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Be an Avon shareholder and cast your vote for safe cosmetics!

Avon is the world’s largest direct-selling cosmetics company, manufacturing and marketing hundreds of makeup, skin care, hair care, and bath & body products to women, men, teens and children. Many of its products contain ingredients like parabens, triclosan, and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives that have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and serious diseases.

Yet when Campaign for Safe Cosmetics staff met with Avon’s Sustainability Officer in November 2012, we were told that the company does not share our concerns that chemicals in cosmetics linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental harm could be adding up to our risks due to our cumulative exposure to these unsafe chemicals from a multitude of consumer products and other sources. Despite its recent position, Avon has made some commitments to eliminate potentially harmful chemicals from their products in the past.

We must send a clear message to Avon: as customers, as their representatives, and as concerned citizens, we don’t want even a little bit of a cancer-causing – or similarly unsafe -- chemical in our cosmetics.

Take action! Call on Avon to stop using chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases in its products.

What You Can Do

Major loopholes in U.S. federal law allow Avon and other companies in the $50 billion a year cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, no monitoring of health effects and inadequate labeling requirements. In fact, cosmetics are among the least-regulated products on the market today.

  1. Tell Avon you want safer products
  2. Choose safer products.
  3. Demand stronger safety standards for the industry

Commitments Avon has made to safer cosmetics

Avon has taken some important steps to remove certain harmful chemicals from its products1. However, it still has a long way to go if it is going to meet or beat the Johnson & Johnson commitment – now considered the industry standard for product safety among major manufacturers.

  • In 2004, Avon committed to removing dibutyl phthalate (DBP) from its products in compliance with a ban by the European Union
  • In 2005, Avon announced it would no longer use diethyl phthalate (DEP) in the development of new fragrances
  • Beginning in 2006, Avon made the decision to develop new products without using isobutyl and isopropyl parabens.
  • In 2010, Avon decided to no longer use propyl and butyl parabens in new product development.

How to choose safer products

Here are some suggestions for safeguarding your family's health:

  1. Read labels
    • Avoid using products that list ingredients that may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, including sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, chemicals that include the clauses "xynol," "ceteareth" and "oleth."
    • Avoid products that contain formaldehye-releasing preservatives, including quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol).
  2. Simplify: Select products with fewer ingredients and no synthetic fragrance or dyes, and use fewer products overall.
  3. Choose safety: Search EWG's cosmetic safety database, Skin Deep, to learn more about the products you use and find safer alternatives.
  4. 4. Make your own cosmetics. We've put together a few recipe ideas.

Avon & Chemicals of Concern

Sodium Laureth Sulfate2,3,4,5

Sodium laureth sulfate and other ingredients with “PEG” or “-eth” in their name are often processed using a chemical called ethylene oxide, which is a breast carcinogen. These chemicals can then combine and create another carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane. Products that may be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane and ethylene dioxide often include products that make suds, like shampoo, bubble bath and body wash.

While Avon is not required to list contaminants on product labels, we do know that common ingredients likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane are used in its children’s and adult products. Ingredients of concern to watch out for include PEG-100 stearate, sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene and ceteareth-20. Avon can easily ensure the toxic byproduct 1,4 dioxane does not end up in its products, but is not required by law to do so.

Triethanolamine (TEA6,7

Triethanolamine (TEA) and diethanolamine (DEA) are proteins used as common additives to adjust the pH or act as wetting agents. When they are used in the same products as certain preservatives, they can break down into nitrates and recombine to form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are a carcinogen that is banned from cosmetics in Europe and Canada. Studies have also found nitrosamines to be toxic to development as well as the brain, immune and reproductive systems.

Nitrosamines are considered an impurity and therefore are not listed on ingredient labels. Several Avon children’s products contain triethanolamine and may be contaminated with nitrosamines8.

Retinyl Palmitate9

Retinyl palmitate is a common ingredient in sunscreen products despite evidence that it can actually increase risk of skin cancer. According to the Environmental Working Group, when retinyl palmitate is exposed to UV light, it breaks down and produces toxic free radicals that can damage DNA and cause gene mutations, a precursor to cancer. It is also toxic to the reproductive system.

Many of Avon’s acne treatments and anti-aging creams contain retinyl palmitate.


Parabens are chemicals used to preserve products and are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation. Since parabens are used to kill bacteria in water-based solutions, they inherently have some toxicity to cells.

Of greatest concern is that parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Parabens act like estrogen in the body. We know that when a woman is exposed to higher levels of estrogen throughout her life, this can increase her risk of breast cancer.

Many Avon products contain parabens, including methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben in makeup, skin care, and bath & body products.


Fragrances can contain hidden hazards, including toxic chemicals like synthetic musks linked to breast cancer, reproductive and developmental harm, obesity, diabetes, and other serious health problems. But, because of a loophole in federal law, you won’t find fragrance ingredients on a label.

Avon products commonly list fragrance as an ingredient, instead of separately listing the ingredients. The company does not disclose its fragrance ingredients and has not committed to removing polycyclic musks or other chemicals of concern from fragrance.

Formaldehyde releasing preservatives18,19,20,21,22,23,24

Common preservatives that are used to help prevent bacteria from growing in water-based products release small amounts of formaldehyde over time in the container. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. When formaldehyde is present in personal care products, people can be exposed by inhaling the formaldehyde that is off-gassed from the product, by ingesting it or by absorbing it through the skin.

Common ingredients in Avon products likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde include polyquaternium compounds, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.


Triclosan is a common antimicrobial agent that can be found in Avon products, including men’s body sprays. There is strong evidence that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and impacts thyroid function. In addition, the use of triclosan may actually promote the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and antibacterial products. Along with its negative health effects, triclosan also impacts the environment, ending up in lakes, rivers and other water sources, where it is toxic to aquatic life.

Lead in Lipstick30,31

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics first raised the real concern about lead in lipstick when we tested 33 brand name lipsticks and found detectable levels of lead in more than half of them. In 2010, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) tested 400 different lipsticks and found that the majority of lipsticks contained lead in far higher amounts than previously reported. Twenty-one of the lipsticks tested were Avon products, and all but one of them contained greater than 0.1 ppm of lead (the FDA limit for lead in candy).

Lead is a proven neurotoxin – linked to learning, language and behavioral problems. It has also been linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility in both men and women, hormonal changes, menstrual irregularities and delays in puberty onset in girls. Pregnant women should not be exposed because lead crosses the placenta and may enter the fetal brain. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have stated that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Whenever we apply lipstick and lick our lips, eat and drink while wearing lipstick, or kiss someone who is wearing lipstick, we can ingest the lipstick’s ingredients. And because lead is a contaminant not listed on lipstick ingredient labels, it's next to impossible for consumers to avoid.

Despite the product testing findings by the Campaign and the FDA that show Avon’s cosmetics contain chemicals known to harm health, Avon continues to assert that its products are safe and do not pose a safety concern.

