The Dirty Dozen: 12 Common Toxins Found In Beauty Products

While there are countless artificial ingredients and toxic nasties hiding in most mainstream beauty products, there are 12 in particular that give cause for major concern.

Often referred to as The Dirty Dozen, these ingredients and chemicals have been shown to be highly questionable with potentially devastating health implications.

Grab a pen and paper and familiarise yourself with these common toxins so that you can steer clear of them next time you’re shopping for cosmetics and toiletries.

1. PARABENS

Found in basically every mainstream beauty product you can get your mitts on, parabens (which usually appear on the ingredients list with prefixes like Butyl, Isobutyl, Propyl, Methyl, Ethyl etc.) are artificial preservatives that are added to products to help prevent bacteria and mould growth.

Parabens are a concern because they can mimic our own natural hormones, which can lead to endocrine disruption; a condition which has been linked to some types of cancer. Parabens have also been associated with skin irritation, dermatitis, rosacea, increased sun damage, headaches and dizziness.

2. ARTIFICIAL FRAGRANCE

If that department store beauty product you’re testing has even the slightest hint of a scent to it, chances are it’s loaded with synthetic fragrance. Usually listed as ‘parfum,’ or ‘fragrance,’ on the ingredients label, an artificial fragrance can have dozens – even hundreds – of ingredients.

It’s impossible to know exactly what chemicals have been used to create that specific scent, because beauty companies aren’t legally required to reveal their fragrance compositions. Artificial and synthetic fragrances have been linked to headaches, dizziness, skin irritation, nausea and endocrine disruption.

3. PHTHALATES

Found in some of the most popular beauty products on the market (including perfumes, nail polishes, and hairsprays), common phthalates include Diethyl Phthalate and Dibutyl Phthalate.

Phthalates are a type of plasticising chemical that’s used to make a product’s texture more spreadable or pliable, or alternatively to make a product adhere to the skin.

Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, and they have been linked to lung, kidney and liver damage, and can potentially cause birth defects as well.

4. SLS & SLES

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) are found in products that lather up (think shampoo, foaming cleansers, body wash, liquid soap, bubble bath and even toothpaste) and are a type of foaming agent.

They are incredibly harsh ingredients and can often be found in industrial cleaning products like engine degreasers. Both SLS and SLES irritate the skin by stripping away it’s natural protective barrier, and have also been linked to allergies, eye problems, and hair growth issues.

5. TRICLOSAN

An antibacterial and anti-fungal agent, Triclosan is added to common toiletries like hand soaps, deodorants, toothpaste, hand sanitiser, and cosmetics.

While the idea of a germ-fighting additive might not sound bad in theory, Triclosan has been linked to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (known as ‘superbugs’) and also ends up in our water systems where it can affect the aquatic environment.

In addition, Triclosan has also been linked to endocrine disruption which can lead to serious medical conditions.

6. PETROLEUM & MINERAL OIL

Petroleum and petroleum-derived substances including mineral oil and paraffin are commonly found in lip balms, lipsticks, lip glosses, body oils, moisturisers, body balms, hair gels and conditioners.

Petroleum is a type of petrochemical that’s derived from crude oil, and it can cause a wide array of skin problems as it coats and clogs your pores and leaves a slick barrier on top of the skin.

In addition to preventing the skin from ‘breathing,’ petroleum, mineral oil and paraffin can also be contaminated with all kinds of toxins and impurities.

7. FORMALDEHYDE

Listed on the ingredients label as Imidazolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Quaternium, DMDM Hydantoin, Nitropropane, Bronopol, Oxaldehyde and Glyoxal, Formaldehyde is commonly found in nail polishes and hair straightening treatments.

It’s been banned from use in cosmetics in some countries and is a known carcinogen that has been linked to lung disease (including lung cancer), lymphoma and leukaemia.

It makes it’s way into the body through fume inhalation, and can cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, and has the potential to accumulate in the body which can lead to toxicity.

8. HYDROQUINONE

Also known as Quinol, Benzene and Diol, Hydroquinone inhibits melanin production and can be found in some skin lightening creams and anti-pigmentation products like brightening serums and skin whitening treatments.

It has been banned in some countries, and the FDA has stated that Hydroquinone may be carcinogenic, as studies have linked it to the development of tumours and leukaemia. It has also been linked to skin sensitivity and increased sun damage, skin irritation and organ toxicity.

9. MERCURY 

While it’s not commonly found in Australian-made beauty products, mercury can be lurking in certain mascaras, acne treatments and skin creams, along with ear and eye drops.

It will be listed on the ingredients label as Calomel, Mercurous Chloride, Thimerosal, Merthiolate, Mercurio, or Mercuric.

Mercury exposure can lead to mercury poisoning, symptoms of which can include tremors, numbness and tingling, irritability and depression, memory problems, vision and hearing problems, and organ damage – including brain damage.

10. PROPYLENE GLYCOL

You’ll find this anti-freeze solvent in brake and hydraulic fluids, along with some of the most common personal care and toiletry products like deodorant, baby wipes, toothpaste, moisturisers, shampoo, and run-of-the-mill cosmetics.

Propylene Glycol has the potential to cause serious health issues, including central nervous system disruption and organ damage. It has also been linked to hives, eczema, and allergic reactions.

11. COAL TAR DYES

Used primarily as a colouring agent in hair dyes and makeup, and also an active ingredient in some anti-dandruff shampoos, coal tar dyes will appear in the ingredients list with names like Aminophenol, Phenylenediamine and Diaminobenzene.

Coal tar dyes are known to be carcinogenic, and in some instances might also be contaminated with toxic heavy metals. In addition to this, coal tar dyes have also been shown to cause skin irritation and sensitivity.

12. BHA & BHT

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) are synthetic antioxidants, which are added to cosmetics like lipstick, moisturiser, and even baby products like nappy creams to extend the product’s shelf life.

They are suspected carcinogens and they also have the potential to cause endocrine disruption and have the potential to cause thyroid, kidney, and liver issues.

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