Dirty Dozen: Ingredients to Avoid

Most of you know that I have been passionate about natural skincare for a long time. However, natural products don't always mean they are free of nasties. There are "natural", "organic", "cruelty-free" products out there that, nevertheless, contain chemicals you shouldn't be putting on your skin.

At Mermaid Cove Organics we have always been focused on only including 100% natural products to our shop - products you can trust and feel comfortable and safe with. 

Unfortunately, a lot of skincare products on the market do still use unsafe ingredients and the cosmetic industry isn't as well regulated as many would think. In the EU and to some extent Canada, certain chemical ingredients are restricted or even banned. Not so much here in Australia. I hope this will change in the future. 

Doing your research is the only way to be absolutely sure that a product doesn't contain nasties. I know it can be hard to navigate around all this, so I wanted to share with you the top twelve nasties out there. 

The below list is in no way exhaustive, as there are always new names coming out for certain ingredients. The best way to go about researching your own ingredients is to always look up a chemical you don't know - believe me, it's worth knowing. 

So here it goes, the "Dirty Dozen":


1. BHA | BHT

BHA and BHT are mainly used as a preservative to make the product last longer. They are technically a synthetic antioxidant and may act as a carcinogen as well as causing problems with the proper function of the endocrine system. 

Names: Butylated Hydroxyanisole & Butylated Hydroxytoluene

Found in: Personal Care products, especially make-up and skincare formulation. 

Effects: Hormone disruption | Kidney & liver problems | Thyroid disfuntions


2. Dibutyl Phthalates

Found in many products containing the ingredient "fragrance" or "perfume" this chemical makes scents stay longer on your skin - meaning it helps the scents stick to the surface of your skin. it is also used as a solvent in hair dyes and helps keep nail polishes from becoming brittle.

Names: Dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate

Found in: Hairspray, nail polish, fragrance/perfume, hair dye

Effects: Hormone disruption | kidney & liver problems | lung damage


3. Fragrance | Perfume

A very common component of many skincare and personal care products, fragrance is used as an umbrella term for up to 300 different chemical ingredients - most of them not being safe. Due to industry standards, brands have the right to keep the composition of their "scent" secret (trade secret): This is why most perfume's don't have an ingredients list. 

Names: Fragrance, Parfum, Perfume

Found in: Any product that has a scent (e.g. skincare, make-up, shampoo, deodorants, laundry detergents, room sprays + many more) - if products are scented with pure essential oils, this doesn't apply. 

Effects: Hormone disruption | skin irritations | headaches | nausea + many other symptoms. 


4. Parabens

Commonly found in many personal care products (75-90% of cosmetics), parabens are mainly used as a preservative to extend shelf life of the products. In the EU the use of parabens in personal care products is restricted, as it has been shown to interfere with the endocrine system as well as cause irritations of the skin and fertility issues. 

Names: isobutyl paraben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben

Found in: Personal Care products, make-up and skincare formulation. 

Effects: Skin irritant (e.g. contact dermatitis) | Can mimic hormones which results in problems with with endocrine system | Fertility issues & breast cancer | Increased ageing + DNA damage  


5. DEA

Names: diethanolamine, cocamide DEA, and lauramide DEA

Found in: Many soaps, cleaning agents, cleansers & shampoo

Effects: Skin irritant (e.g rashes) | Irritation of the nose/throat 


6. Formaldehyde

Banned in countries such as Sweden and Japan, Formaldehydes are carcinogenic components of many personal care products, mainly hair products and are used as preservatives. Formaldehydes hide behind many names as you can see below and you'll have to do a little more research when trying to look out for these. 

Names: DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), oxaldehyde, glyoxal, DMDM Hydantoin and sodium hydroxymethyl glycinate

Found in: Nail polish, shampoo & hair products, hair treatments (e.g. Keratin treatments), body wash, body art + eyelash glues

Effects: Asthma | Neurological toxicity | Irritations of the eyes, nose & throat | Linked to lung cancer, leukemia, lymphoma | reproductive issues | developmental toxicity in fetus


7. PEG's

PEG's are found in a large number of skincare & cosmetic cream-based products. If you are buying a product that is creamy, have a look if it contains PEG's. This can be any product, from laundry softeners to body lotions and make-up foundations. 

