Are your cosmetics hazardous to your health?

We live in youth obsessed society and the vast array of cosmetics available to us are evidence of  our determination to pursue and project a youthful  external image to the grave. Pervasive and persuasive advertising cosmetics industry campaigns have created a highly lucrative and growing market for anti-aging  and  presumed beauty creating products. There’s  also cross-over marketing that targets beauty product consumers by purporting  such products can do much for their health.  But is that true?

Consumers consider beauty products as a necessity

According to’s 2010 beauty study consumers see beauty products as a necessity to maintaining their appearance despite tight budgets.  The study which was  conducted online in August examined: what influences purchasing decisions; why consumers use beauty products;what kind of beauty advertisements are most appealing; what brands can do to attract new customers; and also looked at what emotions beauty products evoke in consumers.

  • Eighty percent of participants revealed they plan to spend the same or more this year on skin, hair, male grooming, teeth whitening and cosmetic products.
  • Some of the key reasons consumers rely so heavily on beauty products were identified as hair and skin health (69 percent), solving particularly skin or hair concerns (67 percent), and maintaining a certain look or style (59 percent).

Beauty product ads affect consumer self esteem and provoke purchasing

Ads for beauty-enhancing products seem to make consumers feel that their current attractiveness levels are different from what they would ideally be.  This was revealed in a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research which found that ads featuring beauty products actually lower female consumers’ self-esteem.


The Cosmetics Industry in Canada

The beauty and cosmetic industry, also known as the ‘beauty economy’, has become the fourth consumption zone hit after real estate, cars and tourism in Canada, as Canadians seek a higher standard of living. Analyzing the Cosmetics Industry in Canada PDF File.

According to Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, a cosmetic “includes any substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold or represented for use in cleansing, improving or altering the complexion, skin, hair, or teeth, and includes deodorants and perfumes.”

These products include beauty preparations such as make-up and skin cream as well as grooming aids such as shampoo and deodorant. However, it does not include personal care products that are regulated as drug or natural health care products.

Earlier this year, the David Suzuki Foundation invited Canadians to participate in an online survey about toxic  ingredients in common personal care products like soaps, shampoos and cosmetics.  Among them are many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products. Also in the ranks of undisclosed ingredients are chemicals with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues. The report summarizes key findings from the survey and presents recommendations for cleaning up these products and for product labeling.

Do the beauty products you use every day contain chemicals that are hazardous to your health? The David Suzuki Foundation says that they might.

A new report released by the foundation suggests there are a so-called “dirty dozen” chemicals found in 80 per cent of common cosmetic products. They say the 12 chemicals are linked to health and environmental problems, including reproductive disorders, asthma and allergies, and even the “big C” — cancer. — What’s Inside? That Counts A Survey of Toxic Ingredients in our Cosmetics  PDF file

The Dirty Dozen

  1. BHA or BHT
  2. Coal tar dyes
  3. DEA-related ingredients
  4. Dibutyl phthalate
  5. Formaldehyde-releasers
  6. Parabens
  7. Fragrance or Parfum
  8. PEGs
  9. Petrolatum
  10. Siloxanes
  11. Sodium laureth sulfate
  12. Triclosan

A rose may be a rose. But that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely, concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer.

Environmental Defence analyzed the chemical composition of top-selling colognes and perfumes. The study identified an average of 14 chemicals per product not listed on the label, including multiple chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions or interfere with hormone function. —Not So Sexy:The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance PDF File

Toxins In Cosmetics / Educational Video

The presence of chemical ingredients in make-up and personal care products is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Unfortunately, under current law, the raw ingredients used in such products aren’t subject to any kind of safety review or approval process before they’re used, and manufacturers aren’t legally obligated to submit safety data on their product formulas. Only after injuries and problems are reported by the public will investigations begin, and even then its a long way from there to any governmental action that might ban or restrict the compound at fault.

Look up information about your personal care products and the ingredients they contain on Environmental WorkingGroup’s Skin Deep database.

Further reading and viewing:
The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 « Always Well Within
The story behind cosmetics « Always Well Within
Health dangers of fragrance « Always Well Within


Do you think that the USA and Canada ought to address these health and environmental concerns by prohibiting the inclusion of “The Dirty Dozen” chemicals in cosmetic and beauty products?


  1. I’m holdiing off colouring my hair…really don’t see the need. Yes, there was chatter about the “blowout” technique in other forums and other hairstylists relaying stories. Scary.

    I confess I wear abit of foundation several times per month or less. but that’s all. Mascara…never for past 30 yrs.

    My partner is highly sensitive to fragrances/perfumes. Doesn’t even want my lip glossed lips. He gets headaches and breathing problems. So wanting an au naturel woman is real for him.

    I was slightly amazed to read a seminar-professional networking session poster invitation that specified no wearing of perfume. Anyone aware of this trend?

    Good thing that some employers actually have a policy of no perfumes in workplace.

