Jump to content

How to identify green health and beauty products

+ 2
  dawnm's Photo
Posted Aug 31 2009 01:06 PM

Do you know what's in the stuff you slather on your skin, lather into your hair, or paint on your nails? Many beauty and health products are a chemical minefield, and it pays to know what's in them before you make them part of your routine. Obviously, no one today would use the lead-based cosmetics women in ancient Rome used to whiten their complexions. But did you know that as many as 60% of all lipsticks on the market contain some lead? (Don't lick your lips as you ponder that.)

Roman women didn't know that even small amounts of lead can be toxic, building up in the body and causing serious neurological, gastrointestinal, kidney, reproductive, and other problems. Kind of makes you wonder about chemicals that are allowed in health and beauty products today, doesn't it? What problems may crop up down the road because of exposure to amounts currently considered safe?

It's better to be safe—really safe—than sorry. The following table lists ingredients you may find in health and beauty products that have raised concerns about health. Read labels and avoid these substances. (Ironically, you'll find many of these chemicals listed under "inactive ingredients.")

Iffy Ingredients in Health and Beauty Products


Commonly Used In

Possible Health Effects


Deodorants (as aluminum chlorohydrate), eye shadows, and in many dyes that color products.

Anemia, brain damage. May be particularly dangerous to people with impaired kidney function.

Coal tar

Anti-itch creams, dandruff shampoos. May be in blue and green dyes used in toothpastes and mouthwashes: watch out for FD&C Blue and FD&C Green 3.

Cancer, respiratory damage, allergic reactions, skin irritation.


Hair products, nail products, bug repellants, sunscreens, hand soaps and sanitizers.

Cancer; developmental problems; damage to cardiovascular, reproductive, and neurological systems; allergic reactions; skin irritation.


Most health and beauty products.

You can't tell from this ingredient alone. This is a catch-all term for hundreds of substances, including phthalates (see below).

Hydroquinone (also called benzene-1,4-diol or quinol)

Moisturizers, products to lighten age spots and freckles.

Cancer, kidney damage, neurological damage in lab animals.

Lead, lead acetate (may also contaminate hydrated silica)

Hair dyes, lipsticks.

Cancer, brain, and developmental damage, damage to the neurological and reproductive systems.

Mercury (may be in thimerosal, a preservative)

Moisturizers, lipsticks and lip glosses, mascaras, eyeliners, eyebrow definers.

Cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, damage to the neurological and endocrine systems.

Mineral oils (may be listed as petroleum or liquid paraffin)

Hair products; moisturizers; lotions; anti-aging products; lip glosses, lip balms, and lipsticks; foundations and concealers; eye shadows.

Cancer, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, clogged pores.

PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid)

Shampoos and conditioners, body and facial cleansers, moisturizers, shaving creams.

Cancer; developmental, reproductive and neurological damage.

Parabens (may begin with the prefix ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-, butyl-, or isobutyl-)

Hair products, shaving creams, body washes, moisturizers.

Cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, damage to the neurological and endocrine systems.

Phthalates (may appear on labels as "fragrance" or with the prefix dibutyl- or diethylhexyl-)

Nail polishes, nail and cuticle treatments, wart removers. As fragrance, may be in hair products, face and body washes, moisturizers, deodorants.

Cancer; birth defects; developmental, reproductive, and respiratory problems; damage to neurological and endocrine systems; allergic reactions.

Polyethylene glycol

Anti-itch creams, styling gels, facial cleansers, toothpastes, mascaras, vaginal lubricants.

Cancer; reproductive problems; brain, liver, and kidney damage; skin irritation.


Hair products.

Cancer, endocrine system disruption, skin irritation.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (also sodium lauryl ether sulfate)

Hair products, toothpastes, tooth whiteners, mouth washes, body and facial washes, moisturizers, foundations.

Cancer; liver damage; damage to cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine, and reproductive systems; skin irritation.


Antibacterial products (liquid hand soaps, body washes, etc.), facial cleansers, anti-acne products, moisturizers, deodorants, toothpastes, body sprays, lipsticks.

Cancer, birth defects, reproductive and endocrine system damage, skin irritation.


Hair colors, hair conditioners, nail polishes.

Cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage, allergic reactions.


The table above only scratches the surface of the chemicals and other nasty substances that may lurk in your bathroom cabinet. To get the full picture, visit Environmental Working Group's Cosmetic Safety Database at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com. You can search by product, company, or ingredient. Grab the shampoo, moisturizer, or other product you use and check its ingredients in the database; most likely, it'll be a real eye-opener.

So how do you find health and beauty products that are safe to use? The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (www.safecosmetics.org) has done the research for you. It tests products and lists companies that have signed its Compact for Safe Cosmetics, promising to use safe ingredients or replace hazardous ones within three years. More than 1,000 companies have signed. To find one that makes the products you're shopping for, go to http://tinyurl.com/dzw5up.

