Toxic 50 List

August 30, 2021
Updated: December 21, 2021
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Avoid these top 50 toxic ingredients in your skincare, cosmetics & supplements.

Shop our top recommended clean products.

Chemical Sunblockers

What are they: All UV-absorbing sunscreen ingredients other than Zinc Oxide and titanium dioxide.

Found in: Sunscreens, foundations, lipsticks, lotions, creams, moisturizers, concealers, and more.

Why you might not want to use these: Hormone disruption, increased risk of endometriosis, altered onset of puberty, lowered sperm count, increased percentage of abnormal sperm, altered birth weights, altered fetal development causing lasting problems, neurotoxicity, free radical production, phototoxicity, interference with thyroid function, promotion of obesity, and DNA damage potentially leading to cancer. 1-46

What names to look for on the bottle: Avobenzone, Cinoxate, Homosalate, Meradimate, Octisalate, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone, PABA, Padimate O, Sulisobenzone, and all Benzophenones.

Actions to take: Choose sun protection (SPF) products which use Zinc Oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Avoid all substitutes.


What are they:  A type of preservative.

Found in:  All types of facial and body cosmetics, as well as sunscreens, makeup remover, and even baby products such as diaper creams.

Why you might not want to use these:  Adverse effects of parabens include increased risk of endometriosis, antiandrogenic activity, estrogenicity, endocrine disruption, DNA damage, increased cancer risk, and reproductive disorders. 47,65

What names to look for on the bottle:  Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Isopropylparaben, and all names which include “paraben.”

Actions to take:  Seek out paraben-free products. These safer products are available in most or all product categories.

PEG & Polysorbate Compounds

What are they: These are harmful ingredients used to help disperse (emulsify) poorly soluble cosmetic and supplement ingredients into water, whether in the product or in the digestive tract. These synthetic ingredients are produced by chemical reactions with ethylene oxide, a potent carcinogen.

Found in: Facial masks, moisturizers, mouthwashes, toothpaste, haircare products, lotions, gels, sunscreens, cleansers, and many other cosmetics types even including baby products.  Polysorbates are also used as emulsifiers in nutritional supplements, particularly fish oil products.

Why you might not want to use these:  In cosmetics, the principal reason to avoid these ingredients is that they may include residual ethylene oxide from the manufacturing process and may even contain 1,4-dioxane, another potent carcinogen.

In nutritional supplements, not only are these carcinogens a concern, but Polysorbate 80 and other synthetic emulsifiers have been shown to interfere greatly with the gut microbiome, the beneficial balance of baccteria in your intestinal tract which are shown to be of key importance to health. This occurs from the emulsifiers attacking the integrity of the gut mucosa. Adverse effects can include causing intestinal inflammation, inducing metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetic state), promoting obesity, and increasing anxiety.

Yet further, there is evidence polysorbates may increase risk of intestinal cancer.187-192.

What names to look for on the bottle: PEG-8, PEG-32, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, PEG-40 Stearate, Polysorbate, Polysorbate 80, Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 40, Polysorbate 85, etc.

Actions to take: Avoid, particularly with oral products.


What are they: Solvents and plasticizers (materials which make plastic flexible instead of brittle.)

Found in: Fragrance (Parfum) used in cosmetics, though Fragrance does not always contain phthalates. They also commonly transferred into cosmetics, liquids, or foods from plastics.

Why you might not want to use these: Phthalates are associated with increased risk of endometriosis, obesity, increased waist circumference, insulin resistance, premature breast development in young girls,  increased risk of autoimmune diseases, alterations of sexual development of male infants, reduction of female fertility, damage to sperm, behavior disruption in boys, and increased risk of breast cancer. 66-81

What names to look for on the bottle: Phthalates are rarely directly listed on ingredient labels but can come along with Fragrance (Parfum) or result from plasticizer contamination.

Actions to take: Choose fragrance-free cosmetics over products containing fragrance unless the manufacturers guarantees their products to be phthalate-free. Also, minimize contact of your food and beverages with plastics, and especially avoid using plastic containers when microwaving foods.


