Harmful Toxins vs Safe Chemicals Used In Cosmetics

Harmful Toxins vs Safe Chemicals Used In Cosmetics

Harmful Toxins vs Chemicals in Cosmetics: What is the difference and what should we avoid?

There is much confusion about the difference between toxins and chemicals that are found in our cosmetics. Ultimately, both are chemicals but what makes them harmful or not is the dosage.

Below are the facts that make it easier to narrow down what toxic chemicals we should avoid in our cosmetics, according to the FDA and clinical studies.

What are toxic chemicals?

Chemical toxins are a poison of plant or animal origin, especially one that is produced by or derived from microorganisms that act as an antigen in the body.

An antigen is a toxin or other foreign substance which induces an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies (how we fight diseases).

What is a chemical and are they safe?

Chemicals are a distinct compound or substance, especially ones that have been artificially prepared or purified, it is the dosage that determines their toxicity levels.

Any chemical can be toxic or harmful under certain conditions and mainly dependant on the dosage.

What are the most common chemical toxins used in our cosmetics and what do they do?

Imidazolidinyl Urea

This toxin can be found in most water-based cosmetics, including deodorants, hair dyes, shaving cream, and face masks that are usually in concentrations of 0.1-5 percent. Imidazolidinyl Urea is a highly water-soluble toxin that can remain on the skin for hours after application and be completely absorbed by the dermal cells. It serves as a preservative in conjunction with parabens and releases formaldehyde.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Inventory, imidazolidinyl urea is listed as a known allergen in humans. For vegans, it is important to note, that this toxic chemical may be derived from animals and could be a carcinogen.


Parabens are often used in conjunction with imidazolidinyl urea and therefore used in similar cosmetic products because they prolong its shelf-life due to its anti-microbial agent.

The FDA states that parabens can be found in “makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products.”

There are multiple variances of parabens used in a single product such as methylparaben, Propylparaben (manufactures synthetically), and butylparaben (also used in food).

Parabens are of great concern because they are found in both cancer patients, and in the urine samples of U.S. adults without cancer which means it is coming from their consumables and products.


Phthalates are used to make plastic or vinyl more flexible and soft. The same phthalates that are used in cosmetics are also used in plastic wrap, wood furnishing, lubricants, insecticides, and detergents for the same reasons and are thought to be endocrine disrupters:

chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems at certain doses. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumours, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

Animal tests have concluded that phthalates negatively affect hormones and contribute to an early onset of puberty.

According to the FDA, the following phthalates are most frequently used in cosmetics:

  • dibutylphthalate (DBP)
  • dimethylphthalate (DMP)
  • diethylphthalate (DEP).

The FDA states:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has published an article stating that infants exposed to infant care products, specifically baby shampoos, baby lotions, and baby powder, showed increased levels of phthalate metabolites in their urine (see “Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant Phthalate Exposure,” disclaimer icon S. Sathyanarayana, Pediatrics, 2008, vol. 121, pp. 260-268).

Like the CDC report, this study did not establish an association between these findings and any health effects. In addition, levels of phthalates, if any, in the infant care products were not determined.

FDA included 24 children’s products intended for infants and children in the survey we completed in 2006, and nearly 50 products for infants and children in the survey we completed in 2010. What we learned was that the use of phthalates in cosmetics intended for people of all ages, including infants and children, has decreased considerably since our surveys began in 2004.

Polyethylene Glycols

Polyethylene glycols (PEG) is often used in moisturisers and are in categorised under a class of ingredients that are petroleum-based; materials derived from crude oil(petroleum) as it is processed in oil refineries. Unlike petrochemicals, which are a collection of well-defined usually pure chemical compounds, petroleum products are complex mixtures.

Polyethylene Glycols are known to have low toxicity levels, however, it is their impurities; ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, that make this highly toxic.

  • Ethylene Oxide is an odourless and flammable gas, and a chemical currently used to sterilise medical equipment in hospitals that are currently undergoing investigations by the FDA as to whether this toxic chemical is medically safe to use in our cosmetics.
  • 1,4-dioxane targets the liver and kidneys when inhaled or absorbed by the body. In animal studies, an antimicrobial cream containing PEGs was put on open wounds, and it caused renal failure among other reactions.

Synthetic & Artificial Colours

Synthetic or artificial colours and or dyes are regularly used in cosmetics in order to create the desired colour of, for example, lipsticks, foundations, concealers, however, there have been many debates as to whether they are safe or not. The FDA may have allowed 7 dyes to be used in cosmetics and food however there are many scientific studies out there that suggest they are toxic and carcinogenic and possible contributors to hyperactivity or ADHD.

Synthetic Fragrances

Synthetic fragrances are allergens that can also contain the class of chemicals known as phthalates and have been found to interfere with our immune system and cause asthma attacks. Synthetic fragrances contain potential neurotoxins and can be found in the bloodstream as synthetic musks which are chemicals used in personal care products such as fragrances and rarely listed on the label since fragrance ingredients, legally do not have to be disclosed.

Synthetic musks can be found in the environment and have been detected in human breast milk, body fat, blood, and umbilical cords. Overall, synthetic fragrances may smell beautiful but they are not beneficial health wise to anyone wearing it or to those around the wearer.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is known to break down oil and grease and acts as a detergent in cosmetic products, however, SLS can cause allergic reactions, as well as drying/flaking of the skin, and general irritation. Toothpaste with sodium lauryl sulfate can also lead to canker sores and other teeth related issues.

SLS is added to our cosmetics because it assists in the removal of dirt and oil from the skin, however, if used frequently enough, it can cause harm to the epidermis; the upper or outer layer of the two main layers of cells that make up the skin, by damaging the hair follicles.

SLS was once categorised as a safe carcinogenic, but this belief has since, proven to be false.

PVP/VA Copolymer

PVPVA Copolymer is the ingredient found in most mainstream hair care products that provide the staying/holding factor. If particles of PVP/VA Copolymer are inhaled, it can cause damage to the lungs in sensitive individuals. It can be considered toxic, since particles may contribute to foreign bodies in the lungs of people.

PVP/VA copolymer is a synthetic vinyl polymer. The copolymer can hinder our respiratory rates i.e the rate in which we breathe and is sometimes considered a toxic substance.

  • birth to 6 weeks: 30–40 breaths per minute.
  • 6 months: 25–40 breaths per minute.
  • 3 years: 20–30 breaths per minute.
  • 6 years: 18–25 breaths per minute.
  • 10 years: 17–23 breaths per minute.
  • Adults: 12-18 breaths per minute.
  • Elderly ≥ 65 years old: 12-28 breaths per minute.
  • Elderly ≥ 80 years old: 10-30 breaths per minute.

This toxic chemical has also been found to be a skin irritant and is referenced as a Concern under the Ecotoxicology and Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive) report references.

I would love to hear your thoughts and whether or not you knew the difference between chemical toxins and chemicals themselves. It is apparent that it is the dosage that distinguishes the two and therefore, as the beauty industry is not as highly regulated as we would like, we owe it to ourselves to keep researching the clinical evidence provided on each chemical to make sure whether it is safe for us to use or not.

Ultimately, your own body will tell you if the chemical is safe to use or not, regardless of any regulations or guidelines published. For more blog posts relating to organic living and natural healing, click below:

Organic Certified & Cruelty-Free Skin Care Guide | Ingredients To Avoid & Trust

Raspberry Leaf Tea | Recipes | Healthiest Fruits & Vegetables For The Body

The Symbolism of Roses | Beauty Recipes & Health Benefits

Sending you love and light,




World of Frances
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