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Why You Should Use This Book

Your health is affected not only by what you put into your body in terms of food, drink, drugs and nutritional supplements, but also by what you put on your body. Your skin is not an impenetrable barrier as was thought years ago. We now know that all chemicals that come in contact with the skin can penetrate the skin in varying degrees. Many of the chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin have been detected in the blood stream.

Many of the ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products are toxic, even though they may not cause any reactions on the skin. Some cause cancer. Some of the most commonly used ingredients combine with other ingredients to form cancer-causing substances.

In 2004, the Environmental Working Group evaluated the ingredients in 7,500 personal care products for safety. They found that:

• "One of every 120 products on the market contains ingredients certified by government authorities as known or probable human carcinogens, including shampoos, lotions, make-up foundations, and lip balms."

• "Seventy-one hair dye products contain ingredients derived from carcinogenic coal tar."

• "Fifty-five percent of all products assessed contain 'penetration enhancers,' ingredients that can increase a product's penetration through the skin and into the bloodstream, increasing consumers' exposures to other ingredients as well." Fifty of these products also contained "penetration enhancers in combination with known or probable human carcinogens."

• "Nearly 70 percent of all products contain ingredients that can be contaminated with impurities linked to cancer and other health problems."

• "Fifty-four products violate recommendations for safe use set by the industry's self-regulating Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) board."

• And nearly all the products (99.6%) "contain one or more ingredients never assessed for potential health impacts by the CIR."

The cosmetics industry is very poorly regulated. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act does not require cosmetics and personal care products or their ingredients to be approved before they are marketed and sold to consumers. FDA regulation starts after they are already in the marketplace. So, except for color additives and a few ingredients, which are banned, manufacturers may use whatever ingredients they choose in the cosmetics and personal care products they produce without approval from the FDA.

However, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires cosmetic manufacturers to list the ingredients on the label of every cosmetic and personal care product sold directly to consumers in descending order of quantity. In other words, the ingredientpresent in the largest quantity appears first on the label and the ingredient present is the smallest quantity appears last.

Cosmetic and personal care product manufacturers are not required to prove the claims they make about their products or to test their products for safety. However, if the product’s safety has not been established, the product requires the labelto state: "WARNING: The safety of this product has not been determined." According to EWG in their evaluation, they did not find a single product with this warning on the label.

Hair coloring products are among the most poorly regulated consumer products. There is no requirement to place a warning on the label of hair coloring products to inform consumers that these products cause cancer. Although the industry maintains that hair dyes are safe, there is a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to an increased risk of bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma associated with the use of permanent hair dyes.

According to John Bailey, Ph.D., director of the FDA’S Office of Cosmetics and Colors, "Consumers believe that ‘if it’s on the market, it can't hurt me,’ and this belief is sometimes wrong."

The FDA can make suggestions or recommendations to manufacturers about cosmetic products or their ingredients, but the manufacturers do not have to comply. The FDA must first prove in a court of law that a product is harmful, improperly labeled, or violates the law if it wants to remove a cosmetic product from the market.

According to EWG, "The regulatory vacuum in the U.S. gives cosmetic companies tremendous leeway in selecting ingredients, while it transfers potentially significant and largely unnecessary health risks to the users of the products."

Buyer Beware

The FDA’s attempt at establishing official definitions for specific terms like "natural" and "hypoallergenic" were overturned in court. Consequently, companies can use these terms on cosmetic labels to mean anything they want. Mostly, the value of these terms lies in promoting cosmetic products to the consumer rather than any real medical meaning, according to dermatologists.

Beware of products claiming to be:

Natural – suggests that the ingredients are derived from natural sources rather than being produced synthetically.  However,  there are no industry standards for what natural means. The product may contain all natural ingredients, just a few natural ingredients added to a synthetic product or even no natural ingredients at all.

Hypoallergenic – means that the manufacturer believes the product is less likely to cause allergic reactions. But there are no standards for classifying a product hypoallergenic. The manufacturer may actually test the product before classifying it hypoallergenic, or simply remove fragrances and call it hypoallergenic. The manufacturer is not required to prove this claim. Also, the terms "dermatologist-tested," "sensitivity tested," "allergy tested," or "nonirritating" do not guarantee they won't cause allergic reactions. 

