Toxic Beauty: Is Your Make-Up Bad For You?

5 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

Did you know the average woman wears 515 chemicals a day? Of the 82,000 ingredients found in myriad beauty products, one in eight is an industrial chemical, of which our skin absorbs 60 percent of any topical product we use.

Every day, we are enticed and accosted by celebrities, beauty magazines or top cosmetics companies advertising or praising the many benefits of their products, playing up the so-called “natural components” like vitamins and minerals, yet what they fail to mention are the toxic ingredients that are known hormonal disruptors.

Therefore, if you could examine your skincare and makeup products on the molecular structure level, you’d likely find carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors.

Image: Juan Espana/Image Source via ZUMA Press.

Heck, some cosmetic ingredients might be more at home in a mechanic’s shop (degreasers found in makeup are often used to remove grime from auto parts) or a construction site (plasticizers in makeup are also used to soften concrete) than in your makeup bag, let alone on your skin.

The most commonly used, unbeknownst to us toxic ingredients can alter hormonal chemistry in the following ways:

  • Increase circulation of certain hormones by mimicking their activity in the body
  • Reduce level of sex hormones in the body or block their activity
  • Impact fertility, leading to early menopause
  • Influence things like mood, length and severity of the menstrual cycle in women

Of the known toxins, the following are most dangerous to woman and men alike, and known to be common hormone disruptors:

EcoMom What's Your Skin Eating Infographic


EcoMom What’s Your Skin Eating Infographic


Phthalates are a family of chemicals that are used in just about all artificially scented products on the market today. This includes air fresheners, scented body products and of course perfumes. They are used to help stabilize the fragrance chemicals.

These chemicals are most commonly used to soften plastics and are found in products such as hair straighteners, hairsprays, and nail polish.

Studies have concluded that phthalates likely contribute to early-onset menopause and may also contribute to infertility in women and men. They can have a definite impact natural hormones circulating in the body, and have shown the ability to reduce circulating sex hormones.

In other words, they tamper with your body’s natural ability to control its natural balance of female and male sex hormones. Some of the ways you may see phthalates on the ingredient label are as di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ehtylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP).


You’ve likely seen offshoots of this popular chemical additive in the ingredient list of products purchased in the past. They can be found listed as diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), amonoethanolamine (MEA) on the ingredient label.

These chemicals are commonly used as an emulsifier for stable mixtures, as foaming agent in bar and liquid soaps and shampoos, and as a preservative for long shelf life. They are not only linked to hormonal disruption, but they are also linked to liver and kidney cancer and are corrosive to the delicate eye tissue.

Nonylphenol or nonylphenol ethoxylates

These chemicals are found in many commercial hair colors and dyes as well as in laundry detergent and household cleaners. They can usually be found on the ingredient label as 4-nonylphenol, an alkylphenol. These chemicals act like female estrogen in the body and can throw both the male and female body out of their natural hormone balance.


Parabens are preservatives that are present in many body and hair care products. This family of chemicals is found on the ingredient label with the prefixes of “methyl,” “ethyl,” “propyl” and “butyl.” Parabens are a well known endocrine disruptor with a documented history of causing hormonal issues because of their ability to mimic the female hormone, estrogen.


Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that was added to specially formulated soaps and hand sanitizers specifically marketed for antibacterial use. They are highly disruptive to the human endocrine system and several links to cancer have also been raised over the past several years.

Simply put, there is no universal standard dictating that companies must share their ingredient lists with consumers. There are also no legal standards in regards to using words like “natural” on cosmetics bottles. It’s a great marketing catch phrase, because natural cosmetics are in the fastest-growing sales category, but it doesn’t actually mean anything because there are no criteria that companies developing products have to meet before being declared “natural”.

This untruth in advertising is called “greenwashing” and it is very common in the personal care industry. But there are some strides being made. Organizations like The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have been lobbying for transparency in the industry and advocating for legislation like the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011.

In the meantime, there is plenty you can do to in order to personally combat the commerce of toxic personal care products. Check out handy online references like this guide to safe, non-toxic makeup when you make your purchasing decisions.  If you’re out shopping without the benefit of being able to go online and research the ingredients in the product you’re thinking of buying, The David Suzuki Foundation has identified some of the most common chemicals that frequently crop up on cosmetics labels and dubbed them the “Dirty Dozen”. You can print out a handy shopping guide of these toxins to reference while shopping.

The Environmental Working Group also has a quick reference guide available which includes handy tips on how to cut down on unnecessary beauty product use altogether.  Are you already committed to certain brands, but you’re not sure how safe they are? Visit the Skin Deep Database to investigate the potential toxicity of your favorite products. If you’re uncomfortable with the level of chemicals present in your go-to goodies, you can also use this database to find better alternatives for those that are unsafe.


Additional reading:

Six makeup chemicals to avoid – Green Living

Healthy Child, Healthy World

Chemicals to Avoid in Self-care and Home-Care Products – WellAdjusted Babies


Top cosmetic and personal care chemicals that cause hormonal disruption –

Revealed… the 515 chemicals women put on their bodies every day –The Daily Mail

David Suzki Foundation 

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics 

Read more at 

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