More and more evidence is coming out about chemicals in our skin care and makeup potentially contributing to toxicity and disease.  I encourage my patients to switch to organic and chemical free skin care products.  What we put on our skin is absorbed, so why not use the best quality? 

 Patients are often asking me about what to look for on labels and what additives, preservatives and chemicals to avoid in their skin and cosmetic products.  Here is a summary list of the most dangerous, with a more comprehensive list at the end of the article:

 •   Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is an ingredient in many toothpastes, skin care and hair care products that gives the product a foamy quality, however, it has been found to cause skin irritation and because it cannot be metabolized by the liver, it can accumulate in the heart, liver, lungs and brain. 

•   Petroleum-based ingredients such as mineral oil, propylene glycol and Ethylene glycol should be avoided.  These are waste products from the petroleum industry, that when applied to the skin clog the pores which makes it difficult for the skin to breathe. 

•   Synthetic fragrances are made up of numerous of chemical compounds that are known to be neurotoxic. 

•   Parabens are a class of preservatives used frequently in skin and body products.  Research has shown that parabens may have estrogenic activity and can stimulate breast cancer cells to grow.  In one oncology study, they found parabens concentrated in 18 out of 20 breast tumors tested, with methylparaben being the most concetrated. (Journal of Applied Toxicology, 24, 5-13 (2004)). On labels, look for methylparaben, propylparaben, or any additive that ends in paraben.

 Here is a more comprehensive list of ingredients to avoid and the reasons why….


 Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben:  Used as preservatives, inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend shelf life of products. Studies have shown that they are weakly estrogenic and can be absorbed by the body through the skin. They’ve caused many allergic reactions and skin rashes.  Widely used even though they are known to be toxic.

 Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA):  Often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. DEA and TEA are “amines” (ammonia compounds).  They can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates.  They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. Toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.

 Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea:  These are widely used preservatives.  Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains a good antifungal agent, and they must be combined with other preservatives.  Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic.  The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis.

 Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate:  A cheap, harsh detergent and surfactant.  Often derived from petroleum, it is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the phrase “comes from coconuts.” It’s used in 90% of personal care products for its cleansing and foam-building properties.  It causes eye irritation, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, skin rashes and other allergic reactions.  SLS may also damage the skin’s immune system by causing layers to separate and inflame.  Young eyes may not develop properly if exposed to SLS because proteins are dissolved.  Your body may retain the SLS for up to five days, during which time it may enter and maintain residual levels in the heart, liver, lungs and the brain.  Animals exposed to the SLS have experienced eye damage, depression, labored breathing, diarrhea, severe skin irritation and even death.  It’s also used in car washes, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers.  When combined with other chemicals, SLS can be transformed into nitrosamines, a potent class of carcinogens.  Alternative:  Ammonium Cocoyl Isethionate.

 Petrolatum:  Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics.  Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is unbelievably inexpensive.  It has no nutrient value for the skin and can interfere with the body’s own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dryness and chapping.  It often creates the very conditions it claims to alleviate.

 PVP/VA Copolymer:  This is a petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, styling aids and other cosmetics.  It can be considered toxic, since inhaled particles can damage the lungs of sensitive persons.

 Stearalkonium Chloride:  A quaternary ammonium compound used in hair conditioners and creams.  Developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, it is a lot less expensive and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which are beneficial to the hair. It causes allergic reactions.

 Synthetic Colors, FD&C Color Pigments:  Synthetic colors made from coal tar, containing heavy metal salts are used to make cosmetics “pretty”.  They will be labeled as FD&C or D&D, followed by a color and a number.  Example: FD&C Red No. 6/D&C Green No. 6.  They deposit toxins onto the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation and when absorbed can cause depletion of oxygen in the body and death.  Animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic.  Synthetic colors should be avoided at all costs.  If a cosmetic contains them, don’t use it.

 Synthetic Fragrances:  Synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are since the label will simply read “fragrance.” Mostly synthetic ingredients can indicate the presence of up to four thousand separate ingredients, many toxic or carcinogenic.  Symptoms reported to the FDA caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, allergic rashes, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation—the list goes on. Advice: Don’t buy a cosmetic that has the word “fragrance” on the ingredients label. Clinical observation proves fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope and other behavioral changes.  Alternatives: Aroma therapeutic, organic Essential Oils.

Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40):   It is made from propylene, a petroleum derivative and is found in many skin and hair products, fragrances, antibacterial hand washes as wall as shellac and antifreeze.  It’s a very drying and irritating solvent and dehydrator that strips your skin’s moisture and natural immune barrier, making you more vulnerable to bacteria, molds and viruses.  It can act as a “carrier” accelerating the penetration of other harmful chemicals into your skin.  It may promote brown spots and premature aging of skin.  A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients reports it may cause headaches, flushing, dizziness, mental depression, nausea, vomiting, narcosis, anesthesia and coma.  Fatal ingested dose is one ounce or less.  Alternative:  BGSE

DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), & TEA (triethanolamine):  These are hormone disrupting chemicals that can form cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines.  These chemicals are already restricted in Europe due to known carcinogenic effects.  In the U.S. however, they are still used despite the fact Americans may be exposed to them 10-20 times per day with products such as shampoos, shaving creams and bubble baths.  Dr. Samuel Epstein (Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois) says that repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of liver and kidney cancer.  The FDA’s John Bailey says this is especially important since “the risk equation changes significantly for children.”  No alternative necessary. 

DMDM Hydantoin & Urea (Imidazolidinyl):  These are just two of many preservatives that often release formaldehyde which may cause joint pain, skin reactions, allergies, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness and loss of sleep.  Exposure may also irritate the respiratory system, trigger heart palpitations or asthma and aggravate coughs and colds.  Other possible side effects include weakening the immune system and cancer.  Alternative:  Lonicera Japonica

Mineral Oil:  This is a petroleum by-product which coats the skin like plastic, clogging the pores.  It’s used in many products (baby oil is 100% mineral oil!).  It interferes with the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders.  Mineral oil slows down skin function and cell development resulting in premature aging.  Alternatives:  Moisture Magnets (Saccharide Isomerate) from beets, Ceramides, Jojoba and other vegetable oils.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG):  It adjusts the melting point and thickens products.  It’s a potentially carcinogenic petroleum ingredient that can alter and reduce the skin’s natural moisture factor.  This could increase the appearance of aging and leave you more vulnerable to bacteria.  It’s also used in spray-on oven cleaners to dissolve oil and grease.  Alternative:  Planteren

Propylene Glycol (PG and Butylene Glycol:  Gaseous hydrocarbons which in a liquid state act as “surfactants” (wetting agents and solvents).  Ideally this is a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural.  Unfortunately, it’s usually a synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant.   They are commonly used to make extracts from herbs.  They easily penetrate the skin and can weaken protein and cellular structure.  PG is strong enough to remove barnacles from boats!  The EPA considers PG so toxic that it requires workers to wear protective gloves, clothing, goggles and to dispose of any PG solutions by burying them in the ground.  Because PG penetrates the skin so quickly, the EPA warns against skin contact to prevent brain/liver/kidney abnormalities, allergic reaction, hives and eczema.  There isn’t even a warning label on products such as stick deodorants, where the concentration is greater than in most industrial applications!  When you see PEG (polyethylene glycol) or PPG (polypropylene glycol) on labels, beware—these are related synthetics.   Alternatives:  water extracted herbs, essential oils, etc.

 Triclosan:  It’s a synthetic “antibacterial” ingredient – with a chemical structure similar to Agent Orange!  Its wide-spread use in popular antibacterial cleansers, tooth pastes and house hold products may have nightmare implications for our future.  Its manufacturing process may produce dioxin, a powerful hormone-disrupting chemical with toxic effects measured in the parts per trillion; that is only one drop in 300 Olympic-size swimming pools!  It’s classified as a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans.  Hormone disruptors pose enormous long-term chronic health risks by interfering with and way hormones perform, such as changing genetic material, decreasing fertility and sexual function and fostering birth defects.  Internally, it can lead to cold sweats, circulatory collapse and convulsions.  Stored in body fat, it can accumulate in toxic levels, damaging the liver, kidneys and lungs and can cause paralysis, suppression of immune function, brain hemorrhages and heart problems.  Tufts University School of Medicine says that triclosan is capable of forcing the emergence of “super bugs” that it cannot kill.

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