Ingredients to Avoid

Always Read the Label

The majority of modern cosmetics are complex mixtures of industrially produced synthetic chemicals individually these cosmetics contain very small amounts of chemical ingredients- it is the cumulative and combined our daily routine that gives cause for concern. Some commonly used chemicals can trigger allergic reactions or chemical sensitivity. Some are suspected hormone disruptors, and may affect immune and nervous system; others have been linked to rising levels of birth defects, male infertility and early onset of puberty in girls. There is increasing evidence that we are all victims of a great big con: the very products glossy ads suggest will make us look younger, healthier and fitter, and be sexually and socially more successful, may contain ingredients that impair fertility, increase the effects of ageing, disrupt hormones and are linked to cancer, allergies, or health problems.

We shouldn’t have to stop using cosmetics and toiletries, but we should have assurance that the products we buy are safe, both for ourselves, our families, the planet and other inhabitants.

Synthetic chemicals commonly used in standard beauty products pollute both the environment and our bodies – they have been detected in the human body fluids and body fat. We wash large quantities down the drain every day which can come to haunt us in out water supply and accumulate in our seas and rivers. Some 5% of triclosan (an antibacterial agent) entering a wastewater treatment plant escapes degradation and is discharged straight back to the environment.

Some ingredients, such as talc and titanium dioxide, have been linked to environmental damage where they mined. Use of risky chemicals in cosmetics cannot be seen in isolation, similar chemical are in host of other industrially – produced everyday items and are building up in and damaging the environment. The “cocktail effect” of all these chemicals in the combination is not fully understood and current regulations, based on outdated tests on individual substances, are inadequate to control them.

There is Hope

A growing number of companies recognize the concerns and are production cosmetics that contain few or no synthetic ingredients. In facts, the products that feature in The Green Parent Natural Beauty Awards do so because they are free from synthetic chemicals that we need to steer clear of for our health, the health of our planet and future generations. You can become an informed beauty consumer by reading this guide and following the “what you can do” suggestions on the back page.

What to Avoid


it is estimated that around 99% of beauty products contain synthetic preservatives called parabens (e.g. methyl- , propyl- , and butyl- , paraben). These compounds are often found in shampoos, make-up, lotions and deodorant. As well as causing the skin irritation, rashes, dermatitis, and allergic reactions, parabens mimic the female oestrogen. New research undertaken by the University of Reading found high concentration of parabens in 18 out of 20 breast tumors.


A group of chemicals used as solvents and fixative, phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are found in hair spray, deodorant, nail polish and perfume. Commercially they are used as softeners in PVC. Phthalates can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system. The Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) states:

“ Chemicals that cause birth defects do not belong in products marketed for personal or house hold use. While the levels of phthalates in some individual products were low, people are being exposed to phthalates from many different products each day.”


Most of us think embalming fluid when we hear formaldehyde but this toxic chemical pops up in aqueous cosmetic formulations such as shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid hand wash and bubble bath, including products aimed at babies and children. Frequent use can cause dryness, cracking, dermatitis, itching and blisters.


The amount of fragrance chemicals used each year is enormous – nearly 1 million kilograms of benzyl acetate, a synthetic “floral” fragrance ingredient, are used in the US each year. This innocent – sounding ingredient can contain literally thousands of chemical, many toxic and carcinogenic. Synthetic scents, typically made up of chemicals derived from petroleum, can cause headaches, dizziness, allergic reactions, coughing, vomiting and skin irritation. Of a thousand chemicals used in fragrances, only some have been safety tested. Children are particular tend to be more sensitive to fragrances, and can develop allergic reactions easily. Data from Sweden shows that perfume is the most common contact allergen to men, possibly caused by shaving, and damaging the skin, increasing the chances of absorbing the fragrance chemicals and thus developing an allergy.


Researched suggest that 90% of beauty products, ranging from shampoo to toothpaste, use a detergent called sodium dodecysulfate (SDS), also known as sodium laurel sulphate (SLS) sodium lauryl sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) as a foaming agent. A solution just 2% SLS can increase skin thickness, cause irritation, inflammation, and increase other forms of immune activity to the skin. Some shampoos contain more than 50% SLS. Other researches suggest that SLS and SLES may cause potentially carcinogenic nitrates and dioxins to form in shampoos and cleansers by reacting with other commonly used chemical ingredients.


Used in products such as toothpaste, soaps, and body washes, as well as many household cleaning products , Triclosan boasts antimicrobial properties. Human body is a home for many different bacteria, many of which are beneficial. Triclosan cannot target specific bacteria and so will kill all that it comes across, beneficial ore not. Researches from Tufts University in Boston have said that “triclosan” is capable of forcing emergence of “superbugs” that it cannot kill. Using triclosan daily in the home, in products raging from children’s soaps to toothpaste to “germ-free” cutting boards, may be unwise”. Environmentally, triclosan is also the problem, and can be converted to dioxin (linked to cancer) when exposed to sunlight in water. Consequently it is classified as “toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long-term adverse effects in aquatic environment”.


Commonly used in anti-freeze and brake fluid, propylene glycol finds its way into many moisturisers and hand and body lotions as an emulsifier and solvent. As your bottle of anti-freeze will tell you as a neurotoxin and is readily absorbed through the skin. It has been linked to contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver abnormalities. It also inhibits skin cell growth, damaging cell membrane and causing rashes, dry skin and surface change to the skin.


These hormone-disrupting chemicals can form cancer-causing nitrates. Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois, reports that repeated applications of DEA based detergents results increases in liver cancer and kidney cancer.