Are cosmetics toxic?


Every day we use, from birth until the last day of our life, products of hygiene, care, beauty and cosmetics, in good faith and in all conscience without asking ourselves questions, rightfully so: we often buy them at the drugstore and would, we should, shouldn’t we, be protected? Moreover, there are organizations, governments, laws and people who are paid so that we can be in safety. Who has already wondered in the morning while brushing his teeth if he was harming himself? And yet, all the toothpastes sold in supermarkets contain triclosan  [1]   which is a hormonal disturber. Who has already washed his hair thinking that he is testing his immune system? In parallel with our youthful confidence, since a score of years, there is a question that does not stop being asked and this, more and more often: are we truly protected? Are these products dangerous? Are they harmful? Are they harmful to our health?

The answer to these questions is yes, certain ingredients in the composition of the products of the conventional cosmetics industry are toxic, carcinogenic, causing allergies, hormonal disturbers and/or mutagens. This is not a question of opinion, a point of view, or of interpretation. “The major part of the doubts and the accusations on the components of  cosmetics arise from the fact that it is finally admitted that cosmetics penetrate the cutaneous barrier during regular applications”. There are hundreds of studies and scientific research which brings arguments, evidence, and new facts in this sense which corroborate this serious and alarming reality. Here is what the late Doctor Schreiber says on his Website  :

“More and more, exposure to low doses is considered as a sufficient factor so that toxicity is really taken seriously and the question of “the cocktail effect” of these low doses comes to be added to the concerns. The cocktail effect states that if a molecule taken separately can be partially inoffensive, mixed with another one, coming from another source (solvants + phtalates for example), they then can, while combining in the organism, become frightening cancer-causing agents. The multiplication of the sources of exposure to chemical molecules is a real source of concern for many scientists. One currently counts more than 30.000 chemical molecules present in the business having passed no test of toxicity”.

In spite of the presence of this increasingly frequent information in the media and although being present on the Quebec and Canadian markets, the industry of the nontoxic biological cosmetics does not register a boom in Quebec as in France or Germany where there is a true passion for healthier products (see chapter “ Some questions about… ”). Why are we late? And especially: why do we wait to change our consumption patterns?

Since the Regulations on cosmetics oblige the manufacturers to post the ingredients on the labels of the products (2006) public opinion does not stop being shocked by the revealing discoveries concerning the contents of the products of hygiene and beauty. After bisphenol A, (a hormone disturber present in plastics, which has just been banished in 2010  [3]  and which, however, circulated freely for a long time), Health Canada is now reflecting upon the triclosan present in the products of oral hygiene like toothpastes and mouth-rinses. In France, the phthalates and the parabens are on suspicion at this moment, Yvan Lachaud proposed a law aiming at the “Prohibition of manufacturing, of importation, sale or the offering of products containing phthalates, parabens or alkyl phenols”   [4] .

The parabens have just been banished in Denmark on January 9, 2011 in all the products intended for children.

The industry of personal care in North America has made sales of 20,3 billion dollars (CAD) in 2006. Personal care includes products such as baby care, for the bath, make-up, perfume, hair care, care of the nails, oral-dental care, personal hygiene, shaving products, skin care and solar shields.

In 2007, the average annual expenditure of the households for personal care was 1167 $ (CAD) in Canada, that is to say 1,7% of income per household. In New Brunswick, the average expenditure of the households was slightly lower, at 1000 $ (CAD), while in Quebec, they were 1089 $ (CAD). The Canadian industry of personal care was estimated at approximately 5,4 billion $ (CAD) of retail sales in 2008.  [5]

If women are more receptive to this information and when the Website warnings about the toxic substances present in baby products proliferate on the Internet, men, in the great majority, think that, considering that they do not dye their hair and that they do not use lipsticks, they are thus out of danger and not concerned. Wake up, gentlemen! As much and as long as you use a shampoo, a conditioner, soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, after-shave lotion, a perfume (for amorous meetings), a deodorant, a little gel for unruly hair, a hand cream, my goodness! for the cold winter days as well as a balm for the lips (hard to believe but we are at eleven products for a consumer who does not use cosmetics!), you absorb dangerous ingredients, perhaps even coming from the petrochemica

l industry.

