How To Choose Safer Cosmetics For Your Health

As NBC News recently reported, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay a whopping $72M of damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.  

This isn't the only lawsuit, there are many personal care product companies being  called out for harmful ingredients. Nearly 20% of personal-care products contain at least one chemical linked to cancer - that means on average 1 in 5 of our personal care products are cancer causing.

With statistics like these it is hard to believe that the trillion dollar beauty industry is not more highly regulated. A 2004 study found parabens in 18 out of 20 samples of human breast tissue. Parabens are in most mainstream skincare products and cosmetics.

Furthermore, as the creams, lotions, serums, etc are absorbed through the skin, they make there way into the bloodstream. Studies have shown that the toxic ingredients have been found in biopsy samples from breast tumors, ovarian cancer and more! As consumers it is crucial we look after our own health by choosing to opt for safer beauty products.

The makeup and cosmetics industry is one of the most powerful and lucrative of any industry in the world. Cosmetics and personal care items have a permanent shelf or draw in almost all households across the world, having an extraordinary number of people entrusting companies to provide them with safe and effective products that aren’t harmful to their bodies.

All personal care companies market themselves as being safe; for it would make for a bad marketing strategy to broadcast the risks and dangers associated with the chemicals used in the formulas.

Some  companies are true to their word, offering products that are both safe and effective to their customers. Sadly, many of them are not.

So What Do The Chemicals Do To Our Body?

Our skin acts like a giant sponge absorbing about 80% of what we put onto it into the bloodstream. Chemicals absorb into our blood stream and flood our bodies with toxicity. Our bodies are marvellous machines at detoxifying anything that doesn't belong in the body, however nowadays we use so many types of beauty products [women on average use 12 a day] combined with a highly refined, processed and non-organic western diet the toxic overload becomes to much for the body to break down which results in disease and inflammation in the body.

The chemicals found in most health and beauty products is not insignificant to your health, especially when these are products you use each and every day, over the course of your lifetime. Many of the ingredients used in common health and beauty products are linked to cancer, hormonal disruption, neurological damage, reproductive toxicity and infertility.

How Do Companies Get Away With This?

Even for the most seasoned green beauty expert choosing safe beauty products can be both intimidating and overwhelming. Labels can be deceptive since there is no legal watch dog monitoring cosmetic labelling - this means companies are allowed to make whatever claims they’d like about their products with no evidence to prove it.

Many consumers are well aware of the regulations and guidelines placed on food and medicine by government endorsed agencies . It is the agencies responsibility to ensure what we put into our bodies is safe. Consumers trust these agencies to keep harmful products off of the shelves; unfortunately its not the case for health and beauty products.

Health and beauty products are some of the least regulated products sold.  The only cosmetics the government agencies regulate are those considered to be over the counter drugs.

There are no laws or regulations that require cosmetic companies to do premarket safety testing on their products. If companies choose to test their products they have no obligation to share the results with health authorities or with consumers. Government agencies do no independent lab testing of cosmetic products or ingredients. 

Bottom line is that companies create their own regulations

The lack of regulation and accountability enforced on the cosmetics industry leaves consumers incredibly vulnerable. Companies are allowed to use almost anything they want in their products, and are not required to put a complete list of ingredients on the labelling (thankfully Australia is a little stricter with labelling). Also any ingredient used in fragrance or is considered to be a trade secret can be left off of the product’s package.

The marketing of cosmetic products is just as unregulated as the manufacturing of them. To avoid being regulated by government agencies companies go to great lengths to avoid an over the counter drug classification,  yet turn around and market the product as just that. Words like ‘clinical strength’ and ‘dermatologist tested’ appear on labels to give consumers the false impression that the product has undergone medical testing.

Words like ‘pure’ and ‘natural’ lead consumers to believe that one product is safer or gentler than others. The truth is that ‘pure’ and ‘natural’ have no legal meaning so they can be used on whatever products the company would like. Most products labeled as pure or natural contain an overwhelming amount of petroleum and chemical ingredients. Products labeled as hypoallergenic or marketed for children are no more regulated than any other cosmetics. 

Cosmetic companies are allowed to make whatever claims they’d like about their products without presenting any evidence to regulatory agencies or consumers to substantiate those claims. With the extreme lack of regulation in the cosmetics industry it is left to the individual consumer to research and investigate products before use.

