The Chemicals in Cosmetics That Could Be Making You Sick
20.11.2019 Wellness 0.0 0

chemicals in cosmetics


The UK’s beauty industry is worth a colossal £27 billion thanks to our daily routines involving numerous toiletries and regular beauty treatments. But did you know there could be potentially damaging ingredients hiding in our cosmetics?


Under EU legislation dangerous ingredients are banned or restricted to smaller quantities in cosmetics. However, Breast Cancer UK still recommends limiting your use of the ingredients that we’ve uncovered.


Here at Drench, we have analysed every single ingredient in the top 50 best-selling toiletries. From top brands such as Nivea, L’oreal and Simple, our research has delved into these categories:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Face wash
  • Moisturiser
  • Shower gel


We’ve also created a guide that uncovers the most confusing ingredients of the UK’s most popular cosmetics products.


So, are you ready to see what’s really hiding in your bathroom cabinet?


74% of Best-Selling Cosmetics Contain Harmful Ingredients

In each category of the UK’s best-selling toiletries (face wash, shower gel, moisturiser, shampoo and conditioner) there was an array of chemicals that can be damaging. Overall 74% of the products we analysed contain ingredients that can have adverse effects.


90% of the UK’s Favourite Shampoos Contain Adverse Chemicals Inside

What do you look for in shampoo: volume, frizz-control, or one that messes with your hormones?


Our research revealed that shampoo is the worst-offender as 90% of the products we analysed contained at least one potentially toxic ingredient. Not only that - half of the shampoos we investigated comprised of some type of chemical that can disturb our hormones.


Britain’s Most Loved Toxic Moisturisers

When you apply something to your face every day, you expect it to be kind to your skin, non-drying, and definitely not dangerous. However, our research uncovered that 8 out of the UK’s top 10 most-popular moisturisers contain chemicals that can be destructive to our bodies.


60% of the face moisturisers consist of ingredients that can disrupt our endocrine system (glands that produce hormones).


Furthermore, 60% of the moisturisers contain polyacrylamide, which can include a by-product acrylamide, a substance that can cause cancer.


So, how do you know you’re making the right decisions when buying products and not putting yourself at risk?


We’ve taken the confusion out of those bewildering ingredients lists and created a handy guide which highlights the most concerning chemicals to look out for.


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chemicals in cosmetics


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Usually found in nail polish to give the formula its smooth finish. Although, it’s restricted in nail polish to 25% concentration, even inhaling low levels can cause headaches and dizziness.



More than half (56%) of cosmetics have the dubious ‘fragrance’ listed in the ingredients. The problem with this is that many chemicals can be used to create the fragrance, some might be perfectly fine, but others could be harmful.


Formaldehyde Releasers (Diazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Quaternium-15 and Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate)

30% of the best-selling face washes contain some sort of a formaldehyde releaser, however, the use of it in cosmetics is much wider than just face washes. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (potential to cause cancer) and increases your risk of breast cancer. The ingredient is allowed in products, but only at a low concentration in the EU. Product labeling is needed if it exceeds 0.05%.


Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone

These are common preservatives found in the home as well as in 26% of best-selling toiletries. They have been linked to endocrine system disruption. The EU has banned these ingredients in products that stay on the body. But they’re allowed to be used in items that rinse off.


Benzyl Salicylate

Drench’s research discovered that 28% of the best-selling cosmetics included benzyl salicylate. This ingredient can be found in lipsticks, air fresheners and cleaning products. Benzyl salicylate is used as a fragrance - this can be harmful to our hormones as it mimics oestrogen.


Parabens (butylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben)

These types of ingredients are used as preservatives in a wide array of cosmetics, especially in moisturisers. As our research indicated, 6 in 10 included a type of paraben. These types of chemicals are known to disrupt our endocrine system, such as the thyroid glands, ovaries (in females) and testicles (in males). They can alter our reproductive system and have even been linked to breast cancer.


Lilial (Butylphenyl Methylpropional)

30% of the UK’s favourite shampoos, conditioners and shower gels contain this oestrogen mimic. Lilial is used as a fragrance in a wide array of cleaning products and cosmetics. It is messing with our hormones, and it may even damage DNA.


Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

These nasty preservatives are found in many different types of products such as lipstick, shampoo, 20% of moisturisers, and even food additives. BHT can mimic oestrogen and can cause adverse reproductive effects.


Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate)

20% of Britain’s most popular shower gels include this UV filter. It can be used to protect skin from UV light, it’s also used to protect the products from UV damage. This ingredient can mimic our hormones, affecting oestrogen, progesterone and androgens. Not just that, but octinoxate has been detected in breast milk.


Cyclosiloxane (Cyclotetrasiloxane, Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, Octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane, Cyclomethicone)

Found in many personal care products, such as deodorants, face creams and hair care. In animal studies they have been linked with reproductive issues, however, in humans it is known to mimic oestrogen weakly.



12% of best-selling cosmetics contained polyacrylamide. While this ingredient itself is not necessarily dangerous, the toxic acrylamide might still be present due to a reaction of by-products. Acrylamide is a neurotoxin (a toxin that is destructive to our nervous system) and a carcinogen.


Phthalates (diethyl phthalate)

This chemical is a known disruptor to our endocrine system (a collection of glands that produces hormones). Exposure to this ingredient has been linked to breast cancer and issues in male reproductive development. However, it’s often found in hairsprays, perfumes and lotions, as it’s used as a solvent for fragrance.


How Natural Are Natural Beauty Products?

It’s no surprise that British consumers are looking at natural toiletries when there are so many unnerving ingredients in products. So much so that the claim ‘Natural Ingredients’ on beauty products is the second most important claim for consumers in the UK with 40% of customers voting for this, according to Statista.


However, the labeling for organic and natural beauty products is in no way regulated the same way as food. In fact, UK legislation permits brands to label skincare ‘natural’ when it contains less than 1% natural ingredients. Likewise, brands can claim that they are ‘dermatologically tested’ even if they’ve been tested on just one person - or worse yet, even if they failed the test!


Nonetheless, there are things you can look out for that signal the product is organic or natural, such as:

  • The Soil Association Logo - At least 95% of the ingredients need to be organic to obtain this logo. The product will not contain parabens, propylene glycol, and petrochemicals.
  • Cosmos Organic & Cosmos Natural - Set up by the Soil Association and four leading European bodies to create an organic or natural standard in cosmetics.


If you’ve read this article, and now you’re desperately looking to make sure there are no nasties in your beauty products, where do you begin? You don’t have to read every single ingredient inside your bathroom cabinet - there are simpler ways.


You can try beauty scanning apps and cosmetic databases like EWG’S Skin Deep and SkinCarisma. These useful tools should be able to quickly tell you what’s in the product and if you should avoid it.


While it’s easy to be scared by all the potentially harmful ingredients in cosmetics, the general risk from chemicals in your beauty products is low. But it’s still best practice to try and avoid the ingredients mentioned as much as you can, as advised by Breast Cancer UK.



Drench analysed the ingredient list of the top 50 best-selling cosmetics in the UK, including shampoos, conditioners, face washes, moisturisers and shower gels. Each ingredient was cross-referenced using EWG’s Skin Deep database, SkinCharisma, and Breast Cancer UK.




TAGS:sustainability, Cosmetics, beauty prodcuts, green living

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