  2. timethief, thanks for the intelligent look at this troubling scenario. I’ve read environmental publications for many years, and after having had breast cancer I’m especially aware of toxins in many products.

    When I worked as a commercial artist years ago, a lady who worked with spray fixatives on her strips of type gave birth to a child whose brain was undeveloped. That in itself was also an eye opener.

    I’ve carried a list of those toxins you mention (or one similar to your list) in my wallet for many years.

    I hope you are feeling well these days. :)

    • @Lynda
      The story you shared is so disturbing. I knew a woman who worked spray painting cars in an automotive center. She gave premature birth to a still born child that had aan undeveloped brain. She had no proff but suspected this had to do with her work and switched jobs.

      This week there was a story about Brazillion Blowout, a hair straightening product the government is ordering off the shelves due negative health reactions. After a hairstylist became sick she became suspicious of Brazilian Blowout, and testing found formaldehyde in it. Well, the company apparently deceived everyone by using “formaldehyde-free” labeling.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      P.S. Sigh … about my health. Well, I’m so tired and sore I can barely type. I suspect my readers notice I’m not doing well. Because when my joints swell and ache and the pain flares I spend less time online. That means I fall behind when it comes to leaving comments on their blogs. My current struggle is not to feel guilty about that and to just focus on taking care of me.

  3. HI TiTi,
    This is an enlightening article! Thank you for sharing this concern..and believe me this is world wide phenomenon. I know women who have a separate fridge for their cosmetics!!!
    I also have allergies etc…but even before the onset of these allergies..i went all natural long time back. I went from natural creams to homemade creams. I don’t really use any make up or nail coloring or hair coloring…but even if i ever feel the need its natural. My hubby often calls me low maintenance in that department. He cant imagine how I never ever have set foot in a beauty saloon/parlor :) When all other women he knew or knows spend oodles of time and money in these things.. :)
    All natural all the time for me. People NEED to know what they are putting into their skin too…not just their stomachs.
    So much love,

    • Hi Zeenat,
      I do wear a little mascara when I go out. I also wear a tinted moisturizer and lip gloss but that’s about it. I’ve never been into being heavily made-up and I don’t like varnish on finger or toenails. I did color my hair for a couple of years but I gave that up. I like essential oils and I do know how to use them to reduce stress and to treat minor ailments too. I guess I’m also a low maintenance woman. :) Yes, we are in agreement — people need to know what they are absorbing through their skin.
      Love alyeas,

  4. Hi TT! :)

    Your post is certainly enlightening and I do believe that the mass should be more aware of the chemical contents of the products they buy. I am sceptical with all the products out there competing for my attention and i don’t want to be sucked up by the false promises of youth and beauty. I keep it simple and i use baby products: baby shampoo, baby shower gel, baby oil, baby lotion and baby wet wipes are my “beauty” products. I’ve used the same product since I was a toddler and carried the habit to my adulthood.

    Sometimes, less is more. :)

    • I am glad you found some value in my post and thank you for sharing your approach to cosmetic use. I’m aging gracefully and I’ve never been the kind of woman who is hooked into using lots of cosmetics and make-up. To me beauty is synonymous with health and hygiene. Regardless of our age, if our skin is clean and healthy it glows and if our hair is clean and healthy it shines. If we practice hygiene then we naturally smell goo, and if we choose to use a drop or two of essential oil we are not risking affecting our hormone balance. So I do agree with you that when it comes to natural beauty – less is more. :)

  5. I’m always cautious when I hear “X has been connected to Y health problem” because generally it involves X in extremely high doses or under odd conditions. It reminds me of the vaccine-autism debate: is it that more people are having Y health problem, or is it that we’re just better at diagnosing?

    Not that I doubt that there are unmentioned, untested chemicals in all the cosmetic products we (are encouraged to) use, but I’ve learned to be skeptical of such drastic health claims in the same way that I’m skeptical of crystal healing. Not all chemicals are bad, and everything is bad is concentrated, large doses.

    • If you take the time to research you will find that there are many reputable peer reviewed studies that can be relied upon. There is no doubt about the negative affects of The Dirty Dozen chemicals on human health – they are harmful to human health even small amounts.

      Granted that you may beg to differ, but this is the way I see things. If I grow tired of hearing “everything gives me cancer” then I may have been successfully dumbed down by the operation of my mind that has decided it’s powerless and has bought into the persuasive advertising of the pharmaceutical industry. If that’s the case, then I can be easily drawn into minimizing the danger of harm. For example, by choosing to think a little poison is okay but a lot isn’t, I could be lead to purchasing products with just a little poison that appease my desire to “look good” and later discover they negatively affect my health. It can also lead me to the kind of perversion of critical thinking that leads me to conclude it’s okay for my government to approve for sale beauty products and cosmetics that have unknown and untested ingredients which are not listed on the labels.

      Well, I value my powers of critical thought and I want all ingredients to be stated on the labels so I can do my own research and make informed decisions about which beauty products and cosmetics I will purchase and use.

