7 Potentially Dangerous Makeup Ingredients to Avoid

by Ivy Boyd

7 Potentially Dangerous Makeup Ingredients to Avoid

If you’ve been on the internet at all over the last few years, you probably know that there’s a lot of talk about potentially harmful ingredients lurking in your beauty products. But is the buzz legit? Let’s dive into the research.


When it comes to cosmetic ingredients to avoid, these seven are usually in the hot seat. Unfortunately, they also happen to be super common and highly functional. So what’s a beauty lover to do? Step one: Read on to see if you really need to give ’em up.


Put simply, parabens are preservatives, usually listed on ingredient lists as butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. They’re found in many cosmetic and personal care products, meant to inhibit the growth of mold and bacteria. The controversy? They mimic estrogen in the body and have been found in breast cancer tumors. Still, there’s not enough evidence to suggest parabens caused these tumors, and the FDA believes them to be safe in small doses (as in the case of standard beauty products).


Sulfates are why your shampoos, body washes, and cleansers foam up and lather, giving you that ahhh clean feeling. While high doses have been linked to depression and even death in rats, researchers believe sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate (the ones most likely to show up in your shampoo and toothpaste) to be safe in products designed specifically for humans (think: low doses that are rinsed off quickly), according to the International Journal of Toxicology. Some people do find sulfates irritating, though. If that’s the case, look for sulfate-free formulas, like those from Beauty ProtectorAveda, and Kevin Murphy.


This powerful ingredient is highly effective at lightening skin pigment to combat hyperpigmentation, melasma, and scarring. However, it’s also illegal in Europe and on the list of no-no’s for pregnant or breastfeeding women. It is a potential carcinogen, and in large amounts, oral hydroquinone is toxic. Vitamin C and kojic acid are some safe alternatives.


Sometimes called plasticizers, phthalates are used to make products like cosmetics, fragrances, and nail polishes more flexible, durable, and soft. They are linked to hormone disruption as well as birth defects, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems in newborns, fertility issues, and obesity.


Synthetic colorants 
Colorants derived from coal-tar have been linked to cancer, but the FDA has since banned the ingredients in question. Some experts do see a risk in current colorants, but the FDA continues to monitor the ingredients on the market. If you want to keep it natural, you can opt for mineral-based colorants like mica pigment, titanium dioxide, oxides, iron and tin oxide, carmine, and ultramarines.


Mineral oil
Derived from petroleum, mineral oil is comedogenic, meaning it does a great job of causing breakouts. It easily clogs pores, contributing to acne and blackheads. There are a few studies that indicate that it has possible endocrine-disrupting potential, meaning that it can interfere with your hormones. Again, dosage makes the difference, but if you’re concerned, keep an eye out for mineral oil, liquid petroleum, or paraffin oil in your products.​


Synthetic fragrances
The potential problem: Companies don’t need to disclose what’s in their specific fragrances, thanks to a law that protects these formulas as “trade secrets.” This makes it tough to distinguish the good from the questionable. If you experience irritation from one product, try another. Or look into plant-based sources like essential oils instead.


Looking for cleaner cosmetics? KorresTarteRootDr. HauschkaRMSOne Love OrganicsNourish OrganicsBurt’s Bees, and Kjaer Weis are just some of the brands you can use without a worry.