" Blog da Horta Biológica: Understanding Cosmetic Chemicals

Understanding Cosmetic Chemicals

When you change your food, it seems inevitable to start thinking of other ways to protect health and environment as naturally as possible.

We grow our own vegetables and that led us to think of ways we can use them to make our own chemical-free household products. With few and simple ingredients (those we can understand and spell) it's possible to make at home an array of products from moisturizer to dishwashing liquid.

It is true that we cannot always escape from chemical products and, therefore, when we need to buy them, we must be aware of what we are consuming. Labels are dubious and seem to be indecipherable! We also observed that it's not easy to find information about all these chemicals.

The list of chemicals is endless, so we chose to research the ones that are more common in most products. After much research, what we found is really scary! Almost all components are harmful and many are not even mentioned. For your health, read this!


Is an antimicrobial agent that can be found in many soaps, detergents, toothpastes, deodorants, shaving products, moisturizers and even in fabrics and plastics (like kitchen cutting boards!). You find them in labels as TRICLOSAN (TSC) and TRICLOCARBAN (TCC). Both are linked to endocrine disruption and environmental toxicity. All population is vulnerable, especially pregnant and breast-feeding women. In the USA, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulates triclosan as a pesticide and in Canada triclocarban is classified to be toxic and harmful to the environment.

Sodium Laureth Sulphate / 1,4-dioxane

1,4-dioxane is a carcinogen  that can be found in thousands of cosmetic products, but is not mentioned in labels. This is because 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant that results from the reaction of mixed ingredients. It is found in products that create sud such as shampoo, shower gel, liquid soap and others. You can find it in labels under the name SODIUM LAURETH SULPHATE (SLES) and chemicals that include in the name: XYNOLCETEARETH and OLETH. This agent causes cancer and the most vulnerable groups are pregnant women, infants and children.

Interesting to know...

1,4-dioxane is generated through a process called "Ethoxylation", in which ethylene oxide is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh for the skin.

SODIUM LAURYL SULPHATE is a chemical that is harsh on the skin and is converted to a less harsh chemical: SODIUM LAURETH SULPHATE (the "eth" indicates ethoxylation). The conversion process can lead to contamination of this ingredient with 1,4-dioxane.

Ethoxylation is not allowed by organic standards and in Canada this agent has been banned in cosmetics.


These are several distinct preservatives with a similar molecular structure. They can be found in labels with the names: 
They are linked to endocrine disruption, cancer, and developmental and reproductive toxicity. The most vulnerable groups are pregnant women and very young children. Parabens can be found mostly in shampoos, shower gel, facial cleansers, and body lotion.


Many product labels show terms like PERFUMEPARFUMFRAGRANCE or AROMA. However, only few will enumerate the ingredients that make up the fragrance. In the United States, fragrance is defined by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as a combination of chemicals that gives each perfume its distinct scent. Fragrance ingredients may derive from petroleum and also contain stabilizers, dyes, and preservatives. Chemical components in fragrance are considered to be trade secret and will not show on labels. Some chemicals are linked to serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and allergies. All people are vulnerable, especially pregnant women and infants.

Petrolatum / Petroleum Jelly / Paraffin

Petrolatum is derived from petroleum and is found in products such as body lotions, moisturizers, and make-up. Petrolatum forms a film that repels water, creating a barrier against the evaporation of the normal moisture of the skin, clogging the pores, which can subsequently cause infections. You find it on labels with these names: PETROLATUMVASELINEPARAFFINUM LIQUIDMINERAL OIL and WHITE PETROLATUM (this is refined and said to be safe for use). If properly refined petrolatum should not cause problems, but if not, it may be contaminated with carcinogen chemicals called  Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). There's no way to know if it was properly refined unless the producer company indicates it...hum...
Unrefined petrolatum causes cancer and the entire population is vulnerable. You can learn more about PAHs here.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals can be found in several products such as deodorants, sunscreen, toothpaste, and make up. The most common are aluminum, lead, chromium, and mercury. On labels you find the names: ALUMINUM CHLOROHYDRATE, LEAD ACETATE, CHROMIUM, THIMEROSAL (preservative based on mercury).  Some metals are intentionally added as ingredients, while others are contaminants. Contaminants are not mentioned on labels. Exposure to metals has been linked to reproductive, immune and nervous system toxicity, cancer, and also environmental problems caused by bioaccumulation, that is, high concentration of metals in the environment. Under all these effects all population is vulnerable. Aluminum, although not yet scientifically proven, is linked to breast cancer. Studies have shown that breast carcinomas contain high levels of aluminum.

Ethanolamine Compounds (MEA,DEA,TEA)

These compounds can be found in personal care products and household cleaning products. They are linked to cancer (liver tumors), organ toxicity and bioaccumulation. You can find them on labels as: DIETHANOLAMINE  (DEA), TRIETHANOLAMINE (TEA), COCAMIDE DEA, COCAMIDE MEA, DEA-CETYL PHOSPHATE, DEA OLETH-3 PHOSPHATE, LINOLEAMIDE MEA, MYRISTAMIDE DEA, OLEAMIDE DEA, LAURAMIDE DEA, STEARAMIDE DEA, TEA LAURYL SUPHATE. In cosmetic formulation, DEA may react with other ingredients thus forming a carcinogen called NITROSODIETHANOLAMINE (NDEA), which is absorbed by the skin. Under the exposure to these chemicals all people are vulnerable.

Butylated Compounds

BUTYLATED HYDROXYANSIOLE (BHA) and  BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE (BHT) are used as preservatives in personal care products and also in food. Both are linked to several health problems such as endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, and respiratory system irritation. The most vulnerable groups are pregnant women and infants.


POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL (PEG) also known as POLYETHYLENE OXIDE (PEO) or POLYOXYETHYLENE (POE) is a compound with many applications from industrial to medicine. It can be found in several personal care products and is linked to allergies, skin irritation, and liver problems. All population is vulnerable.


Talc may contain asbestos, therefore should be avoided unless the container indicates its absence...Still, even without asbestos, its use must be avoided in the pelvic region. Talc can be found in baby products, feminine hygiene products, make up and facial masks. On labels it appears as TALCUM POWDER or COSMETIC TALC. Talc can me mined from earth or produced industrially. Some talc may be contaminated with asbestos, a mineral substance linked to cancer, respiratory system irritation, and organ toxicity. Most vulnerable groups are women, infants, children and those whose work is related to the extraction and processing of talcum powder.

Special attention to the use in the pelvic area

Talc is linked to ovarian and endometrial cancer. When applied to the pelvic region, whether by use of feminine hygiene products or by changing diapers, enters the body and can also reach distant organs. Talc has been found in women's ovaries and pelvic lymph nodes. Genital talc use increases risk of endometrial cancer among postmenopausal women.

For more detailed information about these and other chemical components present in daily life, please refer to Wikipedia and SafeCosmetics where we found most of these precious information.

Knowing this, we believe that other chemical components that we still haven't researched should not be any better than these! We came to the conclusion that what we buy are not called "Cosmetics", but "A-bunch-of-noxious-damn-expensive-chemicals"!

As much as large companies claim that products have been dermatologically tested, that components have the right dosage, and that chemicals in small quantities are not harmful; the truth is that you take "small quantities"...daily...several times a day...for years on end! No wonder there are so many health problems for no apparent reason...and all in the name of someone's profit!

At this point you should be asking the same question we asked ourselves:

How to avoid these chemicals? How to protect my family's health?

By now we only see two ways to do so:

  • Buy products that do not contain these ingredients 
It's an overwhelming task, because almost all products contain them, labels are huge, and chemical names are hard to read. By our experience we can tell that the less ingredients, the better!

  • Make natural products at home 
Do not fear to try it. Even if it's not perfect at first attempt, it doesn't matter! What really matters is to preserve the biggest treasures of human being: health and nature.

Chemicals are so deep-rooted in society for so many decades that people tend to trust chemicals and distrust natural products. Anyway we believe that this way of thinking is about to change.

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