Top 4 Cosmetic Chemicals to Avoid

September 27, 2016

When was the last time you read the ingredients on your make-up and skin-care products? We often glaze over the long list of hard to pronounce words, like diethyl phthalate, or abbreviations for even more complex words…butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) anyone?

These labels make it difficult to actually know what we’re putting on or in our bodies. The problem is many of our beauty and personal care products contain toxic chemicals. In fact, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, 80% of products used by Canadians contain one or more toxic chemicals!

Well I’m here to help clarify these confounding concoctions of cosmetic chemicals. May I present my Top 4 Cosmetic Chemicals to Avoid:

  • Fragrance (Parfum)

Fragrance, sometimes listed as Parfum, is not a single ingredient, but a chemical soup consisting of up to 3,000 possible substances. The individual ingredients need not be listed by name, as they are part of a product’s trade secret formula. They include chemicals that disperse an odour or make it last longer in the air, for instance diethyl phthalate. Even unscented products can include chemicals that inhibit the brain from sensing odours.

Fragrance has been linked to a number of illnesses and conditions, including allergies, respiratory trouble, dermatitis, migraines, asthma and reproductive system dysfunction. Some components have been identified as carcinogens and neurological toxins.

  • Parabens

Parabens are second only to water for frequency in use and its use is unrestricted in Canada. There are naturally occurring parabens in some foods, but the synthetic ones used in cosmetics are in approximately 75 to 90 percent of products. These synthetic parabens are not required to be listed by name, as they can be can hidden under the term “Fragrance”. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, it is estimated that women are exposed to 50 mg of parabens each day from cosmetics!

Parabens are readily absorbed by our skin and enter directly into the bloodstream and organs. They mimic estrogen, which may increase the chance of developing breast cancer, and interfere with the immune system. Parabens can cause allergic reactions and dermatitis, but most disturbingly, studies have shown propylparaben to cause birth defects in animals.

  • BHA and BHT

BHT (butylated hydroxynisole) and BHA (butylated hydroxytoluene) are used as preservatives in food, cosmetics and skin care products because they are antioxidants for fats and oils. They can cause skin irritations, such as dermatitis, and are possible hormone disruptors. At high intake levels, BHT can affect reproductive systems by mimicking estrogen and suppressing androgens. Studies have shown long-standing exposure to elevated levels of BHT can cause, liver, thyroid, kidney, lung and circulatory problems. Additionally, there is concern that BHT exposure may be converted into carcinogens in the body, as it interferes with cell-to-cell communication.

While widely used in cosmetic and personal care products (and food packaging, particularly cereal and potato chips…even some multi-vitamins), Health Canada lists BHA as a “high human health priority” and BHT as a “moderate human health priority” for being possible carcinogens. Other countries have stricter regulations. In Europe, BHA is banned for use in fragrance, while in England, BHT is prohibited for use in food. In the State of California, products containing BHA must include a warning on their labels, much like cigarettes, to inform consumers that the ingredient may cause cancer.

  • Phtalates

Phthalates are used primarily because they are versatile and inexpensive. Like parabens, phthalates can go unlisted under the term “Fragrance” on labels. Typically used in plastic products, this group of chemicals makes cosmetics, such as nail polish, soft and pliable.

In a rather frightening list of health issues, phthalates can cause early puberty, reduced sperm count in men, reproductive defects, obesity and insulin resistance, as well as failure of the liver and kidneys in children.


The good news is that these chemicals can be avoided. While everyone need not rush to their bathroom and throw out everything in their cabinets, I suggest that as products are used up, consider looking for less toxic alternatives. The Environmental Working Group ( is an excellent online resource for finding less toxic items. They rate products based on a scale from 0 to 10 for known or suspected health and environmental dangers.

Also be sure to check out the wide range of cosmetic products that are Spine Stretch Studio favourites for sale at the studio. (I personally love the Leaves of Trees deodorant!). They are free from all of these nasty chemicals!  



David Suzuki Foundation, “’Dirty Dozen’ cosmetic chemicals to avoid.”

Environmental Working Group, Skin Deep Cosmetic Database.

National Institutes of Health, PubChem.


Author: Krystle Colting

Krystle Colting is a fully certified STOTT Pilates Instructor and Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). She holds an Honours B.A. Specialization in Visual Arts Studies and an Honours Minor in Dance from York University, Toronto, ON. Krystle brings exceptional knowledge and absolute compassion to everything she does. She believes that food and fitness should be fun, not intimidating, and feels that empowering her clients through knowledge is the best way to achieve optimal wellness.
Krystle Colting Krystle Colting
September 27, 2016 September 27, 2016

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