Are Some Makeup Ingredients Toxic?

Safe alternatives to harsh chemicals in skincare

Makeup has become an essential part of many people’s daily routines. It can boost confidence and enhance one’s natural features. However, it’s crucial to be aware of the ingredients in makeup products and their potential health effects. Some ingredients commonly found in cosmetics may have toxic or harmful properties. In this article, we will explore some of these ingredients and their potential risks.


Talc is a mineral often found in makeup products like blushes, eye shadows, and bronzers. It is used to absorb moisture, provide an opaque finish, and prevent makeup from “caking.” However, talc may pose a health risk due to possible contamination with asbestos, a known cancer-forming chemical. In 2019, the FDA advised consumers to avoid using certain cosmetic items that tested positive for asbestos.


Triclosan is an ingredient that may be present in some over-the-counter cosmetics, such as toothpastes, antibacterial soaps, and body washes. It is added to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. However, high levels of triclosan may affect thyroid hormones and contribute to antibiotic resistance. Research is ongoing to determine its long-term effects on the development of skin cancer.


Cosmetic eye products that contain kohl, kajal, al-Kahal, surma, tiro, tozali, or kwalli may contain high levels of lead. Lead is a harmful heavy metal that can have adverse effects on the body. In the United States, products containing these ingredients are considered illegal color additives by the FDA.

Mercury and Thimerosal

Skin lighteners may contain mercury, a heavy metal that can harm the nervous system, cause kidney damage, and harm a developing fetus. Thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury, can also appear in cosmetics.


Phthalates are present in some nail polishes, hair sprays, and the fragrances of many cleaning and cosmetic products. These chemicals can disrupt hormones, particularly those that work alongside estrogen, and may have a link with breast cancer.


Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics, appearing on labels as methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben. They can enter the body through the skin and mimic estrogen. Although their estrogenic effect is weak, it could still potentially contribute to the growth of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.


Formaldehyde or chemicals that release formaldehyde over time can be found in cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, shower gels, nail polishes, and hair straightening products. Formaldehyde can cause allergic reactions, eye and respiratory tract irritation, and has been linked to cancer in some laboratory animal studies.


Toluene is a solvent present in some nail treatments and polishes. It may be toxic to the brain, nervous system, and a developing fetus.

Carbon Black

Carbon black is used in mascaras, eye liners, and lipsticks to provide color. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) links this chemical to cancer, although most studies have been based on industrial-level exposure or laboratory animals. Further research is needed to determine the safety of small amounts of carbon black in cosmetics.

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Some cosmetic products, including foundations, concealers, and eyeliners, may contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals have been associated with harming a developing fetus, increasing the risk of cancer, affecting the immune system, and disrupting hormone balance.

Benzophenone-type Ultraviolet Filters

Certain makeup products may contain benzophenone-type ultraviolet (UV) filters. These filters have been linked to hormone disruption and potential associations with endometriosis.

It’s important to note that the presence of these ingredients in cosmetics does not necessarily mean they will cause harm. The levels of exposure and the individual’s sensitivity also play a role. However, being aware of these potentially toxic ingredients can help consumers make informed decisions about the products they choose to use.


Q: How can I avoid makeup products with potentially toxic ingredients?

A: To avoid makeup products with potentially toxic ingredients, it’s essential to read labels carefully. Look for products that are labeled “paraben-free,” “phthalate-free,” and “lead-free.” Additionally, consider using products from brands that prioritize clean and natural ingredients.

Q: Are there any safe alternatives to toxic makeup ingredients?

A: Yes, there are many brands and products available that offer safer alternatives to cosmetics with potentially toxic ingredients. Look for products that use natural and organic ingredients, as well as those that have been certified by reputable organizations.

Q: How can I make sure I’m using safe makeup?

A: Researching brands and reading product reviews can help you make more informed decisions about the makeup you choose to use. Additionally, consulting with dermatologists or skincare specialists can provide valuable insights and recommendations tailored to your specific needs.


Being aware of the potential risks associated with certain makeup ingredients is crucial for maintaining our overall health and well-being. While the presence of these ingredients in cosmetics does not guarantee harm, it’s always beneficial to make informed choices and prioritize products that align with our preferences and safety concerns. By staying informed and selecting makeup products wisely, we can enjoy the benefits of cosmetics while minimizing potential risks to our health.