Before you head to the store to buy your next batch of beauty products log on to the internet and do some research. While most government agencies have very little authority over the cosmetic industry there are many independent agencies that have done the hard work and conducted extensive research into which companies manufacture the safest products -   EWG Skin Deep is one of the top educational organisations.

What Chemicals To Look For On Product Labels

Navigating through the enormous selection of cosmetic and personal care products can be a daunting task, even for the most informed consumer. Luckily, there are many non-profit organisations who have researched the top toxic chemicals to avoid.

The David Suzuki Foundation is one of them, a non-profit that focuses on finding proactive responses to both environmental and health issues, conducted a survey to find out what common chemicals are found in our everyday personal care and beauty items. In response to the survey results the foundation has created a list of the 12 most harmful chemicals we must avoid in our products.

You can read the full report here. To get started on your chemical free journey start by downloading The David Suzuki Foundation free shopping guide, then audit your bathroom cabinet to see just how many of your products contain  harmful ingredients.

Here are some ingredients to avoid in the most commonly used cosmetic and personal care products available in the marketplace today.

The Dirty Dozen Chemicals To Avoid

  1. BHA and BHT: A preservative found in most moisturisers and lipsticks along with other personal care products. An allergen, suspected endocrine disruptor and may cause cancer (BHA). Harmful to fish and other wildlife when chemicals get flushed down the drain and enter our waterways. Read more »
  2. Coal tar dyes, p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as "CI" followed by a five digit number: Coal tar is a known carcinogen and is commonly  found in shampoos, hair dyes and scalp treatments. Coal tar is derived from burning coal. Also avoid all hair dyes containing p-phenylenediamine and other products that have colours listed as "CI" followed by five digits. Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain. Read more »
  3. DEA-related ingredients: Used in creamy and foaming products, such as moisturizers and shampoos. Can react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. Harmful to fish and other wildlife once flushed down our drains. Look also for related chemicals MEA and TEA. Read more »
  4. Dibutyl phthalate: Used as a plasticizer in some nail care products. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Read more »
  5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Used in a variety of cosmetics. Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer. Read more »
  6. Parabens: Used in a variety of cosmetics as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disrupters and may interfere with male reproductive functions. Read more »
  7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance): Any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics — even in some products marketed as "unscented." Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some harmful to fish and other wildlife. Read more »
  8. PEG compounds: Used in many cosmetic cream bases. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Also for related chemical propylene glycol and other ingredients with the letters "eth" (e.g., polyethylene glycol). Read more »
  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. Read more »
  10. Siloxanes: Look for ingredients ending in "-siloxane" or "-methicone." Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane). Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Read more »
  11. Sodium laureth sulfate: Used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Look also for related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the letters "eth" (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate). Read more »
  12. Triclosan: Used in antibacterial cosmetics, such as toothpastes, cleansers and antiperspirants. Suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Read more »
  # Big Green Beauty Tip: It is not enough to just avoid the toxic ingredients, make sure that all the ingredients are being sourced sustainability  (things like mica and palm oil can come from farms that exploit human rights) and that the company does not do animal testing.

The Common Chemicals Found In Everyday Beauty Products

The products we use everyday are riddled with chemicals that cause us harm. Just to give you an idea of how prominent these toxic chemicals are, take a look at what chemicals are found in products that the everyday household uses.

Soap: Soap is a product used by everyone. The cheapest and most widely available formulas contain triclosan for antibacterial properties, sodium laureth sulfate detergent, and dangerous paraben preservatives. These chemicals have been linked to endocrine disruption, hormone dysfunction, infertility and several types of cancers. When shopping for soap look for products that use natural antibacterial agents. Glycerin [vegetable base] is a safe cleansing ingredient used in soap. Citric or ascorbic acid are fantastic natural preservatives.

Hand Sanitiser: Hand sanitiser is another product that usually contains triclosan. Hand sanitiser is a great product to use to keep from transmitting germs and bacteria, but look for a triclosan free option that contains at least a sixty percent concentration of ethanol or ethyl alcohol.

Sunscreen: Sunscreen is another product that is crucial for our health - especially here in Australian. Unfortunately sunscreen often contains damaging chemicals like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Sunscreens sold in aerosol or powder form contain even more harmful chemicals, which are inhaled into the lungs during application. For a safer sunscreen look for products that contain safe ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Never use a product with an SPF higher than thirty and stay in the shade as much as possible during midday sun.

