Harmful Chemicals in Beauty Products and Their Safer Alternatives

toxic cosmetics

Harmful Chemicals in Beauty Products

We all use tens of beauty products everyday that contain hundreds, if not thousands, of ingredients. I read in a report that beauty companies that there are about 82,000 ingredients that are used in several beauty products. And the sad news is that 1 in 8 of these ingredients are industrial chemicals, including toxins, hormone disruptors and even pesticides!

I was generally doing some online study and came across many shocking truths behind these companies and so-called safe products and I thought let me share the wisdom with fellow IMBBians. So, here I am going to tell you about some common ingredients that are widely used in cosmetics and that may cause some or major harm to us. Read on.


These are the most commonly used ingredients. Even I have seen people discussing about it on IMBB though I am not sure if we are really aware of what they actually do or can do.

These are often listed as methylparaben, benzylparaben or some other chemical ending with the word paraben. These are mainly used as preservatives and can be found in lipsticks, lotions and creams. It is estimated that around 75%-90% of the cosmetics use parabens.

These are known to disrupt the endocrine system of the body and can reduce the sperm count in males and can cause breast cancer in women. They penetrate the human skin very easily. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed parabens as Category 1 priority substance as they hugely interfere with hormone function. Studies also suggest that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB of the sun rays leading to DNA damage and fast ageing of the skin.

It was noticed that parabens used in underarm toiletries penetrated through the underarm skin to the breast and thus was linked with breast cancer!

Though companies argue that a small amount of parabens used on the skin through the cosmetics may not interfere with hormone balance. The FDA also says parabens are safe to use on skin. But I still have doubts. 🙁

For eg. Ambika Pillai lip gloss contains phenoxythanol instead of parabens. Though it has mineral oil too. 🙁

Substitutes: Phenoxythanol, Potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are considered to be far safer than parabens.

Synthetic Colors

As the name suggests these are the synthetic colors that impart color to our skin and hair.

The most dangerous of these are coal-tar dyes (listed as 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine[4-MMPD] or as CI followed by a number). P – Phenylenediamine is extensively used in hair dyes. And darker the hair dye, higher the concentration of this hair dye.

This dye is associated with causing cancer and tumors in animals. The European Union classifies p-phenylenediamine as toxic (in contact with skin, by inhalation, or if swallowed), and as very toxic to aquatic organisms, noting that it may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.

For eg. Have a look at this product – Loreal paris HiP concentrated Shadow duo. It is loaded with synthetic colors and contains BHA, BHT, petroleum jelly and parabens as well. Phew! Another Loreal lippy with loads of colors.

Substitutes: go for natural colors.


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lipsticks and moisturizers. These are mainly used to preserve oil and fats in the cosmetics.

These can induce allergic reactions in the skin. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has also listed BHA as a Category 1 priority substance, based on evidence that it interferes with hormone function. These are also said to be associated with causing tumor and disrupting hormone functions. Though these are also said to have anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.

For eg.– Loreal company seems to top the list in using BHA, BHTs. Pick any Loreal lipstick for that matter.

Substitutes: Rosemary extract is said to be an effective and safer substitute of BHA and BHTs.
Petrolatum or Mineral Oil

It is obtained from the refinement of crude oil. This is basically anything related to petroleum jelly.

These are often used in products for dry skin care. Though the companies claim that manufacturers eliminate the contaminants via chemical process, some studies have found traces of few PAHs in many petroleum jelly products. EU has restricted its use in cosmetics. Over exposure to PAHs can cause skin disease.

For eg. NYX round lip gloss contains mineral oil and BHA.

Substitutes: natural oils are a good substitute for chapped, dry skin. For eg. Burt Bee’s lip balm contains natural oils.


OMG, I dread these. I remember how, when I was young, I read in a magazine that with nail paints, one should not prepare dough! I at once asked my mommy to remove her nail paint and since then she hardly applied it. I am glad I did it.

This chemical is mainly used in nail paints and fragrances. It is of two types – DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEHP (di [2-ethylhexyl] phthalate).

It is also related with causing cancer and liver injuries. It is absorbed through the skin and it can enhance the capacity of other chemicals to cause genetic mutations. The European Union bans DBP in cosmetics, as well as in childcare articles and toys.

For eg. Secret Temptation Deo, NYX and Inglot nail paints contain Phthalates.

Final Verdict

I know most of you would be worried or rather concerned about their daily cosmetics usages. And I also understand that in our country particularly, there are no strict regulations and companies are smart in bypassing these regulations, if any. Also it is not possible to totally avoid these chemicals as our world today is laden with heavy chemicals. So what to do?

Best thing to do is to look for safer alternatives. And use these products sparingly. Minimize the use of cosmetics if you are not sure of their ingredients or their safety of use. Consuming 0.1% of a chemical over a period of 6 months wont cause much damage. 🙂

I just checked that Loccitane shampoo is free from most of the harmful chemicals.

About the Author:

Surabhi Surendra lives in Andamans and blogs at Womanatics – a blog about women, relationships and inspiration. If you enjoyed this article, you may like to follow her on Twitter or become a fan!

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image sources: 1, 2


52 thoughts on “Harmful Chemicals in Beauty Products and Their Safer Alternatives

  1. eye opening article Surabhi..thanks a ton… will definetly look at the products with a different eye now onwards..used to look only at the mfg date and the expiry date so far… :yes: :yes:

  2. Almost all the products which i use have the chemicals listed above :((
    the products which says no parbens and no sulphates, either it would be more expensive or it wont work (e.g.shampoos)
    Nice article surabhi :yes: :yes:

    1. Yeah Shami.. thats true.. most of the products have chemicals in them but I still feel we should look for long term goals and stop lusting after short term benefits.

