Unhealthy Items to Avoid in Beauty Products

5 minute read

By Christopher Brown

Just because it makes you look beautiful doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Beauty products contain a lot of synthetic, complex, and downright strange ingredients. Fortunately, you can learn about beauty products to avoid with a search online.

Some cosmetics can cause cancer. Some are terrible for the environment. Some can even affect reproduction and cause cellular damage. We know … the list of things that cause us harm grows by the day. But you should take beauty safety seriously.


We start today’s journey with a chemical commonly found in shampoos, shaving gels, makeup, and a bunch of pharmaceuticals. Parabens are a class of preservatives, included in beauty products to help increase the item’s shelf life. Which they do! Quite well, too, up until 2004 when a paper was published that linked parabens to breast cancer. Unfortunately, parabens are still used in a lot of products today. So be sure to read the label and avoid them wherever possible.


Please, don’t ask us to try and pronounce this one. Not only is this common chemical compound a mouthful, it’s also incredibly dangerous. Phthalates are used to soften various plastic compounds. They’ve been used in cosmetics for decades, in things like nail polish and hair spray. They work really well. Unfortunately, they have been linked to yes, you guessed it, cancer. They’re pretty much in everything to be honest — food, moisturizers, plastic bags — so unless you live on the moon, they’re almost unavoidable.


BHA and BHT are used in cosmetics to preserve their shelf life. They’re used in food too. Though their use is unrestricted in North America, it has been banned in the European Union for quite some time. The combinations of BHA and BHT include suspected carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. What’s more, they’ve been shown to cause liver damage in rats. If at all possible, you’re better off just staying away from them entirely.


Parfum, or “fragrance” to those of us without “MD” in our name, is a catch-all term meant to protect a perfume company’s intellectual property. Instead of releasing their trademarked recipe to the world, they call it “fragrance” and hope that the world just moves along. The issue though, is that certain parfum combinations have been linked to respiratory problems, rashes, allergies, and more. The fragrance is in just about everything, too. Your best bet, stick with the unscented shampoo.


Petrolatum is a petroleum based product that provides hair products with that extra shine, and gives lip balms and lipsticks an added moisture barrier. It’s also often contaminated with a cancer-causing compound called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon. We know, it’s a lot to take in, but avoiding this particular brand of mineral jelly could save your life.

Synthetic Colors

“Synthetic colors” is really just a catch-all term for artificial colors derived from petroleum or coal sources. Not only are they incredibly common, they’re also incredibly dangerous. The chemical foundation of many types of synthetic colors have been linked to ADHD in children, are suspected to be carcinogenic, and their use has even been banned in the European Union. Be sure to check your favorite shampoos and foundations, and toss the ones that include these potentially harmful chemicals immediately.


Triclosan is a chemical compound used in a variety of antibacterial cosmetics like toothpaste, cleansers, and antiperspirants. Its consumption can interfere with your endocrine system. It’s been shown to contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria and it’s terrible for the environment. Most notably fish. Triclosan is much tougher to avoid, unfortunately. It’s in most of your day-to-day products and, in one study, scientists detected it in the urine of nearly 75% of those tested.

Placental Extract

Yes you read that correctly. Placental extract, usually from sheep, is used in a variety of moisturizers and creams aimed to halt the affect of aging on the skin. It’s not only gross, but there’s very little evidence to show that it actually offers any benefit. Some evidence even suggests that the estrogen contained within placental extract could cause a variety of problems. Luckily, placental extract isn’t as common as some of the other unhealthy compounds on our list. So avoiding it shouldn’t pose a problem.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

This chemical is usually found in foaming cosmetics like bubble bath, shampoo, and cleansers. Sodium laureth sulfate isn’t in itself harmful, but it’s often contaminated with another known carcinogen (ethylene oxide) during the manufacturing process. It’s a complicated process, but ensuring that every batch of this stuff is clean is difficult and, frankly, not a priority for a lot of these large cosmetic companies. The best and only way to protect yourself from this harmful carcinogen is to try and avoid it wherever possible.

Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

Not all preservatives are created equally. For instance, preservatives like DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, and imidazolidinyl (a mouthful we know), slowly release formaldehyde into the products that contain them. In case you didn’t know, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen responsible for a variety of different cancers. It’s a lot to take in, but we recommend heading over to this page and arming yourself with a little bit of life-saving info.


Toluene is a clear liquid; a solvent used when forming a variety of different nail products. It’s toxic. Very much so, actually. In fact, toluene is the reason you get light headed when sniffing glue or nail polish. It’s side-effects include tiredness, weakness, nausea, memory loss, and more. It’s a tough substance to avoid, especially if you’re particularly attached to your collection of designer nail polish. That said, always be careful when inhaling its buzz-inducing fumes.

Coal Tar

We can put coal tar in the same category as synthetic colors. Coal tar dyes are used in hair dyes and a variety of other artificially colored products. If the artificial color boasts a name like “CI-00000”, then it’s safe to say that it’s comprised of coal tar. Why is this a bad thing? Well, coal tar dyes have the potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with brain-toxic heavy metals like lead. Again, there’s no real way of knowing if the coal tar dye in your shampoo has been contaminated, so it’s best to just avoid it.


Talc is a mineral commonly used in talcum powder, a moisture absorbing powder. It’s used to keep skin dry, and a lot of unsuspecting mothers applied it to their baby’s nether regions when changing their diapers. The problem with talc is that, in it’s natural form, it can contain traces of asbestos. Breathing it in, in high volumes, can increase your risk of lung cancer too. We’d say that’s enough of a reason to pitch it altogether.

Mineral Oil

Last but certainly not least, mineral oil! This colorless and odorless oil is a petroleum bi-product used in vaseline, baby oil, and more. And, it’s bad for more than a few reasons. For one, it may be contaminated with toxins, it clogs pores and using it doesn’t actually benefit your skin at all.

We know. That’s a lot of big, complicated words and a lot of cancer talk. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Do your research, find a product that checks all of the healthy boxes and use it from now on. You’ll be much healthier as a result.

Christopher Brown