Article by: Perry Romanowski

If you have spent any time reading information about cosmetics on the Internet, you’ve no doubt come across scare stories about dangerous, “toxic” ingredients. It might be lead in lipstick, mercury in mascara, or some other outrageous headline but the message is always the same, cosmetics kill and cosmetic companies are more concerned about profit than producing safe products.

As a cosmetic chemist, this has always troubled me. I was a formulation chemist for years and I never used chemicals that I thought were unsafe. Also, I was never pressured by my company to use “less safe” ingredients because they were cheaper. This is complete nonsense and groups that propagate it are bad for society and for cosmetic chemists.

But if you’re going to be a formulator, it would be helpful for you to know which cosmetic ingredients get bad press, why and whether it is true or not. So here we present a look at the 12 most vilified cosmetic ingredients. The next time a friend or family member asks you about them, you’ll be in a better position to answer.

Top Vilified Cosmetic Ingredients

1. Parabens
2. Diazolidiny Urea
3. Diethanolamine
4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
5. Petrolatum
6. Mineral Oil
7. Propylene Glycol
8. Triclosan
9. Fragrance
10. Color pigments
11. PEG — Polyethylene Glycol
12. Talc


Parabens include ingredients like Methylparaben, Propylparaben and Butylparaben. They are used in cosmetics to prevent microbial contamination. Their high temperature stability, high level of effectiveness, and long record of safety make them an excellent preservative choice.

Parabens have recently come under fire by certain consumer groups and all-natural companies. They claim that parabens are “…a strong hormone disrupting chemical. Has direct links to breast cancer and heart problems.” These claims are not true, not based on science and are complete exaggerations.

For a full account of parabens and their safety in cosmetics see these excellent articles.
Paraben puzzlement
More about parabens

Diazolidinyl Urea / DMDM Hydantoin

Like parabens, these cosmetic ingredients are preservatives added to combat disease-causing microbes. They are called “formaldehyde donors” because when placed in a solution they dissociate into ions, one of which is formaldehyde. The formaldehyde then quickly kills microbes.

Formaldehyde is a scary ingredient to people as it has been shown to cause irritation, gene mutations, and cancer. But formaldehyde donors are not the same thing as formaldehyde and the amount of exposure gotten from cosmetics is well within safe levels.

See this summary explanation for why formaldehyde donors are safe for cosmetics.
Formaldehyde mythbusting

For a full review of formaldehyde, see this toxicology report from the CDC.


Triclosan is an anti-bacterial ingredient added to cosmetics to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It’s usually found in antibacterial soaps, handwashes, toothpaste and deodorants. The FDA has affirmed its effectiveness and regulates products that contain triclosan as over the counter (OTC) drugs.

Some groups object to triclosan for various reasons. They say that Triclosan can produce a toxic, hormone disrupting chemical. That it poses long term chronic health risks, alters genetic material, and causes birth defects. It also can damage kidneys, lungs, liver, etc.

Independent scientists who study Tricolsan come to different conclusions. The safety of triclosan has been established but recent studies have prompted the FDA to re-examine the data. But as of now, “FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time” You can learn more about the status of Triclosan (in the US) at this FDA triclosan web page.

One interesting concern about Triclosan is that it has the potential to create “super-bacteria” that is resistant to its effects. This has some scientists suggesting it shouldn’t be used in cosmetics. They might have a point.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

SLS, SLES are basic detergents used in everything from body washes, hand cleansers, shampoos and even toothpaste. They really are versatile cleansing surfactants.

They are also the most maligned surfactants in the entire cosmetic industry. Just do a Google search for sodium lauryl sulfate and you’ll find plenty of sites telling you how awful it is. Claims such as “may cause hair loss”, “causes cancer”, and “the most dangerous chemical found in hair and skin care products” are frequently repeated.

Of course, SLS can be irritating (many surfactants are) but the CIR has reviewed it and found

“Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate appear to be safe in formulations designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin. In products intended for prolonged contact with skin, concentrations should not exceed 1 percent”

SLS is used in cosmetic products because it is effective, inexpensive, and safe.


Speaking of maligned surfactants, Diethanolamine is right up there with SLS for its ability to receive bad press. It is a secondary surfactant added to cosmetic formulas to boost foam and improve lather feel. Typically, it is not added directly to formulas but rather added in the form of Cocamide DEA, Lauramide DEA or Stearamide MEA. The concern is over residual DEA not from the surfactants themselves.

Concern about DEA containing cosmetics was brought up when a 1998 National Toxicology Program (NTP) study found an association between the topical application of diethanolamine (DEA) and certain DEA-related ingredients and cancer in laboratory animals. Chemical fear groups ran with this and claimed that DEA is a “hormone disrupting chemicals that can form cancer-causing nitrates”. It actually caused most personal care companies to replace DEA materials with other options.

