Harmful Cosmetic Ingredients: Common Misconceptions About Beauty

harmful cosmetic ingredients

Harmful Cosmetic Ingredients:

Common Misconceptions About Beauty

Before we begin, this is not a post about harmful cosmetic ingredients that’s intended to scare you, but rather educate you on some common misconceptions that many people have about beauty and what’s in the products we know and love. I’m not a big fan of fear-mongering and although I see many using this tactic as a way to gain followers, I prefer to keep things honest and open. I know you guys are smart, educated individuals and I’m not about to dumb down the facts by telling you something causes cancer if there’s no proof that end. On the flip side, I will tell you if said product is likely to cause an allergic reaction or if the studies suggest there is a risk for harm, is considered dangerous and/or toxic, and if I would personally advise that you avoid it. My hope is that this helps you to make better choices in your beauty, personal care, and home goods choices while also reminding you that it’s okay to be human and live without fear ♥


The thing you should know about parabens is that there is more than one kind and their basic function is to preserve your makeup and kill disease-causing bacteria. You can bet that anything water-based has some kind of preservative (though not always parabens) because bacteria, mold and fungi can easily grow where there’s water. Preservatives kill the bacteria off in your products so that you don’t get sick or get some jacked up infection and to prevent the product from breaking down. They also help products have a longer shelf life which is why foundations can sit on the shelves at stores for what seems like years and still be sold. Methlyparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben are the ones you’ll commonly find in cosmetics.

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So, are parabens safe? According to a study by the FDA (even though they aren’t authorized to regulate cosmetics), they are safe to use in cosmetics up to 25% even though most cosmetics use them at a percent of 0.01% to 0.3% on average. So, why then, do people say they cause cancer? A study was done in breast cancer patients wherein parabens were detected in the breast tissue and were shown to have estrogen-like properties. If you didn’t already know, estrogen can spurn the growth of cancer, but this particular study did not prove that parabens were causing cancer, that they encouraged the growth of cancer cells, and they didn’t show a comparison group of non-breast cancer patients breasts (which may also contain parabens) which might very well be the case. Parabens are everywhere, even in our food, but of course, this doesn’t make them safe one way or the other. I would avoid these simply because more estrogen in our body has been shown to spurn the growth of cancer in various studies which is why many people avoid parabens and how the whole story got so convoluted in the first place. The estrogen-like properties of parabens does not equal instant cancer, but is it best to avoid them? Probably, yes. I would, but it’s ultimately your choice to make.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals include lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, and arsenic and these can actually do an incredible amount of damage to your body in the right amounts. That said, cosmetics typically use them in low concentrations so again, studies are inconclusive. I would personally avoid them only because high amounts of heavy metals have been known to wreak havoc in the body including cancer, disorders, contact dermatitis and other skin issues and allergies, hormone issues (endocrine disruption), respiratory and brain disorders, and the list goes on and on depending on the heavy metal in question. You can find these metals in anything from mascara to lipstick, blush, etc. The good news is that whatever heavy metals are currently in your body, these foods can help


Sulfates are detergents which help shampoo, hand soap, and toothpaste to lather or foam up. The most common sulfates are SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) and both are known to cause skin irritations. Other studies have not found anything else that’s very concrete except that SLES is known to be commonly be contaminated by 1,4 dioxane which is a known carcinogen – yikes! – and is created as a by-product of many manufacturing process.

Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

There are many formaldehyde-releasing preservatives out there, but the common ones are any of the ureas (anything with urea in the name), DMDM hydantoin, bromopol, glyoxal, quaternium-15, methenamine, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate. Basically, what happens is these ingredients are added to products to help preserve the product’s integrity and also make the shelf life longer (you know, so they can sit at Walmart for all time), but they start releasing formaldehyde into the products the longer they sit on the shelf and formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Scary, right? Let’s avoid these ones, for sure, shall we?

Synthetic Fragrances / Parfum

Aside from the fact that synthetic fragrances (parfum) can be incredibly irritating to your lungs, skin and eyes, the scary thing about fragrance is that since they are not actually required, by law, to denote the ingredients in their fragrance blends, they can basically put whatever they want in it. Many fragrances that were tested were found to include carcinogens and other toxic ingredients which are linked to everything from cancer to endocrine disruption, skin allergies, asthma, and neurotoxicity. They can also be incredibly harmful to fish and wildlife which make them harmful for our environment as well as ourselves.


Final Thoughts ♥

I don’t want you guys to demonize cosmetics companies who use these ingredients in their products. I don’t think it’s right that brands continue to use them even after studies show tons of disconcerting red flags, but I also don’t think it’s done maliciously. Now, whether they do it out of greed is another question entirely, but that’s a topic for another day. My goal in sharing this information with you is to educate you on the true studies about these ingredients because THERE ARE NO FACTS. Facts are only made when studies have enough evidence and the truth of the matter is that there just isn’t enough evidence to call it fact. I hope that by sharing this with you, you can look up the studies and decide for yourself. Look at the government, university, and medical journal studies – those are the ones you want to read. And if you want to skip it all and just live, well, I support you. We live in an uncertain, scary world, but it’s also beautiful and I think we should enjoy every inch of it with a free and open heart.

At the end of the day, we don’t live in a bubble. There’s no way to avoid all the things that can cause us harm and if you think that there is, well, I’m sorry, but you’re only deluding yourself. At this very moment, you’re most likely breathing in a toxin. It’s just a part of modern day life. If you want to minimize the amount of pollutants you’re currently inhaling or the fact that too much kale can kill you, then by all means, move to an isolated mountain town and swear off greens. If you want to live your life to the fullest while also minimizing the risks, then take a deep breath and just use cleaner cosmetics, get some exercise, and eat organic when possible (or just avoid the dirty dozen – but even that might be unfounded). Also, you should know that a certain amount of toxins is okay; our bodies are incredible machines built to fight off outside aggressors. In fact, bacteria surrounds our entire body and help us live in this home we call earth. So, I guess it’s not all bad, right?