Alcohol Free – generally means the product does not contain ethyl alcohol (or grain alcohol). The product may contain fatty alcohols like cetyl, cetearyl, stearyl, or lanolin.

Fragrance Free – means that the product has no detectable odor. Fragrance ingredients may still be added to mask offensive odors from the materials used to make the product.

Antibacterial Soaps

Antibacterial soaps have been widely embraced as a way to "kill germs" and prevent illness. But not all bacteria are harmful. And not all "germs" are bacteria.

Some bacteria are beneficial and your body needs them. Antibacterial soaps cannot distinguish between harmful and helpful bacteria. It kills all bacteria. When the healthy bacteria that your body needs have been "washed away," it leaves you more susceptible to illness from harmful bacteria.

Recent studies show that triclosan, one of the most common antibacterial agents used in soaps, acts like an antibiotic in the way it kills bacteria and may contribute to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

It has been suggested that antibacterial soaps should not be used on children because the chemicals are too harsh and drying for their skin. Using antibacterial soaps on your children does not protect them and help them to stay healthy. In fact, children need to come in contact with “germs” to help them to develop their immune system. Overuse of antibacterial agents has been linked to allergies and asthma.

And antibacterial agents do not kill viruses, the microorganisms responsible for colds and flu.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the use of antibacterial soaps is not necessary on a daily basis. Washing with warm water and ordinary soap is sufficient.

Xenoestrogens in Your Personal Care Products

Xenoestrogens are endocrine disrupters. They are chemicals that mimic estrogen in your body and interfere with the normal functioning of your hormones.

Endocrine disrupters are found in a great many personal care products on the market, including shampoos, conditioners, lotions, sunscreens, and cosmetics as well as baby products.

Estrogen mimicking chemicals have been implicated in early puberty in girls, development of breast cancer, some association with vaginal and cervical cancer, and endometriosis. In males, they have been associated with reproductive disorders, including decreased sperm count, increase in testicular cancer, hypospadias and cryptorchidism, and possibly benign prostatic hypertrophy and prostate cancer.

Women exposed to xenoestrogens during pregnancy may have children with reproductive disorders, sometimes not apparent till puberty. This exposure may also adversely affect the children’s intelligence and behavior, as well as their immune system.

The xenoestrogens most commonly found in personal care products are the parabens: butylparaben, ethyl paraben, methylparaben and propylparaben.

Other xenoestrogens, used mostly in sunscreens, facial cosmetics and lipsticks include:

  • octyl-methoxycinnamate
  • octyl-dimethyl-PABA
  • benzophenone-3
  • homosalate
  • 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC)

These five chemicals not only demonstrated strong estrogenic effects, but also caused increased growth of cancer cells in a Swiss study.

Most companies using parabens, maintain that they are nontoxic and safe. But while they may be relatively nontoxic, according to Peter Eckhart, M.D., "The new theory that has been espoused since 1991 is that these xenoestrogens are causing many female problems such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breast disease, premenstrual syndrome, and most recently menstrual cramps."

How the Classifications Were Determined

Many references were used in determining how to classify each ingredient in this book according to safety. In addition to the references listed in the back of the book, available information was reviewed from the:

• Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR)

• Environmental Working Group (EWG)

• National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Chemical Hazard Ratings

• National Toxicology Program (NTP) Report on Carcinogens

• International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

• Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from chemical manufacturers and various government agencies.

Not All Safety Ratings Agree With the FDA or CIR

In many cases, the various references were not in complete agreement as to the safety of the ingredient. In those cases, I have taken the conservative approach: if there is any indication from any of the sources that the ingredient might have any adverse effects, then they were noted and rated according to the significance or severity of the adverse reactions. In most cases, the references indicating the most severe reactions were given the most weight.

Oftentimes, in the "Cosmetic Ingredients" list, you will find ingredients that are GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), considered safe by the CIR or FDA approved colorants that are not rated S or safe. This is because, based upon all the information available to me, I did not agree with the CIR or FDA that these ingredients were in fact safe.

