About: Aluminum is an abundant metal, traces of which can be found almost anywhere, and essentially comes in two chemical forms: salts (powder) or oxide. Aluminum salts (or powders) are often used in anti-perspirants to block sweat ducts. This form of aluminum is a known neurotoxin, linked to increased breast cancer in women, and associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminum’s hydrated form, or aluminum oxide, is insoluble in water and is considered safe for use in cosmetics because it is virtually impermeable through the skin (we allow this hydrated form of aluminum as it is often used as colorants or functional ingredients in products).
Health Concerns: Neurotoxicity, potential carcinogen, endocrine disruption, organ and skin irritation
Look for: Aluminum, aluminum flake, aluminum, aluminum powder, lb pigment 5, and pigment metal 1
Butylated Compounds (BHA & BHT)
About: Both butylated compounds, Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), are preservatives commonly found in food, cosmetics, food packaging, and animal feed to extend the product’s shelf life. Banned for use in cosmetics by the European Union.
Health Concerns: Endocrine disruption, organ-system toxicity, cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, respiratory irritation.
Look for: BHA, BHT
About: Physical sunscreens, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, only sit on top of the skin to block and deflect UVA and UVB rays (unless they are made with nanoparticles, which we don’t allow). Chemical suncreens sink into the skin, absorb the UV rays, converts the rays into heat, and release the heat from the body. Not only are chemical sunscreens extremely dangerous for human use (their concentrations are restricted in the EU and listed in California’s Prop 65 potential carcinogen list), they are super harmful to aquatic organisms making them banned for use in parts of Key West, Australia, Palau, & Hawaii.
Health Concerns: Hormone/ endocrine disruption (including cell damage and mutation), developmental and reproductive toxicity, potential carcinogen, organ system toxicity, severe skin irritation, ecotoxicity.
Look for: Oxybenzone (or Benzophenone-3), Octinoxate (or octylmethoxycinnamate), Octocrylene, Octisalate, Homosalate, Avobenzone
About: Coal tar is a brown-black material and thick liquid generated during the incomplete combustion (or burning) of coal.It is often used in cosmetics as a colorant in eye makeup, or in hair products to treat dandruff or dye hair darker.
Health Concerns: Cancer, organ system toxicity, bioaccumulation
Look for: Coal tar solution, P-phenylenediamine, Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, tar, coal, carbo-cort
About: 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant generated through a process called ethoxylation—in which ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, is added to other chemicals (such as surfactants, emulsifiers, thickeners, solvents) to make them less harsh on the skin. 1, 4 Dioxane is banned for use in cosmetics in Canada, included in California’s Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm, and is considered a known animal carcinogen and probable human carcinogen by the FDA.Since 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant, you wont find it listed on ingredient labels, but it is likely present in products containing the word laureth (such as sodium laureth sulfate- SLES -a surfactant that make products foam, sud, or create bubbles); where PEG is listed; or if you see ingredients that include the word ceteareth or polysorbate. As well as 1,4-dioxane itself, all of the ethoxylated ingredients listed below are banned at Lulette.
Health Concerns: Cancer, birth defects/reproductive harm, organ toxicity
Look for: Polyethylene Glycol (PEG/related compounds); Ceteareth-20; Steareth-20; Emulsifying wax; Polysorbate-20 & Polysorbate-40; Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, and most ingredients ending in “-eth.”
About: Ethanolamines are used as a surfactants (to makes things sud) or pH adjusters in many consumer products ranging from cosmetics, personal care products to household cleaning products. The European Commission prohibits diethanolamine (DEA) in cosmetics to reduce contamination from carcinogenic nitrosamines.
Health Concerns: Endocrine disruption, skin toxicity, allergies, potential link to carcinogenic nitrosamines, inhibited fetal brain development, bioaccumulation
Look for: Diethanolamine (DEA), Cocamide DEA, Cocamide MEA, Triethanolamine (TEA), Monoethanlamine (MEA), Ethanolamine (ETA)
About: EDTA and related ingredients are chelating agents, meaning they bind to metal ions to help prevent the deterioration of cosmetics. They are also used as penetration enhancers (causing enhanced skin absorption of products).
Health Concerns: Potential organ toxicity/skin irritation, harmful to the environment & aquatic organisms
Look for: Ethylenediaminetetraacetic (EDTA), Calcium Disodium EDTA, Tetrasodium EDTA, Trisodium EDTA (anything ending in EDTA)
Formaldehyde & Formaldehyde Releasers
About: While “formaldehyde” itself is usually not listed as an ingredient on product labels (although it is widely present in conventional cosmetics), formaldehyde “releasers” or “donors” could be used in formulation as preservatives or germicides that actually form formaldehyde molecules when mixed with water. Formaldehyde & formaldehyde releasing agents are recognized as carcinogens by the International Agency for Cancer Research; are banned from use in cosmetics and toiletries in Japan and Sweden; and are restricted by concentration in the EU and Canada.
Health Concerns: Cancer, neurotoxicity, immune system toxicity, developmental toxicity, skin/eye irritant, allergen
Look for: Formaldehyde, Cormalin, formic aldehyde, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl UREA(formaldehyde releasing), imidazolidinyl urea (formaldehyde releasing), Quaternium-15 (formaldehyde releasing), Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), Tosylamide / formaldehyde resin
About: Hydroquinone is primarily used in cosmetics for its effective skin lightening abilities. It is often marketed to women of color or those with hyper pigmentation looking to reverse the visible effects of sun damage. Hydroquinone is also a metabolite of the carcinogen benzene. Banned from cosmetics in the European Union; restricted use in Canadian cosmetics.
Health Concerns: Cancer, organ toxicity, respiratory tract irritation
Look for: Hydroquinone
Mercury & Mercury Compounds
About: Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines and cosmetics (usually in eye makeup products). According to the FDA, ‘Mercury compounds are readily absorbed through the skin on topical application and tend to accumulate in the body.’ Therefore, the FDA has banned the use of mercury compounds in all cosmetics except those cosmetics used around the eyes (umm... what?).
Health Concerns: Neurotoxicity; organ, developmental, and reproductive toxicity
Look for: Thimerosal
About: Methyl Cellosolve is used as a solvent (a substance in which another ingredient is dissolved) or for viscosity control in many anti-aging treatments, creams, and perfumes.
Health Concerns: Skin irritation, cell damage and mutation, possible neurotoxicity, developmental toxicity
Look for: Methyl Cellosolve or 2-Methoxyethanol
Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone
About: Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT) are widely used preservatives found in liquid cosmetic and personal care products. Banned for leave-on products in the European Union
Health Concerns: Inhalation toxicity, allergies and possible neurotoxicity
Look for: Methylisothiazolinone or Methylchloroisothiazolinone
About: Parabens are preservatives used in a wide variety of personal care products and foods to prevent the growth of microbes. Essentially, parabens are the preservatives used in almost every category of cosmetics because they are a cheap & effective way to extend the shelf life of products (specifically products with large amounts of water because any product containing water must contain some sort of preservative to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast, and/or mold). Parabens are known endocrine disrupters and have been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen, which could affect both men and women. They have also been found in breast tissue tumors—whether their estrogenic quality cause cancer cells to grow is still unknown.
Health Concerns: Endocrine disruption, potential carcinogen, developmental, reproductive and immune toxicity, allergy trigger
Look for: Any ingredient ending in “paraben,” including: Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Methylparaben, and Propylparaben
Petrolatum and Paraffin
About: Petrolatum (and liquid paraffin, paraffin wax, & mineral oil) are ingredients derived from the petroleum distillation process and are often used in personal care products as moisturizing agents. When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns. However, petrolatum is often not fully refined in the US, which means it can be contaminated with toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), known to cause cancer. Lulette does not restrict all petroleum-derived ingredients and allows certain petroleum-derived ingredients only if a brand partner provides confirmation that the ingredient was fully refined and risk of contamination is dispelled.
Health Concerns: Possible PAH contamination linked to cancer, potential skin irritant
Look for: Petrolatum, Paraffin Wax, Liquid Paraffin, Mineral Oil
About: These chemicals, which are typically used as fragrance ingredients, plasticizers, and/or solvents,have been banned from cosmetics in the European Union, but still remain prevalent in U.S. products (and might be one of the worst on our list). Phthalates are known hormone disruptors, suspected carcinogens, are possibly toxic to fetuses, and can cause birth defect in male babies exposed to the chemical prenatally.They can also impair fertility (in males & females) and are a suspected cause of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. A significant loophole in federal law allows phthalates (and any other toxic chemicals) to be added to fragrances without disclosure to consumers because “fragrance” is considered proprietary.