What Are Your Thoughts on Harmful Cosmetic Ingredients?

Do You Think Parabens Cause Cancer?


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16 thoughts on “Harmful Cosmetic Ingredients: Common Misconceptions About Beauty

  1. February 2, 2016 at 9:26 AM

    I live in a small remote mountain town haha
    Ad to me, it’s all about picking your battles and having balance. I try my best to avoid chemicals in my food, make up, cleaning products etc. But I still use a drug store brand mascara…
    And as well as the risk of illness, we have to take into account the risk for the planet etc.
    Regarding Kale, I think it’s funny how people went nuts for one particular veggie. As far as I’m concerned, variety is key and all veggies need a place on our plates.
    Thanks for educating us

    1. February 2, 2016 at 10:09 AM

      Absolutely and you know, I’m more for sharing scientific facts and real data and letting people decide for themselves. I don’t want to perpetuate fear, you know? If you want more natural products, then I think that’s wonderful and I think that, yes, it will be better for your health in the long run, but I also don’t necessarily think that if you use mainstream products that you will die a horrible death. There’s not enough evidence to support a claim like that. Also, I agree that eco-friendly is a big factor aside from safety and so are business ethics and so many other important aspects of a product. It’s up to each person to decide what their personal values are and purchase according to their own beliefs. And yes, kale – such a funny phenomenon haha. I still prefer spinach and romaine, but like you said, it’s all about variety 🙂 I also think eating seasonally and local is important as well. thanks for sharing your thoguhts, Helene! ♥

  2. February 2, 2016 at 11:54 AM

    Thank god for this post Tianna! When I heard you were into green beauty I was worried you’d be one of those bloggers that perpetuate a fear for parabens and any other ingredients that gained a bad rep. But there are many things to consider and informing your readers is the best action to take.
    I used to be paranoid, but after discovering The Beauty Brains I took a new approach to things. Keep it up, xo
    Natalia Pessoa recently posted…How to Achieve All Your Goals in 2016 + PrintableMy Profile

    1. February 2, 2016 at 1:32 PM

      thanks Natalia. I’m glad you enjoyed this post 🙂 There are some concerns for these ingredients – I would not say they are completely safe. The truth is more research needs to be done to determine their status. While I would avoid them entirely because I prefer all natural to paying a premium for unknown ingredients, I do understand that some people wouldn’t do that and that’s okay. Also, I think it’s important to know the research and make your own decision. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

  3. February 3, 2016 at 7:29 AM

    This is great info! I like buying cruelty-free cosmetics and they already tend to be on the natural side. So it’s a win-win for animals, and for us for staying on the healthier side.

    1. February 3, 2016 at 8:35 AM

      thanks Rosalyn! Glad you think so. I definitely think cruelty-free is important and those products do tend to be more natural. I like that you said it’s a win-win 🙂 It definitely feels like one when I purchase more sustainable and animal-friendly natural products ♥ thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  4. February 3, 2016 at 8:49 AM

    Ahh, I love how you broke it down and explained things in laymen’s terms like “jacked up infection” lol. You’re right, we can’t live in a bubble but we can try to minimize potential risks. the endocrine disrupting properties are what freak me out. Does our makeup really need 45 ingredients?

    1. February 3, 2016 at 4:46 PM

      lol I’m glad you liked my style, Angie 😛 I definitely think minimizing risks are important and avoiding things that can harm us, but we are only human, you know? Also, hormone disrupting anything is scary because of the way it affects our bodies. Hormones are so important to body functions so definitely think they are worth avoiding. And yes, 45 ingredients is a lot, especially if I can’t pronounce half of them lol. thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. February 4, 2016 at 5:19 AM

    Great post! Although I try and avoid parabens and sulfates in my kids shampoos and products, the truth is I don´t really think about it so much with my own makeup, although I try and limit wearing make-up to keep my skin clear. I started using deoderant a few years back that was aluminium free after a friends husband was diagnosed with cancer and was told to watch aluminium in products, once he recuperated.

    1. February 4, 2016 at 9:14 AM

      thanks so much Jane! I definitely know what you mean. Have you tried using more natural makeup options? It’s much kinder to the skin. I have acne prone combination skin (with occasional eczema breakouts) and I find it works much better than the conventional stuff. Also, using more natural deodorant is a great way to avoid heavy metals in the mainstream stuff for sure. That’s definitely a big one and it’s great you’ve made these changes for the better 🙂 thanks for sharing your thoughts ♥

  6. February 5, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    Thanks, Tianna! This is so important. It’s a little (okay, a lot) frightening to think about wiping harmful chemicals on our faces! We appreciate you sharing with us at 100 Happy Days. Come back again! 🙂

    1. February 9, 2016 at 9:32 AM

      Of course. I definitely agree and it’s good to keep perspective when it comes to this stuff as well. thanks for stopping by, Alison 🙂

  7. March 9, 2016 at 1:40 PM

    This is great! It’s ironic the horrible anti-beauty things we subject our bodies to in the name of beauty. Pinning. 🙂

    1. March 11, 2016 at 1:15 PM

      thanks Bradleigh – definitely agree with you. Thankfully, more natural options are available and we can work to be kinder to ourselves each day with our choices and awareness 🙂

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