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Leigh Crymble
2 minute read
15 May 2014
8:00 am

The Lo Down: Beware your beauty products

Leigh Crymble

Lead lipsticks, toxic toners, poisonous perfumes ... there have been increasingly alarming media reports about the dangers lurking in certain beauty products.


Before you panic, though, here are the four main chemicals in cosmetics to look out for.


Despite claiming to be “formaldehyde-free”, many hair-straightening products that are keratin-based have been found to include this highly carcinogenic ingredient. Even though levels in these products are low and shouldn’t be hazardous to your health, formaldehyde has been classified as a cancer-causing substance and both hair stylists and clients using products containing formaldehyde are at risk.


Phthalates are chemicals that are used to make products pliable and are normally found in plastic toys and packaging. Some beauty products, including certain shampoos, soap, and nail polishes, contain phthalates. Although international governing bodies have not conclusively linked these chemicals to health risks, anecdotal studies have shown that exposure to phthalates during pregnancy can lead to abnormal infant development.

Ingredients to watch out for on beauty product labels include dibutylphthalate, dimethylphthalate, and diethylphthalate to reduce your exposure to this chemical.


Parabens are the most common preservatives found in cosmetics and act to reduce the growth of bacteria and mold in makeup, skin, and hair-care products. Many of the products we buy for everyday use contain some form of paraben, so it can be difficult to find products without them. The danger with parabens is that they are easily absorbed into the skin and are believed to disrupt normal hormonal patterns in the body – increasing levels of oestrogen.

Linked (but not definitively proved to cause) breast cancer, it is recommended to reduce the amount of parabens you absorb so look out for ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben.


Sulfate compounds are found in various personal care products including shampoo, face washes, and toothpastes to give them the ability to foam and lather. The two most common sulfates to watch out for in cosmetic products are sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate which are both irritants and can aggravate the skin resulting in skin discolouration, eye irritation, rash, and itching.

Experts agree that a rather-safe-than-sorry approach is often best when it comes to choosing your beauty products. Test ingredients to see that you don’t react badly to them, opt for natural ingredients where possible, and try to keep up-to-date with beauty ingredient legislation. By informing yourself about what your hair and skin products contain, you are more likely to avoid potential health risks linked to these cosmetic chemicals.

Leigh is a health writer and beauty blogger. For more beauty information, visit her blog or follow her on twitter @Le1ghLo.