The Toxin List

Over the years, thousands of chemicals have seeped their way into our personal care and beauty products without being tested for safety by the Food & Drug Administration. The United States has not passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care or beauty products since 1938. In the last 20 years, the European Union has banned almost to 1,400 chemicals in the personal care product formulas and restricted the levels of over 250 more in such products. The United States has only partially banned 30 to date. We must be our own advocates, and we should all do our own research and set our own standards so we know what we are putting on our bodies and our children’s bodies day after day, year after year. However, I also know what its like to be busy. Use this list as a resource when scanning an ingredient label. This list is not meant to scare you; it is meant to empower you.

1,4 Dioxane

A by-product generated by a process called ethoxylation , in which ethylene oxide, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh.

Found in:Products that sud

Listed as: Being that it is a byproduct, and a contaminant, it is not listed on ingredient labels.  Look for ingredients that end in “eth” or “oxynol”

Risks:It is a known carcinogen, causes reproductive toxicity, and organ toxicity.

Aluminum Compounds

Function: Block the sweat ducts

Found in: Antiperspirant

Listed as: Aluminum Chloride, Aluminum Chlorohydrate, Aluminum Hydroxybromide, Aluminum Zirconium

Risks: Known neurotoxin, bioaccumulates within the organs, possible carcinogen


BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)

Function: preservative

Found in: all types of face, body, hair, and cosmetic products as well as food

Listed as: BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene

Risks: Endocrine Disruption, potential carcinogen, may cause liver, kidney and thyroid issues, skin irritant

Quaternary Ammonium Salts

Function: antimicrobial agent

Found in: hand soaps, moisturizers

Listed as: Benzalkonium Chloride

Risks: Severe skin, eye, and respiratory irritant, bacterial resistance


Function: Solvent, viscosity control, fragrance additive

Found in: most products containing synthetic fragrance

Listed as: Butoxyethanol

Risks: Possible carcinogen, reproductive toxicity, skin irritant

Chemical Sunscreens

Function: Absorb UV rays before they can cause damage to skin, ingredient stabilizer

Found in: Sun care products

Listed as: Avobenzone, Benzophenone; Diphenylmethanone; Diphenyl Ketone; 119-61-9; Benzoylbenzene; Phenyl Ketone; Oxybenzone; 2-Hydroxy-4 Methoxybenzophenone; 131-57-7; Benzophenone-3; (2-Hydroxy-4-Methoxyphenyl), Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate, and Octinoxate

Risks: Cell damage and mutation, endocrine disruption, toxic to coral reefs and aquatic life

Coal Tar

Function: To soften skin, control itching.  Also used in many synthetic colors.

Found in: Shampoo, (especially anti-dandruff varieties) conditioner, lipstick, hair dye, toothpaste, mouthwash.

Listed as: Coal Tar Solution, P-phenylenediamine, Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, and sometimes not listed on ingredient labels.

Risks:  Eye and skin irritant, known human carcinogen.  (The EU banned Coal Tar in 2004.)

Ethanolamines (DEA, MEA, TEA, ETA)

Function: Surfactant, foaming agent, emulsifying agent, foaming agent, pH adjusting chemical.

Found in: Shampoo, soap, facial cleanser, body wash, hair dye, hair relaxer, deodorant, moisturizer, baby products, acne treatment products, shaving products.

Listed as: Cocamide DEA, Lauramide DEA, Cocamide MEA, DEA-Cetyl Phosphate, DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate, Linoleamide MEA, /myristamide DEA, Oleamide DEA, Stearamide MEA, TEA Laryl Sulfate, Triethanolamine.

Risks: Inhibited fetal brain development, endocrine disruption, skin toxicity, allergies, may form carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines on the skin or in the body after absorption

Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid (EDTA)

Function: Binding agent, penetration enhancer.

Found in: Cleansers, body wash, soap, hair color, makeup, moisturizers.

Listed as: Disodium EDTA, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Tetrasodium EDTA and HEDTA, Others with -EDTA.

Risks: organ toxicity


Function: Preservative, germicide, fungicide.

Found in: Moisturizer, styling products, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray/dyes, “keratin” hair treatments, anti-aging treatments, facial cleanser, sunscreen, facial moisturizer, foundation, eye makeup, acne treatments, mascara, body wash/cleansers, deodorant, concealer, exfoliator, powder, body scrubs, bath oils/salts, eye/contact care, lip makeup, shaving products, after sun product, douche/personal cleanser, makeup remover, depilatory cream/hair remover, liquid hand soap, nail polish, synthetic fragrance.

Listed as: Cormaline, Formis Aldehyde, Oxymethane, Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), Tosylamide / Formaldehyde Resin.  Sometimes it is not listed on the label because it is a by-product of two other ingredients, such as DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, etc.

Risks: Known human carcinogen, developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, irritant to the eyes, skin, and upper respiratory tract, can damage DNA. (Banned by the European Union.)


Function: Skin bleaching agent

Found in: Skin bleaching products like cleansers and moisturizers that claim to help hyperpigmentation

Listed as: Hydroquinone

Risks:  A metabolite of the carcinogen, Benzene, increases the risk of skin cancer, organ toxicity

Mercury and Mercury Compounds

Function: Preservative, antimicrobial agent.

Found in: Eye makeup.

