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7 Common Cosmetics Ingredients You Should Avoid

Parabens aren't the only nasty no-no to avoid. Here's a list of toxic ingredients that regularly hitch a ride on cosmetics and skincare products.

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Powdered sunscreens or sprays, which can be inhaled, are a whole different story, however. The high surface area -- and high reactivity -- of tiny particles of zinc and titanium can provoke inflammatory responses, oxidative stress, and cell damage.

4. Phenoxyethanol

A ubiquitous preservative, even in products touted as "all-natural" or "organic," phenoxyethanol is classified as an irritant by the European Union and a restricted substance in Japanese cosmetics. According to its Material Safety Data Sheet, which refers to 100 percent concentration, phenoxyethanol is not only harmful if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin, but it can also cause reproductive defects and nervous system damage. In cosmetics, concentrations are typically less than 1 percent, but your exposure to the ingredient could be compounded depending on how often it rears its head in the products you use.

Let's put it this way, if phenoxyethanol is awful enough for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has a spotty record at best when it comes to championing public interest, to put out a consumer alert warning that it can "depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea" in infants, it's probably wise to steer clear of this bad boy.

5. Triclosan

Triclosan is an antibacterial compound that runs rampant in many cleansers, deodorants and other personal-care products that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a probable human carcinogen. Linked to cancer, developmental defects, and liver and inhalation toxicity, overuse of this hormone-disrupting pesticide -- yes, pesticide -- can also result in strains of drug-resistant superbacteria.

Plus, triclosan tends to bioaccumulate in the fatty tissues of people and animals, which explains why it's been detected in our blood and breast milk. Acutely toxic to several types of aquatic life, triclosan can also degrade into a form of dioxin, a class of known carcinogens. New research also shows that triclosan in tap water can react with residual chlorine from water disinfection to form myriad chlorinated byproducts, including chloroform, a human carcinogen.

6. Petrolatum

Oh, where to begin? This gelatinous substance, also known as petroleum jelly, is derived from crude oil. Its popularity as an emollient largely stems from its extremely low cost. (Vaseline, for instance, is pure petrolatum.) There are cosmetic reasons to eschew the goop: The oily film that sits on the surface of your skin can aggravate acne and slow down cell turnover (read: cause you to prematurely age). But beyond that, petrolatum is also particularly susceptible to contamination by baddie chemicals like 1,4-dioxane, a probable human carcinogen, no thanks to unregulated manufacturing procedures.

In any case, Canada isn't a fan: Beyond the border, Environment Canada classifies the substance as a possible carcinogen, a possible mutagen, and a suspected environmental toxin.

7. Quaternium-15

Considering that quaternium-15 is a known human toxicant, it's astounding that you can find it in "extra-gentle" bubble bath and "extra-sensitive" baby wash. Used as a preservative, quaternium-15 is not cancer-causing in and of itself but breaks down to release formaldehyde, which the EPA classifies as a probable human carcinogen.

Because it's also an allergen, quaternium-15 can cause contact dermatitis in sensitive skin. And if you're allergic to formaldehyde, chances are you're also allergic to quaternium-15.

Jasmin Malik Chua writes about sustainable fashion and beauty for TreeHugger.

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