Glossary of Common Ingredients in Body Products and Cosmetics

Note: This is a summarized list of some COMMON chemcials that you may find in your body products or cosmetics. There are many other chemicals in products that may or may not be harmful, however I opted to include ones frequently found in your household.



Acetone- A solvent used in nail polish and nail polish remover. Acetone can damage the nail itself or the nail bed as well as irritation to skin around the nail. When inhaled, it can cause lung irritation. Several bans have been proposed on acetone for its damaging effects, yet it is still widely used in nail care products.

Acrylamide/Acrylate- formed from sulfuric acid, this chemical is used to make dyes in nail enamels, face masks and coloring in many other skin products. It is a known toxin and readily absorbed by your skin.

Aerosols- These contain dangerous additives like freon and PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone). Aerosols are most commonly found in harisprays, shaving cream and fragrances. Multiple studies show the toxic effects of this chemical including damage to lung tissue and depression of the central nervous system.

Aluminum Salts- (eg. Aluminum Chloride, Aluminum Hydroxide, Aluminum Chlorohyrdate) These salts are acids of aluminum used most commonly in anti-perspirants. Many can cause skin irritation, hair follicle infections or allergic reactions. As well, because the products are applied to areas rich in lymph nodes, many are concerned that its damaging effects could be spread throughout the body very easily.

Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate- an agent that stops product from "caking" and increases absorbency. It is used in a wide variety of cosmetics, lotions, cleansers and baby products and has real potential for arsenic, lead and heavy metal contamination. It is associated with neuro-toxicity and many other issues.

Aluminum Powder-listed as a "high hazard" on a cosmetics study database, this chemical shows strong evidence of cancer and effects to the neurological and immune system. Aluminum powder is a color additive to hair dyes, face powders, mascara and eyeshadow.

Ammonium Hydroxide- Used in hair dyes, hair sprays, mascaras, shampoos & conditioners, cleansing lotions and shaving creams. A known irritant and can cause hair breakage. In higher doses it has been linked to skin cancer.

Ammonium Fluoride- Used in toothpaste as an anti-septic and known to be corrosive to tissue. Concentrations must not exceed 0.5%, however some countries outline that due to it's potentially harmful effects products should contain LESS than 0.5%. As well have a warning posted to the consumer about the dangers of the product.

Benzoyl Peroxide- A bleaching and drying agent. Toxic by inhalation. Canada has banned it in all cosmetics, however it is sill widely used in application of artifical nails.

Boric Acid- Widely used in baby products, lotions, soaps and mouthwashes as an anti-septic agent. Reactions include adverse effects to the fetus during pregnancy and poisonous effects when applied to abraided (open) skin. Some countries have banned this chemical in products for children under three, while others allow it in the diaper rash products.

Butane- (eg. N-Butane, Iso-Butane, Methylsulfonal, Bioxiran, Dibutadiene Dioxide) Used in a variety of products including anti-perspirants, deodorants, hair styling products, fragrances and hair color. Research has found that it is carcinogenic in animals (yet to be determined in humans). High does are known to be narcotic in nature.

Butylene Glycol- Used as a moisture preservative in hairsprays. Toxic effects to several different organ systems. This chemical has brought up a lot of question as to its safety in consumer products, however it is still widely used.

Chromium Compounds- Environmental Defense has labelled this chemical as cancer causing. It is used in green pigmented eyeshadows and mascaras. Inhalation can cause ulcerations and when applied to skin can result in allergic reactions. Some countries have completely banned use of this chemical, some have it listed as questionable and hazardous under certain conditions and some countries have no restrictions on it.

Coal Tar- Used in dyes for cosmetics, hair dye and a select few shampoos and conditioners. Has been shown to cause cancer in animal studies, frequent allergic reactions, rashes and hives. Not o be used in dyes for eye brows or lashes as can cause blindness. This chemical is on several hazardous substance lists.

Collagen- Besides the injectable form, this chemical is found in many anti-aging skin products. When used as a cosmetic, collagen is made from animal skin and ground up chicken feet. Despite industry claims, medical experts report collagen applied as a cream doesn't affect your own collagen production. Furthermore is may "over-moisturize" the skin causing other issues.