Listed as: Thimerosol

Risks: Neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, developmental toxicity, nervous system damage

Methyl Cellosolve

Function: Solvent, used for viscosity control

Found in: Fragrance, anti-aging creams and treatments

Listed as: Methoxyethanol

Risks: Developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, cell damage and mutation, skin irritant (banned in the EU)


Also Methylchloroisothiazolinone

Function: Preservative, fragrance enhancer

Found in: All types of hair, body, face and cosmetic products

Listed as: Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone
Risks: Neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, nervous system toxicity, skin irritant, allergen

Mineral Oil

Function: Moisturizer

Found in: All types of face, body and cosmetic products

Listed as: Mineral Oil, Liquid Paraffin, Paraffin Wax, Liquid Petrolatum

Risks: Skin irritation, contact dermatitis, allergy trigger, possible contamination with PAH’s (Polyaromtic Hydrocarbons) which are linked to cancer, and unsustainable sourcing


Function: UV protection, texture and penetration enhancer, ingredient stabilizer (prevents separation), preservative

Found in: Sunscreens and anti-aging products

Listed as: Nanoparticles are not listed on ingredient labels.  A nanoparticle measures in the range of 1-100 nanometers (1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a meter). Little is known about the safety and performance of nanoparticles due to the fact that manufacturers do not have to disclose the qualities of particles in skincare products.

Risks: Possible cell/DNA damage, possible organ, developmental and reproductive toxicity, skin


Function: Preservative, anti-microbial agent

Found in: All types of face, body, hair, and cosmetic products

Listed as: Methyl/Ethyl/Propyl/Butyl/Isobutyl Paraben

Risks: Known hormone/Endocrine disruptor, allergy trigger.  Increased risk of infertility, certain types of cancer.  Impairs development of fetus/young children.


Function: Preservative

Found in: All types of face, body, hair and cosmetic products

Listed as: Phenoxyethanol

Risks: Nervous system suppressant, skin irritant, linked to fecundity (longer time getting pregnant)

Personal Note: I make an exception if this is the last ingredient on an otherwise nontoxic product label, and it is a product that I love and for which I cannot find a better option, but I never use products that contain Phenoxyethanol on my children.

Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP, DMP, and Others)

Function: Industrial chemicals derived from phthalic acid used as plasticizers and solvents

Found in: Virtually all synthetic fragrance, which means they are found in all types of face, body, hair and cosmetic products

Listed as: Anything with “Phthalate” in its name, DBP, DEHP, DMP, DEP, but in fragrance it is not listed at all.

Risks: Suspected carcinogen to the lungs, kidneys, and liver.  Known endocrine (hormone) disruptor.  Can cause birth defects in male reproductive system and can impair fertility.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG Compounds)

Function: Thickener, solvent, softener, penetration enhancer, moisture carrier, humectant, keeps products from freezing in cold or melting in heat

Found in: All types of face, body, hair and cosmetic products

Listed as: Polyethylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, Diethylene glycol, 1-2 Propanol, Propanediol, 1-2 Dihydroxypropane, Methylethylene Glycol.

Risks: Possible contamination with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens, alters skin structure, allowing for deeper penetration of itself and other chemicals.  Skin irritant, allergen.


Function: Emulsifying agent, surfactant

Found in: All types of face, body, hair and cosmetic products

Listed as: Polysorbate –20, -40, -60, -80 and others

Risks: Possible contamination with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens


Function: Colorant, fragrance ingredient, acne treatment

Found in: Hair dye and other hair products, skincare products

Listed as: Resorcinol, 2-Methylresorcinol (derivative of resorcinol)

Risks: Allergen, skin irritant, endocrine disruption, organ and immune toxicity

Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate

Function: Antistatic, absorption enhancer, skin conditioner

Found in: Products that lather (shampoo, cleanser, soaps, some exfoliators)

Listed as: Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate

Risks: May form carcinogenic nitrosamines

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Function: Inexpensive surfactants that foam and clean while cutting through oil.

Found in: Products that later, some exfoliants, mascara, toothpaste

Listed as: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Sulfate, PEG Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate, Sodium Salt Sulphuric acid.

Risks: Endocrine (hormone) disruptor, skin and eye irritant, cannot be metabolized by the liver.

Synthetic Flavor or Fragrance

Function: Flavoring or scent

Found in: Almost Everything

Listed as: Fragrance, Perfume, Parfum

Risks: Eye, skin and respiratory allergen and irritant.  Some are known neurotoxins. The vast majority contain Phthalates, which are endocrine (hormone) disruptors.

"T" (Google won't let me use the real name of this ingredient on my site - yes I am serious.)

Function: Solvent.

Found in: Nail polish, nail hardener, hair dye, fragrance

Listed as: “T”, Toluol, Methylbenzene, Phenylmethane, Benzene

Risks: Neurotoxicity, Links to blood, brain and reproductive cancers, birth defects, reproductive, developmental and organ, and immune toxicity, severe skin irritant (banned in the European Union)

Triclosan and Triclocarban

Function: Synthetic antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral agent and preservative.

Found in: soaps, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, mouthwash, acne treatments, antiperspirants, makeup.

Listed as: Triclosan, many other variations involving the prefix “Chloro”, “Microban”

Risks: Skin, eye, & lung irritant, endocrine (hormone) disruptor, contributes to antibiotic resistance in bacteric, toxic to aquatic life

jessica morse

The blog was not incredibly premeditated. I started writing Bare Beauty in 2012 as a way to document my findings in my quest for effective green beauty products. I also wanted to share this information to help others who were interested in making the switch, but overwhelmed by all the noise out there. Fast forward to today, and I’m a self-taught expert in the world of clean beauty and nontoxic living. I live a sweet life with my husband and two children in Charleston, South Carolina. I also opened The Water Room, a nontoxic nail salon, in 2019. So much has changed in the beauty industry in 8 years, and I am committed to pushing it further. I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue to contribute to the world of clean beauty. From the outside in, blogging can sometimes look like a vanity project, but my primary goal was, is, and always will be to help others. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or requests. This space is for all of us.

Contact Jessica