Keep It Clean: The Top 7 Ingredients To Avoid In Beauty Products

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.]

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    • Kim Anderson

      Thank you for sharing this important information. At Ava Anderson Non Toxic we are proud to be a safe adn helathy alternative to all the harmful checmical laden products on the shelves. Stop by to learn more –

    • Devon

      Other than lead, the science that raises concerns for the above mentioned ingredients is faulty at best and downright wrong at worst.

      If you actually go out and read every single study down on these ingredients, you’re eyes might be opened to see just how “not evil” they are.

      In the grand scheme, if I’m putting a product near my eyes or containing tons of extracts, etc, I want it to be preserved with the most effective preservative out there. I don’t want to get exposed to staph, or heaven knows what else because a manufacturer is too afraid to use a paraben because a bunch of people on the internet jumped on the hate wagon without having the facts.

      • Heather

        You are correct Devon. Fancy info graphics for you to print out doesn’t make the claims true. Do your research people!

    • Eternal Maternal

      We see articles like this all the time and I always wonder how many people really take them to heart. Yes, having a great preservative is important to any product that’s going on your skin, but nature really does provide some spectacular ones and we (the collective “we”) have learned how to use them with great success.

      My concern about people discounting the risks of these toxic ingredients is that they assume that all of them have been there since their grandmothers were using cosmetics. Not true. Many of these have snuck into cosmetics over the years without consumers being any wiser. Who knows what is leaching into the skin over time and what the results will be.

      It’s always a personal choice. The important thing is being informed about all of your choices, something the cosmetic industry doesn’t do a good job of doing. There really are great substitutes out there, though. For our company, Eternal Maternal, we pride ourselves on ONLY using natural ingredients in our products. We’ve been selling body products for a number of years and have never had an issue with products going bad. We’re always happy to answer any questions about our products and share what we know. Please feel free to stop by, look around, and ask questions!

    • Robin @ What Causes Wrinkles

      It’s wonderful to see toxic cosmetic ingredients being exposed on a mainstream level. Many women still continue to use products with such ingredients, unknowingly exposing themselves to disease-causing poisons. I’d like to invite you to visit my blog, where I educate women about toxic cosmetics and how to make the switch to safer products. –

    • Marilyn @ Lipgloss and Spandex

      This is really informative and really helpful! I agree with some of the commenters that it’s good to do your own researcher and decide for yourself. I personally used to work in an infectious disease research unit and have seen how devastating antibiotic resistant strains can be, so I try to avoid any products that are unnecessary and may contribute to resistance, like triclosan.

    • trudy muro

      I have been using the lipstick loreal,they just mentioned in the news about containing lead, bought it about 3-4 wks go,wear it everyday,I started to have burning in my mouth,my gums got inflamed,and receeding from my teeth,went to the dentist,they sd it was not a dental problem,I still have the burning,and I wonder if there is enough lead to hurt me??please let me know is anyone has some info.thanks

    • Scott at Pure Natural Makeup

      Really enjoyed your article, especially the chemical picture. As you said, it’s good that bigger companies are bringing out new product ranges that are ‘natural’ and/or ‘organic’, but it’s always good to check because with clever marketing they can really deceive. I know that since my wife has gone to using only natural makeup, she has seen (and I’ve noticed as well) a marked difference in her skin. I was so impressed, that I even started my own blog on it at

    • Vicky Maheshwari

      Thanks for posting this! In today’s world people just run after what is the best cosmetic and beauty product, but they forget to analyze that what is good for their skin. I will surely keep this points in mind.

    • Karen K.


      I am sorry to be spamming on your site, I just wanted to share some products that I know are super safe, and that I fell in love with.

      I just recently started caring about what I put in/on my body. And was blown away by Arbonne. If you are interested in botanically-based skin care/cosmetics, that are free of: talc, parabens, phthalates, fragrances, dyes, formaldehyde, animal by-products/fillers, mineral oils and petroleum, I highly recommend Arbonne. They are certified vegan and gluten-free, dermatologist tested, hypoallergenic and NOT tested on animals! Yay!

      It’s a 38-year old Swiss company (Europe has a MUCH higher standard for what ingredients are allowed in their products). 500 ingredients that are banned in Switzerland, are used in our products here in the U.S.! Scary!

      Anyway, you need a consultant to purchase their products, in order to get any type of discount. I have to mention that I am an Independent Consultant for Arbonne, but I am not in it for the money. I absolutely LOVE these products because of how they make my face glow and how safe they are for me and my family . (My co-worker mentioned this morning how she’s noticed my face is glowing lately. Once I told her why, she was very excited to try the products!).

      Anyway, I would be happy to answer any questions, send out samples, or help you place an order, if you are interested. They have a baby line called ABC.

      Please feel free to contact me at the info below. I would be happy to help get you started with safer products, and making your skin the best it can be!

      Catalog Website:
      Facebook Page:

      Have a blessed day!

      Karen :)

    • always tries to research stuff

      I don’t think we need to worry about the current amounts of this stuff in creams/cosmetics
      I was just reading the FDA site and also some science journals about those. The consensus is that these chemicals are given at too low doses to harm humans. Even given at higher times full human doses to animals (or even injected) ridiculously for like months didn’t see any sign of damage/effects to them. The stuff we find in creams and stuff are way less then even 1% of the cream so I don’t think we have to worry much when there are other things way worse for us that we breathe or eat.

      Also a human dose of parabens given to a small mammal like a rat gets metabolized in like 3mins or less to less then 5% of the initial dose: (article by researchers)

      • Liddlebitz

        Doesn’t that say the safety concerns need to be reassessed?

        However, subcutaneous administration of butylparaben produced a positive uterotrophic responsein vivo,although it was approximately 100,000 times less potent than 17β-estradiol. Given their use in a wide range of commercially available topical preparations, it is suggested that the safety in use of these chemicals should be reassessed, with particular attention being paid to estimation of the actual levels of systemic exposure of humans exposed to these chemicals. The acquisition of such data is a prerequisite to the derivation of reliable estimates of the possible human risk of exposure to parabens.

    • misslins

      Please visit my petition for bath and body works to STOP using these harmful chemicals in their products.