August 31, 2018 1 Comment

The top 14 chemicals in personal care products and why to avoid them

Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and is totally exposed. Skin acts as your body’s first line of defense, so why purposely damage it with harmful chemicals? Our skin is like a sponge, absorbing anything we put on it. That means skin absorption of chemicals is something to keep an eye on. It’s important for you to be conscious of the chemicals in your personal care products! That’s because the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) doesn’t regulate all chemicals in cosmetic products. Unlike the European Union and Canada, which have banned over 1,300 chemicals combined, the United States has only banned 11.


Skin absorption of chemicals is nothing to take lightly. In today’s saturated personal care market, it can be hard to know what to look for if you’re looking to protect yourself. The following toxic chemicals may still lurk in your skin care and cosmetics… so keep an eye out for these top offenders!

1. Triclosan

Triclosan (TSC) and triclocarban (TCC) are antibacterial agents commonly found in toothpaste, soap, and other cleansing products. It is added to products to slow or stop the growth of bacteria. However, according to the FDA, there is no evidence to prove that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes are more beneficial than regular soap. Several studies have researched triclosan’s endocrine-disrupting properties, pulling both its safety and effectiveness into question. On top of the possible disruptions they can cause in our body, these chemicals are also more likely to kill fish and other aquatic life when dumped or go down your drain.

2. Toluene

Often found in nail polish and hair dye, this clear liquid is used as a solvent for other substances. It’s not exactly news that this chemical has many health concerns, like contamination, irritation, and toxicity. Both short-term and long-term exposure of toluene might lead to poisoning reactions such as dizziness, sleepiness and headaches. Some studies have even proven that the association between toluene and immune system toxicity can increase chances of blood cancer.

3. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)

These two butylated compounds are commonly used in personal care products, and in food as preservatives. The EU has classified these chemicals as endocrine disruptors, though they (and the FDA) still allow their use in food. The consequence of exposure to BHA and BHT doesn’t stop on allergic reactions or skin irritation. BHA is also associated with potential concern, and BHT has been proven to affect lung behavior and blood coagulation in mice and rats. The toxicity in these chemicals also affects bioaccumulation in aquatic species. This means butylated chemicals are not only a concern for humans, but for marine ecosystems as well.

4. Resorcinol

Despite being widely used for making rubber (especially tires), this chemical is also found in acne and eczema treatments. Although it might be a helpful agent for treating problematic skin, other side effects can occur when the chemical enters the bloodstream. Allergic reactions can lead to slower heart rate, breathing problems, skin rash, swelling... the list of worrisome side effects goes on and on. Studies have also linked toxicity of Resorcinol with potential damages to the immune system.


5. Sulfates, also known as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

Toxic, irritating detergents and surfactants can be found in most body and hair care products. SLS is a major skin irritant, and while it does indeed give a rich, foaming lather, it’s providing a false sense of clean. What it’s actually doing is stripping skin and hair of their own protective barriers and disrupting their natural moisture balance, which can cause your body to overcompensate by producing excess oil.

SLS can easily penetrate dermal layers and enter the bloodstream, and can destroy the delicate lipid layers that keep skin supple and smooth. Harsh sulfates dry out skin and hair, inadvertently making them dull and brittle as they invite other toxins to more easily penetrate the skin’s surface. Traces of SLS have even shown up in the tissues from the brain, liver, heart and other vital organs, suggesting that it can be retained in the body for longer than we might realize. The chemical can cause erosion and irritation of the eyes and mouth, and prolonged exposure is associated with hair loss, gum problems, blurred vision and more. Definitely be on the search for “SLS Free” and “Sulfate Free” on personal hygiene products.

6. Parabens

Artificial preservatives used to prevent bacteria from forming in personal care products which come into contact with germs from our hands or body during each application. Parabens are abundant in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods and body care products such as lotions and deodorants; alarmingly, the American Chemical Society estimates that parabens are in 85% of the personal care products being used dozens of times daily on skin. The FDA identifies methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben, as the most common parabens.

The majority of paraben exposure happens when these products--and their parabens--are absorbed through the skin. Studies show that parabens artificially mimic estrogens in the body, leading to a host of problems including extra fat storage, male breast growth, metabolic, developmental, hormonal and neurological disorders, various cancers including and most notably, breast cancer. In the past decade, research has concluded that parabens were present in 99% of breast cancer tissues sampled. Breast cancer tumors contained measurable amounts of six different parabens, found in relative concentrations that closely parallel their use in the synthesis of cosmetic products. To avoid using harmful parabens as preservatives, we instead use Organic Japanese Honeysuckle Extract.

