When it comes to being healthy, we are quick to make the right choices about what we put into our bodies. But what about what we put on our bodies? From shampoo to mascara, there are many chemicals found in our everyday cosmetic products that can be harmful for our hair and skin. Here are the ones to avoid.


Carcinogens are defined as cancer-causing substances. The most common carcinogen found in our personal care products, especially nail polish and liquid soaps for infants, is formaldehyde, a preservative used to prevent bacteria growth. Exposure of the chemical comes from inhaling its fumes or absorption through the skin. The most vulnerable groups of people who are exposed to this carcinogen are infants and those who work in hair or nail salons.


Parabens are used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. The preservative can be found in everything from shampoos, conditioners and body washes, to deodorants and moisturizers, and even makeup. But they are also carcinogenic, as many recent studies have found that the chemicals found in parabens can cause the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells. Their chemical structure is similar to that of estrogen, allowing them to mimic the effects of that hormone in the body. It is estimated that parabens are found in about 85% of personal care products, so be on the lookout for this cancer-causing chemical.


Sulfates found in personal care products are commonly listed as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). They can be found in most hygienic products such as shampoo, toothpaste, shaving foam, body wash, facial cleanser, soap, mouthwash and acne treatment, as well as mascara. The key identifier of sulfate in most products is whether or not it foams when combined with water. While the chemical is not known to be the cause of any cancers, it is known to be an irritant of the skin, eyes and lungs. It can temporarily aggravate the skin, causing redness, dryness and itching. When combined with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen, it has the potential to lead to problems like kidney and respiratory damage. And when it comes to your hair, sulfates can cause locks to become brittle and color to fade.


Phthalate is chemical used in cosmetics, as well as children’s toys, in order to increase flexibility and softness of products. The carcinogen has been banned from cosmetic products in the European Union, but remain in those in the US. It is most commonly found in deodorants, body washes, perfumes and colognes, hair care products, moisturizers and nail polish. Not only does the chemical increase the risk of breast cancer, it is also believed to lead to abnormal developmental issues in infants who were exposed to it during pregnancy and breastfeeding, especially males.

Thanks to much pressure by the public, many popular cosmetic products are specifically labeled as being free of chemicals many of these chemicals. The best way to avoid these chemicals is to read the ingredient labels on your personal care products, just as you would read food labels.