10 Toxic Ingredients that Might Be in Your Makeup

Toxic Makeup

You’ve cleaned up your diet, banned harsh cleaning products from your arsenal, and even traded your synthetic products for organic skin care. You’re on the path to natural bliss, but there’s just one area left to tackle…


Swapping your regular makeup products for natural versions can seem like the scariest step in the transition. You found mascara that takes your eyelashes to new heights, a lipstick that makes your pout pop, and a foundation that makes your skin look like it traveled back in time. Why would you give those things up?

Under current law, the FDA doesn’t require cosmetics companies to conduct safety assessments on their products. Harmful ingredients can be easily masked under confusing or deceptive titles like “fragrance.” They may even be listed, plain and simple, on the label, but with no messages to inform consumers of their potentially harmful effects.

If makeup is a part of your daily routine, it’s vital to think about what you’re putting on your skin. Your pores absorb what you put on them—they don’t know any better! That lipstick on your teeth? You ate that.

So let’s talk about some toxic chemicals in the makeup and how to get healthy with our beauty care!

1. Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that may be disruptive to the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. Such interference can lead to developmental, reproductive, and neurological damage.

The effects of phthalates may be related to their ability to mimic human hormones. A study by the University of Maryland reported that exposure to phthalates could cause reproductive abnormalities and decreased production of testosterone in males, as well as decreased male fertility. Other studies show a link between phthalates and premature delivery and endometriosis in women.

Where would you find phthalates? They’re used to plasticize products, making them more flexible or better able to hold in color and scent. From deodorant to nail polish to scented lip balm, the catch here is that these chemicals can be grouped under and listed as “fragrance.” Companies claim their fragrance formulas as “trade secret,” and thus don’t have to specify on the label which ingredients are included.

Your best bet is to avoid products that list “fragrance” and choose ones that use plant oils and essences to give them the “yum” factor.

2. Lead

We know that lead is bad for us. We stopped putting it in our paint, right? So why is it showing up in our foundation, lipsticks, and even whitening toothpaste?

Lead is a proven neurotoxin linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility, and delays in the onset of puberty for females. About seven years ago, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found lead in over half of the 33 brands of lipstick they tested. A more recent study by the FDA tested popular brands and found 400 that contained up to 7.19ppm of lead.

It is inevitable that some lipstick ends up making it past the target area and into your belly. For those who wear it regularly, this could harm your health in the long run.

How does lead make it into cosmetics? It isn’t added as an ingredient, but rather makes its way in through contamination. Color additives are some of the most common sources.

The best way to avoid lead is to buy makeup from companies that make products in small batches and avoid contamination, or to buy products colored with fruit and other natural pigments.

3. Quaternium-15 and Other Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

You may already know that treated wood, such as particleboard, can release formaldehyde, but did you know to watch out for it in your makeup?

When some chemicals break down, they release harmful formaldehyde gas, classified as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Researchers and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The main risk is through inhalation. The European Union (E.U.) mandates that formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in cosmetics be labeled as such if they exceed .05%. For those outside the E.U., we have to get savvy with our ingredient vetting.

Look for:

  • DMDM hydantoin
  • BHUT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
  • bronopol
  • diazolidinyl urea
  • sodium hydrozymethylglycinate
  • imidazolidinyl urea
  • methenamine
  • quarternium-15, Quaternium-18, Quaternium-26

Quaternium-15 is one of the more common ones, used in mascara, pressed powders, and eyeliners. In addition to potentially causing cancer, this ingredient can cause skin sensitivities and irritation. It belongs to a class of compounds called quaternary ammonium compounds, or “quats.”

Quats have many uses—as preservatives, surfactants, germicides and conditioning agents. Choose products that use natural alternatives that perform similar functions such as rosemary, honey, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, and vitamin E.

4. PEG Compounds

Polyethylene glycols, or PEGs, are petroleum-based compounds that are used to thicken, soften, and gelatinize cosmetics, making them a common ingredient in cream-based products. The main issue with PEGs is that they are often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.

Ethylene oxide is a known human carcinogen, potentially harmful to the nervous system and human development. 1,4-dioxane is a possible human carcinogen that can remain in the environment for long periods of time without degrading.

PEG compounds also enhance the penetration of other ingredients into your skin, which is great if these other ingredients are healthy, but not so much if they are harmful. The number next to PEG indicates how many units of ethylene glycol they comprise, such as PEG-4 or PEG-150. The lower the number, the more easily the product absorbs into your skin.

5. Butylated Compounds (BHT, BHA)

This is another unhealthy ingredient that’s thrown into our products so we can keep them on our shelves for a longer period of time. BHA and BHT are used as preservatives in dozens of products.