However, the fear is unfounded and the FDA reviewed all the latest data and concluded, “at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be alarmed based on the use of these substances in cosmetics.” Certainly, the FDA will continue to review DEA containing ingredients but at the moment, there is no established safety concern.


Ah, one of my favorite ingredients, petrolatum. It is an excellent material for moisturizing skin and also for creating slick hairdos. Unfortunately, this petroleum-derived hydrocarbon blend is also a favorite ingredient for all-natural and chemical fear-mongerers to bash.

What’s the complaint? There are lots of claims but basically the knock on petrolatum is that it causes cancer and the fact that it’s banned in the EU.

The FDA has reviewed the safety of Petrolatum and determined that it is a safe ingredient to use. In fact, it’s even safe for use in food products. And as far as the EU goes, it is not banned in cosmetics. Petrolatum can and is used in cosmetics as long as it’s a cosmetic grade of the material.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is another skin moisturizing ingredient that gets a bad wrap from natural product producers and other chemical scare groups. I never understood this because Mineral Oil is a natural ingredient that comes right from the Earth. No matter, here are some of the claims about mineral oil.

Mineral oil is contaminated with carcinogens
Mineral oil dries the skin and causes premature aging
It robs the skin of vitamins
It clogs pores and prevents collagen absorption
It causes acne

None of these claims are true as reviewed in this mineral oil article.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is a humectant and diluent frequently used in cosmetic formulations. It is a useful material as it’s compatible with numerous materials and provides benefits itself.

Regrettably, it’s also claimed to penetrate and weaken skin proteins and to cause brain, live and kidney abnormalities. Of course, it’s claimed to have a cancer link too. And did you know it is used in anti-freeze?

I’ve never understood why PG is so feared but according to scientists at the FDA, CIR, and National Toxicology Program, there is negligible concern related to its use. In fact, PG is so safe it has earned the designation as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) from the FDA. It’s safe enough to eat.


Fragrances are added to cosmetics to make products smell better or reinforce a marketing story. Cosmetics without fragrance just don’t sell as well so that’s why cosmetic chemists add them.

But some groups will lead you to believe that all fragrances are awful. They “…cause headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing, vomiting and skin irritations. Fragrances affect the nervous system, cause depression, hyper activity, irritability, inability to cope and other behavioral changes”

Indeed there are chemicals in fragrances that can cause problems at high enough levels. There are even ingredients that the EU requires companies to label because they are known allergens. However, fragrances are thoroughly screened for safety by independent scientists at the IFRA. There is a safe level of use and fragrance houses follow these guidelines.


Without colorants most cosmetic formulas would be yellow or brown. Color cosmetics would not exist.

The complaint is that artificial colorants are carcinogenic. As usual, this claim is not supported by science.

Of all the ingredients in cosmetics, colorants are the most highly regulated. Each batch of colorant must be approved by the FDA prior to use. The FDA also monitors the safety of colorants. Any color additive that is found to cause cancer in animals (or humans) may not be used in cosmetics.


PEGs (polyethylene glycols) are used in cosmetics for a variety of reasons including moisturizing, thickening, emulsification, solvency, etc. It would be difficult to produce many modern cosmetics without them.

However, the chemical scare mongers fear that PEG is a carcinogenic material that will dry out and make your skin age faster. It’s the typical claims you find related to any petroleum derived ingredient.

According to an article in the journal Toxicology from 2005, scientists conclude that “Taking into consideration all available information from related compounds, as well as the mode and mechanism of action, no safety concern with regard to these endpoints could be identified.” Chemical fear-mongers are not basing their concerns on science.


Talc is a powdered ingredient used is cosmetics to absorb moisture and as a filler. It is powdered hydrous magnesium silicate.

The primary concern about talc is that it is linked to ovarian cancer. This is based on a study published during the 1990s.

Subsequent review of all the available data has demonstrated that talc is safe when used as directed. The most recent talc data supports this position. The push to avoid Talc is not based on science.

What can cosmetic chemists do?

As a cosmetic chemist you are the one who ultimately makes the decision to use a certain ingredient or not. It is up to you to see what the best SCIENTIFIC data has to say about ingredients before making any choice to use them or not. Forget what consumers tell you, or fear-mongering groups say, or even what your marketing people believe. Cosmetic ingredients are tested and answers about safety are available for people curious enough to look beyond a Google search of the latest blogs.

Sure, your marketing group might want to remove some of these ingredients because of bad PR but that doesn’t change the fact that none of these materials pose a significant risk to consumers when used in cosmetics.

Did we miss any maligned ingredients? What do you think about the safety of cosmetic ingredients? Leave a comment below.



  1. Avatar

    It is interesting how your opinion piece is at the top of google’s search for these ingredients. I am curious to know what you think about the adverse effects of vaccinations in children that lead to a diagnosis of Autism and/or other neurological disorders.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      There is no scientific evidence that vaccinations cause Autism.

