Chemicals in Your Cosmetics: Facts You Need to Know

Chemicals in Your Cosmetics: Facts You Need to Know


Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it’s porous – meaning it absorbs the majority of what you put on it. We may not think twice about filling our make up bags with products that claim to promote radiant skin or immaculate nails, but how do we know that the ingredients in these shiny bottles are really beneficial – and more importantly, that they’re safe?

Now, we don’t mean to say that the occasional swipe of your favorite red lipstick is cause for alarm, but what about the seemingly innocuous products you use to cleanse, moisturize, and cover up each day? Here, we lay out some of the facts you should be aware of when choosing new products to add to your beauty regimen – and things to consider when reevaluating the items that are already in your arsenal.

The Facts

US research shows that 1 in 8 of the 82,000 ingredients found in cosmetic and personal care items double as industrial ingredients – some of which can be toxic. Here are a few examples:


You’ve probably heard this term before, as parabens have become the poster child for harmful chemicals that have made their way into popular cosmetic and household products, like face moisturizer and antiperspirant. Paraben traces are frequently found in breast cancer patients, and they’ve been linked to breast cancer for their estrogen mimicking properties in the body.

Ethylene Oxide 

Ethylene Oxide is classified as a human carcinogen, originally intended to sterilize hospital equipment. Yet, we unwittingly slather it onto our hair and bodies in the form of shampoo and shower gel! This chemical is also used as a fumigant in agriculture – and if it’s used to kill pests, it can’t be doing too much in the way of nourishing your skin!


Petroleum jelly is a soft paraffin, used in lip balms and creams to soothe dry skin. The dangers of petroleum use have been discussed for years now, mainly due to the cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons they contain. Because of this widespread awareness, it’s possible you’re already avoiding petrolatum in lip and skin products, but be aware that they are also added to shampoo and other hair products to give hair a glossy sheen!


This may come as a shock to you, but many of your favorite cosmetic products may contain lead, a compound that’s well known for its harmful effects. This neurotoxin is found in hundreds of cosmetic products, ranging from nail polish to toothpaste, and can potentially contribute to side effects like infertility and learning and developmental delays in children.


Siloxanes are used in the industry for their softening and moisturizing effects, and are largely found in night creams, sunscreen, and body lotions. However, they’re also widely used industrially, as water repellants, windshield coatings, and building sealants! They’re also a known reproductive toxin, so tread carefully!

DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), and TEA (Triethanolamine)

These chemicals have been linked to liver and kidney cancers, due to their hormone changing properties. They are also very widespread in use, and are especially prevalent in foaming shampoos and body washes. While many of us believe that foaming cleansing products are essential to feeling clean, it’s important to note that foam boosting agents like DEA, MEA, and TEA, can have side effects that outweigh their benefits!

How do I know what I am putting into my body?

This is just a small sampling of the common chemicals found in our bathroom cabinets, and with the extensive ingredient list on the back of most bottles, it’s easy to see why people feel confused or overwhelmed. That said, it’s not enough to assume that if an ingredient made its way into a product, it’s safe to use. Here are a few tips for being more aware in your shopping choices!

  • Avoid the generic term “fragrance,” as it is likely code for dozens of chemicals, including harmful phthalates.
  • Don’t be fooled by the front of a bottle that claims to be “kind to your skin” or organic, as there is little regulation for these claims. Flip over the bottle and pore over the ingredients for yourself!
  • Use online resources like EWG’s Top Tips for Safer Products – identify the products you use the most, and see whether they need to be substituted for safer alternatives.
  • Make the most of your smartphone with the ThinkDirty app, which is a great on-the-go tool for evaluating ingredients in store.
  • Shop for beauty products at health stores and ethical beauty stores that have a reputation for curating the selection of products they carry according to the quality of their ingredients.

How harmful can it be?

A growing amount of evidence shows that the effects of cosmetics on our bodies are much more than skin deep. With conditions like cancer, hormone imbalances, and eczema showing signs of being caused or exacerbated by chemicals used in daily life, it’s crucial that we think critically about what we put onto our bodies.

According to research, even common, chronic conditions like asthma can be exacerbated by the chemicals parents use in common baby products. Researchers at Columbia University followed 300 mothers from pregnancy through when their children turned 11, and notices that those mothers who were exposed to higher levels of phthalates were more likely to have children with asthma or respiratory difficulties.

On the other end of the spectrum, research from Washington University in St Louis indicates that exposure to chemicals, including those commonly found in make up, can lead to early menopause in women. Although they’ve stated that further research will be required to draw conclusions, this information still provides some food for thought. Many of us start using our favorite cosmetic products when we’re teens, and continue using them for the rest of our lives!

So, what now?

We don’t suggest you panic and throw out all of your favorite beauty products, but it is a good idea to take stock of what you use now, and evaluate the simple changes you can make moving forward. In the past few years, many affordable natural products have made their way into mainstream stores and pharmacies! Online resources like Safe Products are a great way to find items that will keep you looking great, without risking your health in the long term. And, of course, remember that less can be more – going make up free can be refreshing, too!

 We pride ourselves on transparency at Uma - the ingredients in our farm-to-bottle oils are organically grown and handcrafted on our family farm. To learn more, visit our online shop!

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