In food:

  • chips
  • baked goods
  • butter
  • meats, sausage, poultry
  • chewing gum
  • vegetable oils
  • beer

In your makeup and skin care products:

  • eyeliners, eye shadows
  • lipsticks, lip glosses,
  • blushes, foundations
  • perfumes
  • moisturizers
  • skin cleansers
  • diaper creams

These chemicals are endocrine disruptors, may induce skin allergies, and are linked to organ, developmental, and reproductive toxicity.

The E.U. prohibits the use of BHA as a fragrance and the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption lists it as a Category 1 priority substance due to evidence that it interferes with hormonal function. No thank you!

There’s evidence that suggests that BHT mimics estrogen, which can throw off hormonal function in both men and women. In some situations, this additive can promote the growth of tumors.

Both BHT and BHA bioaccumulate. Given the wide variety of food and cosmetic products they are used in, accumulation over time could lead to serious health consequences. Avoid these ingredients, and turn to products with natural preservatives instead, like aspen bark extract and vitamin E.

6. Parabens

They’re practically famous. If you’ve heard of one class of ingredients you should avoid in your makeup, it’s parabens. They’re the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics, and they have no troubles penetrating your skin.

The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption lists parabens as Category 1 priority substances because of evidence they interfere with hormone function. I only let one thing toy with my hormones, and that’s the moon!

Parabens can mimic estrogen, and have been detected in human breast cancer tissue. They also interfere with reproduction, the nervous system, and the immune system—all things we would like to keep in well-working order.

Because parabens have gained such a bad rep, some companies now use phenoxyethanol, but phenoxyethanol is not the good witch of the north! It has many of the same harmful effects. Japan recently banned phenoxyethanol in cosmetics, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put out a consumer alert warning that it can “depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea” in infants. Avoid both parabens and phenoxyethanol in your skin care!

We’ve already talked your ear off, so we’ll keep these last ones short. Put these ingredients on your radar:

7. Octinoxate: Found in foundations, this is an unstable chemical linked with endocrine disruption and thyroid disorders.

8. p-Phenylenediamine: A type of coal tar dye sometimes listed as CL followed by a five-digit number. It’s a respiratory toxicant and can be contaminated with heavy metals.

9. Carbon black: An ingredient found in eyeliners, it’s linked to cancer and organ toxicity. Look for its other names: channel black, pigment black 6, pigment black 7, acetylene black, froflow, arogen, arotone, arovel, arrow, atlantic, and black pearls.

10. Siloxanes: Used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten, they disrupt the endocrine system and are toxic to the reproductive system. Look for ingredients that end in -siloxane or -methicone and avoid these products!

We’re not here to scare you! We don’t want you to have nightmares that your future offspring will be jeopardized all because you wanted to sport a red lip, or that your loved one will get sick because you bought her an eye shadow palette for her birthday. But we have options when it comes to what we put on our faces and bodies. If the makeup industry isn’t going to make transparency a priority, we have to take it upon ourselves to do our research so we can make healthy choices.

Update 3/5/2015: We made a short video that highlights that truth about the makeup industry. We want to change how this industry operates, but we need your help! Make sure you watch this video and share it with someone you love!

Click Here to Watch Beauty Detoxified

Take your healthy skin to the next level and explore our organic skin resources!

Have you switched to any natural makeup products? Tell us your favorites!

by Hope Freije












comments (51 and counting)


Reader Interactions


  1. Lauren Nettles says

    Thanks for your article, I love that you used references! So many Internet writers don’t do that. I use a plant based formula called Savvy Minerals. It looks beautiful and the ingredient list was so short it took me about five minutes to look up. Thanks again.

  2. Liz says

    As someone with obnoxiously sensitive skin and eyes, I found out how rough even “hypo-allergenic” products can be on my skin and allergies! I haven’t tried your products yet, but I want to; I like what I see (so few ingredients! Yay!)!

    Keep up the good work! We of the super-sensitive league need you!

  3. Kanchan says

    Parabene and alcohol are very harmful for skin just 2 days ago I used biocare papaya gel and it is full of alcohol products and result I got rashes on my face so don’t ever use

  4. Lisa Carmichael says

    Very interesting and informative article. I am consistently shocked by the ingredients in makeup and skin care—not to mention the prices of these toxic products-in beautiful packaging. ♥

  5. carol says

    I, ll back any really organic makeup
    Like the girls views above ..
    How can we get this known to the public
    Is there anything we can sign like a petition
    Or start a “movement before we’re all sick from chemicals in our food, skin , air , water,

  6. Kate Sloan says

    Thank you so much for this information. I will copy this and keep for future reference.

    I will try your sample and let you know how it feels to me. I have been concerned about my makeup I have been using and wanted something natural. Somehow I do not feel comfortable with “natural” makeup companies that say they are chemcal free.


  7. Beth C says

    So glad to hear about the upcoming makeup. I have been using EccoBella. It is online and hard to find in stores so to look at colors etc. is difficult but I love the makeup!