Depilatories- Chemical hair removers applied as a cream. Contains multiple questionable chemicals. Reported injuires to FDA from depilatories include skin irritations, allergic reactions, headaches, scars to legs, skin burns and rashes.

Dibutyl Phthalate- Widely used in the USA, this chemical is a plasticizer in nail polish, perfumes, shampoos and many other products. Linked to hormone disruption and genital abnormalities in babies. As a vapor, it is an irritant to eyes and mucous membranes (inside nose and mouth) and is showing reproductive problems in men. This chemical is a huge concern in many countries.

1,4-Dioxane- A byproduct of contamination in manufacturing processes and known to be very highly carcinogenic.

Ethylene Oxide- Also a byproduct of contamination in manufacturing processes and is known to be highly carcinogenic and is associated with allergies and neurological problems.

Formaldehyde- (DMDM Hydantoin) Used in nail hardeners and polish, soap, cleansers and hair growth products. This chemical is a preservative and disinfectant in a variety of cosmetics. While inexpensive, has serious potential side effects varying from skin irritations to cancer. Many countries have banned formaldeyde in cosmetics, while some still use it frequently.

Fragrance- (Perfumes, Parfum) This is a "catch-all" term for a multitude of chemicals that aren't directly described on the product. Therefore it is difficult to pinpoint reactions to certain chemicals. Consumers are then left to figure out on their own what they reacted to and contact the cosmetic company regarding detailed ingredient lists. To get around this problem use fragrance free products or products that use natural fragrances usually from essential oils.

Glycerin- (Glycerol) A by-product of making soap and used in many cosmetics, creams and baby products. Although it is not shown to be a hazardous substance, studies show that it pulls moisture from deep within the skin to hold it on the surface. Your skin may "feel" hydrated, but only on the surface. This chemical makes it less effective used in a cream or diaper rash ingredient.

Hyrdochloric Acid- An acid used in hair bleaches. Inhalation of acid fumes can result in choking and damage to the respiratory tract.

Hydrogen Peroxide- (Peroxyl) A bleaching agent, detergent and anti-septic. It is used in skin and hair bleaches, mouthwashes and toothpastes. Some countries have banned or severely restricted this ingredient in mouthwashes and toothpastes as it can result in skin, eye, nose, mouth, respiratory tract irritation. Some studies also link this chemical to cancer and neurological damage.

Iodine- This chemical is usually only found in OTC or prescription drugs, however it can be found on occasion in cosmetics used as a germicide. Potential side effects are rash, hives, asthma and in severe cases anaphylactic shock (due to severe allergy). It is banned in cosmetics in some countries. Some countries still allow this chemical in their cosmetics.

Isobutane- Used as a propellant for sprays in shaving creams, tanning spray, hair styling products, deodorant sprays and many other products. There is much strong evidence showing isobutane is a skin and body irritant and can trigger allergic responses easily. Although it is commonly used, it is currently being re-evaluated to determine it's safety in consumer products.

Isopropyl Alcohol- (Rubbing Alcohol) Used as a germicide and a solvent in hair dyes, lotions, aftershave, and many cosmetics. Inhaltion can result in headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and severe cases, coma. Some areas in the USA have put restrictions on this ingredient, although it is still used commonly.

Lanolin- Made from the oil glands of sheep, this ingredient is used in a variety of cosmetics from lipstick, mascaras, foundations, eye creams and nail products. Studies have found this product to be safe other than skin rashes, but they caution to take advertising claims with a grain of salt. Companies found that cosmetics sell better if marketed to be "containing lanolin". They make claims that it can prevent/cure wrinkles, "better at penetrating the skin" and can even prevent hair loss.

Lead Acetate- Despite all the press around the harmful effects of lead in any form, some hair color products still contain forms of lead. It is a proven carcinogen and will accumlate in the body with each exposure. Avoid any product with the word lead in its ingredient list.

Methacrylic Acid- Still used by some nail salons in application of gel and acrylic nails. It is corrosive to the skin and many reports of injuries around the nail bed have surfaced. This ingredient has now been restricted in cosmetics and many nail salons have stopped using it in their applications. Check with your salon before getting your nails worked on.

Methyl Salicylate- Used as a numbing agent and germicide in perfumes, toothpaste, mouthwash and certain toners. It is known to be a strong irritant to the skin and mucous membranes (inside nose, mouth, throat) and is toxic when ingested. Many countries have put limits on this chemical and even suggested it being in childproof containers due to risks to children.

Methylene Chloride- A solvent used in nail polishes, cleansing creams and hairsprays. Toxic by inhalation and can result in headaches, nervousness, insomnia and tremors. New studies have linked this chemical to cancer. Some hairsprays have been found to contain significant concentrations of this chemical. Many countries have put restrictions on this ingredient.

Nitrates Most people know this chemical as a color fixative in meat, but it is also used in cosmetics including cleansers, nail polish, hair dye, acne treatments and anti-aging products. Some countries have banned its used in cosmetics, but it is still very common elsewhere. Studies show nitrates can cause hormone disruption and even has linked this chemical to cancerous tumors. Nitrates can react with "amines" that are naturally found in your body and your food; combining to form Nitroamines. Nitroamines are some of the most potent cancer causing chemicals known.

Oxybenzone- A sunscreen ingredient that has been linked to cell mutations and high allergens. Even low doses can accumulate in your body. This chemical is also found in many foundations, moisturizers, hair sprays and styling products in high doses.

Parabens-(Methyl-, Propyl- and Parahydroxybenzoate) The most commonly used preservative in the USA. Used in such large amounts that in many prodcuts, water is the only more frequently used ingredient. Parabens can disrupt your hormones and are strongly linked to being a skin toxicant. Studies have linked breast tumors to high paraben use and some countries advise pregnant women and young children to avoid use of this chemical.

PDB- Used in hairsprays, bug spray and deodorant spray, this chemcial is a crystal that when aeorsolized can cause health problems if vapors are breathed in. Effects include weakness, dizzines and liver damage. When sprayed, the chemical can linger in your home for months.

Peroxide- Used in hair bleaches, is a known skin irritant and can cause hair breakage. This ingredient is on several countries' "hotlists".

Petrolatum/Petroleum Distillates- (Vaseline, Petroleum Jelly, Paraffin Jelly) An inexpensive chemical used as a lubricant and an anti-foaming agent in a huge variety of cosmetics from mascaras, to creams, to eye shadows. Many petroleum products have been reported to be cancer causing and banned by some countries.

Phenols- Used as a disinfectant and anesthetic for skin in shaving creams, soaps, shampoos and hand lotions. Even relatively low concentrations of this ingredient can result in swelling, hives, pimples and rashes. Some severe cases have reported numbness, burning and gangrene.

Phenylenediamine(PPD)- (m-, o-, p) This chemical was first used in dyeing furs and now is common to hair dyes. Multiple studies have linked this chemcial to several different kinds of cancer, most prominently in those applying the chemical frequently (hair dressers). The FDA ordered industry reps to post warnings in salons and on products alerting customers of risks. Industry representatives have been successful in keeping these warning away from consumers. However a select few countries have been successful in banning the chemical in cosmetics all together.

Phthalates- (often seen as Diethyl or Dibutyl Phthalate in cosmetics) This chemical is often used as a plasticizer or an agent that assists other chemicals to dissolve better. Both types are on potential cancer-causing lists and have been shown to affect human sperm. It is widely used in many types of cosmetics, especially baby products. Studies have shown that babies that are exposed to phthalates retain higher levels than adults would at the same level of exposure. Despite the study results, consumer product industries insist that these phthalates are safe. Therefore it is still an ingredient in many cosmetics.

Polysorbate-20- (Lauric Acid)Helps Emulsify other chemicals in a product. Used in many body cleansing products including many baby products. It has shown to be often contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane or Ethylene Oxide, both highly carinogenic. It is also associated with reproductive issues and the government warns that it should NOT by used on broken or open skin due to potential risks.

Polyvinylpyrrolidone- (PVP) Helps to give a "soft set" to hairsprays, shampoos, creams and lip colors. Strong evidence shows that this chemical can accumulate in the lungs (when inhaling hair spray). Some studies have linked it to cancer in animals and have been unable to yet deterimne if cancer-causing in humans.

Potassium chlorate- A germicide in mouthwashes, toothpaste and also used in explosives, matches and fireworks. When absorbed by the gums, can cause inflammation and can cause skin infections. Manufacturers have poorly documented whether this chemical is safe in products and with that lack of paperwork, it is considered safe for use.

