Learn about a few of the top ingredients and contaminants to avoid, based on the science linking each to adverse health impacts, and the types of products they’re found in.

For each of the chemicals included in this section, a growing body of hazard-based evidence suggests connections to long-term health concerns like cancer and reproductive problems. To learn more about how chemicals impact your health and where they come from, check out the Health & Science section.

Use our Red List quick guides to avoid chemicals of concern in each product category: shampoo, conditioner, creams, sunscreen, color cosmetics, hair color and skin lighteners.

Apply one or more filter to narrow your search by health effect, product type, or affected population.

Filter By:


Not listed on ingredient labels, 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant linked to cancer found in products that create suds, such as shampoo and liquid soap.


Acrylates (ethyl acrylate, ethyl methacrylate, and methyl methacrylate) are ingredients found in artificial nail products. We are mainly...

Butylated Compounds

Concerns about organ-system toxicity and endocrine disruption led the European Union to prohibit the preservative butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) from cosmetics.

Carbon Black

Carbon black is a dark black powder used as a pigment in cosmetics such as eyeliner, mascara and lipstick that has been linked to increased incidence of cancer.

Carcinogens in Cosmetics

The laws governing cosmetics and personal care products are so limited that known cancer-causing chemicals are legally allowed in personal care products.

Coal Tar

Coal tar is a known carcinogen found in shampoos, soaps, hair dyes, and lotions.

Ethoxylated Ingredients

Ethoxylation is the process of reacting ethylene oxide with other chemicals to make them less harsh. Ethoxylation can create small amounts...


Many products list “fragrance” on the label, but very few name the specific ingredients that make up a “fragrance.” This lack of...


Homosalate is a widely used chemical in sunscreens and skin care products with SPF. Homosalate is a potential endocrine disruptor and...


One of the most toxic ingredients used in personal care products, hydroquinone is primarily associated with use in skin lighteners marketed to women of color.

Lead And Other Heavy Metals

Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, are contaminants found in a wide variety of personal care products including lipstick, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner and nail color.


Mica is a naturally occurring mineral dust often used in makeup foundations, as filler in cement and asphalt, and as insulation material in...

Nail polish removers

A serious concern for nail salon workers and pregnant women, nail polish removers are linked to reproductive harm and organ toxicity.


Insoluble nanoparticles in cosmetic products are essentially used as UV-filters or preservatives.Nanoparticles alter properties of...


Nitrosamines are impurities linked to cancer that can show up in a wide array of cosmetics ingredients—including diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA)—and products.


An endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, octinoxate is found in hair color products and shampoos, sunscreen, lipstick, nail polish, skin creams.


Parabens are preservatives used in a wide variety of personal care products. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be absorbed through skin, blood and the digestive system.


PABA and PABA derivatives are commonly used in sunscreens as ultraviolet B (UVB) filters. PABA use has declined over the years, but its...

Petrolatum, petroleum jelly

Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, derived from petroleum, is often used in personal care products as a moisturizing agent. When properly...


Phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative in cosmetic products and also as a stabilizer in perfumes and soaps.  Exposure to phenoxyethanol...


Found in facial moisturizers, anti-aging products and more, polyacrylamide can break down into known carcinogen acrylamide.


Consumers and salon workers may be exposed to p-phenylenediamine through many forms of permanent hair dyes called oxidative dyes.


Preservatives may be used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold. Parabens and formaldehyde-releasing...


Banned from cosmetics in the European Union, phthalates are widely used in color cosmetics, fragranced lotions, body washes and other products sold in the United States.


Quaternium-15, a known skin toxicant and allergen, may be especially dangerous for hairdressers and janitors, who are sometimes exposed to...

Styrene Acrylates Copolymer

Styrene acrylates copolymer is a chain of polymers consisting of styrene and acrylate which is added to cosmetics for color. There is the...

Red List

You shouldn’t need a PhD in chemistry to choose safe cosmetics and personal care products. Check out our list of chemicals to avoid in shampoos, lotions, and more.


Resorcinol is commonly used in hair dyes and acne medication.

Retinol and Retinol Compounds

Retinol is the chemical name of the essential micronutrient vitamin A which can be harmful to your health when it’s added to cosmetic...

Synthetic Musks

Synthetic musks are chemicals added as scents to personal care products, including perfumes, lotions, and many cosmetics.


Some talc may contain the known carcinogen asbestos, therefore it should be avoided in powders and other personal care products, unless it...

Titanium Dioxide

In its inhalable form, as it is in loose powders, titanium dioxide is considered a possible carcinogen.


Found in nail polish and hair dyes, toluene is restricted for use in the European Union, but not in the United States.


Triclosan, which has been linked to hormone disruption and antibiotic resistance, can be found in soaps, detergents, toothpastes, deodorants, and more.