The Dirty Dozen – Problematic Chemicals in Cosmetics

AILLEA founder Kathryn Dickinson discusses how to navigate toxin-free beauty. Read on to learn about the chemicals found in everyday beauty products as well as learn about a special giveaway we’re holding with AILLEA. For more information about environmental health, check out these resources from our August 2015 webinar.

Did you know that women put an average of 168 chemicals on their body a day? Our skin is our largest organ and absorbs 60% of everything we put on it directly in to our blood stream (think about how hormone or nicotine transdermal patches work!). There are over 10,000 chemicals being used in our personal care products and even more shocking – one in five personal care products have ingredients that may be linked to cancer! This makes navigating the beauty aisle can be daunting and overwhelming.

Aillea Giveaway Blog Photo

Below is a list of the cosmetic version of the “Dirty Dozen” – top 12 chemicals used in cosmetic and beauty products that you should consider avoiding. I’ve summarized them for you, but before it gets too scary, know that all products at AILLEA, in addition to being high-performing, are safe and toxin-free. Added bonus: if you use the code LBBC at checkout you get a 5% discount and we make a donation to Living Beyond Breast Cancer. So get your products (and your trash) ready and read on to see which harmful chemicals are in your beauty cabinet:

  1. BHA and BHT – Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (tip off right there if you can’t pronounce the ingredient). These are commonly found in moisturizers and other cosmetics as a preservative. They can disrupt hormone function and can cause skin allergies, and also have been linked to kidney and thyroid problems.
  2. Coal tar dyes (p-phenylenediamine), toluene, hydroquinone, and phenol carbolic acid – These just sound disgusting. They’re also among the few products for which the Food and Drug Administration have issued consumer advice on the benefits of reducing use. These are found in skin lotions, anti-aging creams, hair dyes and other skin and hair products.
  3. DEA and related ingredients like MEA, TEA – These are used to make shampoos, soaps, and other products creamy and foamy. They are also used in oil refineries to remove hydrogen sulphide from process gas emissions. Are you sure your hair is THAT dirty? These are skin and eye irritants, have been linked to liver cancer, and have been declared toxic for the environment and for aquatic organisms. Save Nemo and stop washing these down the drain!
  4.  Dibutyl phthalate – Use in nail polish as a “plasticizer” and in fragrance. This has also been banned in the EU, may be linked developmental defects, and increase the ability for other chemicals to cause genetic mutations. The worse part is that because it’s used in fragrance, some companies don’t have to list this in the ingredients because it’s part of their “secret recipe.” The secret is killing you isn’t it?
  5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (DMDM hydantoin, ureas, methenamines, etc) – Just to start, formaldehyde is used to embalm a body to preserve it and reduce the speed of decomposition. If that doesn’t convince you, read on. It is a known carcinogen, can irritate the skin and eyes, and cause asthma and nausea.  It’s used in hair straightening treatments and relaxers, baby shampoos, soaps, and many other cosmetics. It’s also used in toilet bowl cleaners…enough said.
  6. Parabens – These are the most widely used chemical in cosmetics so get ready to part ways with many of your beloved but harmful products. They alter hormone levels and may play a role in increasing one’s risk of developing breast cancer.
  7. Parfum (fragrance) – Just because the word is French doesn’t mean it’s elegant. This term actually includes about 3,000 chemicals and is used in perfumes, lotions, creams, and deodorants among other products. Of the 3,000 chemicals, most have not even been tested for toxicity. Those that have may cause allergies, asthma, irritate the skin, and have been linked to reproductive issues.
  8. PEG compounds – These are used to thicken and soften creams and lotions. They are also used as laxatives. Not something you usually want to put on your face. It may be listed as propylene glycol in the ingredients, and may cause harm to the nervous system, skin irritation, and organ and reproductive toxicity. It may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1, 4-dioxane, both of which are carcinogens.
  9. Petrolatum – This is a petroleum product; yes the same substance from which gasoline is refined. It’s used in products to form a hydration barrier and makes lipsticks shiny.  It may be linked to cancer and because of its danger, the EU has restricted its use in cosmetics.
  10. Siloxanes – These are used in moisturizers, treatments, deodorant, and lotions to soften the skin and dry hair faster.  They are also used in implants, windshield coating, and building sealants. It’s a known endocrine disruptor, may impair fertility, and may influence neurotransmitters, and not in a good way.
  11. Sodium Laureth Sulfate – Even if you stay away from trends, jump on board the sulfate-free train! This is used as a foaming agent in shampoos, shower gels, and facial washes but also in laundry detergent and dish soap – tough on stains, even tougher on your skin!  Sulfates can contain 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogen, can disrupt the nervous system, and can irritate the skin and eyes.
  12. Triclosan – This is mainly used in deodorant as a preservative and anti-bacterial agent. It is suspected to be an endocrine disruptor and easily accumulates in your body to dangerous levels. Some research suggests it could be harmful to the immune system and may cause reproductive issues. As much as B.O. stinks, the pros of ditching this ingredient outweigh the cons. And don’t worry, we’ve got a healthier deodorant anyway.

At AILLEA, we provide high-performing cosmetics that are safe and toxin-free. With this, we encourage you to make the switch and ditch the ugly chemicals for products made with nature’s finest. We’ve scrutinized labels and searched all over the U.S. for top brands that use only natural, high-quality, and chemical-free ingredients to create non-toxic beauty products so you can shop easy and beautify naturally.


Enter to win a $25 gift card to Aillea! You can enter two ways: by commenting on this blog post about which beauty product you’re ready to ditch and why and by “liking” AILLEA’s Facebook page. The giveaway ends on Wednesday, November 18 at 10 a.m.ET – good luck!

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8 thoughts on “The Dirty Dozen – Problematic Chemicals in Cosmetics

  1. I am going to go through my petrolatum products and throw them away. It will an easy place to start. So thankful for AILLEA, because I have breast cancer I am always looking for things to change and spread the word ro friends.

    • Hi Julia – I LOVE the PRITI NYC and AILA polishes. But the must have with whichever color you pick is the AILA better than gel top coat – its amazing and helps your manicure last and last!

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