A woman uses on average 5 to 25 products per day.  If I add to the list of male productsprovided earlier (I leave out the shaving cream because many women shave their legs and I remove the after-shave lotion) a lipstick, brilliance for the lips, a lotion for the body and one for the eyes, a contour pencil for the lips and one for the eyes, a mascara, a make-up with eyelids, one for the cheeks, make-up foundation, nail varnish, a base and a product for drying, a dye for the hair, a fixative and a foam for the bath, we have arrived at 26 and I am not exaggerating. 25 daily products and the term “on average” is very suitable. I do not speak about the sun lotion, the repulsive anti-mosquito cream or also the auto-tanning products, because you will say to me that one makes use of them in an occasional way only.

By saying 25, I am far from the reality of a teenager or of a person, let us say, more related to the question. (When I began my personal investigation, I found in the bathroom more than 50 products and I always considered myself as within the average among the women who use make- up). By making an average of five ingredients per product (whoever looked at the labels of the cosmetics will admit that generally it concerns a much longer list), that makes for 125 ingredients absorbed per day and without any effort on our part. Of the 125 ingredients, some are repeated (the famous parabens for example, check your products if you are not convinced) and then one speaks about accumulation or the “cocktail” effect of the ingredients dangerous for our health. If we count only 5 products out of 25 (and I am very lenient) that contain parabens (in general, there are three parabens in each hydrating cream), we exceeded 5 times the limit allowed for each manufacturer per product. And this in a daily way and with very moderate calculations.

I am not a scientist, I do not have any personal interest in this initiative, I do not make publicity for whomever; I am a simple citizen who was interested in the question of the safety of cosmetics following a disease. Here is the information that I could find in little time and with very limited means. I share these resources with you so that you can make up, yourself, your own mind. Several books screening cosmetic products were published in the English language, this Guide of non-toxic hygiene, beauty care and cosmetics products addresses itself especially to French-speaking readers. The sources concerning the danger of hygiene and beauty products selected here below give especially access to information in the French language and, sometimes, to addresses and documents in English. When I think that there are more than 200 languages written in the world…

In the spring of 2010, the David Suzuki Foundation invited Canadians to draw their shower curtain and to take part in an on line survey on the toxic ingredients contained in their cosmetics. The participants were asked to check if the lists of ingredients comprised 12 groups of chemicals – a dozen ingredients to be avoided which are related to problems of health and the environment, of which cancer, reproductive diseases, asthma and serious allergies.

You can consult the detailed report on the site of the David Suzuki Foundation or download it for free.

More than 6.200 people took part in this survey, providing information on more than 12.500 products of personal care. The results are disconcerting.

Here’s, firstly, the list of the 12 ingredients to be avoided .

You will find alternatives of this list on the Internet, longer or shorter, but I strongly recommend to you the one of the David Suzuki Foundation which establishes correlations between these chemicals and their consequences on our health.

1. BHA et BHT

Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disrup- tors and may cause cancer (BHA). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

2. Coal tar dyes: p-phenyllenediamine and colours listed as “CI” followed by five digits

Stay away from P-PHENYLENEDIAMINE and the dyes identified by “CI” followed by five digits. P-phenylenediamine is used in certain dyes; other colours are used in many cosmetic products. They could be carcinogenic and contain heavy metals toxic for the brain. In addition to the dyes derived from coal tar, one also allotted to the carotenoid, natural and inorganic pigments used in cosmetics an index of colors (IC) number in the series 40800, 75000 and 77000 respectively.

3.  DEA, cocamide DEA and lauramide DEA

Stay away from COCAMIDE DEA and LAURAMIDE DEA. They are found in creamy and foaming cosmetics such as moisturizers and shampoos. They can react with other substances and form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Harmful for fish and other wildlife.

4. Dibutyl Phthalate

Dibutyl phthalate is used as a plasticizer in products for the nails. It is considered as toxic for reproduction and suspected to interfere with the hormonal function (endocrine disruptor). Harmful for fish and fauna.

5. The formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: DMDH hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15 and sodium hydroxymethylblycinate

Be careful with DMDM HYDANTOIN, DIAZOLIDINYL UREA, IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA, METHENAMINE and QUARTERNIUM-15. These preservatives are used in a broad line of cosmetic products. They release in a slow and continuous way small quantities of formaldehyde, which is a carcinogenic substance.

6. The parabens (methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben)

Be careful with ingredients ending in “PARABEN”. They are largely used as preservatives. They are considered as hormonal disruptors and could interfere with the male reproductive functions.

7. Perfume

Mixture of chemicals which can start allergies and asthma, some being associated with cancer and the intoxication of the neurons. Harmful for fish and fauna.

8. PEGs (e.g., PEG-60)

Used in certain bases of cosmetic creams. They can contain 1.4-dioxane, potentially carcinogenic (for example, PEG-60).

9. Petrolatum

Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lip sticks and moisturizers. A petroleum product that can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.

10. Siloxanes 

Be careful with ingredients ending in “SILOXANE” (cyclopentaciloxane, cyclohexasiloxane) or “CONE” (cyclomethicone). They are used in cosmetic products to soften, smooth and humidify. Cyclotetrasiloxane is considered as a hormonal disruptor and  a reproductive toxicant. Harmful for fish and fauna.

11. Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Used in some foaming products such as shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. It can contain 1.4-dioxane, potentially carcinogenic.

12. Triclosan

Is found in some antibacterial cosmetics such as toothpastes, soap, cleansers for the hands and antiperspirants. It is suspected to interfere with the hormonal function and to contribute to the antibiotics resistance in bacteria. Harmful for fish and fauna

Here are in a few lines the conclusions of the survey of the Foundation.

◦ Close to 80 percent of the announced products would contain at least one of the twelve ingredients to be avoided;

◦ More than half of all the announced products would contain several of the twelve ingredients to be avoided;

◦ For more than a 1.000 products, the list of ingredients was not clearly indicated.

Another observation, quite as disconcerting, is that the regulatory gaps with regard to the labeling of the cosmetic ingredients have as a consequence that the list of the ingredients is incomplete for many products. The manufacturers do not particularly have the obligation to reveal the ingredients of the fragrances on the label of the product. Here and there, the generic term “perfume” is mentioned, which represents a mysterious mixture of tens of chemicals, at the least.

Here is the number of products in which the twelve ingredients to be avoided were announced:

BHA o BHT  : 637 (6 %)

Dyes derived from coal tar  : 1 202 (10 %)

Ingredients connected to DEA   : 702 (6 %)

Dibutyl Phthalate  : 34 (1 %)

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives : 1 610 (14 %)

Parabens  : 2 744 (24 %)

Fragrance or perfume  : 6 469 (56 %)

 PEGs  : 3 193 (28 %)

Petrolatum  : 957 (8 %)

Siloxanes  : 1 228 (11 %)

Sodium Laureth Sulfate : 2 518 (22 %)

Triclosan  : 149 (1 %)

None of the above-mentioned products in the list of ingredients: 2.350 (20%).

Ingredients list not visible: 1.066 (8% of all the products).

This information is published in this Guide of non-toxic beauty products with the permission and the support of the David Suzuki Foundation.


[1] ↑  Read more in the chapter “ Hand Creams

[2] ↑ Les cosmétiques biologiques à la loupe p.6 ( Biological cosmetics under the magnifying glass - in French)

[3] ↑  BPA was banned in feeding-bottles but can still be found in other products such as re-usable water bottles and particularly in the inner lining of aluminum cans

[4] ↑ Source

[5] ↑ Source

Leave a Reply