Safer Cosmetics

Hopefully you’ve gotten a chance to read our Cosmetics: Get Informed page. Now that we know why we need to be aware of what’s in our cosmetics and personal care products, we can start making better choices when it comes to purchasing them. But without a governing body when it comes to cosmetics safety, we ourselves need to be proactive to stay safe and limit our exposure to toxins through cosmetics. One way you can protect yourself is by checking the ingredients before you purchase something. Below is a list of common toxic ingredients in cosmetics that should be avoided. Please note this list is not all-inclusive.


Benzalkonium chloride: associated with severe skin, eye, and respiratory irritation and allergies

BHA: anticipated to be a human carcinogen; causes skin depigmentation, liver damage and stomach cancers; interferes with normal reproductive system development and thyroid hormone levels

Coal tar hair dyes and other coal tar ingredients (including Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine): known human carcinogen

DMDM hydantoin & bronopol (2-Bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol): Cosmetics preservatives that decompose and release formaldehyde , a known human carcinogen.

Formaldehyde: a known human carcinogen; also an asthmagen, neurotoxicant and developmental toxicant. Many common preservatives also release formaldehyde into products (like DMDM hydantoin, quaternium, and urea compounds).

Fragrance: can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world

Hydroquinone: can cause blue-black lesions and tumor development

Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone: among the most common irritants, sensitizers and causes of contact allergy; studies suggest that methylisothiazolinone may be neurotoxic

Oxybenzone: linked to irritation, sensitization and allergies; may disrupt the hormone system.

Parabens (Propyl, Isopropyl, Butyl, and Isobutylparabens): estrogen-mimicking preservatives, found in breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied; may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders.

PEG/Ceteareth/Polyethylene compounds: frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable human carcinogen which readily penetrates the skin.

Petroleum distillates: may cause contact dermatitis; often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities.

Phthalates: linked to hormone disruption, cancer concerns, male reproductive system disorders; found in many ‘fragrances’

Resorcinol: common ingredient in hair color and bleaching products; skin irritant, toxic to the immune system and frequent cause of hair dye allergy; can disrupt normal thyroid function

Retinyl palmitate and retinol (Vitamin A): excessive amounts can cause severe birth defects; when applied to sun-exposed skin, these compounds can break down and produce toxic free radicals that can damage DNA and cause skin cancer.

Toluene: potent neurotoxicant; may impair fetal development; associated with toxicity to the immune system; possible link to malignant lymphoma.

Sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate: Skin damage, toxic contaminants

Triclosan & Triclocarban: found in antimicrobial soaps; disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones

Triethanolamine (TEA): Allergies, toxic contaminants

If you’re like us, you may not want to have to keep track of all the harmful ingredients we should be avoiding. The good news is there are easier ways to find safer cosmetics and personal care products. Check out our tips below.


Go Without

This goes without saying, but if you can go without certain cosmetics or personal care products, do! The fewer number of products we use, the fewer number of chemicals we’re exposed to.

Choose Safer Brands

We know it may not be practical (or desirable!) to give up all your cosmetics and personal care items. In this case, we have some good news! There are companies dedicated to making safer products. Check the list below for some of our favorite, go-to brands. We are also continually adding Cosmetic Product Reviews of products we’ve used! Check back often to see what we’ve been busy trying out. 🙂

Check Here Before You Purchase

A few organizations stand in the gap to help consumers make informed choices.

Environmental Working Group (EWG)

You can search a product’s hazard rating based upon its ingredients and available studies of those ingredients by going to the EWG Skin Deep Database. Search your current products, or use the database to find safer alternatives. Additionally, you can check out EWG’s Cosmetics Champions to see a list of companies who have pledged, among other things, to disclose all product ingredients on their labels and to comply with ingredient restrictions outlined by The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.


GoodGuide is another product database where you can search safety ratings of cosmetics based upon their ingredients. You can also input other factors that are important to you such as environmental or social considerations. Also, download the GoodGuide app to your phone (iPhone or Android) so you can scan a product’s barcode and find out it’s safety rating!

Whole Foods

Your local Whole Foods is also a great resource when looking for natural products! Many body care products on their shelves have the Premium Body Care® symbol which means, among other things, that the product is free from over 400 unacceptable ingredients.

Natural Products Association

The Natural Products Association is the nation’s largest and oldest non-profit organization dedicated to the natural products industry. In order to bear the NPA Natural Seal, products have to adhere to specific standards, including prohibiting toxic ingredients. Consumers can search their list of cosmetics with the NPA Natural Seal and use the Natural Products Store Locator.


Here at Girls, we have some favorite, go-to brands when we are looking for new beauty/cosmetic/personal care products. That’s not to say everything from these companies is free from ingredients we should be avoiding; always check out the product for yourself. But here are some of the brands we start with when looking for new products to try…

Drugstore Brands:

Burt’s Bees – skincare, haircare

Alba Botanica – skincare, haircare

Yes to Carrots – skincare

Tom’s of Maine – personal care items (toothpaste, deodorant, etc.)

California Baby – baby and children’s products (lotions, shampoos, etc.)

Specialty Stores (Ulta, Sephora, Whole Foods, Various Salons):

Boscia – skincare

Korres – skincare

Jane Iredale – makeup

Badger – sunscreen, bug spray

Additional Resources:

The Shopper’s Guide to Safe Cosmetics from EWG – printable pdf

Top Tips for Safer Products from EWG – includes tips on sunscreens and products for kids and babies

Health Tips from EWG – printable cheat-sheets

What’s in Your Products? from The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics