Beauty's dirty dozen


When you hear "dirty dozen," chances are you think of the foods you should absolutely buy organic if you want to avoid chemicals, right? But did you know that there’s a dirty dozen list to avoid in your cosmetics and beauty products, too? Cosmetics are full of chemicals and harsh ingredients, many of which can interfere negatively with your skin, disrupt your hormones, or worse - cause cancer. Take a peek at the back of your body wash, lotions, foundations and other cosmetics. If you see any of the products listed below, it might be time to search for a more natural alternative.


These preservatives are possible carcinogens found in products like lipsticks and moisturizers. Long-term use of products containing BHA and BHT has been linked to thyroid, kidney and liver issues. They are also harmful to fish and other wildlife.


  • Find these in your ingredient lists as "P-phenylenediamine" or "CI" followed by a series of numbers. P-phenylenediamine is found in many hair dyes. CI numbers identify the coal tar dyes in various cosmetics like lipsticks. These dyes potentially cause cancer and are also linked to brain damage.


  • This ingredient helps products foam up, and is often found in face or body washes. On one spectrum, it can irritate the skin and eyes, and on the other end it can cause cancers of the thyroid, liver and skin. It’s also harmful to fish and other wildlife.


  • DBP is a plasticizer that keeps nail polish from becoming hard. It’s suspected to be an endocrine disruptor (a.k.a. it can mess up your hormones, which may lead to tumors or birth defects), and has also been tied to liver and kidney failure.



  • In ingredients lists, look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15 and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (say that 10 times fast!) These ingredients increase the shelf life of products, but they also slowly release formaldehyde, which can cause cancer.


  • Once you start looking for them, you’ll be shocked how often you see parabens listed in your products. Parabens are the most commonly used preservative and are found in 75-90% of cosmetics. Parabens are hormone disruptors, and are thought to cause allergies, asthma and cancer.


  • Fragrance is used in a variety of products and is extremely common. There are many different ways fragrance can be irritable, including triggering asthma and allergies. Some fragrances are even linked to cancer.


  • PEG compounds are used as thickeners in some cream products. Alone, these compounds have been known to cause skin irritation. When contaminated with carcinogenic ingredients like 1,4-dioxane, they may cause cancer.


  • As it sounds, petrolatum is a petroleum jelly. It’s used in hair and lip products to add shine and act as a moisture barrier. It’s often contaminated with carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can cause cancer, skin irritation or allergies.


  • When browsing ingredient lists (especially deodorants and hair products), look for words ending in "-siloxane" or "-methicone". These are especially harsh ingredients known to cause fertility issues and mess with hormones. They’re also harmful to fish and other wildlife.


  • SLS is an ingredient that makes products foam up, often found in shampoos and body washes. When contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, it may cause cancer. This is another common ingredient you’ll notice more and more once you start looking for it.


  • Triclosan is often found in antibacterial products like toothpaste, soap and hand sanitizer. This is a potential hormone disruptor and may influence antibiotic resistance with continued use. It is also harmful to fish and other wildlife. Governor Mark Dayton officially banned triclosan in Minnesota; the ban will go in to effect in 2017. Minnesota is the first state to outlaw this harmful ingredient.


    Not sure where to begin looking for products with healthy ingredients, free of the dirty dozen? Start by looking at your local co-op or natural grocery store. You can also look online at health websites like, or Be wary of the term "natural" as it is unregulated, and instead stick to reading ingredient lists and you’ll be sure to avoid any harmful chemicals.


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