Commonly used Chemicals you’d best Avoid

VIKTOR HANACEKChemicals are everywhere: in the creams we put on our skin, on the food we eat, and in the homes we live in. Needless to say, they’re not doing us any good. You can avoid many simply by making informed decisions, because, thankfully, there are products out there that don’t include all of the chemicals listed here. See our top 5 ethical skincare brands by clicking here, and avoid the harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in many common paints by switching to Earthborn VOC-free paint.


(diazolindyl urea, imidazolindyl urea)

These are common preservatives that release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, that cause irritation to the mucous membranes , and is known to cause headaches, internal bleeding, and contact dermatitis.


(butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben)

These are common preservatives found in a number of cosmetic and personal care products. They have been linked to cancer, with more evidence of their relation to the illness emerging in recent years.


(di-butyl-phthalate, di-ethylhexyl-phthalate)

These are commonly used in a range of body care products as a plasticising agent. Known to cause kidney, liver, lung, and reproductive system damage, they are linked to birth defects, lowered sperm counts, and breast cancer.

Petroleum by-Products

(mineral oil, petrolatum, paraffin, dipropylene, glycol, butylene glycol, disodium EDTA, tetrasodium EDTA, trisodium EDTA, polybutene, triclosan, polyethylene)

All petroleum by-products interfere with the natural functions of the skin, clogging our pores and causing acne. They are very likely to contain carcinogens linked to breast cancer.

Propylene Glycol and Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

A by-product derived from the same chemical used to create anti-freeze, this chemical penetrates skin easily and is linked to liver, kidney, and brain damage.

Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate (SLS)

This commonly used foaming agent is considered a carcinogen and skin irritant, and is known to cause allergic reactions and skin rashes. SLS absorbs into the body by skin application and mimics the actions of oestrogen. A number of potential health implications of SLS use include PMS, lowered male fertility, and increased cancers such as breast cancer in women. Look out for SLS in so-called “natural” products, in which it is commonly disguised with the term “derived from coconut”. It is irritating to the eyes, and often combined with dioxane, a known carcinogen.

Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)

These chemicals become dangerous when they react with other ingredients in the cosmetic product to form potently carcinogenic chemicals called nitrosamines with known links to liver, stomach, oesophagus, and bladder cancers.


This chemical – a known carcinogen, irritant, and allergen – is commonly included in the ingredients of nail products. Common synthetic preservatives such as diazolindyl and imidazolindyl urea can break down to release formaldehyde.

Synthetic fragrances

(parfum, vanillyl butyl ether)

The term ‘fragrance’ is often seen in the list of ingredients of cosmetic products, and can refer to any one of the combination of thousands of ingredients used to form the “fragrance”. Many of these are phthalates, which disrupt hormones and are known toxic carcinogens. Fragrances in products are amongst the most stimulating allergens used in cosmetics and are known to cause asthma and trigger asthma attacks.

Synthetic colours

(E102, E125, E133)

E-numbers have been widely condemned in recent years, being known to cause skin irritation and sensitivity and thought to be carcinogenic.


Minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide are commonly used in products like sunscreen, foundation, and other kinds of lotions. In their normal size, they sit on the skin without doing any damage. However, when broken down into much smaller nanoparticles they can be more easily absorbed into the skin. Research into nanoparticles is intended to help skin creams penetrate skin for greater effects, but stopping the particles from travelling deeper than the skin is another area in need of research of its own. Nanoparticles of zinc oxide and other ingredients such as aluminium, are thought to be causing cell death in the brain and are so easily absorbed that they are detectable in all parts of the body including vital organs.

These other substances don’t biodegrade very well either, so it’s best to avoid these too: Cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone, Copolyol, dimethicone, methicone, phenyl trimethicone, polyquaternium-7, disodium EDTA, tetrasodium EDTA, trisodium EDTA, and silicones.


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