Names: Polyethylene glycols, propylene glycol

Found in: Solvents, skin creams, make-up, softeners

Effect: Possible carcinogen | Neurological toxicity | developmental toxicity in fetus 


8. Petrolatum

A very popular ingredient in skincare products, derived from mineral oil and restricted in use in the EU. It was found as a byproduct being on oil rigs and later found it's way into many skincare products. Products made from petrolatum create the illusion of softening the skin, but really they just sit on top of the skin which doesn't allow the skin to breathe, resulting in all sorts of skin issues. 

Names: Mineral oil, petroleum distillates

Found in: petroleum jelly, hair conditioner, moisturising creams, make-up foundations & powders, body wash, make-up (mascara, eye shadow), lip products (lipstick, lip balm, lip gloss), baby oils & creams

Effects: Impairs skin cell functioning | skin ageing | skin irritant (e.g. dermatitis, rashes)


9. Siloxanes

Used in many personal care products and make-up, siloxanes are mainly there to help make the product smoother, softer and easier to apply, giving it a light-weight, silky texture. 

Names: Cyclotetrasiloxane, Cyclopentasiloxane, cyclo hexasiloxane and Cyclomethicone

Found in: Deodorants, hair products, make-up

Effects: Impairs fertility & reproductive systems | hormone disruptor | impairs proper functioning of neurotransmitters


10. SLS | SLES

Found in almost every product that foams, SLS and SLEL are foaming agents that are known to cause skin irritations and trigger allergic reactions. 

Names: Sodium laureate sulfate, Sodium laurel sulfate

Found in: Most products that creates a foam, which ranges from body wash, soaps, toothpaste, bath creams, face wash, shampoo, dishwashing liquid, laundry powder etc. 

Effects: Skin irritant (e.g. rashes, dermatitis) | impairs hair growth


11. Triclosan

Triclosan is a white crystalline powder found in many products as an antibacterial agent. It is added to most anti-bacterial soaps, sanitisers, wipes and cleaning products. The main effect of triclosan is on the endocrine system (hormone disruption). I know that some of us these days think we need to have hand sanitisers in our bags, to stay safe from bacterial. But soap and water is perfectly find to keep your hands clean. If you do want something with a antibacterial affect, try adding tea tree oil or witch hazel to your personal care products. They are all-natural and have anti-bacterial affect.

Names: Triclosan, irgasan DP-300, lexol 300, ster-Zac, cloxifenolum, biofresh, microban 

Found in: Most products that are anti-bacterial. Deodorants, toothpaste, make-up, soap, hand sanitisers

Effects: Disrupts endocrine system | Impairs reproductive systems 


11. Coal tar dyes

Coal tar dyes are derived from petroleum and used widely in cosmetics as a colourant. You can find them in hair dyes, eye make-up and any other product that contains colorants (e.g. lipstick). P-phenylenediamine is the colourant that is mainly used in hair dye. Dyes used in other products contain a CI number (in the EU) and a FD&C or D&C number (in the US)

Names: P-phenylenediamine, CI (number), FD&C (number), D&C (number), coal tar solution, tar, coal, carbo-cort, coal tar solution, coal tar solution USP, crude coal tar, estar, impervotar, KC 261, lavatar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, petroleum benzin

Found in: Hair dyes, cosmetics, eye make-up, lipstick

Effects: Skin irritant | eye irritant | carcinogenic 


This list may feel quite overwhelming at first. But it's worth putting some time into researching the products you put on your skin. 

You can also always email me if you are unsure about an ingredient, want to know more about where it is sourced from or have any other question - please reach out, I'd be happy to help. 



[Online]. https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/dirty-dozen-cosmetic-chemicals-avoid/

[Online]. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/diethanolamine#section=Top

[Online]. http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/coal-tar/