Toxic Ingredients On Makeup Product Labels and How To Spot Them

Feature | Makeup brushes with colorful powder | Toxic Ingredients On Makeup Product Labels and How To Spot Them

Learn how to read product labels to avoid toxic makeup ingredients.

In this article:

  1. Spot the Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid
  2. Choose Organic Products

Is It Toxic? | Know the 6 Harmful Ingredients to Avoid in Makeup


Spot the Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid

Woman making make-up near mirror | Toxic Ingredients On Makeup Product Labels and How To Spot Them

No woman will like anything toxic on their face. You will 100 percent run away from a lipstick that contains “formaldehyde” in its list of ingredients.

Here’s a question, though: do you know the names of any of the by-products of formaldehyde?

Many of these are confusing and even hard to pronounce! Because of that, it’s difficult to determine whether the makeup ingredient is safe.

In some cases, the names sound less harmful. Citric acid is a prime example.

It’s important you keep your skin healthy by learning to avoid harmful ingredients in makeup. These include the following:

1. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring compound. In fact, the body also produces it through cellular metabolism.

The laboratories also make it because of its wide array of applications. It is useful in many industries such as construction and building, as well as consumer products such as makeup.

Companies use formaldehyde because of its solidifying effect. That’s why many non-organic nail products, hair gels, and lotions include forms of it.

It also has anti-bacterial properties and is effective as a preservative. It’s a common ingredient in embalming fluid!

That’s not the worst cause for concern, though. This toxic makeup ingredient can be carcinogenic. Some studies suggest it can increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia.

How do you avoid this potentially toxic ingredient?

Look for any of the following words on beauty product labels:

  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • Quaternium-15

These are other forms of formaldehyde. Skip products that have these names on the label.

2. Lead

Many historical scholars believe lead in makeup powder might have poisoned Elizabeth I and other high-born women of her time. The whitening face powder was a form of powdered lead.

A lot of modern women may say they’re all too smart to use lead in their makeup. The sad truth is many beauty products still contain the toxic metal.

Lipsticks, for example, often contain small amounts of lead. Of course, these trace amounts may not pose a problem for occasional lipstick users. Those who reapply it several times each day, however, should decide to avoid “leaded lips.”

Research is still ongoing, but lead may well be one of the more harmful ingredients to avoid in makeup.

Avoiding lipsticks with lead can be more of a challenge than one likes to think. The FDA ruling may allow manufacturers to skip listing these “trace amounts” on the label.

How do you avoid this potentially toxic ingredient?

Rather than researching individual name-brand lipsticks, consider going for organic makeup companies that specify their lipsticks and other skin care products are lead-free.

3. BHA and BHT

BHA and BHT are the abbreviated forms of butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene. You can find either of these similar ingredients in face and body creams. They may also be present in lipstick, eye makeup, and deodorant.

Some people may develop allergic reactions, especially if they have sensitive skin. At their worst, they can be carcinogenic. Some animal studies also showed they may increase the risk of developmental problems during pregnancy.

How do you avoid this potentially toxic ingredient?

Because both the initials and the formal names aren’t as well-known as lead or formaldehyde, labels may add them as is. In other situations, you may encounter the following:

  • Antrancine 12
  • Eec no. e320
  • Protex
  • Tenox BHA
  • Sustane 1-f

There’s a host of other names. If you do see ingredients you recognize as BHA or BHT, consider giving them a wide berth. Health advocates consider them among the top ingredients to avoid in cosmetics.

4. Parabens

Parabens are preservatives. Companies use them to keep a wide variety of goods from going bad.

Chemically speaking, they have a similar composition to natural estrogen. It can be a problem since they may interfere with both male and female endocrine systems and increase the risk of tumors.

Toxic parabens can also be found in hygiene products. These include hair products, sunscreen, and face wash.

How do you avoid this potentially toxic ingredient?

There are several different forms of parabens in use, each with its own “alias.” The main parabens to focus on include the following:

  • Isobutylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Methylparaben

As you may notice, the giveaway is often the word “paraben” is at the end of these ingredients’ names. Some manufacturers can call them by less-familiar names. These are methyl ester benzoic acid and 4hydroxy.

How do you avoid this harmful ingredient? Look for natural skincare products, such as those that say “paraben-free.”

RELATED: 16 Best Natural Makeup Products Your Skin Will Thank You For

5. Phthalates

How do you avoid this potentially toxic ingredient?

Scented makeup and beauty products often contain phthalates. You can also avoid this class of toxic chemicals by looking for the word “fragrance” on the ingredients list. These products most likely contain phthalates, a group of plasticizing chemicals.

Manufacturers use this chemical to either add an artificial scent to makeup and other beauty products or to mask other scents. If the ingredients list mentions “fragrance,” you’ll know to avoid it.

Why are phthalates one of the dangerous ingredients in makeup? Some studies showed a link of this toxic ingredient to the following:

  • Asthma
  • Male birth defects
  • Male infertility
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Some types of cancer
  • Organ damage

It should be easy to avoid products with this ingredient. All you need to do is to look for “fragrance-free” on the packaging, right?

Because phthalates can also exist as a way to mask fragrance rather than create a scent, manufacturers may still use them and then call their products “fragrance-free.” It’s better to look for the assurance they are “phthalates-free.”

6. Petroleum

Petroleum jelly | Toxic Ingredients On Makeup Product Labels and How To Spot Them

We’re all familiar with petroleum jelly. The way manufacturers refine this mineral-based oil can spell the difference between creating a non-allergenic product and making an actual carcinogen.

Some companies may use polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are potentially dangerous toxins, to refine petroleum.

How do you avoid this potentially toxic ingredient?

You may see petroleum listed on anything that needs a creamy base. These can be cream makeups, hair products, and lotions. To be safe, avoid petroleum products whenever possible.


Choose Organic Products

As you already know, the aliases of some of the more toxic ingredients are almost as hard to memorize as they are to pronounce. Do you need to become a chemist to buy some face powder and nail polish? Not at all! The easiest way to avoid harmful ingredients in cosmetics and beauty products is to look for skin care and beauty products that are organic.


Check out this video to learn more about toxic ingredients in your skincare from The Doctors:

What if there’s a beauty product you truly like but it’s not organic? Is it toxic? One of the steps is to search for the ingredients in the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) cosmetics database. That way, you can evaluate whether your favorite blusher is a toxic product and learn more about the ingredients it contains.

Do you know of other toxic ingredients? Share them in the comments section below.

Up Next: Organic Skin Care | Everything You Need To Know

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