The Dirty Dozen: 12 Toxic Cosmetic Chemicals To Avoid

David Suziki's list of the dirty dozen cosmetic chemicals - | Source:

Walking through the brightly-lit and beautifully-displayed cosmetic counters in any beauty section or store, you’d never know the dark and ugly secrets they’re hiding.

I had no idea cosmetics even contained chemical toxins before I was in university and taking a course on Gender Relations. I distinctly remember feeling betrayed by companies I’d poured my money into over the years in hopes of looking like the women in magazines.

I stopped wearing makeup for a while, but when I graduated into the workforce, I felt an intense pressure to look “done up” like my female colleagues. I decided to at least bring back the mascara, lip gloss, and eyeliner, and this is when I made the switch to natural cosmetics.

Nowadays, I’ve ditched the eyeliner for brow filler and have put much more effort into natural skin care and hair care than covering anything up. However, I know I’m going against the grain here. Whenever I leave the house, I’m quickly reminded of how out-of-touch I am with current cosmetic trends. I missed the chapter where every young girl learned how to perfectly blend eyeshadow colours or contour their faces or even apply lipstick without looking like a rookie. The makeup game is in a league of its own, and I’m fine with that, but I’m not okay with knowing the associated risks of everyday cosmetics and not saying anything or offering some natural alternatives.


The “Dirty Dozen” of Cosmetic Chemicals

Over 80 percent of products sampled from Canadian consumers contain at least one of these toxic chemicals.

The David Suzuki Foundation
  1. BHA and BHT
  2. Coal tar dyes
  3. DEA-related ingredients
  4. Dibutyl phthalate
  5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
  6. Parabens
  7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
  8. PEG compounds
  9. Petrolatum
  10. Siloxanes
  11. Sodium laureth sulfate
  12. Triclosan

If you clicked on even one of the above links, you know we’re talking about some pretty nasty stuff here. Like, health-risking and environmentally-damaging stuff.

Personal Health Risks of the Dirty Dozen

Study after study has suggested that long-term exposure to these “Dirty Dozen” toxic cosmetic chemicals is associated with the following health concerns:

  • Cancer
  • Hormone disruptions
  • Reproductive issues
  • Neurotoxicity

In addition to the generalized health concerns listed above, individual cosmetic chemicals are associated with specific ailments. For example, exposure to parfum can trigger migraines, allergies, and asthma symptoms.

So why are these in our products? Aren’t their regulations to protect us? It seems criminal, I know. The truth is, cosmetics in North America aren’t as regulated as you might like to think, and each of these ingredients serves the interests of the companies who create them. Some of the dirty dozen cosmetic chemicals are used to cut costs, extend-shelf life, and attract consumers while others act as stabilizers or foamers. All of them pose personal health risks.

These health risks are all the more serious when we’re talking about children and cosmetic chemicals. Children and adolescents are more vulnerable to environmental toxins because their central nervous, immune, digestive, and reproductive systems are still developing. The World Health Organization reports that exposure to toxins during developmental stages can have irreversible effects.

It’s important to teach the next generation about these risks and all the better to go natural or forgo cosmetics altogether.


Environmental Concerns Associated with the Dirty Dozen

The toxic cosmetics we use, even in seemingly insignificant amounts, have an undeniable negative ripple effect on the environment.

The biggest environmental threat from cosmetic chemicals is on our aquatic systems and marine life.

When these cosmetic chemicals enter our waterways, they bioaccumulate and poison the ecosystem. This can happen in two ways. It can happen when we wash our skin and consequentially drain toxins into our waterways, and it can also happen when we urinate, granted the cosmetic chemical is skin permeable.

For example, “studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [found] four different parabens in human urine samples, indicating exposure despite the very low levels in product.”

Using synthetic fragrances (parfum) found in perfume, cologne, hairspray, lotions, and more poses an additional risk to air quality.

This is why it’s best to go for natural alternatives. It’s really the only way to ensure you’re not exposing yourself or the environment to the dirty dozen cosmetic chemicals. If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry. It’s never been easier to make the switch. You can search online, read reviews, keep up with our Products We Love, or simply check barcodes and brands or search for product options in the free Think Dirty app.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *