Ingredients to avoid

Cosmetic ingredients to avoid

The ingredients we avoid (and why you should too)

 For a variety of reason – mostly convenience and cost savings – the cosmetics industry still uses a number of undesirable ingredients and synthetic compounds. Many have been linked to allergies, cancer, and other ill effects. 

We think the following should be avoided at any cost – and (obviously!) that choosing certified organic beauty products is your best choice.


Ethylene glycol

This is a transparent, oily fraction derived from petroleum. It is used in thousands of cosmetics – including professional products, products from perfumes, herbal products, pharmaceutical products and mass market products. It is also used by industry in vehicle antifreeze, as well as brake and hydraulic fluids. It even appears in some foods. 

Long term skin exposure to ethylene glycol may cause dermatitis, however it is not considered to be mutagenic or carcinogenic in humans, or harmful to unborn children.


PEGS or Polyethylene glycol/Propylene Glycol

There is actually a large group of ethylene glycol polymers, listed on product labels with a corresponding number that indicates the number of ethylene glycol units they contain. 

The lower the number, the higher absorption rate. For example, PEG-4 absorbs into the skin faster than PEG-100. 

These are petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. Depending on the manufacturing process, PEGs may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Ethylene oxide is a known human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane is a possible human carcinogen according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 

PEG functions as a "penetration enhancer," increasing the permeability of the skin to allow greater absorption of the product — including any contaminants or other harmful ingredients.


Mineral oil or Petrolatum
Also known as Liquidum paraffinum – Paraffin oil or Paraffin wax

A petrochemical derivative from crude oil, and usually used as an engine oil. However it also appears in many hair styling products and massage oils. It is used because of it is cheap.

Mineral oil inhibits the skin's natural ability to breathe and may possibly interfere with the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins through sweat. Any mineral oil derivative can possibly be contaminated with cancer-causing PAH's (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons), although many measures are taken to ensure that cosmetic grade mineral oil is highly refined and purified. 

As an environmental issue, crude oil is a non-renewable resource and one of the root causes of global warming.


Sodium Laureth Sulphate ( SLES and SLS )

A surfactant derived from petroleum hydrocarbons, and widely used in cosmetic products as it creates a lot of foam. One concern around SLES comes from the ethoxylation production process (where ethylene oxide is added to alcohols to create the surfactant), which produces toxic and possibly carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane as a by-product. 

When SLES or SLS comes into contact with chlorinated water its pH increases to 10. This alkalinity is very aggressive on the hair and skin. SLES and SLS can also cause allergies and acute dehydration, especially for people who are exposed to it often due to constant use. 

Both chemicals are harmful to fish and other wildlife when in our waterways.



Methyl Buthyl, Propyl and Ethyl Parabens are petrochemical preservatives used in cosmetics to increase the shelf life of products. They continue to be used despite a rising number of allergic reactions in people. Allergies to individual parabens are rare, but there is a high incidence of cross-reaction, so a combination of parabens in one product increases the likelihood of a reaction. 

Parabens have been found in breast tissue, although a link to breast cancer has not been proven. Parabens have also been shown to have an effect on the Endocrine system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, once released into our waterways these parabens can affect aquatic organisms although there has not been enough research to confirm this.


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
(e.g. diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15)

People, animals and plants naturally produce low levels of formaldehyde, a colourless gas, during normal metabolic processes. In cosmetics, however, it is a well recognised cause of allergic contact dermatitis and an occasional cause of occupational asthma It can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat. It is found in many cosmetic products including deodorants, shampoos and hand wash.

In 2011 the National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens changed the listing status of formaldehyde to ‘known to be a human carcinogen’.

In the EU, any product that exceeds .05% has to include a warning that the product contains formaldehyde, and the maximum allowed concentration of formaldehyde in any finished product is 0.2%.



DMDM-hydantoin is an anti-microbial organic compound that releases formaldehyde to work as a preservative in hair care and skin care products – specifically anti-ageing, hair colouring, hair conditioners, foundations, makeup bases, and facial moisturisers. 

DMDM-hydantoin stops bacteria forming in the products, and is also known as ‘Glydant’ in the chemical market. The acceptable concentration of DMDM in a product is less than 0.2% when measured as free formaldehyde. 

Our Hair Mousse includes a very small amount of DMDM-hydantoin to increase its effectiveness.


Diazolidinyl Urea

Diazolidinyl Urea is a mild sensitizer used in personal care and cosmetics products, and is believed to be safe at concentrations below 0.5%. It is produced from the chemical reaction of allantoin and formaldehyde in the presence of sodium hydroxide solution and heat. The reaction mixture is then neutralized with hydrochloric acid and evaporated – making this a synthetic ingredient in cosmetic terms.

Diazolidinyl Urea can be a skin irritant but has no direct link to cancer. An identical chemical, Carbamide, is sometimes artificially synthesized from inorganic compounds.


Imidazolidinyl Urea

Imidazolidinyl Urea is a formaldehyde releaser, usually in combination with parabens, to act as a preservative in cosmetic products. It is known to cause contact dermatitis.



This is a surfactant and anti-microbial preservative, more properly known as hexamethylenetetramine chloroallyl chloride. Sometimes marketed under its Dow Chemical names of Dowicil 200, Dowicil 75 and Dowicil 100, it commonly causes allergic reactions and dermatitis.


Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

This is a skin and eye irritant produced through an extremely heavy and synthetic industrial process. Despite this, it is considered a ‘natural’ alternative to parabens and used as a used as a preservative in cosmetics. 


including Cocamide DEA and Lauramide DEA (diethanolamine),
and other TEA/MEA related chemicals

These are cleaning solvents used in many cosmetics to create foam. DEA-related ingredients may contain low levels of DEA, which the European Union classifies as harmful with prolonged exposure. DEs can also react with nitrates in cosmetics to form nitrosamines (chemical compounds) which are classified as a possible human carcinogen according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In laboratory experiments, exposure to high doses of DEA-related ingredients has been shown to cause liver cancer and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid. These chemicals can also cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation. 

DEA is hazardous to the environment because of its toxicity to aquatic organisms and potential for bioaccumulation. MEA (monoethanolamide) and TEA (triethanolamine) are related chemicals. Like DEA, they can react with other chemicals in cosmetics to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.


Keratin, collagen and derivatives

Substances derived from the hooves of dead animals like bullocks and horses. They are used in various hair products such as hair smoothing solutions and volumisers. Some keratin-based products present a health risk because they contain unacceptable levels of formaldehyde. Keratin is also known to cause skin and eye irritation. Collagen has been known to block pores and irritate the eyes and skin.


including Ciclomethycone, Phenyltrimetycone, Amodimeticome, Dimethicone, Ciclophentazylosane, etc.

These are just some of the silicon substances used by all the cosmetic companies in the world. These substances are used in products for face, body and hair. They do not allow the skin to breath and some silicones are known tumour promoters. The European Union classifies some silicones as hormone disruptors and they can possibly influence the nervous system. They are also non-biodegradable, causing negative environmental impact. 

Dimethicone is used at an extremely low concentration in our Macassar Restructuring Fluid, as it seals out humidity, prevents frizz and is highly conditioning. (This product is used sparingly and lightly on the hair).


Synthetic Parfum/Fragrance/Essence

Substances also known as phthalates that give a product a scent or odour of perfume, also found in lipsticks and hairspray. They are substances obtained from petroleum and are rich in allergens. They have also been linked to decreased infertility for their hormone disrupting properties. They have nothing in common with botanical essential oils but are advertised and sold as such.


Isopropyl alcohol

Derived from petroleum, this anti-foaming agent causes hair damage, skin irritation, and is neurotoxic to the liver, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems as well as the kidneys. It is also teratogenic (causing foetal/birth defects). Used in hair colours, moisturisers, aftershave lotion, nail enamel, antifreeze, carpet cleaner and more.


If you haven’t found the info you need here, please feel free to Contact us and we’ll do our best to get the answers for you. 

Please bear in mind that we are not chemists, beauty or medical professionals. We’ve gathered this information from a variety of sources and checked it to the best of our abilities. But you should seek medical advice and/or confirmation regarding your specific needs.