  2. Avatar
    Sara Stockwell

    I can’t find a date for when you wrote this article… could you please provide me with this information. It’s for a school paper.


    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      It was written in August 2010.

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    Susan Roberts-Cooper

    I really appreciate your insight and knowledge, and your balanced view. There is so much scaremongering on the dangers of chemicals in personal care products. I have been reading about nitrosamines and how harmful they are, but cannot find information to adequately explain how they are formed, and what conditions need to exist for them to be formed in a cosmetic/ personal care product, since they are not actual ‘ingredients’ that formulators put into products. Can you share some information on these?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Hello Susan – Nitrosamines are formed when raw material suppliers create certain nitrogen containing ingredients like Cocamide DEA. These are secondary surfactants found in shampoos and body washes. However, most of the industry has avoided using them because of the bad publicity surrounding the topic of nitrosamines. You can read more about nitrosamine formation here.

  4. Avatar

    Excellent article. I hate the “Oh noes! Chemicals!” fear mongering that happens with everything. I do have a question though. I’m sensitive to some fragrances. Not exclusively “cosmetic” ones but fragrance in cleaners, air “fresheners”, scented candles, perfume, and some cosmetics (though not usually nearly as bad as the other sources). I do have some allergies (pollen mostly) and mild asthma. What is it I’d be reacting to if not the fragrance? I’m not saying it’s actually causing me lasting harm or toxicity or what not, but I do get headaches, sneezing/congestion, throat irritation and coughing when exposed that goes away shortly after I’m away from the source.

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    I’m actually dumbfounded by the amount of ‘impassioned ignorance’ people are so willing to wear like a badge of honour – as though it somehow makes them ‘more worthy’ of being human than anyone else.

    Having come from a long line of Mineral Oil (and now including silicone) users, you’d expect the women on both sides of my family tree to be shriveled, cancer-infested and short-lived specimens for the ‘Everything Is Toxic’ brigade.

    Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Sorry about that….

  6. Avatar
    Sandra Birdsall

    I personally am on disability because of severe health reactions I experience when I am in proximity to chemical fragrances in enclosed spaces. I’ve been told by environmental allergy specialists that because manufacturers do not have to reveal what chemicals they use to create their “trade secret” formulas, even if I went through expensive testing to determine which chemicals I’m reacting to, there is no way to know what chemicals are included under the ingredient term “fragrance” in products–therefore even if I regulate my personal environment, other people do not regulate theirs and in fact have no way to even find out what chemicals are used to create products they use. They have a right to know, and I am working with the Healthy Legacy Foundation of Minnesota for chemical change. As you may know, the FDA does not regulate trade secret formulas, other than saying, “Ok, be safe now, guys!”. Think about it…maybe one personal care product comes somewhat close to the legal level of what is considered “safe” (who is analyzing to find out, when it’s a trade secret?). But most women wear many, many layers of fragrance chemicals. The cumulative amount could be extremely high and exceed safe levels…but who can know? Women use chemically scented shampoo, conditioner, soap, salon hair product and then hairspray, scented deodorant, a heavy slathering of face and body lotion, scented makeup…and then don themselves in attire “cleaned” in fragrance chemicals and then cooked in more fragrance chemicals in the dryer with highly scented dryer softener sheets that permeate clothing fibers so deeply that several washings will not remove the stench. They sleep in bedding soaked with these fragrance chemicals, permeating pillows, comforters, blankets and sheets, inhaling those chemicals many hours a night as they sleep. You should try living in my world and then tell me that those chemicals are safe. I feel great in my own home and out in nature. Other than that, there are few places I can go in which I do not immediately began to experience neck pain, stomach upset and onset of a migraine that may last for several days–to me, the neurological toxicity is astounding, even at what would be low levels for other people. I have searched and searched for scientists studying people with reactions like mine. Can’t find any. Can you help me find one? I’ll gladly volunteer!

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      That sounds unfortunate. You’re a unique case and not typical of most people. I’m sorry I don’t have any way to help you. I would suggest you avoid cosmetics as they are not needed to live a healthy life.

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        Marcia Favaloro

        I am also extremely sensitive to additives, so I make my own ‘cosmetics’ (ie hair & body products) from my own botanicals. However, I use phenonip & distilled water, weigh my ingredients precisely & work in sterilized environs. Thank heavens for preservatives. Here in Oregon, it’s always mold season.
        *I have much more of an issue with coumarin & salicylic acid additives (both anticoagulants) being in cosmetic products without a warning label .
        *And what universe has people who actually can see the miniscule print on ingredient labels?

        1. Avatar

          Coumarin is present in some essential oils (as well as being intentionally added as a fragrance component) and was originally isolated from Tonka Bean extracts, it does not have to be listed in the EU unless its level exceeds the required amount for a leave-on or rinse off formulation. Salicylic acid originally derived from willow bark (salix alba, clue is in the name) so is quite likely to be present in formulations containing willow extracts even though it will not be declared, its primary function in cosmetic formulations is a preservative.

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        I’m sorry but Sandra’s story is not at all unique – there are many people in this situation leading an isolated life, challenged when required to access public places. I know I am not alone in experiencing symptoms (mine include general discomfort, irritability, nausea, dizziness, inability to cope) when exposed to products with synthetic chemical fragrances. Many activities that others take for granted become difficult (travel, social events, workplaces, public toilets, waiting rooms). Imagine trying to catch public transport (risky at anytime) in morning peak hour when there is a crowd of people wearing recently applied products; or travelling in a car next to someone who has recently washed their hair with a shampoo that includes fragrance, or is wearing a chemically scented spray deodorant. Without knowing exactly what I am reacting to, all I can suggest to those who enquire about what products they can wear around me, is to avoid all products that could contain synthetic chemicals especially fragrances.

  7. Avatar
    Leah Argento

    Peter – Thank you for shedding some (knowledge-based) light on this issue. As an esthetician I am continually amazed by the scare tactics & misinformation out there.
    I am going to print your article & share it with all my clients.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski


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    niki delapp

    I agree. Someone from the fda or a cosmetic company that uses these ingredients tpaid the writer to write this. Shame on you greedy people willing to make money of chemicals that cause disease in the longterm. Cosmetics might not be the ultimate culprit, but combined with tap water, aspartame, coke, even worse the poisonous diet coke and thousands of other regular foods people ingest everyday, year after year accumulating these toxins that lead to immune system breakdown & disease you should be ashamed of yourself for promoting them. There are plenty of natural remedies for beauty & the main change people need to make is to transition from one way of thinking to another.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Thanks for your comments. No, I don’t get paid by the FDA or a cosmetic company. I follow wherever the scientific facts lead whether I like the conclusions or not. And the science on these topics are clear, these ingredients can be safely used.

  9. Avatar

    The tone of the article makes it pretty obvious where your bias lies. Many studies do show that these chemicals are “safe” but most are industry backed studies. I can show you study-for-study that these chemicals are bad and dangerous. How can the cosmetic industry use these chemicals if there is ANY doubt? And long term studies do not exist because most of these chemicals have not been used in cosmetics for long enough, and it is not in the interest of the industry. There are many substitutes for many preservatives but they cost more which is contrary to the whole reason most of these companies exist so the industry is not interested in doing this. Preservatives are absolutely essential in water based products like creams and lotions that can be up to 90% water. It is this desire to sell water at outrageous prices that motivate the industry to keep using these preservatives. 100% oil or butter based cosmetics do not require the harsh chemicals that water based cosmetics require. Only an anti-oxidant such as vitamin E and most oils have a 12-24 month shelf-life without ANY preservatives.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Show me “study-for-study” but let’s agree on what makes a “study.” Do you have any peer reviewed, independent studies demonstrating harm?

      Your position on preservatives is just mistaken. What are the many substitutes for standard preservatives? If there were companies would use them. The cost of a preservative in a formulation makes up less than 2 or 3 cents. Even doubling the price would not have an impact on formulation profitability.

  10. Avatar
    Carlos del Ayala

    You seem to have been fooled by your full support of PEG. Industry does a good job of marketing to “scientists”.

    While it may be true that PEG when pure is safe, you fail to mention how difficult it is to purify PEG. Indeed, any scholarly green light to use PEG has a disclaimer, something along the lines of the” impurities and by-products such as ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane” that are often found in PEG.

    You see, the PEG coming out of China can be chock full of toxins. And manufacturers rarely inspect for these.

    Also note, I have not read any qualified material that states what percentage of commonly available PEG is safe. Did you know that there are cosmetic products that are 90% PEG ?

    So, pure PEG is safe. But who is determining if is is pure, or contains toxins that readily absorb into it?

    Please reply. Thanks.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      It is illegal to sell unsafe cosmetics in the US. When using PEG or any other ingredient manufacturers have to demonstrate safety and they do. You can use PEG safely in cosmetics.

      1. Avatar

        hello sir, it’s a wonderful informative article…can you share that what is the maximum amount of PEG 6000 can be used in the shampoos…where can we get the information regarding quantity specification of ingredients in shampoo…i am looking particularly for peg 6000….what about 1,4 – dioxane impurity of PEG manufacturing process???…how to ensure it will not be available in the peg 6000 we use for shampoo prepartaion

