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Stay Clean: Avoid These Chemicals in Beauty Products

From skin irritation to cancer, chemicals in cosmetics can cause a myriad of problems. Read on to know which chemicals in cosmetics to be wary of.

Chemicals in Beauty Products

Have you ever had a friend who acts nice to your face but talks foul about you behind your back? We all hate such friends, don’t we? It’s questionable if such people should even be considered friends. 

Such is the case with skincare products. Beauty products should solve your cosmetic issues and maintain the health of your skin. However, due to various chemical additives, many beauty products do more harm than good. 

Do Cosmetic Products Get Absorbed into the Bloodstream? 

Our body is very smart and does not readily absorb everything that it comes in contact with. However, humans have their way around our physiology. Science has discovered several chemical compounds which can break our body barriers and enter the internal system of our body.

 And this is so important when it comes to the effectiveness of medicines. How would medicines work if they are not able to enter our internal system? 

However, there are many chemicals without medicinal properties present in several skincare and beauty products. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health looked into the skin’s absorption rates of chemicals found in drinking water. 

It showed that the skin absorbed an average of 64% of the total contaminant dosage. Moreover, it is common sense that many products like lipsticks and lip balms are consumed. Some products may also enter our mouths, unconsciously,  through our hands. 

This means whatever you put on your skin also has a decent chance of being absorbed into your bloodstream. This is why it is important to know about toxic chemicals used in popular skincare and makeup products. 

Research is limited on many of the popular skincare ingredients. Moreover views on what is safe, up to what concentration are divisive. That being said, it’s wise to avoid ingredients that have been proven to be harmful by several research studies. 

Are All Chemicals Bad? 

Would you like some 2-Hydroxypropane-1,2,3-tricarboxylic acid water in the scorching summer? Wait, I’m not trying to kill you. This is the IUPAC or chemical name of citric acid found in lemon juice! So you can see every scary-sounding chemical isn’t bad. Chemists are a little crazy! They like complicated names. 

Therefore, all chemicals are not bad. In a technical sense, everything consists of some type of chemical. However, it is important to remember that most chemicals are neither inherently good nor bad.

There are a lot of grey areas in chemistry and biology. Man-made chemicals, in particular, have been proven to cause diseases and side effects in people on a large scale.

Why Should You Care About Cosmetic Ingredients?

Most popular products are loaded with chemical ingredients that aren’t very nice for your skin and health. As a consumer, you need to be aware of these ingredients so that you can make safe and informed choices. 

After all, why would you want to purposely cause damage to your health? Come on, it’s 2023! We don’t do toxic anymore- neither people nor products. It’s time to throw away the toxic products from your life.  

Look Beyond Key Ingredients!

Most people are afraid of reading complicated chemical names. And many brands are taking advantage of that by using cheap, low-quality harmful ingredients in their products. 

We understand that no product is completely perfect. No brand is perfect either. Some chemicals are necessary evils, sometimes. Using ingredients that research has proven to be harmful is not justified.

The Drugs and Cosmetics Act in India lays down certain regulations, but it is far from perfect. There are certainly a lot of loopholes and as consumers, we need to do our own research before making a decision. 

Chemicals to Avoid While Buying Cosmetics

1. Formaldehyde and Related Ingredients

Formaldehyde and Related Ingredients

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogenic which means it is a cancer-causing agent. Therefore, ingredients releasing formaldehyde run a risk of cancer in humans. But we know of many other reasons to avoid formaldehyde-releasing ingredients. 

It can cause headaches, irritation, wheezing, nausea, sore throat rashes, and irritation. Popular hair straightening products contain a high amount of formaldehyde-releasing ingredients. 

When heating these ingredients, they release formaldehyde. Manufacturers use many formaldehyde-releasing ingredients as preservatives to enhance the shelf life of skincare and hair care products. Long-term use of such products damages your skin and causes horrible diseases.

How to identify?

You will find formaldehyde-releasing ingredients with the name of quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol in the ingredient list. 

Recommended Story – 10 Best Chemical-free Body Lotions to treat dry skin

2. Coal Tar (Colours)

Coal Tar

Coal tar dyes have been banned by the European Union because of their links to cancer. They have been banned from food products by the FDA.

However, they are allowed in cosmetic products like lipsticks and other skin care products. Do you know how your lipstick tastes? If yes, then you are probably consuming enough of it. And that’s probably not helping you. 

Most makeup items contain coal tar dyes in large amounts. These dyes are linked to contamination with heavy metals which leads to neurotoxicity.

Coal tar dies are present in hair dyes. The darker hair colours—which are often used by Indians more like black and brown—contain the maximum amount of dye. 