1Avon Products, Inc. Corporate Citizenship. Accessed February 13, 2013.
2Environmental Protection Agency (2003). 1,4 Dioxane (CASRN 123-91-1). Integrated Risk Information System. Available at Accessed August 19, 2008.
3 National Toxicology Program (2005). Report on Carcinogens, 11th Edition; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program, January 2005. Available at  Accessed August 19, 2008.
4Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHAA) (2004). State of California Environmental Protection Agency. Chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Available at Accessed August 19, 2008.
5Environmental Working Group (2007). Impurities of Concern in Personal Care Products. Available at Accessed July 28, 2008.
6Malkan, S (2007). Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, pp. 58. Gabriola, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.
7Numerous studies and databases link nitrosamines to cancer. They are listed as possible human carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens and the California EPA Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.
8Avon Products Inc. Shop Online. Accessed November 28, 2012.
9 Environmental Working Group. Skin Deep. Retinyl Palmitate. Available online: Accessed February 12, 2013.
10Environmental Working Group. Skin Deep. Parabens. Available online: Accessed December 9, 2008.
11Environmental Working Group. Skin Deep. Methylparaben. Available online: Environmental Working Group. Skin Deep. Parabens. Available online: Accessed December 9, 2008.
12Environmental Working Group. Skin Deep. Butylparaben. Available online: Accessed December 9, 2008.
13Environmental Working Group. Skin Deep. Propylparaben. Available online: Accessed December 9, 2008.
14Parker RD, Buehler EV, Newmann EA. 1986. Phototoxicity, photoallergy, and contact sensitization of nitro musk perfume raw materials. Contact Dermatitis. 14(2): 103-9.
15Seinen W, Lemmen JG, Pieters RH, Verbruggen EM, Van der Burg B. (1999). AHTN and HHCB show weak estrogenic but no uterotrophic activity. Toxicol. Lett. 111, 161–168.
16Schreurs RH, Sonneveld E, Jansen JH, Seinen W, van der Burg B. 2005. Interaction of polycyclic musks and UV filters with the estrogen receptor (ER), androgen receptor (AR), and progesterone receptor (PR) in reporter gene bioassays. Toxicol Sci. 83(2): 264-72.
17Bitsch N, Dudas C, Körner W, Failing K, Biselli S, Rimkus G, Brunn H. 2002. Estrogenic activity of musk fragrances detected by the E-screen assay using human mcf-7 cells. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 43(3): 257-64.
18Environmental Working Group. Skin Deep. Formaldehyde. Available online: Accessed October 16, 2009.
19Moennich JN, Hanna DM, Jacob SE (2009). Formaldehyde-releasing preservative in baby and cosmetic products. Journal of the Dermatology Nurses’ Association 1:211-214.
20Jacob SE, Breithaupt A (2009). Environmental Exposures – A pediatric perspective on allergic contact dermatitis. Skin & Aging. July 2009: 28-36.
21Flyvholm MA, Hall BM, Agner T, Tiedemann E, Greenhill P, Vanderveken W, Freeberg FE, Menné T. Threshold for occluded formaldehyde patch test in formaldehyde-sensitive patients. Relationship to repeated open application test with a product containing formaldehyde releaser. Contact Dermatitis. 1997;36(1):26-33.
22U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. ”Formaldehyde (Gas) CAS No. 50-00-0: Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Eleventh Report on Carcinogens. December 2002. Available at: Accessed October 16, 2009.
23International Agency for Research on Cancer. “IARC classifies formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans.” Press release. June 15, 2004. Accessed January 9, 2009.
24Zhang et al 2009. Meta-analysis of formaldehyde and hematologic cancers in humans. Mutation Research 681: 150-168.
25Zorrilla, L., et al (2009).  The effects of Triclosan on Puberty and Thyroid Hormones in Male Wistar Rats. Toxicological Sciences. 107(1) 56-64.
26Ahn et al (2008). In Vitro Biologic Activities of the Antimicrobials Triclocarban, Its Analogs, and Triclosan in Bioassay Screens: Receptor-Based Bioassay Screens. Environ Health Perspectives. 116(9): 1203–1210.
27Heath, R., et al (2000). Inhibition of the Staphylococcus aureus NADPH-dependent enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase by triclosan and hexchlorophene. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 275: 654-59.
28Aiello, A.E., et al (2005). Antibacterial Cleaning Products and Drug Resistance. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 11(10).
29Adolfsson-Erici, M., et al. 2002. Triclosan, a commonly used bactericide found in human milk and in the aquatic environment in Sweden. Chemosphere 46:1485-1489.
30The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (2007). A Poison Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipstick. Available online: Accessed February 13, 2013.
31Gray, J (2008). State of the Evidence: The Connection between Breast Cancer and the Environment. San Francisco, CA: Breast Cancer Fund.