The Toxic Twelve

Next time you pick up your favorite beauty product take a minute to read all those tiny words on the back of the bottle you never really notice or cared about before. Do you recognize any of those long words?  Heck if you’re anything like me you probably can’t even pronounce any of them either! Well, guess what, those are all the ingredients that are inside that favorite little bottle of yours and chances are if you can’t pronounce it then you shouldn’t be applying it to your body!

When it comes to unwanted chemicals in beauty products The David Suzuki Foundation put together a list known as the “dirty dozen”. The dirty dozen (or as I prefer to call it… the toxic twelve) are 12 chemicals that are commonly found in beauty products that have a negative impact on human health. Several of these chemicals can be endocrine disrupters, carcinogen, irritant, mutagen, allergen, or can lead to asthmatic symptoms or even infertility. It is very important to be aware of these potential negative side effects as they can lead to some very significant health conditions but I feel like not a lot of people know what exactly they mean (and don’t worry because a few years ago I had no idea either!). I am just going to explain some of the main potential effects:

Endocrine disruption: endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the proper functioning of the endocrine system, which can then lead to a hormone imbalance. The endocrine system is a collection of very important glands and organs (pineal, pituitary, hypothalamus,  thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, ovaries, testis, and pancreas) that are responsible for the production and secretion of hormones. In easier words, it is your hormone control center that is responsible for making the hormones and the shipping them off to their final destination.

Carcinogen: is any type of chemical that has the potential to cause cancerous cells in any living tissue.

Irritant: is any chemical that has the ability to cause inflammation or discomfort of the skin, eyes, lungs, or genitals.

Mutagen: is any chemical that has the ability to cause genetic damage, which can then cause an increased chance of acquiring a genetic mutation.

Allergen: is any chemical that has the ability to elicit an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is when the body’s immune system (the army of your body that is there to protect you) recognizes a foreign substance (that is typically harmless, in most cases) and then sends its army men after it to attack and remove that foreign substance. This overexertion of the immune system (the army men) can lead to symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose, skin rash, trouble breathing, nausea, or diarrhea.

Another thing that is important to remember is all the little fishies and aquatic animals! The toxic twelve is very harmful to those underwater critters as it can lead to bioaccumulation (I know, its a big word so let me explain!).

Bioaccumulation: is when a chemical gets accumulated in an organism, thus making it more concentrated and more likely to be poisonous. For example, if a small fish takes in a chemical (say mercury for example) and then gets eaten by a bigger fish the mercury will then have a longer half-life, meaning it will be more active for a longer period of time. Then if a human eats that bigger fish, the human will have a greater chance of getting poisoned. As that chemical works it’s way up the food chain it just gets worse and worse!

I am going to give you a brief overview of the toxic twelve, including what each compound is, what product you are likely to find these compounds in and why they are a problem! (I know it is quite long, but it is something that is so under talked about that is crucial for helping our individual health and the health of this planet!!)

PS. If it is too much reading for you make sure you print out or take a picture of the “no-no’s list” and taking it with you when you go shopping for products to ensure that the products you are buying next are clean as can be!



Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) & Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

  • What is it: it is commonly used as a preservative and antioxidant to prevent the discolouration of beauty products
  • Where it’s found: any coloured product, including: lipstick, lotions, makeup, antiperspirant
  • Why it’s a problem: endocrine disrupter, allergenic, carcinogenic, bioaccumulate

Coal Tar Dyes (p-phenylenediamine or colour additives)

  • What is it: are artificial colour agents made for a complex mixture of chemicals (many are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that comes from burning coal
  • Where it’s found: hair dye products (more in darker hair dye than light hair dye), shampoo, soap
  • Why it’s a problem: carcinogenic, neurotoxin

Diethanolamine (DEA) (cocamide DEA or lauramide DEA)

  • What is it: it is responsible for the creamy texture we all know and love! It also functions as a weak base meaning it helps to balance out the acidic compounds found in the product
  • Where is it found: shampoo, conditioner, soap, shaving cream, cleansers
  • Why it’s a problem: carcinogenic, irritant, bioaccumulate

Dibutyl phthalate

  • What is it: it is a plasticizer to prevent nail polish from chipping and also help to keep the colour of the nail polish as it acts as a solvent for the dye
  • Where is it found: nail polish
  • Why it’s a problem: endocrine disrupter, mutagenic, infertility, bioaccumulant

Formaladehyde releasing preservates (DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate)

  • What is it: formaldehyde is a gas that helps in the preservation process of cosmetics. The formaldehyde releasing preservatives allow for small amounts of formaldehyde to be released at a time to help against contamination
  • Where is it found: nail polish, hair gel, eyelash glue, shampoo, lotion, deodorant, soap
  • Why it’s a problem: irritant, carcinogenic, allergenic

Parabens (methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben)

  • What is it: it acts as a preservative in several beauty products
  • Where is it found: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and most beauty products
  • Why it’s a problem: endocrine disrupter, carcinogenic, mutagenic

Note: parabens naturally occur in food

Parfum (fragrance, aroma, essential oil blend)

  • What is it: is a mixture of different chemicals that gives a unique smell to a product
  • Where is it found: anything that contains a pretty (or not so pretty!) smell including but not limited to shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, lotion, body wash, chapstick, deodorant. Careful as they are even found in products that say their fragrance-free or unscented
  • Why it’s a problem: irritant, allergenic, asthma symptoms, elicit migraines, carcinogen, neurotoxin, bioaccumulant

Polyethylene Glycols (PEG) (polyethylene oxide, polyoxyethylene)

  • What is it: petroleum based compound that is used as a thickening agent, softener, emulsifier
  • Where is it found: shampoo, bubble bath, liquid soap
  • Why it’s a problem: carcinogenic, irritant, toxic, bioaccumulant

Petrolatum (mineral oil jelly)

  • What is it: it is a moisture barrier allowing it to lock in moisture (and give you those luscious locks!)
  • Where is it found: hair care products, lotions
  • Why it’s a problem: carcinogenic, irritant, allergenic

Siloxanes (cyclotetrasiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, cyclomethicone)

  • What is it: are the backbone to silicone based products that function to moisten and soften
  • Where is it found: moisturizer, deodorant, hair products
  • Why it’s a problem: endocrine disrupters, infertility, carcinogenic, bioaccumulate

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

  • What is it: it is a foaming agent responsible for making all those bubbles we love!
  • Where is it found: shampoo, shower gel, soap, bubble bath, facial cleanser, toothpaste
  • Why it’s a problem: irritant, carcinogenic, bioaccumulate

Triclosan (TSC)

  • What is it: it is a preservative due to its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties
  • Where is it found: antiperspirant, hand sanitizer, shaving products, toothpaste, teeth whitening products, and anything antibacterial
  • Why it’s a problem: endocrine disrupter, irritant, bioaccumulate, toxic, leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria formation

When shopping for beauty products it is important to take that little bit of extra time to read the back of the bottle to ensure that the product you are buying is free from these nasty chemicals. Natural and DIY beauty products so much more popular these days! I challenge you to slowly start changing to natural products or make your own! Stay tuned for some DIY recipes I am working on!!




Campaign for safe cosmetics (2017). Get the facts. Retrieved from:

David Suzuki Foundation (2010). The “dirty dozen” ingredients investigated in the David Suzuki Foundation survey of chemicals in cosmetics. Retrieved from:

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