  6. Hi
    What a great article – I never cease to be amazed at your diversity on here!

    I can’t comment on the Canadian and US stuff as I live in the UK. However, I can comment on my own experiences. About 10 years, I was given a beautifully presented Estee Lauder skin care set for Christmas. One of the items was a ‘gentle cleansing bar’. Boxing day morning I decided to use my gift. By 10am I was in the ER department of our local hospital and my face looked as if someone had thrown a kettle of boiling water over me! I had experienced a severe reaction to the product – which was advertised as being suitable for sensitive skin. Up until then, I believed if it had a big name, you were guaranteed great products. I then started doing my own research and was appalled at the gunk that goes into beauty products.

    Since then I use products from an organic company called Neals Yard. They contain no animal products or animal derivatives, not tested on animals and everything is very gentle and pure based on essential oils.

    The beauty industry by and large are snake oil peddlers – feeding our insecurities and convincing us we have to fight aging. The reality is, some basic moisturizer, a healthy diet, lots of water, moderate exercise, no smoke or alcohol keeps us looking younger.

    Some while back there was a very disturbing documentary on our TV concerning the animal cruelty that goes on for the sake of cosmetics. Since then, in the European Union, all our products are labeled with a rabbit and a number – that denotes at what point in the process, if any, testing has been carried out on animals. Just because a product is labeled as not tested on animals, doesn’t mean the ingredients haven’t been.

    It’s a horrid industry :( but a smashing article you have written.

  7. What’s ironic to me is that there are foodies out there who are obsessed with being green and/or vegan and/or eating only pure foods, and they might be ingesting all those chemicals anyhow through their makeup and products.

    • IMO our governments have let us down. Manufacturers aren’t legally obligated to submit safety data on their product formulas. They and their coupon clicking shareholders are exposing customers to toxins they don’t have to declare on their product labels.

      (1) Each and every ingredient in whatever “cosmetics and/or beauty products” the manufacturers are flogging ought to be declared on the label.
      (2) False advertising and misrepresentative advertising legislation needs to be enforced.

    • Tricia,
      I tried to become a vegan years ago. I became very ill and was in hospital following a series of viruses and I was tested. I lack the required enzymes to break down the protein found in legumes. I was allergy tested too and discovered I had over 120 food and drug allergies and sensitivities. I developed fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and several associated conditions as well. Eventually I chose to become an ovo-lacto vegetarian half of the week and to eat as I do now. For me finding foods I can eat and avoiding eating those that make me ill is an ongoing struggle.

      I am cautious about the cosmetics and beauty products I use because I have to be. I have some great recipes for natural products you can use at home to make facial masks, soaps, bubblebath, etc. and I am into aromatherapy too. I am the real thing – an aging 1970’s flower child. lol :D

      The skin you have is the largest organ on your body and it uptakes through the tissue what expose it too. I’m not referring only to sun here …lol :D Anyhoo … I’m signing off because I feel a rant coming on. Thanks for commenting. :)

  8. Thanks for this helpful summary! I changed over to “natural” beauty and cleaning products a few years ago. Unfortunately, I’m finding out that a lot of things that look healthy are not on closer inspection. I will be checking the stuff I have against your dirty dozen list. I’m starting to make my own products like deodorant when I can’t find anything acceptable in the stores.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      I did too and I make my own as well. You are quite correct. Many things that appear to be healthy aren’t. We need to inspect labels closely and read consumer reports as well. Thanks for commenting.

  9. “Like you I have noticed the dramatic increase in chronic illness, allergies, and asthma in children and young adults.”

    And yet people are living longer now than ever before :/

    The article is enlightening though – I will be giving the ingredients in my cosmetics a bit more than a cursory glance from now on but I’m not one to be going around terrified of things that haven’t been proven yet. Life is too short.

    • It’s very different now than it was when Sandra and I were young. Kids with chronic illness, allergies, and asthma were rare. The increase in these conditions in those age groups is verifiable. What has been proven can be found in the PDF files I linked to the article. Granted we may live longer but isn’t being healthier what we ought to be aiming for? I believe government has a responsibility to require by means of enforceable legislation and the budget to back it — that all cosmetics and beauty product manufacturers list every ingredient in their product on the label.

  10. @Sandra
    My thanks to you as well for heightening my awareness via your own articles. I am distressed about The Dirty Dozen. I’m also distressed that many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products, and in the ranks of undisclosed ingredients are chemicals with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues. Like you I have noticed the dramatic increase in chronic illness, allergies, and asthma in children and young adults. I expect my government to act upon this. They can begin by legislating that all ingredients in these products appear on the labels.

  11. This is a very thorough article, time thief. Thank you. With the rise in chronic illness, allergies, and asthma in children and young adults. I do think steps need to be taken to protect us from dangerous chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products. I really appreciate this list of the “dirty dozen” so we know what to lookout for ourselves since it could be eons before protection occurs at the governmental level. Some beauty products found in healthcare stores also contain these ingredients so one really needs to be vigilant. Thanks for this well done article.

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