Toxic in cosmetics, how to recognize them?

The growth and development of the chemical industry in the last century has led to an increase in chemical compounds present in our daily lives. Since we woke up, we have lived with thousands of artificial chemicals. Cosmetics are no exception, there are more than 12,000 synthetic chemicals that are approved for use in cosmetic products; however, less than 20% is considered safe. Despite the fact that there are studies that show the toxicity of these products, the producers and the competent authorities hide behind the fact that the evidence is not enough, and as a consequence, most of the products we consume continue to contain substances that are harmful to our health. and the environment.

It is often thought that, as it is an external use, the risk is lower, but the truth is that most of these compounds enter our bloodstream through the skin and mucous membranes, and can accumulate in our body. Several of these substances have been shown to be endocrine disruptors, interfering in the hormonal functioning of our body, and with it in our health. Others can cause allergies or promote the appearance of chemical hypersensitivity syndrome. But this fact does not stop there, but many of these toxic products present in shampoos, shower gels, sun creams, toothpastes, scrubs, reach the environment, which implies the poisoning of animals and the pollution of ecosystems marine and terrestrial.

Next, we will talk about some of the main families of toxins found in cosmetics:

Mineral oils and waxes

They are substances derived from petroleum that are used because they are cheap and produce a sensation of hydration, but they actually clog the pores of the skin and prevent the release of toxins by blocking perspiration from the skin.
INCI: Paraffinum liquidum, Paraffin, Microcrystalline wax, Petrolatum, Hydrogenated mineral oil.


They are used to increase the hardness and flexibility of enamels or to fix scents. Despite their known risk as endocrine disruptors, they are still used in cosmetic products. They are related to damage to the reproductive system by interacting with some hormonal receptors in our body.
INCI: Diethylphthalate (DEHP), Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Benzyl buty phtalate (BBP), Dioctyl Phthalate (DNOP).

Synthetic preservatives

They are used to extend the useful life of a cosmetic, preventing bacterial growth, but most of them have proven to be harmful to health. Like imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea, which are cytotoxic and produce allergic reactions, in addition, they release formaldehyde which has genotoxic and mutagenic potential. Others well known to all are parabens, which have been linked to the development of breast cancer. This led many cosmetic brands to seek alternatives to parabens, increasing the use of phenoxyethanol, even in many products called natural. However, phenoxyethanol is not exempt from toxicity since, when metabolized, it decomposes into acetaldehyde, which is irritant and has neurotoxic capacity, and phenol, which reduces the natural immune response.
INCI: Diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben ... (generally compounds ending in –Paraben).

Synthetic Surfactants

These are detergents that are irritating, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, often found in our shampoo and toothpastes. One of their biggest problems is that most of them end up in marine ecosystems with serious consequences for the health of their fauna. It can also be absorbed by our mucous membranes and present long-term damage.
INCI: Sodium lauryl sulfate


These are chemicals used to give a creamier and more foamy consistency. But they have the disadvantage that they irritate the skin and can be toxic to the nervous and immune systems.
INCI: Diethanolamine (DEA), Ethanolamine (MEA), and Triethanolamine (TEA).

Silicoxanes and Silicones

These are low molecular weight compounds that incorporate silicon in their structure and provide softness and a sensation of hydration to the cosmetic. About 50% of facial care products contain them. They have been found to be toxic and have bioaccumulative potential in aquatic organisms. Specifically, cyclotetrasiloxane has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor that can interfere with reproduction, causing infertility. 
INCI: generally ends in –ethicone and –oxane, like Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Cyclotetra, penta or hexa -xiloxane, cetyl dimethicone colpolyol.

Chelating agents

They are used to trap metals, preventing them from promoting oxidation reactions. EDTA is the most used due to its effectiveness, but its low degradability and persistence make it harmful to the environment, in addition to being toxic to the kidney.

PEG, PPG and Derivatives

Polyethylene glycols (PEG) and polypropylene glycols (PPG) are used as wetting or emulsifying agents, which add stability to the product and give a false sensation of hydration. They are so widely used because they are very cheap and come from the petrochemical industry. But they are irritant substances that modify the lipid layer of the skin, thus unprotecting it and allowing infections or allergies to occur more easily. Furthermore, some studies point to its mutagenic and carcinogenic potential.
INCI: Polyethylene glycol (PEG), Propylene glycol (PPG).

Artificial fragrances

They are usually indicated simply as "parfum" or "fragrance" since due to their low concentration it is not necessary to declare them. However, many of them have bioaccumulative potential and can cause endocrine system disorders, allergic reactions and headaches.

If we want to be sure that our cosmetics do not contain toxic substances we must look at the list of ingredients, where all the components of the cosmetic are indicated using the INCI nomenclature. Do you want to know what the INCI is? We explain it to you in the following article on our blog.


If you want to have more information about toxic cosmetic products, we recommend reading these sources.

The beast of beauty: Environmental and health concerns of toxic components in cosmetics. 

A step forward on sustainability in the cosmetics industry: A review.

- Toxic impacts induced by Sodium lauryl sulfate.

- A review on endocrine disruptors and their possible impacts on human health

Controversy around parabens

- Toxicity of the cosmetic preservatives parabens, phenoxyethanol and chlorphenesin on human meibomian gland epithelial cells

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