A growing number of companies make natural beauty and grooming products. Read labels, watch out for potentially harmful ingredients (check any you're not sure of at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com), and look for businesses that are committed to safe, eco-friendly products. Here are some companies that make products that are safe to use and easy on the environment:

  • Desert Essence (www.desertessence.com) makes organic, fragrance-free skin- and hair-care items.

  • Dr. Hauschka Skin Care (www.drhauschka.com) makes all-natural skin, body, and hair products. On their site, click Ingredient Glossary to get more info about the ingredients they use.

  • Eco-Beauty (www.eco-beauty.com) sells a line of organic skin care for men, women, and babies made by Martina Gebhardt Naturkosmetik, which contain at least 95% organic ingredients.

  • Farmaesthetics (www.farmaesthetics.com) produces 100% natural skin-care products from certified organic herbs, flowers, and grains from American family farms.

  • Future (www.futurenatural.com) offers a full line of natural and organic health and beauty products, including makeup, skin and hair care, bath and body products, and fragrance.

  • John Masters Organics (www.johnmasters.com) features more than 30 organic products for hair, skin, and body. This company also makes an organic pet shampoo that repels fleas and ticks.

  • Juice Beauty (www.juicebeauty.com) creates its products from a patent-pending organic juice base. They sell skin-care products, including cleansers, toners, moisturizers, sun protection, lip balm, and lines for kids and men.

  • Kuumba Made (http://kuumbamade.com) has created all-natural fragrances, essential oils, and bath and body products for more than 25 years.

  • Origins Organics (www.origins.com/organics) carries hair, face, body, and bath products that are certified organic, including massage oils and deodorants.

  • Pangea Organics (http://pangeaorganics.com) makes product lines for skin, body, and lips. Their site includes an ingredient glossary so you can learn more about what goes into the stuff they sell.

  • Suki (www.sukipure.com) offers makeup as well as items for face, body, and hair. You can also shop by concern, such as acne or rosacea.

  • Tarte Cosmetics (www.tartecosmetics.com) makes natural cosmetics that are free of parabens, petrochemicals, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances, and the company uses recyclable or postconsumer recycled material for its packaging.


Many health and beauty products are still tested on animals. The European Union has banned animal tests for cosmetic ingredients, but such testing remains legal in the U.S. If you want to make sure your favorite products haven't been tested on animals, visit the website for the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (www.leapingbunny.org). Click Consumers Enter, and then click "shopping guide" for a list of companies that have pledged to eliminate animal testing from their products.

Living Green: The Missing Manual

Learn more about this topic from Living Green: The Missing Manual.

Taking care of the earth is more important than ever. Living Green: The Missing Manual is an all-in-one resource packed with practical advice on ways you can help the environment by making relatively easy, earth-friendly changes in your home routine, work habits, and the way you shop and get around town. This book teaches you how a few small changes can have a big impact

See what you'll learn

0 Subscribe

6 Replies

  ericgarton's Photo
Posted Jan 27 2013 11:20 AM

My wife works as a nurse in a hospital and she is choosing beauty products very carefully because she knows a lot of products contain harmful substances. She wanted to buy very much a Desert Essence skincare products but now their team focus on workers’ compensation and she is very busy, I will buy it for her tomorrow.
  lilymarlene's Photo
Posted Feb 23 2013 08:23 AM

I check very often the cosmeticsdatabase.com website, they have a lot of valuable information and keep us posted with the latest news, I even saw a couple of domestic abuse cases that happened in my city. I got skin irritation after using a shampoo that had the p-Phenylenediamine component, I went straight to the doctor and he told me I should be careful when choosing hair products because some of them contain iffy ingredients
  lennardgarnett's Photo
Posted Jul 26 2013 04:30 AM

I found out what are the harmful ingredients used in beauty products from the nurses that work at Vitalia Homes, I stayed there for a couple of days and managed to find out a lot of information about how to take care of my health. I have a very sensitive skin and try to stay away from coal tar that can be found in shampoos, I got a very severe allergy from it the last year and I since then I don`t use shampoos with coal tar.
  DietKart's Photo
Posted Sep 05 2013 05:02 AM

Kind of makes you wonder about chemicals that are allowed in health and beauty products online,
  Robertbrans's Photo
Posted Sep 22 2013 08:29 PM

Thanks for sharing. Many of them are unaware of what is healthy for their skin. This article will be helpful in knowing the facts about the beauty products. It can't be said that all beauty products are the same, but most of them are. In my opinion, usage of harsh chemicals should be stopped and lean towards the nature or natural aspects. The detailed list provided by you give a detailed information that how dangerous it can be on the usage of such materials.
  massagewebsites's Photo
Posted Feb 20 2014 11:11 PM

My Husband works for a company were they are best known for skin care products, they carry a variety of hair products too including shampoos, conditioners, styling products, styling tools and special treatments. Shampoos provide the basis for healthy hair, removing impurities and excess oils. Many of their shampoos also offer other benefits such as moisturizing and reparative properties..