A program of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners

Top Toxic Ingredients in Cosmetics

Use our lists below to see how your products stack up. These are the most common toxic chemical ingredients in cosmetics. 

For businesses, check out our Red List, our recommended “do not use” list of toxic chemicals. 

Hidden in plain sight.

Most of us use 12 beauty and personal care products on average every day.

These products can contain hundreds of unique chemicals that we absorb, inhale and ingest – some are linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and other serious health problems.

Lax regulation means the industry can sell products made with virtually any industrial chemical, without FDA safety testing or review.

Together, we can change that. Take Action >

Woman with skin care cream product

Top Toxic Ingredients in Cosmetics to Avoid

  • Polyacrylamide (possible acrylamide contamination)
  • PTFE (possible PFOA contamination)
  • Petrolatum (possible PAH contamination)
  • UV filters (octinoxate, oxybenzone, homosalate)
  • Benzophenone
  • Homosalate
  • Octinoxate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Padimate O
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Ethanolamine compounds (cocamide DEA, MEA, TEA and others)
  • Parabens (e.g. butylparaben)
  • UV filters (octinoxate, oxybenzone)
  • Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin)
  • Sodium laureth sulfate and other –eth compounds (possible 1,4-dioxane or ethylene oxide contamination)
  • Ethanolamine compounds (cocamide DEA, MEA, TEA and others)
  • Parabens (e.g. butylparaben)
  • Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin)
  • Sodium laureth sulfate and other –eth compounds (possible 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide contamination)
  • Nonoxynols (possible 1,4-dioxane or ethylene oxide contamination)
  • Hydrogenated cottonseed oil (possible arsenic contamination)
  • Resorcinol
  • p-phenlyenediamine
  • toluene
  • lead acetate
  • Ethanolamines (cocamide DEA and others)
  • The word ‘fragrance’ on a product label can hide dozens of secret, often, toxic chemicals. 

Blush, Face Powders, Eye Shadow, etc. 

  • Titanium dioxide (inhalable, nanosized)
  • Carbon black
  • PTFE (possible PFOA contamination)
  • Talc
  • BHA
  • Silica
  • Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15)
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene; BHT
  • Ceteareth-20 (1,4-dioxane contamination)
  • DMDM hydantoin (formaldehyde releaser)
  • Padimate O (nitrosamine contamination)
  • Hydroquinone

Knowledge is Power.

Want more tools? Check out apps like Clearya, Think Dirty, and Skin Deep. Plus, certifiers like Made Safe and EWG Verified rate your personal care products for safety and toxicity.

Top tips

  • Your choices are powerful. Choose products that are safer for you and for the environment.
  • Decrease your exposure by using fewer products and choosing those with simpler ingredients.
  • Don’t be fooled by the words “natural” and “safe,” which have little meaning in the largely unregulated cosmetics industry.
  • Avoid anything without ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ ingredient disclosure.
  • More tips >

Join us.

Get the Top 20 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid PDF FREE!

Get the Top Toxic Chemicals Found in Black Beauty Products PDF!

Get the Top Toxic Chemicals by Black Beauty Product Category PDF!

spreadsheet icon

Get the Full Red List Spreadsheet!

PDF document icon

Get the Full Red List PDF!

Get the Asthmagens, Allergens, & Irritants PDF!

Get the Emerging & Harmful to the Environment PDF!

Get the Ortho-Phthalates PDF!

Get the Formaldehyde Releaseing Preservative PDF!

Get the PFAS PDF!

Get the Do Not Use Chemicals Linked to Health Outcomes of Greater Concern to Black Women PDF!

Get the Do Not Use Chemicals of Concern for Everone PDF!

user guide icon

Get the User Guide PDF!