the 12 toxic ingredients to avoid in beauty products

The 12 toxic ingredients to avoid in beauty products

When I look at the ingredients in beauty product, I often ask myself: “Would I eat this?” If what we put on our skin, the body’s largest organ, has the potential to end up in our bloodstream, I think it’s an excellent question to be asking.

I believe that all-natural beauty products should be the standard, not the exception. This is one of the reasons I created my own brand Franchine Younge Ireland and I’m committed to creating toxin-free skincare. The struggle is much broader however than skin alone. Chemical-free make-up, healthy cosmetics, all-natural shampoo and conditioner are often full of ingredients that are not the kindest to our skins and bodies.

With this in mind – and to help you choose products that are truly good for you – I’ve created a list of the Toxic Twelve – chemicals in beauty products that I think we should all avoid.

These are preservatives and can be found in a wide variety of cosmetics, including makeup, moisturisers, hair care products, and shaving products.


Paraben compounds such as methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben may affect oestrogen levels. A small study of breast cancer tissue found traces of parabens, although this does not mean parabens caused the disease in the first place.


Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS)
We’ve been using Sodium lauryl sulphate as an emulsifier or detergent for more than half a century. You can usually find it in cleansers, shampoos and shower gels.


Although some evidence suggests the duration of exposure to SLS is an important factor, it can be irritating to the skin for some people.


Polyethylene glycols (PEGs)
These are petroleum-based ingredients that act as moisturisers and are mostly found in moisturising creams.


PEGS may themselves be contaminated with nasties such as 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxid, which are potential human carcinogens (cancer-causing).


Imidazolidinyl urea
It works as a preservative or additive and is often found in water-based cosmetics.


Its formaldehyde-releasing ability makes it a potential allergen that can result in skin reactions and rashes.


Triethanolamine (TEA)
It’s a thick and colourless liquid that acts as a pH adjuster, surfactant, buffering and/or masking agent and often smells a little like ammonia. It’s often used in products such as moisturisers, eyeliners, mascaras, hair care, and sunscreens.


Some evidence has linked it to human immune and respiratory issues, as well as skin allergies.


Sunscreen chemicals
They include chemicals such as Benzophenone-3, Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (EHMC) and Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, (BMDBM) and are used to protect against the sun and it’s effects.


Aside from the obvious sun-tan lotion, you might also find these chemicals in other cosmetics that protect against sun rays.


Chemicals like these have been linked to hormonal disruption, skin allergies, breathing difficulty. Some studies have even found traces of them in breast milk, meaning potential exposure to unborn and newborn children. Choose instead a hat, long sleeves or sit in the shade.


Synthetic colourants
They are dyes, usually sourced from chemically refined petroleum oil or coal-tar.They are added to cosmetics and hair dyes to alter their colour and make them more visually appealing.


As well as containing heavy metals, these dyes have also potentially been cited as cancer-causing.


Synthetic fragrances
A manufactured scent designed to improve/enhance the fragrance of a product.


They don’t have to be singled out on the ingredients list – they can simply be referred to as ‘parfum’ – o the problem here is not actually knowing what the ingredient is!


These are stabilising and binding agents. They can also serve as foaming, anti-static and lubricating agents and are often found in makeup and skincare products.


Polyacrylamides themselves are not the concern so much as their ability to break down into a potential carcinogenic acrylamide. The EU has banned the use of acrylamide in cosmetics.


A whitening agent, found in products that bleach or lighten the skin or help reduce pigmentation.


It has been linked to dermatitis, dryness, redness and other inflammatory reactions so definitely not good if you have sensitive skin.


You may have also heard these referred to as phthalic acid esters. They are chemicals with multiple functions and serve as binding agents. Although currently banned in the EU, they can still be found in some US skincare and beauty products.


Phthalates encompasses a huge class of chemicals. However, research has linked Phthalates with asthma, ADD, breast cancer, obesity, type II diabetes, autism and more.


It is a very widely used antimicrobial agent and can be found in toiletries such as toothpaste, mouthwash and hand sanitisers.


It was banned in 2016 from soap products following a risk assessment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There are suggestions that it may affect immune responses and cardiovascular functions.


How to avoid the Toxic Twelve


  • Spend time reading the label before you buy. A list of harmful chemicals in beauty products won’t always be straightforward to find – you may need to do a little digging.
  • Research online marketplaces or community forums that celebrate and champion all-natural, organic ingredients. I like Cosmetics Database. This non-profit site, run by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an absolute warehouse of information.
  • Find your family and stay loyal. Natural beauty products really do work. Seek out the ones that are right for you. If their values are aligned, they won’t suddenly sneak any nasties into their products. Stick with them, and your loyalty will be rewarded in many ways, I am sure!

I go to great lengths to ensure all my ingredients are premium quality and organic. I believe passionately in the power of plants and don’t see the need to add synthetics and additional lotions and potions to Mother Nature – her ingredients are already perfect. Our products all come in sustainable, locally sourced packaging, and we are 100% cruelty-free.


It’s not easy, but I have absolute faith that if we do the groundwork, we can find more natural self-care solutions and potentially create the change we want to see!

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