Beauty, Skin

7 toxic chemicals to avoid in skincare products

Have you ever heard of phthalates, hydroquinone, or homosalate? No, we are not teaching you chemistry today. These hard-to-pronounce names are a common part of your favourite skincare products. 

Before you reach out for that fancy moisturizer endorsed by a celebrity, stop and read the ingredient list. Toxic chemicals and ingredients in beauty and personal care products are more common than you think. Sure, prolonged usage of these products might give you brighter or smoother skin but it will also increase your risk of cancer and other health hazards. 

The tricky part about such toxic ingredients in skincare is that sometimes the chemicals may not be harmful but they may be contaminated with toxic substances. The use of such ingredients in baby products is another major red flag that people should pay attention to.

Here are 7 common toxic ingredients in your personal care products: 


Phthalates are commonly used in skincare and makeup products to dissolve the ingredients and bind them together. It is also used as a moisturizing and softening ingredients. Phthalates are also a common ingredient in nail polishes to prevent brittleness after drying. 

 Despite its common availability in popular personal care products, this industry plasticizer is nothing less than toxic for human beings. Exposure to phthalates can cause birth defects and reproductive impairment. It is especially harmful to pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. DEHP, a type of phthalate, is known to be a human carcinogen.  

Commonly found in:  Fragranced lotions, nail polish, and body washes. 

Check the label forPhthalate, DBP, DEP, and DEHP.  


Fairness beauty products are a common part of most Indian women’s beauty regime, Though there has been a rise in awareness about the dark side of such products, many brands still promote the ‘brightening’ and ‘lightening’ aspects of their skincare range.  

Hydroquinone is an extremely harmful and equally common component of such products. Known for its skin whitening abilities, this chemical is banned in Europe for its health hazards. Hydroquinone is a known carcinogen and reduces the melanin production in the skin leading to the high absorption of UVA and UVB rays which may cause skin cancer. It also causes ochronosis in which the skin thickens and turns bluish-grey. Inhaling this chemical can cause respiratory tract infections. 

Commonly found in:  Skin lightening products, moisturizers, cleansers, and nail polish

Check the label for: Hydroquinone and  tocopheryl acetate

Carbon black 

Kajals and eyeliners are a BFF for most women. Known as a quick fix to draw attention to the eyes, these beauty products have a dark secret behind them. Before cosmetics became a booming industry, kajal was lovingly made at home by mothers and grandmothers with natural ingredients. With the change in times and fast-paced demands, cosmetic brands started using ready-made pigments to get that deep black colour. 

Carbon black is a pigment used in eyeliners and kohls to achieve that black colour. It is made by partially burning materials containing carbon, like coal tar. Carbon black contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which pose as the real culprit. 

 It has been linked to spiking the risks of cancer and causing negative effects on organs. Exposure to this carcinogen can harm the lungs and cause lymphatic cancer. 

Commonly found in:  Eyeliner, kohl/kajal, eye shadow, brow pigments, and nail polish. 

Check the label for: Carbon black, acetylene black,  D & C Black No. 2, furnace black, lamp black, and thermal black


Sunscreens are a boon when it comes to saving our skin from the harmful rays of the sun but have you ever thought about the ingredients that make it? Homosalate is a common organic compound found in sunscreens, that absorbs the UVB rays of the sun. 

Despite its protective abilities, homosalate can harm you in more ways than one. It can enter the body’s hormone system and cause disruption. It affects the estrogen system and contaminates the breast milk when nursing mothers are exposed to it. Homosalate also gets absorbed by the outer layer of our skin and enhances the absorption of pesticides that can lead to adverse health conditions. 

Commonly found in: Sunscreen and products with SPF

Check the label for: Homosalate, HMS, Homomenthyl salicylate, HS; 3,3,5-trimethyl-cyclohexyl-salicylate

Heavy Metals

No, we are not talking about rock music genre, heavy metals in beauty products are real and a culprit of many health issues. Lead and metals like arsenic, mercury, aluminium, and zinc are found in many makeup and skincare products. Some of these metals are added intentionally for their properties, while most others are contaminants. 

These metals can build up in your body and cause cancer, developmental issues, and organ toxicity. Most heavy metals are used as colourants in cosmetics and are not always included in the ingredients list. To be on the safer side, you can limit the usage of coloured products. 

Commonly found in: Lipsticks, lip gloss, foundations, concealers, eyeliners, whitening toothpaste, eye shadow, blush, and moisturizer

Check the label for: Chromium, thimerosal, lead acetate, sodium hexametaphosphate, and hydrogenated cottonseed oil


The shelf life of most personal care products usually ranges from 2 to 4 years. Manufacturers use preservatives like parabens to stop the product from losing its efficacy. 

It stops the growth of microbes in water-based products. Despite its efficient preservative properties, this chemical can cause harm to human beings. It is an endocrine disruptor, especially for the estrogen system. It can also cause skin cancer. 

Commonly found in: Lotions, moisturizers, and water-based products

Check the label for: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isobutyl paraben, isopropyl paraben


Talcum powders are an inseparable part of Indian summers. It absorbs moisture and keeps the skin dry and fresh. Talc, the main ingredient in such powders, can actually prove to be poisonous for you. 

Some talc can be contaminated with asbestos and the only way of knowing it is through testing samples. Asbestos can cause cancer, organ system toxicity, and respiratory problems if inhaled. Using talc in the genital regions for a prolonged period can cause irritation, especially in women. When using talc, only use brands that are certified asbestos-free. 

Commonly found in: Baby powders, eyeshadow, feminine hygiene products, deodorant, foundation, lipsticks, etc.

Check the label for: Cosmetic talc, or talcum powder.

How to Limit Exposure to Such Chemicals

Opting for natural alternatives for skincare issues can cut down the exposure considerably. For instance, instead of buying a tub of moisturizer from the store, you can use coconut oil to hydrate your skin. Some products may be hard to substitute, in such cases, you can use them sparingly to be on the safer side.

Since most of us have been exposed to these toxic chemicals already, it is of utmost importance to lead a healthy lifestyle. A healthy and nutritious diet paired with regular exercise can help combat the health hazards that are possibly on our way. 

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