How to identify?

Toxic coal tar dyes look like this on the ingredient list: CI 55910. The 5-digit number is the Colour Index number of the dye.

3. Sunscreen Ingredients

Sunscreen Ingredients

PABA is a UVB filter that helps to protect skin from sunlight. Animal studies have shown that PABA can disrupt hormone regulation including thyroid function. The thyroid is an organ that secretes the thyroxine hormone that regulates metabolism. 

Too much or two less of thyroxine causes several symptoms like weight gain or loss, fatigue, low immunity, etc. It may disrupt reproductive hormones. 

Some animal studies have shown PABA to sensitize the skin to sunlight. This makes the skin more susceptible to DNA damage and the extreme consequence of such damage can be skin cancer. Human studies are required to confirm the findings. 

The other controversial sunscreen ingredients are oxybenzone and benzophenone. Such compounds can cause hormone disruption and also hyperpigmentation which means the darkening of the skin. Many animal studies have associated benzophenone with cancer. This is why the ingredient has been banned from food items by the FDA in October 2018. 

How to identify?

Look for ingredient names like PABA, 4-Aminobenzoic acid, oxybenzone, and benzophenone, in products that have SPF or Sun Protection Factor. 

4. PEG or Polyethylene Glycol 

PEG or Polyethylene Glycol

It acts as an emulsifying agent and stabilizer in skin care. It helps in preserving the product and maintaining the moisture level. PEG is not directly harmful to humans and, in fact, is quite helpful in skin care formulations.

However, it is often contaminated with a chemical called 1,4-dioxane because of the way it is manufactured. This chemical, 1,4-dioxane,  is a known carcinogen. Even though good quality PEG should be free of this contamination, if you want to avoid any risk, it is best to avoid PEG altogether. 

How to identify?

You will find this ingredient with names like PEG, Polyethylene, Polyethylene glycol, Polyoxyethylene, and Chemicals ending with –eth and –oxynol.

5. Parabens 


Parabens are found in cosmetics in the form of methyl paraben, butyl paraben, ethyl paraben, etc. These chemicals have been making the headlines for quite a few years now. A lot of new research studies have been conducted on this cosmetic ingredient. 

There have been studies that revealed that Parabens are hormone disruptors. Hormone disruption may cause cancers of reproductive organs and breasts. Parabens mimic the structure of the hormone estrogen. 

Even though the FDA maintains that parabens are safe when present in appropriate amounts, why should you risk your health when safer alternatives are available?  

How to identify?

You will find parabens with the names methyl paraben, butyl paraben, and ethylparaben.

This is not a comprehensive list. With passing time and more advanced research studies, many chemicals may be added to this list while some might be omitted. It is important to keep ourselves updated with the advancements.


Skincare ingredients can sometimes do more harm than good. So it is important to be aware of what you are putting on your body. While many skin care ingredients are approved by FDA, new studies are linking these ingredients to several diseases. 

The most common ones include hormone disruption and cancer. Some may even cause neurotoxicity and severe allergic reactions.

 Why should you use such damaging products while safe alternatives are available? Therefore, it is important to first become aware of these ingredients and make the most informed sources. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which chemicals to avoid in skincare?

Many chemicals are dangerous for the skin and health. They include parabens, SLS, formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, methylene glycol, phthalates, sulphate, hydroxy diphenyl ether, and ethylene oxide.

2. Which chemical is harmful to the face?

Many chemicals can be harmful to the face like benzyl alcohol, SLS, PEG, phthalates, perfume, etc. 

3. Which chemicals to avoid in shampoo?

You should avoid the following chemicals in shampoo: formaldehyde, parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and polyethylene glycol.

4. Which chemicals to avoid in sunscreen?

Sunscreen may have the following toxic ingredients: octinoxate, oxybenzone, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone.

5. What problems are caused by chemicals in makeup?

Some chemicals in makeup have been proven to be carcinogenic when present in large quantities. Even in small amounts, these chemicals can irritate skin and cause long-term damage.







Also Read – 20 Best Body Scrubs For Happy Looking Skin Skin: How to Use & Benefits

Written by Debasmita Bhattacharya

Debasmita is a content writer and copywriter with a passion for science. She began her writing journey in May 2019 while pursuing her bachelor's. She went on to complete her master's and worked as a Research Intern at ICMR-National Institute Of Nutrition where she worked on malnutrition and autoimmunity-related diseases. She has a knack for health, wellness, and beauty and believes there is immense unexplored potential in Indian nutrition and traditional medicine. She writes extensively researched articles about ayurveda, organic beauty, and more citing relevant resources in medicine for YHI.

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