Chemicals found in Beauty Products

Have you wondered about what chemicals are in the products we put on our skin?

The average woman puts over 500 chemicals on her body every day.

Most do not know what these chemicals are and what effect they have.

On average it only takes 26 seconds for the chemicals in these products to enter your bloodstream after being applied to the skin.

Why should you care about different ingredients found in products?

Everything is effectively a chemical made up of elements however some are toxic to us and affect our long term health. These are normally synthetic chemicals (not normally plant based) and can be used in consumer products for a variety of reasons.

Clean Beauty

These toxic chemicals can also have a detrimental effect on our environment when in products such as sunscreens.

Why should we care?

⦁ We are the most toxic generation to have ever lived.
⦁ Recent studies have shown that toxic chemicals in our bloodstream are being passed onto our unborn children via the umbilical cord.
⦁ So that lead based lipstick that your great great grandmother used in the 19th century probably has toxic remnants still travelling round your bloodstream.
⦁ These toxic chemicals affect our health and wellbeing not just of us but of future generations.

Whats in your products?

Chemicals to watch out for


Used as a preservative to give a product a long shelf life.

  • Found in 75-90% of all cosmetic products on the market.
  • Effect: Endocrine distributors, possible carcinogens and possible links to breast cancer.
  • How they are listed on products:
    • Ethylparaben
    • Butylparaben
    • Isobutylparaben
    • Propylparaben


Used as plasticizers (to give products increased flexibility and durability)

  • Found in many perfumes and scented products and hairspray.
  • Effect: Endocrine distributors, respiratory toxicants, can cause birth defects and infertility in men, may lead to pregnancy loss in women, may alter childhood brain development
  • How they are listed on products:
    • Commonly hidden under “fragrance” or “parfum”;
    • Anything with “phthalate” in its name, or DBP, DEHP, DMP, DEP.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate

Used in products to create a foam and prevents separation of ingredients.

  • Found in Face wash, body wash, shampoos, soaps, toothpaste, and more.
  • Effect: Common irritants, penetration enhancers, may be contaminated with known carcinogens.
  • How they are listed on products: Sodium lauryl sulphate


Used to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination.

  • Found in deodorants, anti-perspirants, soaps, toothpastes.
  • Effect: associated with a decrease in the levels of thyroid hormones, contributes to making us resistant to antibiotics, also links to skin cancer (studies ongoing)
  • How they are listed on products: Triclosan

Artificial Scents and Synthetic musks

Used as an artificial scent.

  • Found in many perfumes and scented products.
  • Effect: No detailed information is given about what these artificial fragrances actually contain. They are likely to contain synthetic and potentially allergenic compounds.
  • How they are listed on products: Fragrance or perfume without details of where these came from. If an ingredient is truly natural it will show something like fragrance* (lavender oil) or something similar. Synthetic musks could show as Galaxolide (HHBC), Tonalide (AHTN), Musk keytone


Used for its antibacterial and preservative properties. Yes this is the same formaldehyde used in a morgue to preserve the body before burial!

  • Found in many nail polishes and other nail products, creams and moisturisers.
  • Effect: Can cause watery eyes, burning sensations, coughing, wheezing, nausea, skin irritation and links to cancer.
  • How they are listed on products: Formaldehyde

Other Chemicals to watch out for:

  • Aluminium Salts –  used in deodorants and anti-perspirant, it blocks pores (and glands) to stop sweating and is linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s.
  • Ethanolamines (MEA (Monoethanolamine), DEA (Diethanolamine), TEA (Triethanolamine)) – Found in face and body washes, shampoos, hair colours etc. Is a foaming agent that also prevents separation of ingredients.
  • Hydroquinone – Found in hair dye, nail products inc polish, skin lightening and acne products. Hydroquinone decreases the formation of melanin in the skin. Used in high doses hydroquinone has the potential to cause cancer.
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) – Found in lipsticks, creams and moisturisers as an antioxidant and preserving properties. BHT accumulates over time in the body impacting the lungs, liver and kidneys and some research suggests causes cancerous tumours to grow.
  • UV FILTERS such as Octinoxate – Sunscreens, lip balms, nail polish, foundations, fragrances, shampoos, conditioners, creams and moisturisers etc. Endocrine disruption, reproductivity toxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation and in some cases cancer.
How is it affecting your health?


Two types of sunscreens; chemical and mineral.

Chemical sunscreens contain chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone which create a chemical reaction and work by changing the UV rays into heat and absorbing them into the skin. These chemicals are toxic chemicals.

Mineral sunscreens contain chemicals such as titanium dioxide or zinc, which work by creating a barrier on the skin and deflect any damaging UV rays away from the skin.

Chemical Sunscreen

Mineral Sunscreen

Ingredients to look for

Oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, avobenzone, Benzophenone-3 and

Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide


Tends to be thin and rubs in easily.

Is thicker and requires more effort to rub in.

How soon it starts to work

After about 20 mins


Skin Types

The higher the SPF the less suitable it becomes for sensitive skin.

Can blog pores of oily skin types.

Can cause skin irritation and stinging.

Can cause increased chance of redness for those with rosacea prone skin.

Suitable for all skin types especially oily/ acne prone skin. Also better for anyone with heat sensitive skin.

If you plan on swimming in the ocean make sure it’s a mineral sunscreen!

Make sure it’s a reef safe or reef friendly sunscreen!

Further Reading

  • The Human Experiment on Netflix.

  • Research Breast Cancer UK’s ‘DitchTheJunk’ Campaign.

  • Think Dirty – free app which gives products a toxicity rating.

  • Follow clean beauty bloggers