  11. Avatar

    HI Sir/Mam.At the age of 12years old I used a lightening lotion called “peau claire” manufactured in ivory coast,Africa.On the product it was marked “not to be used by persons under the age of 18 years old”due to my tender age.Shorltly after the bleaching was done,my brain and skin health got affected and i had tried several different ways trying to get out of the damages done to me but with no success.I went to hospitals to complain that after i abused a lighening lotion it had negative effects on my health till now i am sending this mail to you nobody believes that it could have such effects.I browsed the internet and found your website which explains the toxicity of some of the ingredients of the product.The product contains the following ingredients:stearic acid,petrolatum,mineral oil,isopropyl myristate,cetyl alcohol,stearyl alcohol,glycerin,propylene glycol,cetrimonium bromide,methyl paraben,propyl paraben,tocopheryl acetate(vit e),sodium metabisullite,aqua(water),fragance.
    1.I would like you to send me links or downloads of the original source of the toxicity information so that the hospitals and organisations that i would be presenting them to,would consider.That is the organisation that supplied the information.
    2.Full explanation links of how it affects and where it affects.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Sorry, I don’t have this kind of information. I’d suggest you search

  12. Avatar

    For everyone saying “OH DAMN, since all these chemicals were introduced people’s life expectancies started decreasing and we started getting all these horrible diseases etc etc etc.” You are focusing on these small “extneral” things as the cause of horrible diseases rather than the internal crap food people from developed countries shove down their throats every single day. The increase in diseases and crap is more because of diet, fast food prevalance, and the age of technology (which is limiting the average excercise a person gets). Do chemicals make a difference? Maybe but it’s negligible in comparison to the other things. Look at the research and start to make sense of it. Beauty products were still around when life expectancies were higher but when technology and internet went mainsteam, that’s when the shit hit the fan. Wanna avoid the bad diseases? Eat right, watch less tv, get out more, problem solved.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I agree that we should be more concerned about internal things than external things but life expectancies have not decreased. Since all these “chemicals” were introduced, life expectancy has actually significantly increased.

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  15. Avatar

    For all the ” natural” people out there- Plants make the most complex chemicals that are difficult for humans to synthesise. Everything beneficial that comes from plants are Chemical molecules. Are all plants good for you? Poison Ivy and Poison Oak are naturals- would you use them in a product or eat it since thay are ‘ naturals” ? One has to realize that one man’s ( and woman’s) food is another’s allergy. If everything that is allergic to atleast one person is baned from the list of food products, we all would end up in trouble. Cosmetic products are also pretty much in the same situation.And everything that you can eat is not necessarily good for skin care applications- some could cause an allergic rash on the skin when applied, while perfectly safe to eat ( enzymes in the digestive track deal with those, but not on skin).

  16. Avatar

    Remember the information your getting is from another human being and regardless of ones educational background we hardly ever process information the same.. Facts are more and more turning into hypotheses.. For some people have love for humanity and everything on this earth and there’s the opposite at worst preying on helpless victims and the the rest in-between!! We have to do the research for ourselves and surround ourselves with people and influences we trust!! Keep reading!!

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      There are some topics for which people without college educations or years of experience can’t help to understand the implications of current research. If you’ve never taken any toxicology courses it does someone no good to “research” the subject. You have to have an adequate background in a subject to understand what you read.

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    Anything the FDA approves is a big red flag for me because they obvesiously do not have my best interest at heart!! The FDA approves anything as long as it only harmful from longtime use which is doubtable able to do research on anyway

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      The FDA does not approve or disapprove cosmetic ingredients except for colorants. There is a requirement stating that it is illegal for companies to sell unsafe products. If a company is selling an unsafe product they can be fined, sued, and shut down. The FDA has done this many times.

  18. Avatar

    So what these article is basicly saying that all chemical matterials are good for you! So the reason why cancer rates, and alzheimer rates and all other sicknesses that are raising have nothign to do with these innocent beutiful checmicals! I clearly see that the FDA approves all kinds of posinous and harmfull ingredients that comes to their desk. I dont believe in these research papers because I think they need us to use these checmicals so we can all get cancer and need medication! FDA seems to be only a part of this ugly discusting game! They have to admit that the chemicals are not good for us. If they are so sure of this why do they keep testing them all on innocent animals! Bann testing all checmicals on beings! They are not harmful anyways!!!!

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      The article is not saying all chemicals are good for you. It is saying all chemicals are bad for you but the dose of those chemicals is what matters. A little water is fine. A lot of water will kill you. The same is true for every other chemical. A single molecule of any ingredient will not harm you.

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        I read an article a few years ago when the talk about being paraben and sulfate free first started and it is about the amount of the parabens we use not the paraben itself. As you stated a small amount is fine but the issue is that we have small amounts in so many of the products we uses on a daily basis that when you add it all up, it’s no longer a small amount. The issue isn’t about using one product that may have a cancer causing ingredient daily it’s about using 10-15 products daily which may have a cancer causing ingredient.

        1. Avatar
          Perry Romanowski

          This is a reasonable hypothesis but what is your proof? Most cancer rates have actually been decreasing not increasing. If your hypothesis were true we should see a steady rise in cancer rates over time and with increased exposure. Why isn’t that happening?