Perfluoro and Polyfluoro Compounds (PFAS’s)

What are they:  Synthetic chemicals having multiple flourines.

Found in:  Foundations, concealers, eyeliners, eye shadows, mascara, lipsticks, creams, moisturizers, and facial masks.

Why you might not want to use these:  PFAS’s can interfere with thyroid function, worsen insulin sensitivity, promote diabetes, damage semen quality, promote obesity, and promote cancer. 82-89

What names to look for on the bottle:  Perfluorononyl Dimethicone, Perfluorodecalin, Perfluorooctyl Triethoxysilane, Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether, Perfluorohexane, and anything with polyflouro, pentafluoro, or octafluoro in the name.

Actions to take:  Seek out cosmetics with no perfluoro ingredients, and try to avoid cosmetics containing Teflon, as it can carry perfluoro compounds as contaminants.

Retinol and Retinyl Compounds

What are they:  Vitamin A derivatives, often used for antiwrinkle or skin-thinning effect but often merely to meet market demand.

Found in:  Foundations, lipstick, Serums, moisturizers, concealers, creams, masks, body oils, body lotions, blushes, bronzers, eyeliner, mascara, and even baby products.

Why you might not want to use these:  

Retinol and retinyl compounds are unstable to sun and can promote cancer when exposed to sun. Also although less importantly, they commonly cause adverse effects of dryness, itching, redness, burning, scaling, peeling, and hives. 90-96

What names to look for on the bottle:  Retinol, retinyl palmitate, and all ingredients with retinyl in their names.

Actions to take:  Avoid cosmetics which use retinol or retinyl compounds. Use such ingredients only under dermatological supervision and with full understanding of the risks and needed precautions. Cosmetics using bakuchiol can be safer alternatives to retinol-based products.

Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Releasers

What are they:  Preservatives and hair straighteners

Found in:  Hair straighteners, shampoos and hair conditioners, moisturizers, foundations, lipsticks, facial powders, mascara, lotions, creams, cleansers, body washes, nail treatments, makeup remover, and nearly all types of cosmetics.

Why you might not want to use these:  Formaldehyde is carcinogenic, a potent skin allergen, and toxic to the lungs. 97-108

What names to look for on the bottle:  Formaldehyde, formalin, formic aldehyde, methanediol, methanal, methyl aldehyde, methylene glycol, methylene oxide, bonded aldehyde, morbicid acid,  DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Quaternium-15, Bronopol (2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol), Glyoxal, and Polyoxymethylene Urea.

Actions to take:  If you feel a hair straightener is needed and do not wish to use a lye-based straightener, unfortunately the only other effective product type is formaldehyde based. If choosing to use such a product, take great care to provide excellent ventilation and to prevent skin contact. With regard to all other product types, simply avoid these ingredients as they are unnecessary to properly formulated products and are toxic.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, and Benzisothiazolinone

What are they:  Preservatives.

Found in:  Over 1000 products in the US from brands such as but not limited to Aveno, Aussie, Dove, L’Oreal, Neutrogena, Nexus, Pantene, Paul Mitchell, Suave, and TRESemmé, in nearly every category including baby products. They are also found in many cleaning products which may contact the skin.

Why you might not want to use these:  These thiazols are potent allergic sensitizers which can cause hives, scaling, burning, and blistering of skin, and are neurotoxic (potentially causing damage to the brain or nervous system). They are banned in Europe for leave-on products. 117-126

What names to look for on the bottle:  Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, and  Benzisothiazolinone.

Actions to take:  Find different products not containing these. No product needs these ingredients to be properly preserved.

Ethanolamines and Ethanolamine Derivatives

What are they:  Materials used to increase alkalinity or to provide detergent-like action.

Found in:  Nearly all types of cosmetics.

Why you might not want to use these:  Ethanolamine and diethanolamine react with other compounds, air pollution, or materials in bottles or seals to produce nitrosamines which are potent carcinogens. Triethanolamine and ethanolamine derivatives with names having MEA, DEA, and TEA can include these as unlisted ingredients and so can be toxic as well. 127-130

What names to look for on the bottle:  Ethanolamine, diethanolamine, triethanolamine, and any compounds with names starting or ending with DEA or TEA, such as Acetamide MEA, Cocamide DEA, and TEA Laureth Sulfate.

