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5 Things You Didn’t Know Were in Skincare Products

The skincare industry is not a heavily regulated one. Although Congress has given the FDA the power to ensure that food, color, and pesticides pose no harm from repeat exposures, it has not given the agency the authority to regulate the risks posed by chemicals and contaminants that are present in cosmetics. Instead, the FDA relies on the industry to regulate itself to address the risks its products pose.

Though the FDA requires cosmetic and skincare brands to list all of their ingredients on the packaging, it’s not always clear what these ingredients do or the impact they can have on our health. Here are five things present in skin care products that you didn’t know about.

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is a mineral oil that is a moisturizing agent, and it is commonly found in lotions and other forms of skin care products like balms, makeup removers, and other lip products. When it is refined properly, petroleum jelly isn’t harmful to us or our health and actually has many cosmetic benefits. 

However, in the United States, it is common for many mineral oils to not be refined properly. This can create the potential for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). This is a group of more than 100 chemical compounds that are very present in the environment and food. However, many individual PAHs are known and classified as human carcinogens and skin irritants and are not safe for our health.


Fragrance is found in a wider range of different products on the market today. We all want to smell good, and we all want what we own to smell just as good. Fragrances are made up of many different chemical ingredients to achieve different scents.

One of the common ingredients in most fragrances is phthalates. This is an industrial chemical that is used to make Plastics flexible and difficult to break. In that sort of industry, it makes sense to have ballots in their products but not in skincare products.

The three common phthalates found in cosmetics are:

  • Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP): Commonly used in nail polishes to harden the nails.
  • Dimethyl Phthalate (DMP): Usually present in hair sprays as a softener to avoid stiffness.
  • Diethyl Phthalate (DEP): Used as a solvent in fragrances.

DBP and DMP are now rarely used, but DEP is still used regularly.

Phthalates can severely disrupt the endocrine system and damage the liver, kidney, lungs, and reproductive system.


Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a strong odor, and in cosmetic products, it is used to preserve shelf life. Though not all products contain formaldehyde as one of the ingredients, some may contain or use substances that release formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is also what is used to preserve bodies, and it can be found in lotions, shampoos, soaps, etc.

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can cause different forms of cancer. It has also been found to cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, and nausea.


Talc, also known as magnesium silicate, is a substance that is the softest naturally occurring mineral. It is used to absorb moisture and can be found in eyeshadow, blush, and deodorants, along with non-cosmetic products. It’s also used as a filler and an anti-caking agent.

Companies use talc because it is a cheap and versatile option, but its composition has been compared to that of asbestos. Talc has been found to cause lung issues when it is inhaled, such as tumors, and it is often combined with asbestos in the process of mining it. It is also recently associated with ovarian cancer, and it is suspected to cause other issues when ingested by consumers, though more research is needed to confirm this.

Synthetic Colors

Synthetic colors are known to come from petroleum or coal tar. Coal tar is made up of hydrocarbons, carbon, and water; it is thick, dark, and viscous with a recognizable smell.

When you buy makeup, have you thought about what goes into the deep pigments? The answer is coal tar. In fact, the heavier the pigment is, the higher the chances are of the product having increased coal tar percentages. It is present in many different forms of commercially available makeup.

Synthetic colors and coal tar can cause skin irritation, acne breakouts, and ADHD. Not only this, but cold tar is a well-known carcinogen, and it has the potential to cause different forms of cancer.

How to Know if a Product Contains Harmful Chemicals

If you’re concerned with the ingredients and chemicals that are in your skincare products, there are a few ways of knowing what’s in them.

  • Read the labels before you buy and use skincare products. All of the ingredients inside should be listed somewhere on the container.
  • FD&C or D&C represents artificial coloring; the F stands for food, the D for drug, and the C for cosmetic. The ingredients should also list any dyes that are used.
  • Look for brands that are transparent and disclose all of the ingredients. This means not hiding ingredients under hard-to-pronounce names or abbreviations.
  • Consider natural brands.

When choosing products for skin care, you want to make choices that aren’t going to disrupt your health or hormones. If you want skincare for hormonal breakouts, you don’t want an option that is going to further disrupt that balance. Research your brands and choose wisely for yourself.

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