          1. Avatar

            The causal link is how the industry gets out of its responsibility. Tabaco played this game for over a hundred years. Ulysses S. Grant died of throat cancer from cigar smoking and he noted this connection between his cigar smoking and his throat cancer in his memoirs. This was in the 19th century. The industry has mountains of money and we consumers have none. The government is not an unbiased judge in this debate, only the consumer has an interest that is unbiased because the consumer WANTS these products but also WANTS to be safe, but they do not have the resources.

          2. Avatar
            Perry Romanowski

            Scientists were the ones who showed that tobacco caused lung cancer. Where are the consensus of scientists speaking out about cosmetics? Do you have a scientific background yourself? A degree in toxicology perhaps? What do independent toxicologists say? Surely you’ve investigated this, right?

  19. Avatar

    Petrolatum is not banned in the EU! I just now hold in my hand a bottle of Vaseline (ingredients list: 100% Petrolatum) from Uniliver. It is bought in Germany. In fact, Vaseline is the best helper for skin moisturizing.

  20. Avatar

    My issue is I don’t fully trust scientists or the fear mongers. Science seems to be so subjective! It’s like my questions about food studies. Did they stick all those fat people in a house, monitor their every move day in and out, feed them REAL food (not fractionated equivalents) for the length of the study, and record every minute of it? What different diets/methods of eating were employed for comparison to make conclusions with? I have heard many scientists say “they just aren’t sure” or “there is no conclusive data”. There are so many contradictions in science and so many different studies and data that prove and disprove. Seeing the FDA used for backup as if they have this marvelous and perfect track record. What about the chemicals approved here that the EU bans? Science seems to figure things out by trial and error and educated guesses. How can I fully trust that? How can I know for sure studies aren’t biased or carried out in a way to give desired results? How can I know for sure I won’t have issues 5 years from now after constant use? Worse what if I can’t pinpoint the issue because of the various chemical mixes I chose to slather on day in and out? How can I be sure the FDA won’t pop up banning it after we were assured it was so safe? But isn’t that my job as a consumer? To question and research everything? For at the end of the day am I not mostly responsible for my health and what I put in/on my body? (I say mostly due to elements out of our control such as pollution, 2nd hand smoke, etc.). It’s just so frustrating sometimes! Rant aside I appreciate the information provided here and that it is from someone who worked in the industry (which I believe is a good avenue when looking for views and info on a subject). I try and keep an open mind and consider all the available scientific and non-scientific resources. I cannot, however, disregard something solely because it lacks scientific backing. Yes, science has saved plenty of lives but has also taken its fair share and science doesn’t have an answer for everything!

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Your skepticism about everything makes sense. However, you have a misunderstanding about science. Science is not subjective. We make hypotheses, conduct experiments and report results. The subjective part comes in the analysis and reporting of data. You raise some great questions about food studies and these concerns are equally valid for cosmetic studies. But science takes those questions into account. For example, they would use random sampling and assume that most factors will even themselves out. And this will be true if you have a large enough sample size. That is why you should be skeptical of small studies but less skeptical of larger studies.

      Chemicals are not banned for scientific reasons, they are banned for political reasons. Pointing to what chemicals politicians ban is not a good measure of anything. As far as biased results, claims studies are done that way but safety studies are not. What possible reason would a cosmetic company have for trying to poison their consumers? It makes no sense. The cost difference between raw materials is not significant enough to do something like that.

      You can’t know you won’t have issues in the future. But you can look at chemicals that have been used for over 50 years (e.g. parabens) and there haven’t been any significant increases in age reducing diseases. In fact, since cosmetics have been introduced the life expectancy of humans has continued to increase. If there is some negative effect of cosmetics wouldn’t we start seeing a drop-off in life expectancy?

      I’m glad you keep an open mind. The thing you should require from every source is that people prove what they are saying. And you should be humble enough to accept the fact that experts in Toxicology probably know more than you. 😉

      1. Avatar

        Just because life expectancy has gone up does not mean it’s directly related to the introduction of cosmetics, there are many factors which effect life expectancy that could override any negative effects of cosmetics. For example since the introduction of pesticides has the life expectancy been rising? does that make pesticides safe? I think it is best to stay critical of such things but I am glad that so far these chemicals have been found safe. But I am still worried that these statuses just mean ‘safe enough’ and not necessarily healthy in the long run, sure they might not be outwardly toxic but what could the effects of constantly applying preservatives onto your skin be on your skin flora?

        1. Avatar
          Perry Romanowski

          True an increase in life expectancy is not indicative that cosmetics are safe, it just demonstrates that if they are a problem they are not much of a problem. How much longer do you want to live? Cosmetics are not crucial to live a healthy life. If you are afraid of them you shouldn’t use them. I would suggest that there are much more scary things in society which can actually kill you (e.g. driving in a car, getting surgery, nutritional supplements). Save your fear for them.

  21. Avatar

    You said you have never understood why people shy away from mineral oil because it comes straight from the ground. That seems rather ignorant to me, because there are plenty of things that come straight from the ground that are harmful and plenty of synthetic things that are helpful. Of course there are fanatics who will use universal negatives like that but I try not to go to close to either end of the spectrum. What you need to look at is the question of whether or not it is beneficial and how much of it is being absorbed by your body, or whether or not there are substitutes that are commonly accepted as safer and just as effective. You want to meet your buyer’s standards and ideas but also be aware of what science has proven.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      That question has been asked and answered. There is no absorption of mineral oil in the body and there are no substitutes that are commonly accepted as safer or as effective.

    2. Avatar

      Mineral oil is a petroleum product. Other petroleum products such as gasoline have been directly connected to cancer, so why is mineral oil safe? Why doesn’t the industry err on the side of safety? Talc also is a problem because of asbestos contamination, which even in very tiny amounts is harmful to you. See:
      PS, are there any comments that agree with you that these preservatives and other chemicals ARE safe, I don’t see any.

      1. Avatar
        Perry Romanowski

        Mineral oil isn’t connected to cancer. That’s like saying water is a key ingredient in anti-freeze so you should avoid water. It’s a silly argument. Mineral Oil has been specifically tested to determine whether it causes cancer…it doesn’t.

  22. Avatar

    so, worst case scenario we just use facial oil blends instead of serums and creams and thermal water as a toner and skin care is solved !

  23. Pingback:O’Keeffe’s Working Hands and Healthy Feet Review: Great, Non-Greasy Moisturizers | FutureDerm | Beauty From A Scientific Perspective. Skincare for people who know Skincare.

  24. Avatar

    SLS is NOT safe! I experience rashes and hives from ANY product with it. Believe me I’ve got through elimination processes and used products that were mostly natural except for SLS. I used a herbal toothpaste with no floride but had SLS and I got a rash. I forgot my shampoo when visiting a friend’s and used theirs. Nothing but itchy scalp afterwards. I HAVE to use a sulfate free shampoo.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      You can not use your experience as an indication of how everyone else will react. Some people, like you, have a negative reaction to SLS and should avoid it. But for the vast majority of people, it is not a problem when used as directed.

      1. Avatar

        Hi jess, I believe this is your own reaction towards SLS, it may be an allergic reaction. Not everyone is allergic to SLS or sulfate, just the same as peanut or any other allergies. But this does not mean SLS is not safe.

  25. Avatar

    I agree with this post completely. I am not a scientist. I am however equally tired of reading false information about cosmetic ingredients on the Internet and elsewhere. I have worked in the cosmetics industry.

    There are scientists online who are not as careful about what they write or the sources they use or in what they say about them. Some are not cosmetic chemists or formulators. There are many scientific disciplines. I would rather hear from formulators and cosmetic chemists as long as they are unbiased.

    There are well referenced sources on the information used here, some of which are written from within the cosmetic industry by formulators. I try to find as many reputable sources as I can for my blog, which has nothing for sale. I am not affiliated with companies, nor do I have paid advertisers or sponsors.

  26. Avatar

    The problem here is of trust , the manufacturers of various high profit compounds have for years claimed they are safe only to find they are indeed a bio hazard. Much of the studies and ‘science’ on these chemicals are sponsored by the same companies who profit from them.
    people have lost faith in science as it is so often used to justify obviously harmful practices, like nuclear power, and most obviously the wide spread use of Dildrin and it’s supposedly safe alternative Aldrin.
    If there is panic and confusion in the general population being manipulated by marketers ‘scientists’ only have there A-moral selves to blame.

    1. Avatar

      You write the word “Scientists” as if they are all the same. They are not. Scientists developed all the technology and medicine that keeps people alive today. Scientists are responsible for people living longer, easier lives then at any time in history. Scientists predict weather disasters and save millions of people each year.

      Who do you trust?

  27. Pingback:Ingredients to watch out for in cosmetics | Dreams of Pan

  28. Avatar
    Dr. Jerry Whittemore

    Phenoxyethanol has been proven fairly safe as a human skin product preservative. It is on the RARE preservatives listed on the Whole Food Acceptable List (probably the de facto “OK list of organic USA cosmetic ingredients). But is the VERY MOST DANGEROUS cosmetic preservative when consumed by human toddlers by error. Parabens are so safe ONLY PARBENS are used in multiple dose injections into human veins including insulin and morphine.

  29. Pingback:How to Find Answers to Common Cosmetic Product Questions

  30. Avatar

    Every formulator chooses ingredients to suit what they are doing.
    For me, I’m looking to minimise the possibility of irritation to well below industry norms, so parabens are in, Formaldehyde donors / SLES / Cocamide DEA with discretion.
    As for Pet Jelly, thats used for doing patch tests. Its the vehicle used for oil soluble materials as it does not irritate.
    As for colours, 50-60 years ago they were a real problem, as there were some real nasties out there. Most of the worst offenders were banned in the 60’s, and in subsequent years, the approved list was cut again and again. Whats left is innocuous IMHO, the only risk being staining manufacturing techs if they spill concentrate over their shorts.
    It comes down to understanding. If I was to say that I was to drink a mixture of muriatic acid and caustic soda, people would think I was suicidal. Not at all. In the correct ratio, and once its cooled down, I’d be drinking salty water. A bit yuk, but less risky than many things we do daily

  31. Avatar
    Mark Fuller

    This is an issue that we have to revisit on an ongoing basis. Generally I would say 70% of my clients don’t harbor any fears towards chemicals, 29% have some issues and are in the “parabens/SLS is bad camp” and then occasionally I will get the client who bases all their decisions on the Skindeep website and really hobbles our formulation practice.

