10 Worst Ingredients in Cosmetics

BY MSc. Bára Haliková

Consider this, according to a 2004 study by the Environmental Working Group, women use approximately 12 beauty care products a day and men use approximately 6 [1]. One study from the UK in 2009 discovered that an average woman’s beauty daily routine involves her applying 515 different chemicals on her body [2]! Now, we can already guess that most probably not all these chemicals are completely safe.

Picture source: pixabay.com

You may have seen many lists such as this one roaming around the internet. The only problem is that they are very often based on US information. I rarely come across proper sources that also examine and discuss EU particulars. The truth is, substances that make their way to our beauty products are much more regulated here in the EU than in the US.

In the USA, the governing body for most cosmetic articles is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the EU ingredients in cosmetics are governed by the Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products [3].

Perhaps the biggest difference between EU and USA is that in the EU far more ingredients and substances have been banned from use in cosmetics. The EU law, in the latest update in 2019, bans 1,641 chemicals while the U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals from cosmetics [4].

Ok, this makes me feel a bit more protected, but it is also not so straightforward as it seems. Obviously, where there is law there are also exceptions to the law. For example some substances are banned but are allowed if there is no other substitute.

In recent years, some research agencies and health groups have been raising concerns about many substances in cosmetics that have not yet been banned. Very slowly, the EU is trying to address these concerns and in the near future we can hopefully expect some further bans.

In the following articles, I always try to include the newest regulatory requirements in the EU, so you can see if something is already being done in this area.

It is also very difficult to say which substance is the worst. Firstly, it is very important to understand that most of the substances will not have any bad effects if used seldomly. Don’t worry, you do not need to go to your bathroom and throw away half of your products only because you see some of the ingredients mentioned here.

These ingredients become dangerous when they are being used often, for a long period of time, or are contained in many of your products. Here is where you need to take caution, focus on products that you use daily and start there. And be careful, it’s not just your cosmetics!

Many of these substances are also in your sanitary products or cleaning detergents and also in food packaging, food, pharmaceuticals and well, basically in many things around you… so yeah these things add up fairly quickly.

So let’s dive right in, shall we? As this topic is quite heavy, we dedicated a separate article for each substance so you can dive in the information properly 🙂 Here are quick links to each of the articles:

  1. Asbestos and Heavy Metals
  2. BHA and BHT
  3. Formaldehyde
  4. Fragrances 
  5. Microplastics and PEGs
  6. Mineral oils
  7. Parabens
  8. PFAS
  9. Phthalates
  10. UV filters


  • MSc. Bára Haliková

    Completed her master studies in environmental management and waste management at GCU in Glasgow. Currently, she works for the organisation CEEV Živica on project GreenGate, whose main goal is to educate the public about dangerous substances in cosmetics. She currently lives with her partner and daughter in the countryside of Slovakia, in a small mobile home, which they built themselves.


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