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How harmful are chemicals in cosmetics?

You may not think twice about the skin cream you rub on your face, the eyeliner you apply before work, or the shampoo you lather up in your hair. These products, which seem relatively safe in theory, typically contain dozens of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce and even harder to spell. When people use cosmetics, their skin absorbs chemicals, which can enter the bloodstream. People might also inhale powders or ingest cosmetics by using lip products, for example.

Certain chemicals in makeup and other cosmetic products can contain ingredients researchers have linked to serious health concerns. Some of these health concerns include:

· cancer

· endocrine disorders, which affect the production of hormones in the body

· developmental delays

· neurological problems

List of ingredients to avoid and why


People can find talc in various makeup products, including blushers, eye shadows, and bronzers. It works in makeup to absorb moisture, give an opaque finish, and stop makeup from “caking.”

However, talc may pose a health risk due to possible contamination with asbestos; both talc and asbestos are natural minerals in the earth that often occur close together. Asbestos is a known cancer-forming chemical and can contaminate untested talc that manufacturers use in certain cosmetics.


Triclosan may be present in some over-the-counter cosmetics. Some manufacturers add it to reduce the risk of contamination with bacteria. Products that might contain triclosan include toothpaste, antibacterial soaps, and body washes. High levels of triclosan may affect thyroid hormones and contribute to antibiotic resistance. Research is also currently looking into the long-term effects of triclosan on the development of skin cancer.


Cosmetic eye products that contain kohl may contain high levels of lead, which is a harmful heavy metal for the body.

Mercury and thimerosal

Skin lighteners may contain mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal that is harmful to the body. It may affect the nervous system, cause kidney damage, and harm a developing fetus. Thimerosal is a preservative that can appear in cosmetics and contains mercury.


Phthalates are present in some nail polishes and hair sprays, as well as the fragrances of many cleaning and cosmetic products.

Phthalates can unbalance hormones, particularly those that work alongside estrogen, such as testosterone.


Manufacturers use parabens as preservatives in many cosmetics. Parabens may appear on cosmetic labels as the following:

  • methylparaben

  • propylparaben

  • ethylparaben

  • butylparaben

Parabens may be present in makeup, moisturizers, hair products, and shaving creams. Parabens can enter the body through the skin and mimic estrogen. Although parabens will only act as a weak form of estrogen, it could still be enough to cause breast cancer cells to grow. This is because an imbalance of estrogen can sometimes trigger a certain type of breast cancer called hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.


Following these steps can help a person reduce or avoid the use of toxic makeup:

  • Use fewer products or choose products with shorter ingredient lists.

  • Check all labels carefully and look up any unfamiliar ingredients.

  • Make cosmetic products such as body scrubs and face masks at home using simple food ingredients.

  • Take care with products that claim they are “pure”, “organic”, or “natural”, as there is no legal backup for these claims, and it does not automatically make them safer.

  • Use products that have organic certification or certification with a recognized organization that promotes nontoxic products.

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