The Dirty Dozen of Cosmetics – 12 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Beauty Products

Cosmetics Dirty Dozen

There are hundreds of toxic ingredients found in beauty products and personal care items for women and we spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the dangers of conventional cosmetics the ingredients you should always avoid in your beauty products. We thought it would be useful to write a single, condensed, post about the top 12 toxic ingredients that should always be avoided when you are searching for new natural and organic beauty products.

Just like there is a Dirty Dozen in fruits and veggies that hold onto the most herbicides and pesticides, the same can be said for cosmetics – there are 12 of the most dangerous ingredients for your health and your body. Let’s take a look at what they are and why they are so dangerous below.

1. BHA and BHT

These are both related ingredients and are synthetic antioxidants used as a preservative. Exposure to these substances for an extended period of time has been linked to liver, kidney, and thyroid conditions in mice and can promote tumor growth in certain conditions.

They can give some people terrible skin allergic reactions, are a known human carcinogen (meaning they can give you cancer,) and the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has categorized BHA as a Category 1 ingredient of concern because there is confirmed evidence it disrupts human hormones.

2. Coal Tar Dyes

These dyes give a variety of colored cosmetics, well, their color. You can tell by the 5-digit color index number in the ingredient list. It is most often used in hair dyes, particularly the dark-colored dyes. It’s a mixture of tons of chemicals made from petroleum and is a known human carcinogen. It also contains heavy metals and aluminum, which are toxic to the brain.

3. DEA and DEA Related Ingredients

This makes cosmetics foam and can also make them creamy. It can cause skin irritation, eye irritation, can cause liver cancer in high doses or repeated use, change thyroid function.

4. Dibutyl phthalate

This is mainly used in nail products, such a nail polish. It can absorb through the skin and cause genetic mutations to form. It can also cause birth defects or even reduce sperm count in males. It is also a known endocrine disrupter.

5. Formaldehyde preservatives

These various ingredients continuously release formaldehyde and can cause cancer over a period of time. 

Formaldehyde should be nowhere near your face products or makeups (rather go natural), yet it is a common ingredient in many. It can also be absorbed right through the skin and can also be inhaled, which affects the lungs and the air quality around you. This highly toxic ingredient is a known human carcinogen and is actually used to preserve dead bodies.

6. Parabens

These can be very easily absorbed through the skin and they can interfere with hormone function and can mimic estrogen, which is the female sex hormone. It is also believed to be a cause for breast cancer and can affect the male hormones as well. Parabens can also damage DNA.

Parabens are ones of the most common preservatives found in makeup. Parabens are so harmful to the body because they can actually mimic estrogen, according to the FDA. This leads to an increase in breast cancer and skin cancer. Additionally, parabens have the ability to disrupt your endocrine system, leading to reproductive and developmental disorders.

This is especially important for women of reproductive age looking to have children. There are many different kinds of parabens, so always keep a lookout in the ingredient list. Any ingredient that ends with “paraben” should be avoided.

7. Parfum or Fragrance

Thousands of chemicals can be used in fragrance and companies can hide all the chemicals they don’t want on their labels under the “fragrance” section. This allows companies to hide whatever ingredients they want.

Fragrance/parfum is another ingredient that should be avoided at all costs. Fragrance is where many companies are able to hide a laundry list of chemicals and artificial ingredients. Companies are not required to disclose what is included in the term “fragrance.” Additionally, most fragrances are stabilized with phthalates, which are chemicals that are linked to reproductive issues and birth defects when tested on animals.

8. PEG Compounds

PEG compounds can harm the nervous system and also interfere with human development, like when a woman is pregnant with a child. It is also a believed carcinogen and can cause genotoxicity.

9. Petroleum

Petroleum in cosmetics is known to cause cancer after a prolonged period of time.

10. Sodium Laureth/Laurel Sulfate

This is a human carcinogen and can also harm the nervous system. It can interfere with human development and can cause terrible facial rashes around the mouth, eyes, and nose.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is found in many of the beauty products you find in stores and online. It is found in makeup, soaps, lotions, and even toothpaste (except if they’re on this list). SLS can cause major skin irritations, canker sores, damage to the eyes, and can cause bad acne around the mouth and the chin. If you find yourself breaking out is a red and/or bumpy, and painful rash around the mouth, chin, and eyes you may have an allergy to SLS. The EWG Skin Deep website classifies SLS as “expected to be toxic or harmful” in organ system toxicity and is not something you want to expose your body and skin to on a regular basis.

11. Siloxanes

This is an endocrine disrupter and affects how human hormones function in the body. It can also cause humans to become infertile and cause uterine tumors.

12. Triclosan

It is a hormone disruptor and impairs endocrine function. It will also irritate the skin and eyes and comes out in your urine.


Mineral oil is a very common ingredient in many face products, including serums. Mineral oil can cause can create a film over your skin that prevents your skin from naturally releasing any toxin buildup. Of course, this will lead to clogged pores, acne, oil buildup, and even some unsightly rashes. Additionally, mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum.

1,4 Dioxane is a very popular ingredient in many lotions and moisturizers – and it sounds like a scary chemical formula, right? This ingredient can also be listed on the ingredient list as PEG or any number of ingredients ending in “eth” or “oxynol.”  According to the EPA, 1,4 Dioxane is a probable human carcinogen and is very easily absorbed by the skin, which is potential dangerous considering you are slathering it all over your face.

For a comprehensive list of chemical and toxic ingredients used in makeup and skincare products, visit The EWG Skin Deep to learn in depth about avoiding these harmful ingredients.

This article was last updated on May 6, 2022 .

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