Health Concerns: Endocrine disruption, reproductive harm, potential carcinogen
Look for: Dibutyl Phthalate, aka DBP, or DEHP, and DEP, phthalate, and fragrance/parfum that does not have a disclosure as to its composition
Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
About: Polyetheylene glycol (PEG) is widely used in cosmetics as a moisture–sealer or penetration enhancer (helps carry ingredients into the skin). The biggest concern about PEG (other than the fact that it is the main ingredient in antifreeze...) is its possible contamination with the known carcinogens, 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide. See above 1,4-dioxane for more details.
Health Concerns: Possible contamination with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens
Look for: Polyetheylene glycol
About: Resorcinol is commonly used as a colorant in hair dyes, but is also used as a denaturant or fragrance product in shampoos, acne medications, and in eczema treatments. Resorcinol can disrupt the function of the central nervous system and lead to a host of respiratory problems. It has also been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, specifically thyroid function. Resorcinol is restricted in all types of cosmetics in Japan, and limited to maximum concentrations in the EU. The United States regulates the exposure to resorcinol for workers in certain manufacturing fields as well as in coal processing (resorcinol is a byproduct of coal manufacturing), but not among salon workers or in any personal care products.
Health Concerns: Severe skin and eye irritant, organ and respiratory system toxicity, possible endocrine disruption
Look for: Resorcinol, 1,3-benzenediol, resorcin, 1,3-dihydroxybenzene (m-hydroxybenze, m-dihydroxyphenol), 2-Methylresorcinol
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
About: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are surfactants widely used in shampoos and many other products that foam and sud (such as toothpaste, body wash, bath products, facial cleansers, household cleaning supplies). They are both surfactants, but the main difference between the two chemicals is that SLES goes through the ethoxylation process—which means it is susceptible to 1,4-dioxane contamination (see above, 1,4-dioxane) and is a potential carcinogen. Although SLS is not contaminated in this way, it still has been shown to cause skin irritation and is associated with organ toxicity—so we don’t allow either.
Health Concerns: Potential contamination with carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane; skin irritant; organ toxicity
Look for: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
About: Toluene, a super-strong smelling solvent (you know... the nail salon smell) used in the making of many common products including nail polish, paint thinners, adhesives, rubber and hair dyes. Exposure to toluene can result in temporary effects such as headaches, dizziness,and nausea, as well as more serious effects such as reproductive damage and respiratory complications. Benzene, which is derived from toluene, is also considered a bone marrow poison related to leukemia, and is believed to increase the risk of spontaneous miscarriage. In cosmetics, toluene is most commonly found in nail polish and hair dyes, so make sure you are really careful at the salon—especially while pregnant.
Health Concerns: Neurotoxicity, links to blood, brain and reproductive cancers, birth defects, reproductive, developmental and immune toxicity, spontaneous abortion, severe skin, respiratory and organ irritation
Look for: Toluene, toluol; variations on Benzene, Methylbenzene, Phenylmethane
Triclosan and Triclocarban
About: Triclosan and triclocarban are synthetic antimicrobial agents that have antibacterial, anti fungal, and antiviral properties and are commonly used in many soaps, detergents, hand sanitizers, antiperspirants, and toothpastes. While initially developed as a surgical scrub for medical professionals (and is still relevant for hospital use), in recent years they have been added to a host of consumer products—such as antibacterial soaps, soaps, detergents, cleansers, hand sanitizers, antiperspirants, and toothpastes—and have been proven to be not only dangerous, but unnecessary in this capacity. Triclosan is restricted in cosmetics in Canada, Japan, and the European Union.
Health Concerns: Endocrine disruption, link to human reproduction toxicity, ability to develop antibiotic resistant bacteria, skin irritant, environmental toxicity (harmful to aquatic life), bioaccumulation
Look for: Triclosan, Triclocarban, & a long list of synonyms that usually include some form of the word chloro and dichlorophenoxy (for full list check the EWG’s skin deep database).