How to Decipher the Ingredients in Your Cosmetics

How to Decipher the Ingredients in Your Cosmetics

Dying to Look Attractive: How to Choose Safe Cosmetics

Without proper knowledge or tools to evaluate beauty products, choosing what is safe for your skin and body can be a tough task. Product packages are designed deceptively in current times and even the labels can be hugely misleading.

On the surface, all appears swell with the package being touted as “herbal,” “100 percent natural” “totally safe and gentle” when it is actually teeming with harmful chemicals and carcinogenic substances, has toxic ingredients and irritates the skin.

Lack of regulation in the personal and cosmetic products industry is the culprit behind this. Little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So, let’s learn how you can catch the grooming and skincare industry at its own game and find out if the beauty products in your cabinet or shelf are really safe to use.

Steps You Can Take

Always Read the Label

While the product’s package may be attractively designed with false information, the label can set it right. Packaging uses terms like natural or hypoallergenic. A lot of claims are made to sell the product and sometimes, you can only understand what the ingredients really are by reading the small print on the label. You may need a magnifying glass to find it, but it is always there.

Understand What the Ingredients Are

Understand What the Ingredients Are
Photo By: Wencor Teo/ CC BY

Once you find the ingredients, you can make out just how benign and safe they are. But beware…a great number of chemical ingredients have technical names which only chemists would be aware of. So educate yourself and be up to date with the different kinds of product ingredients that are there so that you can separate the harmful or untested ones from the safe, healthy ones.

Choose Products Sans Parabens

What are parabens? They are xenoestrogens or endocrine disruptors. In other words , they ruin the hormonal balance in your body. They damage sensitive skin and have the capacity to create allergies and rashes. In studies, they have been found within breast cancer tumors too.

Avoid Amines

Avoid Amines
Photo By: Ariel Grimm/ CC BY

Chemicals that are in the amines category mix with agents that are nitrating to form nitrosamines. Decoded, that means they cause cancer. How is this so? Well, the nitrosamines are created from a process where the amine mixes with preservatives that release formaldehyde. This basically triggers cancer. Amines used in personal care products include:

  • Cocamide MEA
  • Cocamide DEA TEA
  • Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate
  • Amino Methyl Propanol

Formaldehyde release chemicals include:

  • Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
  • Quaternium-15
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Diazonlidnyl Urea

Baby Powder That’s Unsafe!

Talc is found in talcum powder, makeup and baby powder. It is carcinogenic or cancer causing if it contains asbestiform fibres. Talc is linked to ovarian cancer because of this.

Perfumes That Can Stink When It Comes to Safeguarding Health

Aveeno Active Naturals Skin Relief Body Wash
Photo By: Amazon

A frightening fact is that manufacturers are not legally needed to tell the ingredients used in fragrances. Chemicals used in such performs are dangerous and cancerous. Fragrance-free products like body wash or perfumes may also have ingredients to mask offensive smells. This includes:

  • Methyl ethyl ketone
  • Methylene chloride
  • Phthalates
  • Toluene
  • Benzyl Chloride

D &C and FD& C Colours: Simple Terms, Deadly Impact

When the colours of these kind are included in your beauty product, it’s time to throw them away. Each of these colours contains coal tars which cause not only allergies but also deadly cancer. While USFDA and other regulatory bodies monitor the presence of lead and arsenic, certification remains mum on how these can hurt the body.

Don’t Trust Chemical Preservatives

skin and cause dermatitis
Photo By: Roco Julie/ CC BY

These can irritate the skin and cause dermatitis or cancer. Watch out for these preservatives and save your life:

  • BHA
  • BHT
  • Benzethonium chloride,
  • Diazolidinyl urea,
  • Imidazolidinyl urea,
  • Phenoxyethanol and
  • Methylisothiazolinone.

Many times, the manufacturers of these products try to hide behind the “and other ingredients” tag. This is dangerous because now you cannot be sure what these ingredients are and no one has tested the effects of these together. Some chemicals may only be tested individually and that too for a limited period of time. Who knows what repeated use of a product over time can cause if you can’t even be sure that it contains?

Know Basics, Save Your Skin

Remember that ingredients are listed in descending manner from the product ‘s most invasive chemical or component listed right at the top. If a product says it contains herbal ingredients but these are located right at the bottom, then the product does not contain much of it and will not be beneficial

Quantity does Not Always Matter

Active ingredients do not need to be there in large quantities to take effect. Some ingredients may be only 0.05 percent in constitution yet able to impact your body 100 percent of the time. So little of this ingredient may be needed to produce a toxic reaction in your body that even small amounts can be deadly.

Marketing Tricks Need to be Busted

sun screen absorb ultraviolet rays
Photo By: Mike/ CC BY

Some ingredients may be categorized as some other component. Marketing a product is all about creating false confidence may times. For example, just because a product is dermatologically tested does not mean it is endorsed by the skin doctor.

Neither can you be sure what the outcomes of the skin care product’s testing sessions were. Don’t trust sunscreen just because the SPF factor is high. Chemicals in sunscreen absorb ultraviolet rays and can be damaged in the presence of these.

They further cause thyroid and hormonal imbalances. So chemical sunscreens can actually be harmful to you rather than protecting you from melanoma! Oil products which are cold pressed are the safest- they last longer and do not oxidise.

Chemicals You Need to Watch Out For


These refer to chemicals that damage the endocrine system which regulates hormone production. This can lead to developmental damage. It can also harm the nervous system and the human reproductive system. This means everything from nerve damage to birth defects.

A University of Maryland study found these chemicals mimic human hormones and trigger decreased testosterone in males and endometriosis in females. They are found in many sprays, lip balms, and nail polish, giving the product its distinctive fragrance. Instead, choose products that use plant oils and essences


This is found in foundation, lipstick, and whitening toothpaste. Consider how damaging this can be because lead is very poisonous. This toxic substance damages the nervous system and the reproductive system. An FDA study found as many as 400 brands of popular lipsticks contained this substance.


This is among the list of preservatives that release formaldehyde gas which has been found by the US department of Health and Human Researchers to be a well established carcinogenic substance.

International Agency for Research on Cancer has found that formaldehyde releasing preservatives such as these can harm the body through inhalation. EU has mandated that such preservatives should be labelled if they exceed o.05 percent of the product. Not all countries have such safety laws in place! So look out for these:

  • Bronopol
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • Sodium hydroxymethyl glycinate
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Methenamine
  • Quarternium-15,
  • Quaternium-18,
  • Quaternium-26
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • BHUT (butylated hydroxytoluene)

Quarternium 15 is found in eyeliners, mascara and pressed powders. It is the most commonly used ingredient by many leading brands.

PEG Compounds/ Polyethylene Glycol

PEGS are petrol based compounds. They are used in creams and cause cancer due to a substance that is known as Ethylene oxide which damages development and nervous system in humans. The lower the number of the PEG compound, the more easily your skin will absorb it leading to deadly consequences.

Butylated Compounds/BHT or BHA

They are found in blushers, perfumes, lip glosses and eye shadows. A host of makeup and skincare products contain these compounds. They damage internal organs, cause toxicity in the body and lead to developmental problems, tumours, and skin allergies.

Other Damaging Chemicals


This is found in foundation makeup and it causes thyroid disorders and endocrine disruption


This leads to respiratory problems and this toxic coal tar dye may be contaminated with heavy metals

Carbon Black

Carbon Black eyeliner
Photo By: Courtney Rhodes/CC BY

This is found in eyeliners and called by a host of other names like:

  • Channel Black
  • Pigment Black 7
  • Pigment Black 6
  • Arvel/Arrow
  • Aerogen/Arotone
  • Froflow
  • Acetylene Black
  • Black Pearls
  • 9. Carbon Black

What is clear is that it causes organ malfunctioning and cancer


They harm the reproductive and endocrine system. These are used in grooming and beauty products to soften and moisten the skin.


This is found in shampoo and liquid soap; it is not listed on the label and creates suds causing cancer in the body.


This compound is linked to cancer and used in lip balm as well as nail polish.


This is not the only list of chemicals hidden in your makeup and skincare products. There are many others too. The chief toxins most commonly occurring are those most people are aware of. But what about the chemical ingredients that only hardcore science buffs can be aware of? Better safe than sorry, you think?

You may be right! Be careful about every item you purchase and use from nail polish removers to lip gloss, perfume to foundation makeup. The end product is generally mixed with chemicals to make it have a long shelf life. Unfortunately, this is exactly what can shorten yours. So, go natural and be safe. And always read the label!

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