Is Beauty Only Skin Deep? Hazardous Chemicals: The Worst Offenders

harmful chemicals, homemade beauty, toxic

We’re far from powdering our faces with lead based powder and painting our lips with mercuric sulfide like we did in the Victorian Era, but how much safer are today’s beauty products? Today, beauty products are more like chemistry experiments. They are loaded with chemicals that have no business being on – or in our bodies. Aside from labeling requirements, regulation over the beauty industry is minimal at best. Currently, there is no federal law that requires companies to test personal care products for safety prior to marketing them to the public. This lack of regard for public safety means that just about anything is ending up in your facial cream. It is up to us, as consumers, to make informed decisions about what goes on our skin, in our hair, and into our bodies. In this article I will list some of the most problematic toxins found in everyday, conventional beauty products.



Parabens are synthetic preservatives. They are found in shampoos, conditioners, styling products, soaps, body washes, lotions, shaving creams and gels, makeup, and toothpaste. Whew!
The cosmetic industry strongly believes that parabens are safe. On the contrary, studies have shown that they are linked to many acute and chronic health problems. Some of these health problems are: allergies, skin toxicity, biochemical changes in the body, developmental and reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption, tissue irradiation and organ toxicity, and cancer. Furthermore, parabens can be hazardous to the environment.
Labeled as:
• Paraben
• Butylparaben
• Ethylparaben
• Methylparaben
• Propylparaben


Phthalates (Fragrance):

Phthalates are used to soften plastic. They are in adhesives, building materials, films, pesticides, and perfumes. Perfumes and colognes, hair care products, hair colour, deodourants – virtually all conventional beauty products – contain phthalates. They are typically used as solvents and to make fragrances last longer. They may be disguised on the label as “fragrance.” Very sneaky! In both humans and animals, phthalates are linked to bioaccumulation, which means they become trapped in the body forever – they NEVER get out. Other potential health problems include: cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, organ toxicity, birth defects, neurotoxicity and neurological disorders. Not only are phthalates toxic to the body, they are hazardous to the environment.



Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are inexpensive chemicals used to create lather. Sulfates will be found in anything that lathers. That’s right – you are being exposed to a toxin just so you can have bubbles in your soap. Stripping the skin of its natural oils, these chemicals can make it feel as dry as leather that has been left in the sun for far too long. Sulfates also increase penetration of the skin’s surface, thus, allowing even more toxins to easily enter the body.


Ethylenedimine and Tetraacetic Acid (EDTA):

EDTA is used as a stabilizer. That’s a nifty trick but it also means that EDTA is very stable itself and does not biodegrade even in water treatment plants. EDTA’s chelating, or binding effect, can cause all kind of problems in our waterways because it can remobilize heavy metal sediments and have heavy environmental effects. It’s linked with skin irritations, allergies, contact dermatitis, reproductive and fetal effects, and kidney damage. YIKES!



Formaldehyde is the carcinogenic chemical present in most embalming fluids – fluids used to temporarily preserve dead human bodies. It is also found in most beauty products. Ew. More than likely it will not be found on the product label. Some preservatives are capable of releasing formaldehyde. Preservatives can be exposed to formaldehyde during processing, or they can be part of a chemical reaction that, in turn, produces formaldehyde.

The most common formaldehyde releasing preservatives are:
Diazolidinyl urea
Imidazolidinyl urea
Dimethyl-dimethyl hydantoin


Propylene Glycol:

Propylene Glycol is one efficient multi-tasker! Not only does it work to maintain moisture in the skin, it is a key ingredient in embalming and brake fluids, and it used as a solvent in the plastics industry. Propylene Glycol is also known as antifreeze, a deicing solution for roads, planes, cars and boats. Exposure may have a negative effect on cell growth, it has been linked to skin allergies, and it can cause permanent damage to the surface of the skin. It is safe to say that propylene glycol is not the best solution for skin care. Skin creams are supposed to improve the condition of your skin, not damage it!



Toluene is an additive used as a solvent in nail polish and some hair colouring products. An unnerving characteristic of Toluene is its deceptively sweet smell. This chemical is considered a volatile organic compound (VOC) and it has the potential to cause various health problems. Severe irritation to eyes, lungs, and skin, damage to the central nervous system (CNS), kidney and liver damage, developmental and birth defects are all health problems known to be associated with toluene exposure.



Talc is the primary ingredient in baby powder. It can be found in deodourants, cosmetics, and sunscreens. This commonly used substance is seemingly harmless; however, it is often contaminated by asbestos – a known carcinogen. Talc, in and of itself, is suspected to be linked to cancer.


Written by Dana Lowers

Edited by Jennifer Ketter