Hair Care: Hair care products are another source of highly dangerous chemicals. Hair colouring treatments, especially darker coloured dyes, contain coal-tar derived dyes.  Shampoos, conditioners and styling products contain sodium laureth sulfate, siloxanes, parabens, and diethanolamine. Opt for lighter coloured or temporary henna based hair dyes to protect yourself from the carcinogens and heavy metal contamination in coal-tar derived dyes. Look for shampoos that have vegetable based glycerin and citric or ascorbic acid listed on their labels. Hydrogenated oils are safe  for conditioners and styling product ingredients. Xanthan gum is another great natural ingredient for maximum hold styling products.

Toothpaste: Toothpaste also poses a health risk to consumers, especially since it is often ingested in small amounts. Avoid products that contain triclosan, sodium laureth sulfate and silica which can be contaminated with lead during the manufacturing process. Look instead for toothpaste that contains baking soda or hydrogen peroxide.

Nail Polish: A dangerous carcinogenic and endocrine disruptor called dibutyl phthalate is added to nail polish to keep the paint from becoming brittle and cracking. Formaldehyde is also used as a preservative in many nail care products. Thankfully their are more and more safe alternatives hitting the stores. 

Facial Cleansers: Facial cleansers and acne products contain an overwhelming amount of hazardous ingredients. Some of the most commonly used chemicals in these products include formaldehyde, triclosan, parabens, sodium laureth sulfate and polyethylene glycols. The combination of these chemicals exposes users to a wide variety of health concerns including cancers and infertility. Safe ingredients for facial cleansers and acne products include salicylic acid, vegetable glycerin, witch hazel, hydrogenated oils and citric and ascorbic acids.

Facial Moisturisers: Facial moisturisers and anti-aging products contain even more chemical ingredients including parabens, polyethylene glycols, formaldehyde, petrolatum, siloxanes, hydroquinone, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids. These products can cause serious health conditions including cancer, immune system dysfunction, reproductive dysfunction, and additional skin damage and aging. There are many safe and healthy alternatives to these ingredients. Shea butter is a great product for consumers who are looking to repair damage and skin ageing. Amino acids are a safe alternative to alpha and beta hydroxy acids. Cocoa butter, coconut oil, aloe vera and rosehip provide amazing benefits to skin and overall health without any unwanted side effects. 

Make Up: Makeup is perhaps the most dangerous category of cosmetic and personal care products. From foundation creams, eyeshadow to lipsticks, makeup contains the largest variety of dangerous chemical ingredient combinations. Avoid eyeshadows, blushes and loose powers that contain talc. Arrowroot powder and mica are fantastic, safe alternatives. Stay away from cream bases that are made with polyethylene glycols, siloxanes, and petrolatum. Opt instead for products made with vitamin E,  cocoa or shea butters and natural oils like olive or coconut. Look for products that have been coloured with plant derived dyes instead of coal-tar derived dyes or other chemical colouring. Animal byproducts are also used in many makeup formulas. Look for a vegan label to avoid these materials.


Perfumes: Perfumes and fragrances are dangerous due to the simple fact that companies are not required to list any ingredients on the labels. Perfume formulas are considered to be trade secrets and are allowed to remain a mystery. There are thousands of chemicals that may be used in perfumes. Opt instead for a fragrance made of essential oils. Not only do essential oils smell good, they provide an enormous variety of health benefits.

Choosing Safer Alternatives

It can take some time to find natural replacements to your much loved brand. I highly recommend reading genuine customer reviews on natural products that interest you.  

The question to ask yourself when buying green and clean cosmetics is "How pure do you want to go?". This is a personal preference and will be different for everyone. Some people will only ever go for beauty products that are 100% natural. Then there will be others who are happy to choose products that are only 95% natural.
My best advice is to research ingredients and even brands over at and then choose products that come within the zero to low toxicity.
When it comes to genuine natural cosmetics, they’ll be free of all the "dirty dozen" and apart from natural minerals, natural cosmetics are more likely to comprise of essential oils and botanical extracts. Please note, you must also pay attention to the order of ingredients as it is indicative of their exact concentration level in the cosmetic product.
I hope I’ve helped you a little in your quest to discover the truth behind chemicals in  our mainstream beauty and personal care brands.