  32. Avatar

    Great post! Some of the products I use are natural but I have some with some of the ingredients posted above. A lot of research has been done but many unknowns still abound on the safety of these and other ingredients. Therefore I think it’s important for people to keep questioning. What I find misleading is when people proclaim “Chemicals are bad, I only use natural products”, not realizing that natural ingredients are also chemicals and they can also be irritants at times. On a personal level, I recently tried a soap that does not contain sulfates (castile soap) and my skin felt less dehydrated. I think the best thing is for people to be well informed and then they can make choices for themselves. Don’t rely on a know-it-all-doctor or guru.
    Finally, I second Luci, something on nanoparticles would be an interesting read. There’s on going research into their uptake and their effects in small aquatic organisms and even plants.

    1. Avatar

      What about “nano-particles”? There are a great many things that could be described by this term, anywhere from electrons to molecules to cells. This sounds like something very commonly mentioned in scare theories or marketing strategies: using “sciency” sounding words to sell/scare.
      To summarise, just find out the names of these nano-particles, and then look into them.

  33. Avatar

    Great summary Perry!

    How about nanoparticles?

  34. Avatar

    Thanks for writing this sensible article that goes some way towards fighting the lies and half-truths that circulate in the internet about “dangerous” chemicals used in cosmetics

  35. Avatar

    what about all the Sun Care product ingredients getting bashed lately? such as Benzophenone-3 – known as (Oxybenzone) etc.
    How can we find and be absolutely SURE of who & where the TRUSTED sources are?
    I am a cosmetic rep & Skin Care Specialist and am so tired of the “Pureists” continually making bad claims about products & ingredients.
    Even Dr. Oz makes statements that scare people (which is a shame because most trust his credibility, I included until the remarks about petroleum & fine powders – BOTH of which I have used for over 30 years & feel if they are really detrimental – wouldn’t I have issues by now after using them that long?!!).

    I so wish to find a TRUE & Credible source that I can TRUST 100% and More!! thank you most gratefully for your attention – I look forward to your response & perusing this site’s info!

  36. Avatar

    Hello! Great article! How about Dimethicone/Dimethiconol? I had a client tell me she read some awful things about it on the internet. I didn’t search and couldn’t really find anything except maybe the EWG website, which isn’t my favorite..


    1. Avatar

      Dimethicone is Polydimethylsiloxane, or silicone. The pharmaceutical grade version of the product is simethicone which is used in Mylican Infant gas drops and other anti gas products. They are safe to use in these products.

  37. Kelly

    @Cindy, love your comment! I couldn’t agree more.

  38. Avatar

    I was thinking along the lines of what it is used for mainly because of that fear mongering video, why it’s added and ware it’s from blah blah blah , long chemical names ten to scare people because they don’t know the simplified form or what another common name for it, anyway my understanding is that it’s surfactant, ( I know that lye scares the crap out of people even tho it’s chemical properties are completed changed when mixed with fat and water) I guess I want more then wiki would tell me ( do to the video I think I just a more in depth understanding about that one. but I’m fine if you save that for it’s own pice, I understand the safety side of it’s more the what and why I’m kinda interested in.

  39. Avatar

    @Cindy – I’m always surprised by the fact that people don’t realize they are chemicals. Sadly, some parts of the education system have failed. But certain marketers definitely play a role in confusing people by propagating chemical fear nonsense like this.

    @kateweb – The CIR is a non-biased scientific group and they’ve done safety studies of SLS. What other information are you looking for?

    Here is the what the ACS has to say.

    Dr Weil says this (not that I put much stock in what he says but he makes sense here)

    And of course, you can read the Snopes analysis.

  40. Avatar

    could you write some more on Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, trying to find unbiased non feer mongering info on it is kinda hard. also one that you may have missed is Alcohol found in nearly every shampoo, and alot of moisturizing creams.

  41. Avatar
    Cindy Jones

    Perry, yes, you missed all the ethoxylated ingredients like ewax!
    I find it interesting though that people strive to avoid anything that is chemical. The education system has really failed if it is not realized that all matter is chemical and that even our bodies are made from chemicals. Plants too are small chemical factories making all sorts of chemicals that are good for the skin including vitamin K, carotenoids and linoleic acid. Why would someone want to blindly avoid all chemicals?

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