7. Synthetic Dyes

Not only the cheapest, but the most commonly used because they give cosmetics the vibrant colors that allure customers to buy products. Synthetic colors will appear as FD&C or D&C followed by a number, ie. FD&C Red No. 6. Synthetic colors can contain a plethora of unnatural chemicals, like parabens and sulfates.

A 2007 study conducted in the UK showed that artificial colors and/or the common preservative sodium benzoate increased hyperactivity in children; as a response to this and other related studies, the European Union started requiring that food labels indicate if a product contained any of the six dyes that had been investigated. The label is required to state that the product "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." While this study had positive impact on products containing food additives, the study did not assess the effects of synthetic dyes on skin and the body.

The vibrant color of our Restorative Facial Oil and the sunset ombre color of our Nopal Cactus Cleanser are 100% provided by Mother Nature herself.

8. Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals are chemical ingredients derived from petroleum, and used in cosmetics as moisturizing agents. Petrochemicals include ingredients such as mineral oil, paraffin wax, benzene, butyls, ethyls, propyls, and methyls. These chemicals clog the pores, exacerbates acne, and are highly likely to be contaminated with carcinogens that are linked to breast cancer. If petrochemicals like petroleum are not properly refined, they can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs have been heavily linked to cancer, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer lists 14 PAHs as probable or possible carcinogens, plus one as a known carcinogen.

For our Seaberry Moisturizer, we choose to use nourishing organic shea butter and coconut oil to retain hydration and softness in skin.

9. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) compounds

PEGs are petroleum-based compounds that are used in cosmetics as thickeners and moisture-carriers. One of the most common PEG compounds is 1-4 dioxane; research shows that 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin and is included on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects. Canada has already banned and listed these as unsafe for use in cosmetics.

10. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a well known preservative most commonly associated with embalming corpses, but it’s also been linked to cancer and allergic skin reactions due to its abundant use in nail polishes, body soaps, hair gels, and color cosmetics. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen (meaning it has direct cancer-causing capabilities), and has been named the ‘2015 Allergen of the Year’ by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. More than one study has found that those exposed to formaldehyde had higher than normal levels of chromosome changes in early white blood cells in their bone marrow, sparking a link between formaldehyde and leukemia. Exposure to formaldehyde occurs mainly by inhaling formaldehyde gas or vapor from the air, but can also happen if you absorb liquids containing formaldehyde through the skin.

11. Urea

Particularly Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea are formaldehyde releasers and used as preservatives. Formaldehyde releasers are chemical compounds that slowly release formaldehyde as it decomposes in a product formulation; people exposed to formaldehyde-releasing ingredients may develop a formaldehyde allergy or an allergy to the ingredient itself. In the United States, approximately 20% of cosmetics contain a formaldehyde-releaser and the frequency of contact allergy to these ingredients is much higher among Americans compared to studies in Europe. Urea may also be derived from animals: according to PETA's Caring Consumer, it is excreted from urine (hence the name) and other bodily fluids. Urea is are present in deodorants, mouthwashes, hair colorings, hand creams, lotions, and shampoos.

12. Fragrance

Fragrances are classified as a blend of ingredients you’ll often see in perfumes, shampoos, cosmetics, and skin care meant to give formulas a certain aroma. Fragrance can hide more than unwanted odors; it can serve as an umbrella term to hide other unwanted, unlisted ingredients. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act does not force companies to disclose their “trade secrets”, making fragrances the biggest cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

We use organic essential oils of bergamot, cedarwood, vetiver, sage, and lavender to give Puristry its distinctive herbal aroma. No sneaky mystery scents here!

13. Phthalates

A group of dangerous, endocrine disrupting chemicals found in plastic, toys, detergent, food packaging, and cosmetics. In 2009, a study conducted in Taiwan found that phthalates could be passed from pregnant women to their unborn babies, and could affect reproductive development in a female fetus. The study shows that phthalates are powerful enough to cause endocrine disruption both before and after birth, both altering how reproductive systems form and perform.

14. Ethanolamine Compounds (DEA, TEA)

A chemical group of amino acids found in cosmetics and household cleaning products. DEA (Diethanolamine) is used as an emulsifier in shampoos and cleaners, and TEA is used as fragrance and pH adjuster. In 2012, cocamide DEA, which is a chemically modified form of coconut oil, was added to the California list of harmful chemicals after the International Agency for Research on Cancer published its review of the chemical’s safety.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to pass it along! Our mission is to educate as many people as possible about the toxins found in the majority of the beauty industry. Skin absorption of chemicals can be a dangerous game, and you’re playing with your long-term health. We believe that everyone has a right to stay informed, beautiful, and healthy. Keep up with our blog for more beauty exposés!

1 Response

Paye Feahn

January 20, 2019

It’s good to educate people on these chemicals to let them know the danger of skin irritations.

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