Actions to take:  Seek out products lacking these ingredients. If however you feel a need to choose between products containing any of these these ingredients, MEA and TEA compounds are less prone to producing carcinogenic nitrosamines than are DEA compounds or ethanolamine.

BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole)

What is this: An antioxidant to extend shelf life of products.

Found in: Lipsticks, facial products, and diaper creams.

Why you might not want to use this:  BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) is a proven carcinogen. Further, it is an endocrine disruptor adversely affecting the functions of both estrogen and testosterone and it can interfere with testicular function. Further, it is neurotoxic. 131-136

What names to look for on the bottle: BHA

Actions to take:  Avoid.

Allergic Sensitizers and Synthetic Colors

What are they: Ingredients which can cause not only an immediate allergic reaction but lasting extreme sensitivity to themselves and to other ingredients. These include but are not limited to dyes, preservatives, and fragrance materials.

Found in: Permanent hair dyes, and many colored or fragranced cosmetics.

Why you might not want to use these:  There are two types of irritation that can occur when ingredients are applied to your skin in greater concentration than you personally can handle. The first, irritant contact dermatitis, is not severe. Your skin has an immediate or quick reaction to such as a rash, occurring only at the area of application. In this type of reaction, as soon your skin heals, your sensitivity to that ingredient is no higher than it was before, nor is your sensitivity to anything else. The second reaction type, allergic contact dermatitis, is a different story. Your body can permanently become completely intolerant not only of that ingredient, but many others as well, often with severe reactions. The reaction can occur in areas other than application as well, and can extend far beyond rash, even to inability to breathe and (rarely) death. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict who is susceptible and who is not. About 10% of Americans are allergic to at least one common cosmetic ingredient. 137-148

What names to look for on the bottleBasic Violet 10, Basic Violet 3 (Gentian Violet), D&C Colors, Fragrance (Parfum), Phenylenediamine, Resorcinol, Toluene-2,5-diamine. Many more ingredients can cause allergic reactions but these are the most common and severe culprits.

As for other synthetic colorants, including the FD&C Colors, the very nature of molecules that can interact with light as colorants inherently creates potential for undesired reactions. Further, some of the FD&C dyes can have toxic contaminants such as mercury, 6-methoxy-m-toluidine, aniline, and cadmium. Further, the chemical environment of permanent hair colors inherently can lead to conversion (nitrososation) of many synthetic dyes into carcinogens. For this reason, permanent hair dyes generally should not be allowed to touch human skin.

Actions to take:  When choosing to use a product having unfamiliar or unknown ingredients, first apply a small amount to an area of the skin such as near the crook of the elbow and apply a bandaid-type covering. Evaluate 48-72 hours later. If irritation is felt anytime before then, remove and inspect the area. If any problem such as a rash appears, thoroughly wash the applied area, and do not use that product.

Unlisted Contaminants (Pesticides, Manufacturing Byproducts, etc.)

What are they:  These are harmful ingredients which enter the product as unlisted impurities, some of which are toxic. Manufacturers only have to list what their ingredients are supposed to be and are not required to state whether those ingredients are free of these toxic contaminants. 

Some of these toxic contaminants are created as a byproduct of the product’s manufacturing process.  For example, sodium laureth sulfate (the “eth” denotes ethoxylation) is a modified version of sodium lauryl sulfate. The intent of the modification was to make it less harsh, but the ethoxylation process readily generates the contaminant 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen linked to organ toxicity.

Found in:  Potentially present in nearly any type of cosmetics and in nutritional supplements.

Why you might not want to use these:  The most serious concerns of unlisted contaminants are cancer and endocrine disruption, but potentially many other adverse effects could occur. 148-154

What names to look for on the bottle:  Ethoxylated ingredients, which include everything with names such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Ceteareth-20, and Steareth-2, as well as all PEG and Polysorbate ingredients can potentially be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide. Products having ethanolamine-type ingredients such as ethanolamine itself, diethanolamine, triethanolamine, and the abbreviated MEA and DEA variants such as Cocamide MEA and Lauramide DEA can be contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines. Talc can be contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos. Ingredients including “acrylate” within them can be contaminated with acrylates or methacrylates. Further, products can be contaminated with lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and/or pesticides without any clue being available on the label.

