Common Hazardous Ingredients in Personal Care Products (Page 2 of 4)

Copied with permission from:  Environmental Health Association, Nova Scotia

Eye and Face Make-up

Through the ages men and women have painted their faces and bodies with colour – often with deadly results. Ancient Egyptians outlined eyes with kohl, a poisonous substance made from antimony. Greeks and Romans liked the pale look, achieved by applying white lead and chalk to their faces. During the Renaissance, the pale look was again popular with a white lead and vinegar mixture applied to face, neck and bosom. Lips and cheeks were tinted bright red with vermilion, a paint containing mercuric sulfide. A heavy coating of powder, often based on talc, kept everything in place. When women noticed that their lead cosmetics cause a variety of skin problems, some applied a facial peel made from mercury. Now we recognize lead and mercury as highly toxic.

Today, most colours in conventional cosmetics are chemically synthesized derived from coal tar. While they’re less expensive than natural compounds to produce, coal tar colours have been shown to cause cancer in animals. Impurities like arsenic and lead in some coal tar colours have been shown to cause cancer not only when ingested, but also when applied to skin.


The main ingredient in most blushes is talc, a carcinogen. Colour is provided by hazardous coal tar dyes. Mineral oil, which can clog pores, and propylene glycol, a neurotoxin and skin sensitizer, are binders used to hold the formulation together. Acrylate compounds, commonly used as thickening agents, can be strong irritants.


Concealers contain numerous irritating chemicals like propylene glycol, lanolin and paraben preservatives. Imidazolidinyl urea is the second most reported cause of contact dermatitis. BHA, a preservative, is a carcinogen that can be absorbed through the skin. DEA, TEA and MEA can form carcinogenic nitrosamines that are absorbed through the skin, and may be carcinogenic in themselves.


Mainstream eyeliners contain carcinogenic coal tar colours, hormone-disrupting TEA, and PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone). PVP is an allergen and there is some evidence that it cause cancer in lab animals. The US government has received numerous reports of allergic reaction to eyeliner.

Eye Shadow

Eye shadows are used for the colours they provide. But artificial colours like carcinogenic coal tar dyes are frequent allergens and one dye – FD&C Yellow No. 5 may cause severe reactions in people allergic to aspirin. Talc, a carcinogen, is the main ingredient in powdered eye shadows. Eye shadows may also contain mineral oil, a petrochemical derivative, dimethicone, a silicone oil, to make the powder stick to the eyelid, and binding ingredients like methacrylate, a strong irritant. Cream eye shadows are made with petrochemicals like paraffin and petrolatum, carcinogenic coal tar colours, and lanolin, an allergen which may contain pesticide residues. The glitter in cream eye shadows is created by adding pure aluminum which can cause violent allergic reactions in some people, as well as possibly entering the eye and causing injury to the cornea. The Consumer Agency and Ombudsman in Finland tested 49 eye shadows and found that all contained lead, cobalt, nickel, chromium and arsenic. Researchers say the amounts can cause occasional allergic reaction and sensitivities. However, other research shows chronic exposure to low levels of arsenic can cause hormone disruption

Face Powder

Mainstream powder products commonly contain talc, a carcinogen. Airborne talc is particularly dangerous because it can be inhaled. Other toxic ingredients include formaldehyde (carcinogenic and a sensitizer), quartenium-15 (can release formaldehyde), lanolin (irritant), imidazolidinyl urea (irritant, can release formaldehyde), MEA, TEA and DEA (hormone disruptors, can release formaldehyde) and parabens (hormone disrupters, irritants).


Foundations are the third leading cause of contact dermatitis among cosmetics users. Because foundation is worn on the skin for many hours, products containing synthetic ingredients can cause skin problems. Mineral oil can block pores and promote cosmetic acne and isopropyl myristate, a fatty compound, can cause blackheads. Other ingredients include propylene glycol, a neurotoxin and skin sensitizer, TEA and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol which are often found together and which, combined, may cause the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines, parabens, commonly- used hormone disrupting preservatives that may accumulate in body fat, and quaternium-15, a germicide that may break down into formaldehyde which is a carcinogen and sensitizer. Foundations also include coal tar colours and synthetic fragrances. They may also contain lanolin, a common allergen.

Lip Gloss/Balm/Protector


A woman may ingest more than four pounds of lipstick in her lifetime – even more if she wears it every day. Mainstream lipsticks are composed of synthetic oils, petroleum waxes and artificial colours. Coal tar dye colours are common allergens and also carcinogenic. Lipsticks also contain amyldimethylamino benzoic acid, ricinoleic acid, fragrance, ester gums and lanolin. Some dyes can cause photosensitivity and dermatitis.

Make-up Remover

Makeup removers may contain propylene glycol, a neurotoxin, parabens, which are estrogen mimics, carcinogenic coal tar colours, DMDM hydantoin and diazolidinyl urea which release formaldehyde, polyethelene glycol and polysorbate 80 which may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen which readily penetrates skin, and fragrances.

Home-made alternatives
Eye Makeup Remover
1Tbs castor oil
1Tbs light olive oil
1 tsp vegetable oil (sunflower, safflower etc)
Blend ingredients, Use to remove makeup around the eyes.

Use jojoba oil to remove make-up and lipstick.


Conventional mascara contains petroleum distillates, shellac, acrylates (strong irritants), phenylmercuric acetate (preservative made from benzenes and mercury that can cause blisters, skin irritation and allergic reactions), parabens (hormone disrupters, allergens), quaternium-22 (preservative, allergen), quaternium-15 (eye irritant) pentaerythrityl (resin additive made from formaldehyde). Lash-extending products can contain plasticizers, like polyurethane, that cause cancer in animals, and polystyrene sulfonate which can irritate eyes and may be a hormone disruptor.

Dental and Oral Hygiene

Denture Cleaners

No alternatives to mainstream products were found locally.

Home-made alternatives
Soak in 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and water, mixed half and half.

Soak in a mixture of a quarter teaspoon of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and a half glass of water. Rinse well.


Conventional mouthwash is alcohol-based. Products with alcohol content higher than 25 percent can contribute to cancers of the mouth, tongue and throat when used regularly. Mouthwash can contain artificial flavours and colours, formaldehyde and sodium lauryl sulfate. Some mouthwash formulations include polysorbate 60 and polysorbate 80, which may be contaminated with 1,4-dixane, a carcinogen and fluoride which is a suspected carcinogen and may cause problems for some sensitive people.

Home-made Alternatives

  • 1 tsp of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide in 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda in 1/4 cup water
  • Salted warm water

10 Drops tea tree oil (approx 1/10 tsp or .5 ml)
2 drops myrhh
12 drops emulsifier
1 litre purified water
For a better taste add 7 drops peppermint oil and 7 drops emulsifier

Add to emulsifier jar, then add essential oils. Blend well. Add one litre or purified or distilled water to bottle.


Conventional toothpastes contain artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sodium lauryl sulfate, synthetic colours and flavours, and polysorbate 80 which may be contaminated with 1,4-doxane, a carcinogen. Almost all conventional brands contain fluoride. Fluoride is linked to cancer and causes problems for some sensitive people.

Home-made Alternatives
Brush with plain baking soda or salt.

Brush with 2 parts baking soda and 1 part salt mixed to a fine powder in a blender.

Herbal toothpaste: Soak 1 teaspoon of dried Irish moss in 1 cup of spring water for 15 minutes. Bring to a boil and boil 15 minutes. Strain gel through cheesecloth and add 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon soda, a few drops of chlorophyll.

Do not scrub teeth vigorously with toothpaste containing chalk (calcium carbonate) as it can wear away enamel.

The main way to remove plaque is flossing not brushing. Brushing with plain water is sufficient, as long as you floss.

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