5 Toxic Ingredients in Body Care Products

Do you ever touch something silky this time of year, only to have it snag on your dry skin? In winter our hands, heels, elbows (not to mention lips!) can all chap and appear rough and flaky. Over-dry skin can even become cracked and irritated. Not a good feeling—or a good look.

Bring on the lotion! Bust out the lip balm! Where’s my hand cream?! But wait.

Before slathering your skin with a potion that smells nice and feels good, let’s take a quick peek at some of the ingredients that you may be inadvertently encouraging your body to absorb.

5 Common Skin and Body Care Ingredients to Beware of

1. Petroleum and mineral oil

Oil pump in field

Petroleum jelly, also known as petrolatum, is derived from oil, an unsustainable source. And even the most refined, purest grades of these oils and jellies may still be cause for worry, sometimes containing trace contaminants from the manufacturing process that can penetrate the skin. In fact, the Journal of Women’s Health reported in a 2011 study “strong evidence” exists that “mineral oil hydrocarbons are the greatest contaminant of the human body, amounting to approximately 1 g per person.”

2. BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)

Chemicals or Vitamin E Oil

These compounds are synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lip balms, cosmetics and in a variety of packaged foods. The evidence isn’t conclusive, but they have been linked to respiratory irritation, endocrine disruption, cancer, organ-system toxicity and developmental and reproductive toxicity.

Instead choose products that contain Vitamin E. It does the same job as BHA and BHT, and it’s safe in small doses.

3. Parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben and other ingredients ending in “paraben”)

Parabens are used as preservatives in many cosmetics, but due to their ability to mimic estrogen they can potentially disrupt the endocrine system. According to breastcancer.org, “Parabens can penetrate the skin and act like a very weak estrogen in the body—potentially turning on the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.”

Your best bet? Look for products that are labeled “paraben-free.”

4. Undisclosed fragrances and flavors

Perfume Fragrance

In order to protect “trade secrets,” cosmetic manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients that make up their fragrances and flavors. Unfortunately, synthetic fragrances often contain high levels of phthalates, strong hormone disruptors linked to decreased sperm count in men, reduced female fertility, brain development problems, diabetes, asthma and obesity. Phthalates can also cause allergy and asthma symptoms to worsen.

Opt for products labeled “phthalate-free” or “free from synthetic fragrance” or those that are “scented with essential oils.”

5. Synthetic colors and dyes

Artificial Dyes

Food, drugs and cosmetics (“FD&C”) color pigments are the most common synthetic colors used in hair dyes and cosmetics (including many lipsticks, lip balms and body lotions). Derived from coal tar (another petroleum byproduct), FD&C color pigments contain heavy metal salts that deposit toxins onto the skin, sometimes causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Some coal tar dyes have also been shown to be carcinogenic—something you definitely want to be aware of before coating your lips or skin with them!

Watch out for FD&C colorants in skin care products (as well as in your foods and beverages).