Getting Under Your Skin: Cosmetics and Toxins

Our skin is the most absorbent organ of our bodies and also the most exposed to our outside environment. The products that we use on our skin, hair, nails, and teeth are all absorbed into our bloodstream, and our vital organs are forced to process and filter them.


From lipstick to shampoo, lotion to toothpaste, there are thousands of different chemicals in our body products. Only 20 percent of the chemicals used in cosmetics and personal care items have been tested for long-term effects by our government. Take a moment to look over the ingredient list of your shampoo or lotion and see how many ingredients you can recognize or pronounce.


There are currently 82,000 different chemicals registered with our government that are used in our personal care products. One in seven of these chemicals have carcinogenic properties, are active plasticizers, degreasers, pesticides, and are harmful reproductive toxins. The top 11 to beware of are:



These endocrine disruptors used as preservatives in many different cosmetic products have been shown to create skin irritation and rashes and have been connected to organ, reproductive, and developmental toxicity. Europe has refused to allow the use of BHA and BHT in the products sold in their nations.



Another endocrine disruptor found in our body products, this chemical has been found to have negative effects on reproductive and neurological health. Phthalates are commonly listed as simply “fragrance” on the ingredient list of many different skincare items.


DEA, cocamide DEA and lauramide DEA

Typically found in soaps and shampoos, this chemical takes a toll over time. Prolonged use in combination with nitrates creates a carcinogenic effect on the body.


Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

Used to prevent mold from growing in water-based home and body products, the odorless gas has carcinogenic and skin irritation effects. The amount of gas released is stronger in expired and old bottles of hair gel, shampoos, body wash, and nail polish. The use of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives has been banned in Japan and Sweden, and the EU has put heavy restrictions on use.



Parabens are present in a high amount of tumors removed as a result of breast cancer. It is contributed to the elevated amount of aluminum in widely available deodorants that are applied to lymphatic areas (aka your armpit).


Mostly found in animal products, dioxin is also found in several lotions and deodorants. Pregnant women are highly susceptible to the effects of dioxins on the child in her womb and can result in hormone dysfunction in their children.


Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)

PEGs are most commonly found in body lotion and spray-on degreaser for your oven. It is used to help blend water and oil-based ingredients and has desirable emollient properties. This chemical is particularly harmful when applied to areas with broken skin and can cause an aging effect on the skin.



This white jelly substance is what makes up Vaseline and is used to lock in moisture to the skin. It can also be found in things like VaporRub and diaper rash cream. Petrolatum can become contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and become cancer-causing to humans, with a higher risk in those that leave it on the skin for long periods.



Made of silicones, this substance is used in conditioners for your hair, as well as body lotions. It is not water-soluble and will accumulate over time. There is little reported harm to the body, but it is very harmful to the environment since it takes about 500 years to biodegrade.


Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Typically found in body soaps, creams, and lotions. It is what makes soap products foam to help with lathering yourself from head to toe. It can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs. Not to be confused with sodium lauryl sulfate that has been deemed safe for use.



This chemical is found in toothpaste, antibacterial soap, deodorant, and shaving products. It is an endocrine disruptor, has high levels of environmental toxicity by way of bioaccumulation, and creates triclosan-resistant bacteria. Pregnant women, and the children they are carrying, are the most susceptible to the harmful effects of triclosan.


For more information about the products in your bathroom visit, a nonprofit dedicated to educating consumers. They have developed an app called “Skin Deep” and is a great tool to learn more about personal care products. You can simply scan the barcode or look them up by name to see where they are rated on the scale of toxicity. It itemizes each ingredient and its level of toxicity.


If health concerns don't convince you to take a closer look at the products in your bathroom, there are also some ethical problems with many cosmetics. Most items are unfairly tested on rabbits, mice, and chimps before deeming them safe for human use. Mascara is put in droplets into the eyes of rabbits to see what kind of negative effects occur. If the rabbit does not become blind or develop a serious infection, it is put on the shelves at your local cosmetic store.


To counteract our exposure to the toxic chemicals that have been made so readily available in our day-to-day lives we must combat their effects by detoxifying our bodies. Use body care items that are rich in antioxidants like coffee sugar scrubs or pomegranate face wash to help your skin build its natural defense system. Implement substances like fulvic acid compounds into your pill supplementation regime to keep nutrients going in and the toxins going out. What we put on our skin is served directly to our brain with little filtration. Take control over what you are putting on your skin, and keeping in your cabinets to protect yourself and your long-term health. 


Disclaimer: The products and the claims made about specific products on or through this site have not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. You should not use the information on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or as a substitute for medication or other treatment prescribed by your physician or health care provider. The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging.