What do you look for while buying a beauty product? The brand, shade, color, fragrance, price? But, how many of us flip the product over and actually read the ingredients on the labels before purchasing it?

The cosmetics industry is highly unregulated, and several companies use synthetic chemicals which are skin irritants, skin penetrators, endocrine disrupters, and are carcinogenic.

While there isn’t enough time in the world to rack up every single one of them, these few should definitely be on your no-buy list.

Parabens: These are preservatives used widely to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast in beauty products. But, parabens possess estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. They can be found in makeup, body washes, deodorants, shampoos and facial cleansers.

Fragrance: “Fragrance” can refer to nearly 4,000 different ingredients, some of which are either cancer-related, or otherwise toxic. Found in most shampoos, deodorants, sunscreens, skincare and body care products, they can cause headaches, dizziness, rashes, and respiratory problems. People may also experience hyper-pigmentation, which means you could increase the appearance of dark spots on your skin.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): A cheap and harsh detergent, it is used to clean engines, garage floors, and at car washes. Now what would you say if we told you that this is also the most popular ingredient in makeup, shampoos and conditioners, and toothpaste too? Christina Shannon, ND, Clinical Director of Naturopathic Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center says, “Certain chemical preservatives have the potential for causing irritation to the skin, and therefore individuals with sensitive skin should try to avoid them.” SLS falls under this category.


Retinylpalmitate: Applying vitamin A in the form of retinylpalmitate has been shown to accelerate the growth of skin tumors and pre-cancerous lesions, in a study done on animals where their skin was exposed to sunlight. Retinylpalmitate is found in numerous beauty products (lotions, creams, sunscreens) designed to reduce aging. Christina Shannon says it is best to avoid products that contain Vitamin A, retinylpalmitate, and retinol, until you first consult with your dermatologist. “A possible consideration would be to apply products with these ingredients at night,” she adds.

Expert Advice
Tiffany Lewis, an aesthetician and spa owner in Saint Charles, IL, says that another important issue which needs to be highlighted is the buying of beauty products online via secondary dealers, like Amazon and eBay.

She says, “Many renowned beauty product manufacturers have experienced problems with ‘copycat’ sellers offering fake versions of a brand’s products. These products are packaged to look identical to the named brand, but the product itself is not what it claims to be.”

Explaining how this affects the consumer, Lewis says, “These counterfeit products are often loaded with more toxic and harmful ingredients because they are made so cheaply. It is the very reason why they are being offered at such a low rate through secondary online sellers. Always buy your beauty products directly from the brand source.”

What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it. Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it absorbs everything, including toxins. While we should be looking at beauty product labels the same way we look at food labels, very few of us actually do.

An alumnus of Asian College of Journalism, and Cardiff University, Wales, Yoshita Sengupta has more than five years of experience in writing for various news outlets. As Founder and Director of Underscore, a content solutions agency, she writes for multiple digital and print news outlets and consults brands. When not working for Underscore, she works with social entrepreneurs and homeless communities, which includes running a library for street children.