Bookmark this page, print out our handy PDF—whatever you do, keep this graphic guide to toxic ingredients in makeup, soaps and other beauty products on hand. We’ve got more info these comm chemicals like lead, triclosan, formaldehyde, phthalates and others other toxins below. But the graphic above provides an easy reference for what to avoid next time you’re shopping for lipstick, shampoo or moisturizer (or, like, a million other things—it’s amazing how prevalent some of these toxins are in personal care products).
1. Lead: It seems crazy, but according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC), more than 60% of popular lipsticks contain lead. Brands with the highest lead levels were L’Oreal, Maybelline, Cover Girl and Revlon. And an FDA study found lead in hundreds of lipsticks (five of the 10 most lead-contaminated were made by L’Oreal). Lead is a proven neurotoxin, and its particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children.
2. Triclosan: Triclosan is a suspected endocrine disrupter, meaning it f**ks with your hormones and could lead to fertility problems (in men and women), breast cancer and thyroid issues (they’re particularly dangerous for fetuses and tween/teen girls). Because triclosan is antimicrobial, it’s found in deodorants, toothpaste and soap (including Bath & Body Works soaps). But studies have shown no evidence that it’s better than soap and water at killing germs.
3. Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is present in more beauty products than you’d think, even though it’s been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Though there’s been outcry about formaldehyde in chemical hair straighteners, it can also be found in nail polish, face wash and makeup. DMDM-Hydantoin, a preservative that releases formaldehyde, is also common in shampoos.
4. Toluene: Found in nail polish, perfume and hair dye, toluene can cause dizziness, headaches and skin irritation. It also poses special danger to developing fetuses, upping risk of both miscarriage in moms and birth defects in babies. The European Union banned its use in cosmetics in 2004. It might also appear on labels as phenylmethane, methylbenzene, or toluol.
5. Hydroquinone: Hydroquinone is one of the most toxic chemicals still used in cosmetics today. A carcinogen in and of itself, it can also increase exposure to UV rays (thereby upping risk for skin cancer, too). It’s most commonly found in skin-lightening products, but it’s also found in hair relaxers, hair dye, hair-extension glue, hair removers and sunless tanning products. The FDA moved to ban its use in these products back in 2006, but never has.
6. Phthalates: Used to preserve color and scents in makeup, phthalates are endocrine disruptors that have been linked to cancer, sperm damage and reproductive problems. Phthalates are often added to synthetic fragrances, which are uber-common in soaps, lotions, cleansers and hair care products. Because products are allowed to list ‘fragrance’ as an ingredient without specifying what that means, many products contain phthalates even though their ingredient lists don’t. [For more on synthetic versus natural fragrance, see here.]
7. Parabens: Used as a preservative in cosmetics, shampoos and lotions, parabens are also endocrine disruptors that have been linked to breast cancer and male reproductive problems. Look out for ingredients methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben.
The good news is that more and more beauty companies are making natural makeup and personal care products—free of synthetic fragrance, parabens, or other potentially cancer-causing chemical ingredients. Even Target and Wal-Mart have organic/natural beauty sections these days, and online shopping makes it easier than ever before to find affordable, toxin-free brands.
The flexitarian crowd sometimes points out that if you eat less meat and dairy, you can afford to buy better (more nutritious, eco-friendly) meat and dairy. Sometimes you have to pay a few dollars above average drugstore-brand prices for toxin-free beauty and care products. But buying less means you can buy better—for you, the environment and green beauty companies.
Print out our quick guide to keeping it clean, cut it out and put it in your wallet, and every time you shop you’ll be ready to make better choices. [Also, two words: Dr. Bronner's. It will change your life.]