Yes or No? Common Cosmetics Ingredients

Written by Amanda Azar

When you’re on a diet, you typically read the ingredient list on all your groceries, making yourself conscious of the detrimental effects of GMOs and positive energy sustained from organic farms. However, do you pay special attention to the ingredients in the cosmetics you apply to your skin on a daily basis?


Unfortunately, the cosmetic industry does not heavily regulate the over 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products. Though unethical, many companies include unsafe carcinogens, pesticides, toxins, and other hormone disrupting ingredients to mass produce their commerce. Linked to various types of cancer, organ failure, poisoning, endocrine disruption, bioaccumulation, and other health concerns, it is important to identify both the good and bad additives in products. This Beauty Blueprint outlines the do’s and don’ts of cosmetic ingredients.



Vitamin E and squalene are used to hydrate the skin, fight free radicals, and help protect cells from oxidative damage. They are emollient moisturizing agents that soften the skin and increase water retention capacity, improving skin tone and texture. Tocopherol and tocopheryl acetate are also promising to see on the label.


Plant-based oils that do not contain perfume are used for moisturization. Shea butter, along with avocado, sunflower, safflower, coconut, palm, and jojoba oils are ideal cosmetic ingredients.


Peptides and ceramides help activate other ingredients that are great for the skin, along with strengthening the lipidic barrier. Because they are naturally produced by skin, they allow for quick metabolization and product absorption. Look for polypeptides, oligopeptides, and anything else with the word peptide on the label.


Allantoin is chemically synthesized, but compatible with raw materials used in cosmetics. Also referred to as alcloxa, aldioxa, udder cream, or vitamin U, allantoin is used to calm several irritating skin conditions.


Iron oxide is often used as pigment in the warm earthy range of colors including yellow, orange, red, and brown.


Boron nitride is a mineral powder added to foundations and concealers to give a soft feel to the product.


Magnesium myristate is an FDA-approved earth mineral used in products for oily skin due to its absorbency properties.


Calcium carbonate (precipitated chalk) is usually quarried from marble for makeup. It has oil absorbing characteristics, which provides a matte finish to products.


Clay is used in a majority of foundations and powders, providing absorption, disinfection, and sun protection benefits. Kaolin clay (china clay or white clay), illite (similar to sericite mica), and rice powder are common mineral ingredients used in place of talc and cornstarch.


Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are both FDA-approved makeup ingredients that protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. Aside from sunscreen, they are safe for use on sensitive skin and share anti-inflammatory qualities.



 Parabens mimic estrogen and are used in up to 90% of products, like makeup, moisturizers, and spray tan solutions. Some parabens, including propyl, butyl, isopropyl, and isobutyl, affect the endocrine system and are responsible for developmental disorders. Look for paraben-free labels. 


Fragrance is used in many moisturizers and other personal care items, accounting for one of the top five allergens in the world. Because federal law does not require the listing of chemicals used in a fragrance mixture, several of the carcinogenic ingredients are often hidden on product labels. This non-disclosure leads consumers to overlook the harmful ingredients that are linked to cancer, reproduction toxicity, and dermal sensitivities. Avoid labels that list fragrance, perfume, essential oil blend, and generic aroma.


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are used in cleansers, eyelash glue, and other water-based products. These include skin irritants and cancer-inducing chemicals like quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin, phenacetin, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol), glyoxal, benzene, untreated mineral oils, ethylene oxide, cadmium, and crystalline silica.


Sodium lauryl sulfate is commonly used in foundation, concealer, and other cream-based products. Studies have proven that sodium lauryl sulfate contributes to cystic acne, canker sores, and eye damage. Avoid labels that list sulfates, polyethylene glycol, ethylene oxide, and 4-dioxane.


Petroleum distillates, usually found in mascara, can cause contact dermatitis due to the inherent impurities they contain when harvested at oil refineries.


Talc, also known as talcum powder, is the softest mineral and used to reduce oiliness. Cosmetic-grade talc has particularly poor regulations and often includes asbestos, which is a known cancer stimulant.


Lead and heavy metals have historically been used to make lipstick, eyeliner, eyeshadow, nail polish, and other colorful cosmetics. Affecting the nervous system, immunity, and reproductive organs, these harmful ingredients are found in 61% of all lipsticks. Metals that should be avoided include lead, lead acetate, arsenic, nickel, mercury, aluminum, zinc, iron thimerosal, bismuth oxychloride, hydrogenated cotton seed oil, sodium hexametaphosphate, and chromium. Phthalates are chemicals also found in color cosmetics linked to similar health issues; avoid DEP, DBP, and DEHP.


Ethanolamine compounds are linked to liver tumors and are typically used in foundations, primers, blush, and several eye products. These amino acids and alcohols are listed on labels as triethanolamine (TEA), diethanolamine (DEA), cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearamide MEA, and TEA-lauryl sulfate.


Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), found in some antiaging products, is known to delay menstruation and cause breast cancer. Other preservatives used in lipsticks and creams include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).


Coal tar, often referred to as carbon black, is the darkest black pigment used in eyebrow products, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, and several other makeup essentials. This ingredient has negative effects on organs and is produced from incomplete combustion of carbon-containing materials. Avoid labels that include D and C Black Number 2, acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black, and thermal black.


The skin is the largest organ in the human body, so it’s only natural to be aware of the composition of the products you apply to it frequently. With repeated usage, the cumulative effect of these chemicals can cause severe repercussions to the body and the environment. In conjunction with the go green movement, many cosmetic companies are making a valiant effort to produce safer products. Now, more than ever, consumers have a wide array of non-toxic cosmetics that contain beneficial ingredients.



Amanda Azar 2019Amanda Azar, LME is a published makeup artist, medical aesthetician, and body wrapper based in south Florida. She is the founder and executive artist of Azar Beauty, makeup artistry instructor at Cortiva Institute, and lead artist for NewsmaxTV, Pelican Grand’s Pure Spa, and St. Andrews Country Club. Azar has a degree in business management from Florida Atlantic University and diplomas in fashion makeup from Cosmix School of Makeup Artistry and paramedical aesthetics from Southeastern College and is dual-licensed and holds over 40 certifications. Azar is a member of the National Association of Professional Businesswomen, National Aesthetic Spa Network, Look Good Feel Better, and a RAW Artist alumni.

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