  8. Nancy says

    Kris Carr, known for Crazy Sexy Cancer, has a great blog and recently rated healthy mascaras and lipsticks. If you google her name and mascara or lipstick I’m sure you’ll be able to see these great articles.

  9. Heather says

    I fully switched to Honeybee Gardens products and recommend them. I use the mascara, eye shadow, lip gloss, eye liner, and mineral pressed foundation. All are great and reasonably priced. They provide free samples, too!

  10. Simo says

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! Also this review is amazingly clear and very clearly highlight the risks of these very common ingredients! I also want to change how this industry operates. How can I contribute?Best! Simo

  11. Irene Rabinor says

    I would love it if you created a GOOD non toxic makeup line.
    At the present time Real Purity has a good foundation and a great mascara.

  12. Jennifer says

    I just started using Juice Beauty makeup which is all plant-based, organic, and chemical-free. I’m loving the refining finishing powder and the lash defining mascara! There are so many brands out there that claim to be vegan, cruelty-free, etc. but they still have tons of chemicals that you can’t pronounce in the ingredients list. Juice beauty seems to be one of the most natural brands I’ve found.

  13. Teresa McCune says

    I am intrigued by your research and very hopeful that you will develop a make-up line. I have been trying to make healthy changes in food and products for myself. However, my biggest concern is for my daughters and granddaughters. Even the 3 year old granddaughter loves lipgloss. They all need healthy products they can use for many years.

  14. Maggie Schulz says

    I’ve been using miessence products including concealor, foundation, powders, blush etc. since 2003. They used to have a mascara but it wasn’t all that successful. They are 100% certified organic products and devine for your skin….

    Would love to see AnneMarie bring out a range too…

  15. Stephanie says

    I get a lot of makeup items from http://www.realpurity.com. You can get samples to try most of the items and colors–they even have mascara! I also use their all-natural deodorant, which is terrific. Worth checking out!
    Like a lot of gals, I’m anxiously awaiting any makeup items Annemarie is planning to launch!

  16. Margie says

    I started using 100% PURE early this year (online). I love their products!!! I found a full coverage foundation that i LOOOOOOVED, but it has been on backorder (apparently because they are very picky about what goes in it, which is good!). I have tried their other foundations, which are good… but I don’t like as much as the full coverage. But I also use their eye shadows, mascara, face powders, cleansers. Really love their stuff and prices are not bad!

  17. Darla says

    I love your products and hope you come out with a pressed powder foundation.
    Most of the mineral foundations are in a loose powder form containing mica and other questionable ingredients that may not be good for our lungs. It’s also difficult to find a great mascara that is safe and gives results! I am currently using AfterGlow Cosmetics. Thank you for your wonderful products and for creating a clean line with pure essential oils. Can’t wait to hear an announcement on your new product(s).

  18. kimberly williams says

    I have been using your products now for a couple of months and am weeding out my others and adding more of Anna Maries. I truly love what they do and the smells are wonderful and it is great to know how fresh and good for you they are.
    I will be looking forward to you getting into the cosmetic field also. As of now, I am using Juice Beauty’s cosmetics and I do like them. It has very natural look and they go on well and they seem to be very aware of the “bad” ingredients so you know when you are wearing their cosmetics they are good for your skin. I have tried other organic cosmetics but I like Juice Beauty the best thus far. They also have good mascara and eye liners and lip sticks.
    Thank you for all you do and I look forward to having your full product line!

  19. G.O. says

    The mineral foundations seem to be the most popular for a “clean” make-up base but I have tried several and they just accentuate the flaws (AKA wrinkles). Hope you can create something that doesn’t have this effect on older skin!

  20. Joanie says

    I would love to see natural products being the only option to buy when you shop and I believe with Anne’s help, we can get together and start making noise about transparency in our products and food. We need to start a movement…We need to start demanding it in our local stores. I call companies from the store sometimes and ask them if their products contains, GMO’s and companies are catching on that the movement is towards, cleanliness, purity and honesty. If they won’t do it, that’s ok, new companies are glad to take their place. 😉

  21. Corina says

    The thought that you might have “some new products on the horizon” would be oh so great! I’ve been hoping that Ann Marie would start a makeup line ever since I started using your wonderful products!! I don’t wear very much makeup but, when I do wear it, I want to know that it’s just as good and healthy as my Ann Marie skin care! I will be the first in line if/when you start selling makeup. 🙂

  22. Francesca says

    So as you can see we are all waiting for you to develop a new line of clean make-up. I do hope it is on the horizon! Thank you!!

  23. Kelly says

    I really love Silk Naturals! http://www.silknaturals.com I’m still looking for a great mascara though.

    I also like the blushes I get from LaurEss.com

    Mineral makeup (not from the big companies but from the small brands with few ingredients) seems to be the most natural.

  24. Bev says

    I would like to know if you can suggest and ‘safe’ cosmetic products, or at the least, products that have the fewest of these type of ingredients.

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