Harmful Skin Care: What’s Hiding in Your Makeup?

Dear readers, have you checked out the ingredients list on your makeup products lately?

Take a second to do it now. Go grab your lipstick, your moisturizer, your nail polish, your mascara, or your toothpaste –– whatever you’d like; I’ll wait.

Got them? Okay. Now, find the list of ingredients  and read through them.

What the heck are all those things?

Chances are, you just scanned a mostly incomprehensible list of words that are mostly consonants. That look like they were written in hieroglyphics or Latin. That you have never said out loud before.

This confusion is a common, and not necessarily harmful thing to experience when reading those ingredients. Makeup is science, after all. But there are a few ingredients you should get to know. Because they are extremely toxic.

One in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, according to reports by U.S. researchers. These include carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors.

The David Suzuki Foundation created a list of The Dirty Dozen offending ingredients. When they surveyed Canadians to see how many of those ingredients appeared in their cosmetics, they found that 80% of entered products contained at least one of those harmful ingredients.

Now, I’m not saying this to cause panic. I’m not telling you to throw out all of the items in your medicine cabinet. You can still wash yourself and wear makeup, and I don’t think it will kill you. But we need to know what goes in these products we’re using every day, and we need to start making informed choices when purchasing cosmetics.

So let’s start translating some of that Latin on the side of your mascara bottle and see what’s really in there.


Found in: cosmetics, moisturizers, shaving creams, personal lubricants, spray tans.

Parabens are probably the most “famous” harmful ingredient out there. The Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged several studies linking parabens, which mimic estrogen, to breast cancer, skin cancer and a decreased sperm count. However, it has not ruled that it is harmful.

The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption, on the other hand, has listed parabens as a Category 1 priority substance based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function.

Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions, and studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB. The reaction leads to increased skin aging and DNA damage. This is not ideal.


Found in: exfoliants, perfumes, eyeliners, eyeshadows

Both of these substances are used as preservatives so products can stay on shelves for a longer period of time. They’re found in a wide variety of food products as well as in beauty products and cosmetics.

The National Toxicology Program classifies butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Animal studies of BHA showed it caused liver damage and stomach cancers.

The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption lists BHA as a Category 1 priority substance, due to the evidence that it interferes with hormonal function.

Meanwhile, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) has been accused of mimicking estrogen, which can throw off hormonal function in both men and women. In some situations, this additive can also promote the growth of tumors.  

Both BHT and BHA bioaccumulate. This means that once they’re in the body, they stay in the body and hang out in tissues and organs. Since they’re found in so many products we consume, accumulation over time is pretty inevitable, meaning the health risks are higher.


Found in: color cosmetics, fragranced lotions, body washes, nail polish

This ingredient was actually banned for use in cosmetics in the European Union, but it’s still widely used in the United States.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is used mainly in nail products as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer to prevent polishes from becoming brittle. Phthalates are also used in a wide range of products to help fragrances linger.

Phthalates may be disruptive to the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. That interference can lead to developmental, reproductive and neurological damage.

It can also enhance the capacity of other chemicals to cause genetic mutations, though it has not been shown to be a mutagen itself. Experiments have shown that DBP can causes changes in the prostate and testes and also reduce sperm counts.

Health Canada has introduced regulations banning six phthalates (including DBP) in soft vinyl children’s toys, but its use in cosmetics is unrestricted. This seems like a bit of a contradiction, but I guess it’s good that our nail polish doesn’t dry up in the bottle.


Found in: hair conditioners, styling products, shaving creams, contact solutions, cleaning products

Quaternium-15 is a known human-skin toxicant and allergen and possible eye irritant. It is also a formaldehyde-releasing preservative. Formaldehyde is often the culprit of the irritation and allergic reactions.

Use of products containing quaternium-15 may contribute to cases of contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with or an allergic reaction to a substance. The rash isn’t contagious or life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable, particularly if you’ve gotten it from your contact lens solution, for example. Studies estimate that 13% to 34% of contact dermatitis cases may be linked to quaternium.

Hair stylists and janitors are particularly susceptible to the effects of quaternium-15 since they are highly exposed to products containing the ingredient in their daily work.


Found in: moisturizers, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, perfumes, colognes

This one’s tricky because it could mean pretty much anything; perfectly safe ingredients or perfectly toxic ones. Companies are not required to list any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixtures on product labels. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a study of 17 brand-name fragrance products to see what was in them. The average product tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label. Among them were chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions.

The EWG also found chemicals with the tendency to accumulate in human tissues. These included chemicals linked to sperm damage and ingredients that concentrate in human fat tissue and breast milk. What effect do these chemicals have when accumulated in our tissues? We don’t know!

There were also a lot of substances that just haven’t been tested — we don’t know if they’re safe for use in personal care products. A review of government records showed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hadn’t assessed the vast majority of these secret fragrance chemicals for safety.

This amount of mystery and uncertainty in the word “fragrance” means it’s pretty much impossible for consumers to make informed decisions about products containing this ingredient mix.

Moving forward…

Is it starting to seem like the cosmetics industry doesn’t care much about your health? That’s because it doesn’t, particularly. Makers of our beauty products are here to make money, and they’re really good at it.

So it’s important to read up, get educated, and protect yourself by making informed choices when purchasing these products. We suggest reading the entirety of The David Suzuki Foundation’s The Dirty Dozen list. And when you’re looking at a new moisturizer, read the label first. The fewer ingredients, the better. And the more natural, plant-based the ingredients, the better.

Let’s end this post on a cheerful note with one beauty product we can recommend without reservation: the brand new Beauty on Contact by Responsive Skin Care. Beauty on Contact uses hyaluronic acid (HA) to fill in those fine lines and wrinkles and take years off the age of your skin. HA is a type of sugar naturally produced by the body and found in connective tissue. It works to bind collagen and maintains the extracellular space to provide an open and hydrated structure for the passage of nutrients in the skin.

The acid is basically a tiny sponge for moisture that can hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water. It also acts as a humectant, meaning it attracts and retains the moisture in the air.

Another major ingredient is vitamin B3, also known as niacin, which boosts blood circulation and accelerates and enhances tissue repair.

Learn more about Beauty on Contact at the link below, and start nurturing your skin to reverse the effects of extrinsic aging factors and look 10 years younger!

Discover how to help your skin repair itself tonight.

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Please note that the views expressed in comments on our blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Activation Products and are exclusively the opinions of individual commenters. Any experiences described by individual commenters cannot be said to be typical and may not be experienced by all users.

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