Ingredients are rated X if:

  • they are known carcinogens, as determined through research studies
  • the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) gives them a Group 1, 2A or 2B rating
  • are known to be unsafe for various reasons
  • there’s no safety data

Ingredients are rated C if:

  • they’re not carcinogenic, but may form a carcinogen by reacting with another ingredient in the product
  • they’re not carcinogenic, but may be contaminated with a carcinogen in the production of the ingredient
  • the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) gives them a Group 3 rating
  • they may cause a variety of mild to moderate adverse effects
  • they’re considered safe, but there’s inadequate safety data available

Ingredients are rated C1 if:

  • they may be harmful for certain groups of the population, i.e., children or pregnant women.

Ingredients are rated S if:

  • they’re known to be safe, supported by safety data
  • known safe for the general population, but some people may have a mild reaction to the ingredient.

The safest products are products with the fewest number of ingredients and with the ingredients rated S. However, even if all of the ingredients used in our cosmetics and personal care products are safe individually, rarely does any product have only one ingredient in it.  Safety testing has only been done for individual ingredients, not for combinations of ingredients. Ingredients safe individually may be harmful in certain combinations.

Nobody knows the effects of the many different ingredients used in the thousands of different combinations, the effects of using numerous different products, one on top of the other, or the effects of repeated use of ingredients or products over time.

How To Use This Book

The codes below are to the left of each additive and indicate the safety of the additive when used for intended purposes in cosmetics and toiletries.


GRAS - Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA.
o       FDA approved colorant
      CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) Expert Panel considers this ingredient safe 
     There is no known toxicity. The additive appears to be safe. 
A      The additive may cause allergic reactions. 


Caution is advised.The additive may be unsafe, poorly tested, or used in too many products we use on a regular basis.
C1     Caution is advised for certain groups in the population, such as pregnant women, infants, persons with high blood pressure, kidney problems, etc.
X The additive is unsafe or very poorly tested.

