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The Truth About Popular Cosmetic and Personal Care Product Ingredients

It's crucial to research anything that is for consumption or personal use (especially products that are used often). There are a lot of cosmetic products that promise one thing or another, but a lot of them contain ingredients that the average person isn't necessarily familiar. In this article, we'll delve into some common ingredients used by the cosmetic industry and just how concerned the average consumer should be towards them.

At the store each product we purchase comes with a lengthy list of ingredients. While some are clear and recognizable, the majority of ingredients aren’t really common knowledge. It’s crucial to research anything that is for consumption or personal use (especially products that are used often). There are a lot of cosmetic products that promise one thing or another, but a lot of them contain ingredients that the average person isn’t necessarily familiar. In this article, we’ll delve into some common ingredients used by the cosmetic industry and just how concerned the average consumer should be towards them.  There are many ingredients that are currently restricted by the FDA: Bithionol, Chlorofuluorocarbon propellants, Chloroform, Halogenated Salicylanilides, Hexachlorophene, Mercury, Methylene Chloride, Vinyl Chloride, Zirconium and many more. Many other ingredients have already been researched and are deemed safe under certain circumstances, but some results remain inconclusive or require further study.


Common silicones: acrylamides, acrylates, carbomers, copolymers, methacrylates, polybutene, polyisobutene, PVP, dimethicone,  bis-PEG-18 methyl ether dimethyl silane.

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These are ingredients that end with the suffix -cone, -conol, -siloxane, -silane. These are commonly used so that hydration is retained, and for pore and fine line minimizing. Many times products like shampoo or makeup primers leave behind residue that must be properly removed  by a thorough cleansing process. People with acne-prone skill may want to minimize their use of silicones or ensure that they maintain a thorough makeup removing and cleansing routine.

Options for replacement:

Natural Oils (rosehip, argan etc.) But, ensure that these are all natural and don’t interact with other products or medications you may be taking.


Common Parabens: methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or ethylparaben. Phenoxyethanol, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, Hydantoin, Glycacil, Natrulon and benzethonium chloride

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Many products contain parabens as they are a popular preservative used in the cosmetic industry. They can also be found in food, hair-care (shampoo and conditioner) and shaving products. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the use of parabens, however, there has been no proven causal relationship between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. Parabens are useful in conjunction with other preservatives to prevent the growth of microorganisms in common products. There are products catered to people that want to avoid parabens and these are often labeled as “paraben-free” and/or “formaldehyde- free.” Formaldehyde is another preservative that is as “hidden” as parabens, and can be found in products such as eyelash glue. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and some recent studies have linked high levels of parabens to breast-cancer cells, but it is unclear if the result is causal or just correlational.

Options for replacement:  Utilize products labeled as paraben-free or that do not contain parabens and formaldehyde as well as other harmful preservatives. Alternatively, limit exposure to products containing these substances and ensure that these aren’t ingested or in contact with exposed wounds.


Common Diethanolamines: DEA, Cocamide DEA, Cocamide, MEA, DEA-Cetyl Phosphate, DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate, Lauramide DEA, TEA- Lauryl Sulfate, Triethanolamiine, Stearamide MEA.

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This ingredient is used to produce bubbles or foaminess in a variety of products. Products that begin or end with -DEA or -MEA are a part of this family of substances. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a study that showed an association between DEA-related ingredients and cancer in lab animals. However, in a news release the lead researched notably stated, “the finding needs further study and should not cause undue alarm.”


Common Phthalates: diethyl phthalate (DEP) ,  dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP).

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Currently, DBP and DMP are not as commonly used as in the past and DEP is the most common phthalate found in products. Fragrance ingredients on products (not just perfumes) are mostly simply labeled “fragrance” or “flavor” in the US because they are often a mix of natural and synthetic ingredients specific to the company that created and utilizes them. They can often be described as drying or irritating on sensitive skin types, but often times fragrance is just used to elevate the experience of using various cosmetics. The FDA is publishing the results of many studies that point to the prevalence of phthalates in products, but as of yet there is no proven health concerns posed by phthalates. However, many infant targeting products such as baby oil and powders contain phthalates so it is an important consideration to check labels if a parent wished to avoid this ingredient.


Common Leads: lead acetate (hair coloring), un-approved color additives

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Trace amounts of lead are often found in cosmetics, food and water. But, the FDA regulates just how many ppm (or parts per million) are acceptable. For color additives the limit is around 10-20 ppm. Kohl, also known as Kajal,Surma, Tiro, Tozali, or Kwalli, are traditional eyeliners commonly found in many parts of the world. However, they often contain large amounts of lead and metals and can be dangerous. These products are not sold in the US, but can often be found in specialty markets where they don’t always follow FDA regulations. These products may have seals that state they are “FDA approved” but are not ever approved because of their high lead content. Lipsticks and other cosmetics are limited to a maximum of 10ppm of lead to limit the public’s exposure.

Options: Don’t purchase anything that may not be FDA approved or that is imported from another country that doesn’t regulate the amount of lead contained in cosmetic products.

Overall, it is important, as consumers, to be cognizant of what ingredients are in everyday products and how they impact overall health. It’s a good idea to look into what each ingredient means or to avoid using products with ingredients that irritate your skin or cause you to worry about their possible impacts.



Magda Wojtara is Junior at the LSA Honors College at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor on a pre-med track with a major in Neuroscience. In her free time, she write articles, volunteers at a chronic pain outpatient facility with UM Medicine, does research, competes in HOSA, and, of course, enjoys photography and singing. In her spare time she manages her own travel and lifestyle blog: @journeythedestiantion on instagram and

2 comments on “The Truth About Popular Cosmetic and Personal Care Product Ingredients

  1. This is such an interesting and informative post! Loved it 🙂


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