The Cosmetic Dirty Dozen

April 13, 2016


 Cosmetic Dirty Dozen chemical free skincare

"How can I read labels better and choose the safest products?"

We’ve become a lot savvier with reading the labels on our food products, but the labels on our skincare products can be even more confusing.  What’s a phthalate? Ever heard of siloxane?  And what’s hiding behind that catch-all ingredient called “parfum?”

A good place to start is by checking the labels of the cosmetic and skincare products you’re using for the Dirty Dozen of Cosmetic Chemicals (Source: These 12 chemicals are prevalent in hundreds of widely used consumer products and have been linked to a range of health concerns. You can use this list as a starting point for auditing your bathroom cupboard, and to help you identify skincare products that are truly natural and safe to use.

1. BHA and BHT

Uses: Mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives.

Also called: Antrancine, Embanox, Tenox BHA, Protex, Antioxyne B,Sustane 1-F, and several other similar names.

These are suspected endocrine disruptors (interfere with your body’s hormone balance) and may cause cancer (BHA). They are also harmful to fish and other wildlife as they end up in our water systems. (Source)

2. Coal tar dyes

Uses: They are used as colorants in foods, dyes, shampoos and cosmetics, and are used to treat dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis.

Also called: p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as "CI" followed by a five digit number, Naptha, Naptha distillate, or ingredients with Benzin

Coal tar dyes are potential carcinogens and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain. They've been linked to higher rates of cancer in beauticians and hairdressers. (Source, Source)

3. DEA-related ingredients

Uses: Found in creamy and foaming products like shampoos, moisturizers and shaving creams. 

Also called: Keep an eye out for related chemicals called MEA and TEA.

These ingredients can react to form nitrosamines, which can cause cancer. They are also harmful to fish and other wildlife. The European Union restricts the use of these ingredients, and California has declared them known carcinogens. (Source).

4. Dibutyl phthalate

Uses: makes fragrances last longer, makes plastics flexible, used in nail care products

Also called: Phthalates, Diethyl phthalate

It is a suspected endocrine-disrupter and is toxic to the reproductive system.  It's also been linked to early puberty in girls. (Source)

5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

Uses: Found in hair straighteners, and widely used in cosmetics and nail polishes.

Also called: DMDM Hydantoin, Imidzaolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Quaternium-15

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and these ingredients slowly and continuously release small amounts of formaldehyde into our bodies when we apply them. (Source)

6. Parabens

Uses: Widely used as a preservative in cosmetics, shampoos, deodorants and other body care products.

Also called: methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben

Parabens mimic estrogens and have been found in breast cancer tissues. While there are small amounts of naturally-occuring parabens in our food, they are broken down in the metabolic process to mitigate any harmful effect.  However, when applied to the skin, parabens are absorbed directly into the body, entering the bloodstream and organs intact. It is estimated that women are exposed to 50 mg per day from cosmetics (Source)

7. Parfum (aka "fragrance")

Uses: Artificial scents

Because perfume formulas are considered "trade secrets," cosmetics companies aren't required to list the ingredients that comprise their "parfum." That means that this one ingredient on the label may be masking a mix of unnamed fragrance ingredients. Some of these fragrances can aggravate allergies and asthma; others are linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. (Source)

8. PEG Compounds

Uses: Conditioning and cleaning, most commonly found in products with a cream base.

Also called: Polyethelene/Propylene glycols

These compounds may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is a potential carcinogen. (Source)

9. Petrolatum

Uses: Hair products (for shine), lip balms, lipsticks, moisturizers (as a moisture barrier)

Depending on how it was manufactured, petrolatum can potentially contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which is linked to cancer. (Source)

10. Siloxanes

Uses: Widely used in cosmetic products to soften or smooth the skin and to make creams spread more easily.

Also called: Watch for ingredients ending with "-siloxane" or "-methicone."  Cyclotetrasiloxane is found in sunscreens and conditioning products.

Siloxanes are suspected endocrine disrupters and are toxic to the reproductive system.  They are also harmful to fish and other wildlife. (Source, Source)

11. Sodium laureth sulfate

Uses: shampoos, foaming cleansers, shave foam, bubble bath

Also called: chemical sodium lauryl sulfate

Depending on how this ingredient is manufactured, it can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. (Source)

12. Triclosan

Uses: Antibacterial products like toothpastes, cleansers and antiperspirants.

It has been shown to cause endocrine disruption, allergies and immunotoxicity. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are especially encouraged to avoid products containing triclosan. Its use is restricted in Canada, and it is also increasing the prevalence of antibiotic resistance. (Source)


It's a scary-looking list- but knowledge is power! The good news is that our choices for  truly natural alternatives is growing every year- we really don't have to use these chemical-laden products anymore. There are many trustworthy companies out there providing affordable, chemical-free alternatives.

For more information on the Cosmetic Dirty Dozen, check out, and download their handy shoppers guide.  If you've discovered a great natural cosmetics company or product, please share in the comment on our Facebook page!


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