Potassium Hydroxide- Used as an emulsifier in cuticle softeners. Can cause skin irritations and blindess if it gets in the eyes. Some countries have suggested this chemical to be only applied by professionals due to its potential damaging effects.

Propylene Glycol- Very widely used in cosmetics as a "wetting agent", it is also used as anti-freeze. Although many cosmetic companies have deemed this chemical as safe, they are slowing starting to replace this ingredient with other, safer ones. Studies have shown that Propylene Glycol is a strong skin irritant and can trigger allergic reactions.

Quaternium-15- A commonly used preservative in cosmetics, including many, many baby products. It is an ammonium salt and releases formaldehyde to preserve product contents. Numerous reports associate this ingredient with allergies, neuro-toxicity and even cancer.

Retinol- (Vitamin A) Used in anti-aging and skin-healing products. In cosmetics, this chemical has been shown to cause cell mutations and adverse reproductive effects. Some countries have restrictions on its use.

Salicylic Acid- Used as a preservative in cleansers and shampoos and now being used in anti-aging products and sun lotions. Due to its ability to slough off skin, it can leave the skin beneath extremely sensitive to the sun. Some countries have banned its use in children's products, while others have it on their "hotlist".

Sodium Borate- Used in bath salts, eye creams, hair setting creams and liquid cleansers. Can result in dry and brittle hair when used in shampoo over a length of time. This ingredient can also dry skin out and cause irritation. It is currently being re-evaluated to determine its safety in cosmetics.

Sodium Fluoride- Most commonly used in toothpastes as well as cosmetics as a germicide and a preservative. Can induce vomitting when ingested and weaken tooth enamel. Many associations have expressed concern for children using products with this chemical and several countries have put restrictions on its use.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate- (or Myreth Sulfate) Many cleansing products (shampoos, body washes and scrubs, soaps, toothpaste, hand soap, facial cleansers....) contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLS (as well as Myreth Sulfate). This chemical is also an ingredient in the soap at your local car wash. It is an emulsifying agent that makes your cleansing products foam. It also happens to be linked to skin irritations, cancer and organ toxicity according to one study. Many companies are seeing the harsh effects of this chemical and substituting it for Sodium Laureth Sulfate, a gentler alternative.

Sodium Perborate- Used in mouthwashes, toothpastes, tooth whiteners, deodorants and foot baths. There have been reports of oral ulcerations with use of tooth care products containing this chemical. It is on some countries' hotlists and banned in certain mouth care products.

Strontium- (makes salts including: hyrdroxides, chlorides, peroxides and sulfides) Many Strontium salts, including those above can be toxic. Used in tooth care products, skin softening products, teeth whiteners and depilatories. Side effects can include skin rashes, irritation and hair breakage.

Sulfur- Used in many soaps, acne cleansers and dandruff shampoos as an anti-fungal and germicide. Can cause skin irritation severe enough that is has been removed from baby products like diaper creams. It has also been banned from many other products as it was found unsafe and in-effective.

Talc- (Talcum Powder) A type of chalk, used in variety of baby powders, face powders, foundations and creams to give the product a "slippery" feeling. Inhalation of this chemical over time can result in lung problems extending into cancer. Some countries have warnings to keep this powder away from infants and children due to posed risks.

Tetrachloroethylene- (Perchloroethylene) A solvent in a variety of cosmetics and has a drying effect on the skin. Studies have linked this chemical from skin irritiation to being a possible carcinogen (cancer causing substance). It is banned in few countries and on a few hotlists in others.

Toluene- Used as a solvent in nail polishes and is known to irritate the skin and respiratory tract. Long term use has shown that this chemical can accumulate in the body. Although manufacturers have deemed it safe, some companies are now offering nail polishes that are free of toluene.

Triclosan- A deodorant agent and presevative. Linked to cancer and endrocrine issues most notably in the thyroid. Used in many cosmetics, deodorants, body sprays, lotions and soaps.

Turpentine- Used as a paint thinner, but also in fragrances. It is easily absorbed through the skin and can result in irritation, allergic reaction or more severe toxic effects.

Urea- A product in urine, it is also used in deodorants, mouthwashes, hair dyes, creams and shampoos as a germicide or deodorizer. It can cause skin irritations and will increase absorption of the skin, therefore increasing absorption of other chemicals in that product as well.