    1. Nandini.. thx dearie for sharing the link.. and yeah.. even I know of some contradictory reports. But then I believe that once you do a study against something and someone else does a study in favour of the same thing. So… things always lie in the grey area..

      1. You’re welcome 🙂 Yes, but I know for a fact that the breast cancer vs deos link is an urban myth, have checked with doctors as well, and my mom works for the W.H.O. So just letting you know so that you don’t avoid deos for that reason 🙂

          1. Ah good then 🙂 I didn’t mean you specifically though! I’m beginning to have doubts abt my John Frieda now, it has parabens 🙁 I don’t think we can completely avoid all of it unless we stop applying makeup altogether!! 🙁

            1. Haan thats there yaar.. but I try to stay away from eye shadows, powders, blushes etc.. I mean I use the minimum make up stuff. And then I think if we use one product that has parabens.. its okay.. shouldnt be much of a problem.

              And I know you jst intended to enlighten us. and thanks for the info.. though I recently noticed one thing. 2 days back itself I switched to Dove Go Fresh deo (nivea is not available in my town) and the moment I spray it.. I feel some particles inside my nose and mouth. I have tried various methods of spraying (near, distant) but it is irritating me.

              And for a moment.. I have problems in breathing. Not sure if anyone else has also experienced it.

              1. Nice article. The deo thing- yes i experience it too. I use either Dove or Nivea.. feel that the deo has gone inside mouth n nose too n get irritated by it :shocked: . It happens more so with Nivea, so plannin to stay away from it or try some roll on deo..

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this useful article, Surabhi! :yes: :yes: I am going to bookmark it.
    Are companies that claim to be natural (such as TBS and Lush) free from such chemicals like L’Occitane too?

    1. I am sure about Lush.. I have used them extensively.. and I learnt a lot about them in my visit to Germany. But TBS and all.. I am not sure. I know we cant avoid these chemicals completely.. that too when we are not even sure if so called Herbal companies are also purely herbal but still.. we can make a conscious attempt at it.

  4. OMG! What shocking revelation! Though I always knew these beauty products contain dreadful chemicals yet I was never aware that they are present in such large numbers. I can shun any products but the fact that even eyeshadows and lotions contain so many chemicals makes me want to cry 🙁 how will I live without these :headbang: :headbang:

    1. Hey Leez,

      Even I was upset when the doc told me about these things but he also mentioned that since they are present in small quantities.. its not much of a danger IF you use them sparingly or use one product or two.
      But yeah, if your cabinet is loaded with such products and you layer them up on your skin then yeah.. time to worry.

      I have now become more aware of these ingredients.

      1. Yeah awareness is the first step toward safety.. From now I shall look for safer alternatives. Btw I read an article smwhr which provided natural homemade options for almost evrythng ranging from eyeshadows to lip tints but they are very messy nd not easy to follow more so bcoz we all love our bourjoises nd chanels 😉

  5. :tremble: :tremble: :tremble: :tremble: :tremble: :doctor: :doctor: :doctor:

    nice write up Surabhi :)) I use mostly products from modicare… i don find that much of chemicals in them….. :tongue:

  6. eye opening article.. :yes: But is very difficult to find products without parabens.. Almost all has it.. I have stopped using showergels and shampoos with parabens.. But its very hard to find best face creams or body lotions without parabens.. 🙁

    1. Yeah…!!!! but I have many from Loreal… and I recently got many from the same brand before knowing these details.. :headbang: :headbang: :headbang:

  7. Hi Surbhi!
    I was told by a friend of mine that Lakme cosmetics contain the highest amount of Lead and Chambor has comparatively lesser amount of lead…Is there any place where we can get a list as to which cosmetic company is safer and which is not?

    1. I am not sure abt any report of this kind but yeah theres a magazine.. called something like earth (sorry i forgot its name.. will let u know) that mag brings out reports on companies and products.

      I read in it that out of all the honey.. just one small company in delhi makes honey without any antibiotic preservatives.. otherwise all (even patanjali and dabur) contain high doses of antibiotic preservatives.. 🙁

  8. Hi Surabhi..

    That’s a brilliant and useful article.. I bookmarked it..

    I want to know, whether the use of Vaseline petroleum Jelly is also harmful.. I started using it for my eyebrows and lashes recently.. Now this is scaring me.. 🙁

    1. Akshatha..

      Thanks for liking it. I have read and heard that petroluem jelly is harmful if used over a long time. You can safely replace petroleum jelly with castor oil or olive oil. Castor oil really thickens the eye lashes. I have tested it.. though its is quite heavy.. so use it in night.

  9. I’m really happy that someone came out with this topic here on IMBB.. I personally hunt for organic beauty products which are either rare finds here in India or costs a bomb .. what is disappointing most is that even our favorite johnson baby products are filled with parabens and laureth sulphates.. :(( searching a proper shampoo has really become a headache for me.. :headbang: and scrubs and all I really prefer applying kitchen beauty stuffs 😀 once again, Surabhi .. really great article and thanks for spreading the awareness.. 🙂 :yes: :yes:

    1. Thank you so much Ananya for the kind words. Yeah.. shampoo toh really.. have been an headache for me too.. if you go for herbals.. then dandruff irrtates you and if dandruff is cured, then hairfall.. uff!!!

      but yeah.. sticking to kitchen is the safest thing to do. My aunt has amazingly long, shining, black hair and till date she uses hamam soap to wash her hair and coconut oil to oil. 🙂

  10. Great post! But I would personally prefer cancer, tumours, hormonal disruption over not using beauty and cosmetic products. :vampire: :vampire: :vampire:

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