skin damage. Creams with a higher content of AHAs should belong exclusively in the hands of dermatologists.

Imidazolidinyl-urea (Germal 115) a DMDM hydantoin

These two synthetic chemicals are used in cosmetics as very effective antimicrobial preservatives. They ensure the long-term stability and usability of the products they are used in. After parabens, they are the most commonly used preservatives. Since parabens don't have the best reputation, they are increasingly being replaced by imidazolidinyl urea and DMDM hydantoin.

Although these substances are not associated with health risks, their maximum authorized concentration in cosmetic products should only be 0.6%.

For sensitive individuals, these substances may still cause allergic skin reactions. They release a small amount of carcinogenic formaldehyde (ie. Formaldehyde donors). Formaldehyde by itself can be also found in cosmetic products, like nail polish, makeup, shaving products or even baby shampoos.

TOP 10 Harmful Chemicals Found in Skincare Products: The Wallet Format

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TOP 10 Harmfull Chemicals in Beauty Skincare Products 





(Polydimethylsiloxane, E900)

Prevents foaming, plasticizer, lubricant.

Hormone disruptor, can impair human fertility.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS)

Surfactant, thickener, emulsifier, and a foam stabilizer.

It causes flaking of the skin and severe skin inflammation. Suppresses the immune system.

Ethylene Glycol,

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Humectants. Improves the utility of the product.

Irritates the skin and can damage the liver and kidneys.

Propylene glycol (PG)

Humectants. Improves the utility of the product.

Contact allergen. Risk groups are children, pregnant and nursing mothers and elderly sick people.


Antimicrobial preservatives.

Contact allergens. Linked to cancer.


Softeners plastics. Improve the utility of the product.

Support the development of asthma and allergies. Hormone disruptors.

Musk xylene

Fragrance and fragrance fixator.

Carcinogens and hormone disruptors.

Galaxolide and tonalide

Fragrance and fragrance fixator.

Carcinogens and hormone disruptors.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA)

Removers horny layers of the skin.

Sensitization of the skin to sunlight.


DMDM hydantoin

Antimicrobial preservatives.

Skin allergens. Linked to cancer.


prof. RNDr. Jiří PATOČKA DrSc.

prof. RNDr. Jiří PATOČKA DrSc.

Professor of toxicology and scientist, author of several best-sellers


This article is a free translation and shortened version from originally published article "10 Jedů v kosemetice" (10 Poision substances used in cosmetics), written by Prof. Patočka.



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