Harmful Chemicals To Avoid In Cosmetics

For me the philosophy of being Vegan is ultimately about being kind and this means also to ourselves.

Now most companies will tell you that only a minute amount of the following ingredients can be found in cosmetic products. This is probably true but consider this, the average woman is exposed to at least 12 toxic chemical ingredients before they even leave the house every morning, over time this ultimately creates a build up of toxins in the body.


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Remember the skin is our largest organ and it’s the first to absorb toxins applied topically and also absorbs toxins and pollution from our atmosphere but it is the last to receive nutrients so it’s important to ensure we take care of our skin and be mindful about what we apply to it.

Here are some of the chemical ingredients that can be found in cosmetics that I recommend avoiding as much as possible.

Aroma compound – (aka odorant, synthetic fragrance, or flavour)

An engineered scent or flavouring agent. Synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals and are toxins that are linked to cancer, birth defects, nervous-system disorders and allergies and can be found in the whole range of cosmetics and beauty products.

Benzalkonium chloride: (aka – alkyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride) : 

A disinfectant which is used in a number of disinfectant solutions and pharmaceutical products, it’s even used in outdoor cleaning products that remove lichens from paths so it’s somewhat worrying that you can find this in some cosmetic product such as deodorants and shampoo’s, it’s used for it’s preserving properties.

Long term exposure to this ingredient can potentially cause  asthma, chronic dermatitis and other immune system disorders.

In September 2016, the FDA announced a ban on nineteen ingredients in consumer antibacterial soaps citing a lack of evidence for safety and effectiveness. A ban on three additional ingredients, including benzalkonium chloride, was deferred to allow ongoing studies to be completed

Bismuth Oxychloride: (In cosmetics its name is C.I. 77163)

This ingredient has been used since ancient Egyptian times and it is a mineral that can be an irritant to the skin especially in people who already suffer from skin conditions such as acne.

Dimethicone or silicones: (aka – polymethylsiloxane) 

Prevalent in moisturisers, cleansers and primers, it’s used for it’s lubricant properties helping products to glide across the skin easier. It helps to fill in pores or fine lines which potentially can clog pores and worsen some skin conditions.

Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (aka -EDTA): 

Is a binding agent primarily used to sequester metal ions in aqueous solution, but it is also used in cosmetics, shampoo as an agent to improve their stability in air.

Ethanolamines (may also appear as below)

  • Cocamide DEA
  • Cocamide MEA
  • DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
  • DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Myristamide DEA
  • Oleamide DEA
  • Stearamide MEA
  • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
  • Triethanolamine

Used as emulsifiers, foaming agents and to control ph levels in a variety of cosmetic products such as soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, dyes, lotions, shaving creams, eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases, foundations, fragrances and sunscreens.

The most serious concern about these kind of ingredients is that there is evidence to suggest that it’s linked to cancer when used over a prolonged period of time.


Acts as a preservative in cosmetics and can be found in  shampoo, body wash and bubble bath. A known carcinogen that has also been linked to cancer and a variety of other health problems.


Used as a topical application in skin whitening to reduce the colour of skin found in skin-lightening creams and sunscreen. A chemical that inhibits the production of melanin and is linked to cancer, organ toxicity, and skin irritation.

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Parabens – (aka – methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- and others):

Widely used as a preservative in cosmetics, it can be found in foundation, spray tanning products, shampoo, toothpaste and body lotions.

Parabens have been found to inter with hormone function (endocrine disruption) and can cause skin irritation, dermatitis and rosacea  in individuals who are sensitive skin.

Parabens main purpose is to extend shelf life of cosmetics.

Petrochemicals – (aka mineral oil/paraffin)

Can be found in perfumes and paraffin waxes. Petrochemicals are a mineral found in crude oil and really should not be used on the skin, paraffin is a by product of petroleum and a toxin strongly linked with cancer and birth defects.

Polyethylene glycol (PEG compounds):

Another of petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers found in creams, sunscreens and shampoo.

PEGs can potentially be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane which are known carcinogens and linked with cancer. 1,4-dioxane doesn’t easily degrade and can remain present on the skin after you have showered.

PEG compounds are found not to be safe on damaged skin but despite this they are approved to be used in cosmetics.

Retinyl palmitate and Retinol (Vitamin A):

Vitamin A as we know is a natural nutrient but high doses of Vitamin A applied topically has been found to accelerate cancer and have been linked with causing skin tumours.


Is a mineral is used in some mineral make up products and talcum powder and is a known human carcinogen and has been linked to having similar properties to asbestos.













Vegan Vs Cruelty Free

Are Vegan products necessarily Cruelty Free?

No but they  probably should be…..

Products can be labelled Vegan and still be tested on animals, which I guess kinda goes against the whole point of being Vegan.

Recently some make-up companies have responded to the rising Vegan movement by labelling their products Vegan when they don’t contain any animal derived ingredients yet they will still allow for their products to be tested on when sold to mainland China.

In china it is mandatory for cosmetics to be tested on animals.

Are Cruelty Free products always Vegan?

Cruelty free labelling just means that a product has not been tested on animals.

Here are some examples of labels that you can trust.


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It is worth noting that not all cruelty free / vegan brands use these labels and the reason for this is because there is application process and a charge to be registered with these organisations.

Lush have created their own label 

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Other companies such as Bayliss and Harding have created their own Cruelty Free labels.

Be aware though because some unofficial cruelty free labels are misleading, for example Batiste have their own Cruelty Free logo and they do sell to mainland China, allowing for their products to be tested on animals. Therefore they are not Cruelty Free!




Animal Ingredients in Cosmetics

Cruelty Free doesn’t automatically mean that a product is Vegan.

Here are some ingredients to be aware of:-


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Used in natural skin care products due to it’s healing properties and as an emulsifier in cosmetics.

Often people ask why is honey/beeswax not Vegan and what’s so cruel about using Bee derived products?

In order to keep the queen from flying away and creating a new hive, one of the Queen Bee’s wings will either be cut or pasted with nail vanish to prevent her from being able to leave her hive.

Bee’s produce honey to sustain themselves and there is a great risk of taking too much honey and when this happens the Bee’s will starve to death over the winter.

In manufactured Beekeeping, Bee’s are often killed during the process of obtaining the honey and beeswax.

The number of Bees have massively declined over the last couple of decades and these little critters are our biggest pollinators and our own survival is based on their survival so it’s really important that we look after these little guys.




Lanolin is obtained from washing freshly shorn Sheep’s wool in hot water. Lanolin is a by product of the wool industry and used in many skincare and cosmetic products.

Again people will often ask “why is wool industry deemed as being cruel, don’t sheep need shearing?”

Sadly sheep in the wool industry are seen as a commodity as shearers are often paid by the volume of wool that they shear so the care for the sheep is not a priority.

Peta investigations have uncovered that sheep have been beaten and mutilated during the process and not given any veterinary care and many sheep have died as a result of shearing. One undercover reporter saw a shearer moping urine from the floor using a sheep.


Animal Hair

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Animal hair is used in cosmetic brushes. The hair is often derived from squirrels, horses, badgers, mink’s and goats.

So why is using animal hair in cosmetic brushes cruel?

Well animals are not giving their hair willingly, animal hair used in cosmetic brushes will be a by-product of another cruel industry, such as Minks being skinned for the fur industry or horses slaughtered for the meat industry.


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Keratin is a strong protein found naturally in our hair, skin and nails. Keratin is mostly used in hair and skin cosmetics and is derived from horns and hooves.

As with most animal products used in the cosmetic industry Keratin is an ingredient obtained from animals being killed for the meat industry.

Stearic Acid

Found in both animal and vegetable fats and in cosmetics is often used as an emulsifier which is a chemical that allows oil and water to mix.

Legally companies do not have to label if stearic acid used in cosmetic ingredients is obtained plant or animal derived.



Rendered from Beef and Mutton, it is a by product of the meat industry, so you could also call it slaughterhouse waste. Tallow is used as an emulsifier in cosmetics and soaps.


A red dye used in cosmetics as a colourant, obtained from crushing thousands of insects.

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Carmine is often identified on the ingredient labels of foods and cosmetics as E120.



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Used in nail varnish, shellac is a resin that comes from the secretions of the lac beetle. The beetles secrete the resin onto trees in southeast Asia as a protective shell for their larvae. Males fly away but the females stay and when the resin is scraped from the branches many of the female beetles are killed.


Used in cosmetics such as nail polishes, mascara’s and many skin care products, guanine is derived from ground up fish scales.

Hydrolysed Silk

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Hydrolysed Silk is chemically altered proteins obtained from silk. Silk is made from boiling/steaming silkworm (a moth caterpillar) cocoons while still containing their pupae. It takes around 2500 caterpillars to create a single pound of raw silk. Hydrolysed silk is used in hair and skin products for it’s moisturising and binding properties.



Can be derived from vegetable oils or Sharks liver. It has become a popular trend for Sharks to be killed and hunted to process their livers for the purpose of making health capsules. Used in cosmetics squalene acts as a lubricant on the skin, giving it a smooth appearance and can also used in some hair products.



Is Sperm Whale vomit used in perfumes and aftershaves.

Ambergris is found in the ocean and sometimes the stomachs of dead sperms whales It is not actually harvested from whales but in many countries there is a ban on the trade of ambergris as part of the more general ban on the hunting and exploitation of whales.







How to go Cruelty Free

Firstly you don’t need to empty your make up and throw everything away, that’s just wasteful and doesn’t do anything to help the cause.

Before becoming a more conscious shopper I predominately used Benefit make up, because Benefit was founded in San Francisco I made the automatic assumption that they wouldn’t allow for their products to be used in animal testing and sadly they do.

So it’s important to do your research. We live in a time of information and ignorance is very much a choice, so you can make a start by researching the brands you currently use. If you cannot find any information regarding their stance on animal testing, email them and be sure to ask if the distribute their products to be sold in mainland China, if they do then they are not cruelty free.

If the cosmetic brands that you are using are not cruelty free begin to look at alternative brands.

