Are there contaminants in your cosmetics?

We have looked at some of the most harmful cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid.  But another area of concern is contaminants, and they most likely will not be listed on product labels.

Contaminants, like formaldehyde and 1,4-Dioxane, occur as a byproduct of chemical processing.  These impurities are often found in beauty and personal care products but, because they are produced during the manufacturing process, the FDA does not require them to be listed on the product label.  Because these toxic chemicals are created during ingredient processing, sometimes cosmetics manufacturers are not aware of their presence themselves.

Formaldehyde and 1,4-Dioxane are toxic to humans and are considered carcinogenic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database gives both a hazard ranking of 10 (most toxic).

The chemical process responsible for these chemical byproducts is called ethoxylation.  Last week we covered Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) and its less irritating relative Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES).  Ethoxylation is used to make SLES milder than SLS, but in doing so causes the ingredient to release 1,4-Dioxane.  SLES is used to create foam in a product and often turns up in shampoos, facial cleansers, body wash, bubble bath, baby bath, and liquid soap.

Formaldehyde is released by many common chemical preservatives.  This contaminant is often found in such products as nail polish, deodorant and shampoo.  Even many baby products contain formaldehyde-releasing chemical preservatives.

So, these harmful chemicals should definitely be avoided.  But how do you know which products contain them if they are not listed on product labels?

EWG recommends looking for common ingredients which may contain 1,4-Dioxane which are identifiable by the prefix or designations of ‘PEG,’ ‘–eth–,’ ‘Polyethylene,’ ‘Polyethylene glycol’ ‘Polyoxyethylene,’ or ‘–oxynol–’ (FDA 2007).

To identify formaldehyde in beauty and personal care products look for Formaldehyde, Formalin, Urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, and Sodium hydroxylmethylglycinate.

Look for the above ingredients and follow brands who use organically produced and wild-crafted ingredients.
[Industrial smoke photo via Shutterstock]


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About the Author

I am an organic beauty expert, writer, and mom of two young environmentalists who can already spot a toxic product when they see one. Read more about me at Organic Beauty Source.com, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.
  • I am glad that people are now publicizing the fact that there are TONS of harsh chemicals in our beauty products. Sticking to lines like Dr. Hauschka, Pevonia, ilike or Suki is best because they contain only natural ingredients and use eco-conscious production processes.

  • Kyla

    Thanks for the info! However I am a college student without enough extra money to buy these pricey natural and eco-friendly makeup and beauty products. Occasionally I pick up a more natural shampoo but I can’t do it often. I have a big stock of makeup from Elf, because it’s cheap (and mostly cruelty free!). Anything natural AND affordable?