Actions to take:  Evaluate for yourself the trustworthiness of each manufacturer. Ideally, choose products which have undergone third-party safety testing. Famous brand names on products, unfortunately, in many cases mean nothing as to trustworthiness.


What is this:  An antimicrobial ingredient and preservative.

Found in:  Soaps, toothpastes, and sanitizers, but is rapidly being removed from the market.

Why you might not want to use this:  Triclosan is a potent disruptor of the endocrine system. Specific adverse effects which triclosan can cause include damaged sperm quality, reduced female fertility, abnormal menstruation, reduced bone mass, increased risk of osteoporosis, thyroid inhibition, autoimmune attack of the thyroid, damage to the microbiome of nursing infants, and earlier breast development in young girls.109-116

What names to look for on the bottle:  Triclosan.

Actions to take:  Strictly avoid.

Toxic Ingredients Found in Supplements

Artificial Colors

What are they:  Synthetic ingredients used to change color of products.

Found in:  Most supplement types, with the largest amounts of artificial colors commonly appearing in beverages and powders intended to be mixed with water.

Why you might not want to use these:  Consumption of artificial food colors have been linked in multiple studies to increased rate of ADHD and autism in children, and may promote immune disorders. 155-157

What names to look for on the bottle:  Red 40, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, and Green 3. These may be written as, for example, Red No. 40, etc.

Actions to take:  Preferably avoid, particularly for children.

Hydrogenated Oils

What are they:  Oils subjected to a chemical reaction intended to convert double bonds as found in unsaturated fats to single bonds as found in saturated fats. This can give the oils a longer shelf life, a higher smoke point, or make them solid at room temperature.

Found in:  Softgels, meal replacement drinks and powders, and foods.

Why you might not want to use these:  The hydrogenation process produces trans fats as a side product. Consumption of trans fats increases risk of heart disease by increasing LDL-C (a component of “bad cholesterol” and increases rate of death from heart disease. 158-165

What names to look for on the bottle:  Any oil with the word “hydrogenated,” e.g. hydrogenated palm oil.

Actions to take:  Avoid.

Lead, Mercury, and PCB’s

What are they: Contaminants which will not be listed on a label but may be present.

Found in: PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury are found particularly in marine products such as fish oils, algae products, and seaweed products. Lead can potentially be a trace contaminant in many product types but calcium products are perhaps the most likely to have major contamination. 166-175

Why you might not want to use these: Lead or mercury exposure can severely affect the nerves of the brain and adversely affect psychiatric function, and can harm the intellectual development of children. Further, lead exposure can promote cancer and adversely affect female reproductive health. PCB’s are liver toxic, are toxins to the reproductive system, may promote atherosclerosis and other inflammatory diseases, and are carcinogenic. 176-185

What names to look for on the bottle:These contaminants will not be listed.

Actions to take: To be sure of avoiding these dangerous contaminants, purchase from suppliers whose products undergo third party testing.


Talc (Magnesium Silicate)

What is this:  A powder which can improve flowability of powdered products.

Found in:  Potentially in any capsule product.

Why you might not want to use this:  Talc can be contaminated with asbestos, which is carcinogenic.154

What names to look for on the bottle:  Talc or magnesium silicate.

Actions to take:  Preferably avoid.

Titanium Dioxide (Oral)

What is this:   A material added to increase whiteness of appearance of supplements.

Found in:  Nutritional supplement powders.

Why you might not want to use this:  Titanium dioxide taken orally can cause inflammation in the small intestine.187

Titanium oxide is safe for skin application, but take care to avoid oral ingestion even of trace amounts. Such ingestion can readily occur from sunscreen use if particular care is not taken.

What names to look for on the bottle:  Titanium dioxide or titanium oxide.

Actions to take:  Preferably avoid.


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