 Cosmetic and Personal Care Product Ingredients 


  Abies alba – see fir oil. 
  Abies sibirica – see fir oil. 
  4-ABP – synthetic; carcinogenic contaminant in some hair dyes; IARC Group 1.   
  Acetic ether – synthetic solvent; see ethyl acetate. 
  XA  Acetone – synthetic solvent; petroleum derivative; eye, nose, throat and skin irritant; may cause light headedness, nausea, coma, nail splitting, peeling and brittleness; lung irritant if inhaled; narcotic in large amounts; neurotoxin; has caused liver, kidney, and nerve damage in lab animals; extremely toxic. 
  Acetophenetidide – see phenacetin. 
  Acetophenetidin – see phenacetin. 
  Acetyl ethyl tetramethyl tetralin  – synthetic; toxic to nervous system, may cause hyperirritability; has caused brain, spinal cord and nervous system damage and death in lab animals; absorbs through the skin. 
CA  Acetylated lanolin – skin irritant; may cause acne; see lanolin. 
  C1  Achillea millefolium – see yarrow oil. 
  Acid Blue 9 – synthetic; coal tar dye; carcinogen. 
  Acrylates copolymer – synthetic; petroleum derivative; may contain carcinogenic contaminants; CIR says safe when formulated to avoid irritation. 
  Aesculus hippocastanum - herb, anti-inflammatory, for sensitive skin, capillary fragility.  
  AETT – synthetic; see acetyl ethyl tetramethyl tetralin. 
  Alcohol – may be synthetic petroleum derivative or from fermented carbohydrates; can cause systemic contact dermatitis, eczema; see ethyl alcohol.  
  Alcohol C12 – synthetic; see lauryl alcohol. 
  Allantoin – herb; healing properties; may irritate skin; may be from plant sources or synthetically derived from uric acid; avoid synthetic sources; not believed to be a hazard; no toxicology data available; on CIR high priority review list. 
  Allium sativum – herb, see garlic. 
  CA  Almond glycerides – synthetic; potential skin irritant; safety data not available. 
  SA  Almond oil – carrier oil; healing for irritated or dry skin; may irritate skin. 
Aloe – plant derived; herb, healing properties; antibacterial; anti-inflammatory; moisturizer; may be irrant for some; CIR says safe as used if anthraquinone levels in the ingredients do not exceed 50 ppm.  
Aloe extract – see aloe, extract. 
Aloe vera – see aloe. 
  Aloe vera gel – see aloe. 
* Citrus lemon – essential oil; see lemon oil. 
* Citrus limomum – essential oil; see lemon oil.
* Citrus nobilis – essential oil; see tangerine oil. 
  Citrus red no. 2 – synthetic; possibly carcinogenic, IARC Group 2B. 
* Citrus reticulata – essential oil; see mandarin oil. 
  C1  Civet – essential oil; may irritate chemicallysensitive individuals; see essential oils.  
* C1  Clary sage oil – essential oil; anti-septic; anti-fungal; astringent; infants and small children should avoid; avoid during/after alcohol consumption; use cautiously or avoid if pregnant; see essential oils.  
* C1 Clove oil – essential oil; antibacterial; anti-fungal; anti-infectious; anti-inflammatory; antiseptic; skin irritant; causes contact dermatitis; frequent use may cause contact sensitization; use cautiously or avoid if pregnant; ban proposed for use in astringent products; see essential oils. 
  XA  Coal tar – coal derivative; skin and eye irritant; phototoxic; carcinogen, IARC Group 1; banned in the European Union; classified as a drug in Canada. 
  XA  Coal tar derivatives – coal derivative; skin irritant; may cause acne; sensitizer; possible carcinogen; degree of carcinogenicity depends on the specific chemical. 
  Cobalt – heavy metal; skin irritant; possible carcinogen, IARC Group 2B. 
  Cobalt chloride – metal; found in hair dyes; possible carcinogen, IARC Group 2B. 
CA  Cocamide betaine – synthetic; may cause formation of carcinogens in products containing nitrogen compounds. 
CA  Cocamide DEA – synthetic; skin irritant; may cause contact dermatitis, allergies; may cause formation of carcinogens in products containing nitrogen compounds; CIR panel says safe as used in rinse-off products and up to 10% concentrations in leave-on products, but should not be used in products that contain nitrosating agents; see DEA. 
  XA  Oxymethylene – synthetic; see formaldehyde. 
  CA  PABA – synthetic; component of vitamin B; sunscreen; prevents sunburn and may prevent skin cancer; may cause contact dermatitis and photo sensitivity in sensitive individuals; IARC Group 3.
  p-acetylphenetidin – synthetic; see phenacetin. 
  Padimate-O – synthetic; see octyl dimethyl PABA. 
  Palm fatty acid – synthetic; irritant; low toxicity; not considered hazardous. 
Palm oil – plant derived; no known toxicity; CIR says safe as used. 
 † Palm kernel oil – plant derived; no known toxicity; CIR says safe as used. 
*† CA  Palm stearic acid – synthetic; stearic acid derived from palm; see stearic acid. 
C1  Palmarosa oil – essential oil; antiseptic, anti-bacterial; antifungal; antiviral; caution if pregnant; see essential oils. 
Palmitate – synthetic; possible skin irritant; adverse reactions. 
CA  Palmitic acid – synthetic; skin, eye, respiratory irritant. 
  CA  Palmityl alcohol – synthetic; may cause skin, eye, respiratory irritation; see cetyl alcohol. 
  CA  P-aminobenzoic acid – synthetic; see PABA.
  CA  Para aminobenzoic acid – synthetic; see PABA. 
  C1  Panax ginseng – herb; demulcent; stimulant; may increase cell life; may cause vaginal bleeding; avoid if asthma, cardiac arrhythmia, clotting problems, emphysema, fever, high blood pressure, pregnant; do not give to children.  
Panthenol – natural; B vitamin; CIR says safe as used.
Pantothenic acid – natural or synthetic; vitamin B5; beneficial for hair; see nutrient additives CIR says safe as used. 
CA  Parabens – synthetic; derived from petroleum; absorbed through the skin; may irritate skin; may be toxic if swallowed; potential mutagen; endocrine disrupter; may impair fertility; in recent studies, parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors, but it is unknown if they had a part in causing the tumors; not adequately tested; not recommended for children; CIR is re-evaluating safety, previously considered safe as used.


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©2006-2009 Christine H. Farlow, D.C., "The Ingredients Investigator"