My top cruelty free stores on the High Street are Lush, The Body ShopSuperdrug’s own brand and Holland and Barrett.

Online Love LulaAmazonBody Kind , Cocktail Cosmetics and Naturisimo.

My favourite brands are Pacifica (sold in some Tesco’s), The Body ShopLush, Aromi Beauty and Beauty Without Cruelty (bwc).

It can be tricky at first to find suitable alternatives, especially if like me your use wearing particular products, so don’t be put off if you don’t get it right the first time you purchase a Cruelty Free product.

There isn’t many high street brands that are cruelty free and so initially I would take the chance making online purchases and still do now. I find it helpful to read reviews on the brand and the products I was particularly interested in.

In My Make-up Bag

The Body Shop’s Vitamin C primer, BB Foundation, Mascara and Perfumes.

Aromi Beauty (fromCocktail Cosmetics or Etsy) and Beauty Without Cruelty (bwc)(fromAmazon) Lipsticks

Another brand of perfume I usually wear is Pacifica, I usually purchase from Body Kind .


Why Go Cruelty Free

For the most part people tend to make unconscious decisions when it comes to purchasing cosmetics. Society is often seduced by clever marketing campaigns that use powerful slogans such as;

“Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline”

“Because your worth it”

Often people buy into these advertisements without any real consideration for the values of the company, buying into the latest trends without much concern for the companies ethics.

Companies through marketing influence consumers and yet consumers have so much power to influence companies. Every time you purchase from a cosmetic company that allows their products to be tested on animals you are buying into those ethics. By boycotting these kind of cosmetic companies allows you become a voice for the voiceless. Your letting companies know with your money that it’s not okay with you that they endorse such cruelty.

Some might say “Oh well the it’s not the cosmetic company testing on animals, it’s the Chinese government”. Quite frankly this isn’t an acceptable excuse for the animals suffering due to cosmetic testing.  If consumers can influence companies with their purchases then cosmetic companies can help influence governments to change laws by withdrawing their products from sale until laws are changed. Imagine if massive companies decided to pull out of the Chinese market, China would be forced to reconsider their stance on animal testing. Under Chinese laws these companies would still be able to make online sales, therefore they wouldn’t necessarily lose all Chinese trade.

By purchasing from cruelty free cosmetic companies you are sending are clear message that you do not endorse cruelty.



Worldwide Animal Testing Laws in Cosmetics

Progress over the last couple of decades has been made in the fight against testing on animals in cosmetics.

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The following countries have banned animal testing in cosmetics:-

EU Countries, India, New Zealand, Brazil, Norway, Israel and Australia are set to ban animals testing in cosmetics in July 2017.


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(Map image taken from The Body Shop’s Fighting Against Animal Testing campaign)

Still there is a lot more to be done to stop animals testing in cosmetics worldwide.

Even in the EU the laws to protect animals being tested on for cosmetics are far from perfect as the ban is specifically aimed at consumer safety only. Testing can still be carried out in what is known as ecotox testing, this kind of testing determines if there is a risk to the environment and it only applies to ingredients used in cosmetics and the ban does not apply to worker safety tests.

Below is a quote from Cruelty Free International

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“Cruelty Free International does not agree with the narrow interpretation put by the Commission and we are seeking to challenge it. However, that is how the bans are being operated at present – for example, by the European Chemicals Agency, which is in charge of important EU legislation on the safety of chemicals.”


All cosmetic companies that sell on mainland China are required by law to subject their products for animal testing.

Online cosmetics purchases are not subjected to testing due to it being to difficult to enforce.

Companies that have their products made in China but are not sold in China do not require testing because they are not being sold there.

Cosmetics sold in airports in China are subjected to random product testing.

(When Body Shop was owned by cosmetic giant Loreal, they tried selling The Body Shop products in airports, this did not go down very well with ethical Body Shop customers and quickly ended.)

Cosmetic companies who state that they do not test their products on animals but sell in mainland China are not considered to be cruelty free because they are knowingly allowing their products to be tested on animals.



Testing On Animals Ain’t Pretty

Up to 1400 animals can be used to test 1 cosmetic ingredient, these tests are carried out on rabbit’s, guinea pigs, mice, hamsters and rats.

Animals that are born in laboratories will never see the light of day, they will never breathe fresh air and they will never have a day free of fear, pain or suffering.


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(Image by Teigh used in a Peta advertisement)


The tests that they are subjected to are carried out over a period of weeks and sometimes even months. Typically these tests for cosmetic purposes are for skin and eye irritation, so these little defenceless animals have their fur shaven so that chemicals can be rubbed into their skin and the chemicals will also be dripped into their eyes. They will even be forcefully given these chemicals orally to determine how much of a dosage they can swallow before it kills them.

As you can imagine these tests cause horrendous pain and these little animals are never provided with any pain relief.  They will often suffer from blindness, sore bleeding skin, internal bleeding and organ damage. If they survive all this their ending is no less cruel and so when they have served their purpose without mercy these animals will be asphyxiated, have their neck broken or be decapitated.