The most polluting cosmetic ingredients, how to avoid them?

We are increasingly aware that many of the ingredients used in cosmetics are harmful to our health, but we often forget that they are not only toxic for us but also for the planet. Most of the ingredients present in our shampoos, soaps, creams and makeup are not easily eliminated through wastewater, which is why they usually appear in aquatic and marine ecosystems where they persist for years. In other cases, such as sun creams, these substances can reach the sea directly in significant quantities as a result of their abundant use in coastal areas during the summer.

For this reason, the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of nature, created some time ago the list of the 12 most polluting cosmetic ingredients found in our daily hygiene. It is known as Dirty Dozen, and according to the foundation they should be avoided as they are dangerous chemicals, not only for our health, but also for the environment.

Next, we explain them one by one, so that you can be more attentive, and we also add two more that in Planthia we also believe it is essential to avoid, microplastics and sunscreens such as oxybenzone and octinoxate.


Butylhydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylhydroxytoluene (BHT) are synthetic antioxidants widely used as preservatives used in lipstick and moisturizing products. In addition, it is known that long-term exposure to these compounds produces cancer risk. Both are considered compounds with toxic potential for the marine environment due to their toxicity against aquatic organisms and their bioaccumulative potential.

Dyes and dyes derived from coal tar:

They are p-phenylenediamine and all the dyes identified as "CI" followed by a 5 digit number. P-phenylenediamine is very commonly used in hair dyes, especially in dark colors. Coal tar is a petroleum derivative made up of various chemicals and recognized as a carcinogen, and dyes are often contaminated with small amounts of heavy metals and aluminum.

DEA, DEA cocamide and DEA lauramide

Diethanolamine (DEA) and its derived ingredients are used to make creamy or soapy cosmetics or to adjust the pH. They are found in soaps, cleansers, and shampoos. Some studies carried out in the laboratory have shown that exposure to high doses of DEA and derived compounds causes liver cancer, and could promote the development of cancer of the skin and thyroid. The Danish Environmental Protection Agency classifies DEA cocoamide as dangerous to the environment due to its acute toxicity to aquatic organisms and its bioaccumulative potential.

Dibutyl Phthalate (Dibutylphtalate)

Dibutyl Phthalate or DBP is mainly used in nail products as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer that prevents nail polishes from becoming brittle. The European Union classifies DBP as susceptible to behaving as an endocrine disruptor, toxic to reproduction and very toxic to aquatic organisms.

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

These include DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate. These compounds slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde and are widely used as preservatives due to their great antimicrobial potential. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogenic product that poses a risk of inhalation through cosmetics. Some of them, such as mint and quaternium-15, are considered dangerous due to their persistence in the environment.


Due to their bactericidal and fungicidal properties, they are used as preservatives in cosmetics. However, in recent years many brands have eliminated them from their products since they could function as an endocrine disruptor, interfering with estrogens, favoring the appearance of breast cancer. Due to the widespread use of these products they have also been found in the environment and it is believed that they could have negative effects on marine animals.

Perfume fragance):

The term perfume or fragrance in a cosmetic ingredient list generally represents a complex mix of dozens of chemicals. Approximately 3,000 chemicals are used as fragrances. Many of these compounds are irritants, they can cause allergies, migraine or even asthma symptoms. Synthetic musks are often used to intensify the smell of these products, these products are especially harmful from an ecological perspective, since several of them are categorized as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic.

PEG (Polyethylene Glycol)

It is a petroleum-derived product that is widely used as a thickener, solvent, and moisturizer to improve the texture of many creams. It depends on the manufacturing process, polyethylene glycol may contain 1,4-dioxane, which is classified as cacinogenic and persistent, since it hardly degrades and can remain in the environment for a long time. This ingredient was found in some products that called themselves "natural" or "organic" without being certified..


Also called mineral oil (mineral oil) or paraffin, due to their oily consistency, they are used as moisturizing agents but they are petroleum products that are often contaminated with polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are associated with the development of cancer.


They are silicone-based low molecular weight products that are used in cosmetics for the sensation of softness and hydration they provide. Two of the most widely used, cyclotetrasiloxane (D4) and cyclopentasiloxane (D5) have been shown to be toxic, persistent and with bioaccumulative potential in aquatic organisms. Furthermore, the EU classifies D4 as an endocrine disruptor and possibly toxic to reproduction.

Sodium lauryl sulfate

It is a surfactant and detergent product widely used in shampoos, toothpastes and soaps in general. The biggest problem with this product is due to its widespread use and its solubility in water that it is found in large quantities in marine and terrestrial ecosystems, thus affecting different organisms due to its irritant capacity.


It is a powerful antibacterial and fungicidal agent found in toothpastes, shampoos, soaps, facial cleansers, and hand sanitizers. The EU classifies it as irritating to the skin and eyes, and very toxic to aquatic organisms, and can cause long-term negative effects in these ecosystems due to its high persistence and low degradability.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate

They are used as sun filters in many creams due to their low cost. The two chemicals are believed to have a damaging effect on coral reefs, promoting their bleaching and inhibiting their growth. This led the government of Hawaii to ban them in 2018. However, these compounds also present other possible toxicities at the endocrine, neurological and neoplastic levels, which would affect a large number of marine organisms due to their widespread use in coastal areas during the periods vacation.


They are small plastic particles that are included in some cosmetics such as scrubs, shower gels or toothpastes. They have been used for a long time by cosmetic companies because they are cheap, light and very stable against degradation, the problem is that most of them end up reaching the sea through the drain, making the problem of plastic in the oceans even worse..

We are a sustainable cosmetics brand

Our efforts are always focused on creating products that do not have a negative impact on the ecosystem, consumers and animals.

If you buy Planthia products you can be sure that none of them contain polluting products that can harm the environment.


If you want to have more information, we recommend you read the following articles:

- The "Dirty Dozen" 

- Cosmetics Sustainability

- The risks associated with cosmetic ingredients 

- Microplastics in cosmetics: need to ban them 

- Parabens: concern for the environment

- Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and its impact on the environment 


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