15 Toxic Ingredients In Skin Care & Cosmetics Products

With millions of skin care and cosmetics products to choose from, it is hard to decide what products are actually healthy and beneficial for your skin. 

There is still debate about the long-term effects of many skin care ingredients. Some have been banned in other countries and some have restrictions for use here in the United States. 

The skin is a sensitive organ that can absorb substances that we rub onto our bodies.

To be 100% sure that what you put on your skin is actually good for you, look for labels like "USDA Organic Certified" and READ the ingredients labels on the products. Learn about the toxic ones, and use apps like EWG's "Healthy Living" (by EWG Skin Deep Database) to instantly scan a product and get the toxicity ratings.  

Below is a list of 15 Toxic Ingredients, some that have been banned or restricted for use by the E.U. and other countries, but that are still common in many skin care products here in the United States. 

15 Toxic Ingredients To Avoid 

1, 4 - Dioxane

Also Known As: Sodium Laurel Sulfate, Sodium Laureate Sulfate and PEG. Not listed as a separate ingredient. Any ingredient listed with “eth", polyethylene glycol, polyoxynylene, oxynol.

Found In: 22% of all petroleum-based cosmetics, lotions, soaps, shampoos, cleansers, as well as products that create suds. EWG reported that 46% off all products tested contained 1,4 Dioxane. 

Why Avoid: Human carcinogen, can cause cancer and birth defects. 

Regulations: Banned in Canada, PEG banned in E.U. Classified in the State of California to cause cancer. 

Artificial Colors & Coal Tar Dye

Also Knows As: p-phenylenediamine, “CI”+number, “FD&C”+number, “D&C”+number. 

Found In: Used extensively in cosmetics and especially hair dyes.

Why Avoid: Human carcinogens, linked to cancer, contaminated with heavy metal toxic to the brain, skin irritation and rashes. Toxic to fish and wildlife. 

Regulations: Coal Tar is banned in E.U. E.U. classifies p-phenylenediamine as toxic in contact with skin, by inhalation or if swallowed. 


Also Known As: Benzophenone, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, sulisobenzone sodium, and ingredients containing the word benzophenone.

Found In: Chemical Sunscreens, nail polish, lip treatments, foundations, moisturizers and fragrances. Used as UV blockers. 

Why Avoid: Linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation, and ecotoxicity.

Regulations: Restricted in E.U. and U.S.


Also Known As: Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluen.

Found In: Lip treatments, color cosmetics and fragrances. Used in moisturizers and cosmetics as preservatives. 

Why Avoid: Can cause endocrine disruption, organ-system toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, and irritation. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. 

Regulations: BHA banned in E.U.

DEA Related Ingredients 

Also Known As: Ethanolamine Compounds, Triethanolamine, diethanolamine, DEA, TEA, cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearmide MEA, and TEA-lauryl sulfate.

Found In: Moisturizers, shaving creams, color cosmetics and fragrances. Makes product creamy or sudsy. 

Why Avoid: Can cause cancer, bioaccumulation, organ system toxicity, skin & eye irritation. 

Regulations: DEA banned in E.U.


Also Known As: Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxyethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal.

Found In: Soaps, body wash, nail polish, nail hardener, hair treatments and color cosmetics.

Why Avoid: Can cause cancer, skin irritation and sensitization.

Regulations: Banned in Japan and Sweden, restricted in E.U. and Canada.


Also Known As: Hydroquinone or tocopheryl acetate.

Found in: Cleansers, skin lighteners and moisturizers.

Why Avoid: Can cause cancer, organ-system toxicity and respiratory tract irritation.

Regulations: Banned in E.U., restricted in Canada and U.S.


Also Known As: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, and ingredients ending in –paraben.

Found in: Cleansers, moisturizers, body washes and body scrubs.

Why Avoid: Can cause endocrine disruption, cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity.

Regulations: Some forms banned in Denmark.

Parfume (AKA Fragrance) 

Also Known As: Complex mixture of over 3000 chemicals are used as fragrance. 

Found In: majority of cosmetics and personal care products, even products marked as “unscented”. Perfumes, colognes, deodorants, shampoo, soaps, lotions etc.  

Why Avoid: Triggers allergies & asthma, linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some are harmful to fish and wildlife. 

Regulations: Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients (in the US). E.U. restricts the use of many fragrance ingredients (including two synthetic musks) and required warning labels on products if they contain any of 26 allergens commonly used as cosmetic fragrance. 

Petroleum-By-Products & Mineral Oil

Also Known As: petroleum jelly, petrolatum, liquid paraffin, Vaseline,

Found In: Moisturizers, lotions, lip treatments, cosmetics, baby products, hair products etc etc etc. 

Why Avoid: Can’t be metabolized and is the greatest contamination of the human body (it gets into your body and will not leave!). Human carcinogen, linked to cancer, linked to estrogen dominance.

RegulationsIn the E.U. petrolatum can only be used in cosmetics "if the full refining history is known and it can be shown that the substance from which it is produced is not a carcinogen.


Also Known As: Phenoxyethanol, 2-Phenoxyethanol, Euxyl K 400 (mixture of Phenoxyethanol and 1, 2-dibromo-2, 4-dicyanobutane), and PhE.

Found In: Moisturizers, lip treatments, color cosmetics, hand lotion, body washes and soaps.

Why Avoid: Can cause allergies and nervous system effects.

Regulations: Restricted in E.U.


Also Known As: Phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance.

Found In: Nail Polish, color cosmetics, moisturizers and body washes.

Why Avoid: Can cause endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and cancer.

Regulations: Some forms banned in E.U.


Also Known As: Polyacrylamide, acrylamide, polyacrylate, polyquaternium and acrylate.

Found In: Moisturizers, anti-aging products, color cosmetics and body lotions.

Why Avoid: Can cause reproductive and developmental toxicity (when Polyacrylamide breaks down into a acrylamide, which is a carcinogen).

Regulations: Banned in E.U.


Also Know As: cyclomethicone, ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone”, D3, D4 and D5 and D6

Found In: silicone based products used to soften, smooth and moisten. "Oil-Free" makeup products. They make hair and cosmetic products dry more quickly and deodorants creams slide on more easily. 

Why Avoid: endocrine disruptor, reproductive toxicant, cancer, influence neurotransmitters in the nervous system. Harmful to fish and wildlife. 

Restrictions: No restrictions on these ingredients in cosmetics. However in the E.U. D4 and D5 have been deemed hazardous.


Found In: Antibacterial products like hand soap, antiperspirants/deodorants, cleansers, hand sanitizes, toothpaste, mouthwash.

Why Avoid: endocrine disruptor, irritating to skin & eyes, harmful to fish and wildlife, doesn’t easily degrade, may contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria, higher risk for food allergy, 

Regulations: Restricted use in Canada and E.U. From 1/1/2017 it will be banned from retail consumer hygiene products in Minnesota. 

To Summarize

READ THE LABELS! It is not enough that a brand claims to be "all natural" or "fragrance free" - look for certifications, preferably the green & white USDA Certified Organic emblem.

Do not use cosmetics that are artificially colored. Is the shampoo bright green or blue? Very likely it contains a coal tar color. Does the product contain synthetic fragrances? Don't buy it.

Changing out your beauty products might take some time and energy, but you may find that some of your allergy and health problems will suddenly disappear when you no longer use cosmetics formulated with petrochemicals and other synthetics.

Our "toxic list" is extensive, but the more you educate yourself on what’s actually in skin care and cosmetic products, it’s going to be easier searching out those beauty products that are healthy and beneficial to your whole body! 

Honey Girl Organic's range of USDA Organic Certified & All Natural skin care products are all free from toxics - they only contain nature's finest ingredients that are beneficial to the skin.