Natural Beauty: Uncovering the Ingredients in Beauty Products

What is Natural Beauty?

Natural beauty products refer to products that are free from dangerous ingredients. These ingredients might be damaging to the person using them or the environment. It is important for us to opt for these chemically-free organic products as small changes have big effects!

You might not think that changing your supermarket or drugstore brand shampoo for a more expensive, online bought natural beauty product will make a difference to anything other than your bank account. But, when you are consciously picking an eco-friendly alternative, you are sending a message to society and capitalism. You are telling the world that we want change!

Plus, you are looking out for yourself. It is important that we know about the chemicals that we are putting on our bodies, keeping health at the forefront of our mind. Cheap makeup and hair products might seem a bargain, but is it really worth it when considering the damage it might cause? Unfortunately companies put money above the health of the consumer, so we must be aware of chemicals that are used and how we can avoid the real nasty stuff.

So, Is Natural Beauty the Same As Organic Beauty?

If you’ve ever done any research into natural beauty products in the past, then you’re probably only too aware of the fact that the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ often seem to go hand in hand when it comes to anything related to cosmetics, skincare and beauty.

However, the important thing to note here is that the two terms are not the same and while some brands may want to make you think as much, they’re definitely not interchangeable.

So what’s the difference? Well it’s kind of complicated.

Classifying Natural Beauty: What to Avoid

With all of this in mind, you might be wondering how to go about finding natural beauty products that are really worthy of the label. Heck you might even be wondering where to start!

The good news is that armed with the right information on things to look for (and more specifically, to avoid) on the ingredients label, finding the perfect natural beauty products to fit the bill is made much easier.

Better yet, we decided that this needed to be taken a step further and so we’ve broken down the best in natural beauty so you can find exactly what you’re looking for, without the need to scour the back of every bottle, tube, and packet to get there – check out our Naturally Better brands and products to get started.

Many companies have started to use the term ‘natural beauty products’, but how many of them still use harmful chemicals and are merely greenwashing their products for sales?

Unfortunately, we can’t trust everything brands tell us. So, we have to learn, but luckily learning is what humans are good at! So, let’s look at the 20 harmful chemicals that are often in beauty products. This means that we can check products before we buy them to ensure they are safe and suitable for us. Okay, there are a lot of words with a lot of letters in them, but trust me, you will thank yourself later when you’ve learnt about all these ingredients and the detrimental effects they can have!

In order to get an idea of the kinds of things to avoid when aiming for a natural beauty product solution, the following rundown of ingredients and additives are a good starting point for adding to your no-go list.

Acrylamide & Polyacrylamide

Let’s start with polyacrylamide. Polyacrylamide is a polymer of acrylamide monomers and is often used in beauty products as a binder in lotions and creams. It is also used in hairspray to keep your hair in place. When applied, it forms a thin coating on the skin or hair.

Sadly, there is a lot to suggest that acrylamide is a carcinogen. Because of this, the EU has banned the usage of it in beauty products, however the USA and other countries have not.


A lot of us love big, fake, acrylic nails. They somehow give us that extra boost of confidence we need. But, I have bad news. Acrylic nails normally contain acrylates, a group of chemicals that aren’t great for us.

Ethyl acrylate and methyl methacrylate are acrylates that have been linked to cases of cancer. A study found that workers who were often surrounded by these types of chemicals were at a higher risk of cancer than those who weren’t. Ethyl acrylate is also found to be toxic to the lungs, skin, liver, and kidneys.

When it comes to fake nails, it really just isn’t worth the risk.


I don’t know about you, but I never think it is a good sign when ingredients found in our cosmetics are also found in household cleaning products. Butoxyethanol is not only found in all purpose cleaning sprays, but in hair dye and nail polish.

This chemical is classed as an irritant and is catagorized by the CPS&Q as toxic or harmful. It must be said that the risk when using this chemical is very low and it is not seen as a major cause for concern. However, even though it is a low risk, there is still one and so you should be aware of this when using products with this ingredient in.

Butylated Compounds (BHA & BHT)

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are chemicals that are found in many different cosmetics, from lipstick and eyeshadow to sunscreen and deodorant.

Classed as antioxidants, many people assume that they are safe and are actually quite good for us. However, this isn’t the case as these ingredients have been researched with worrying finds. A few studies have suggested that BHA has endocrine-disrupting properties. This means that they affect our hormones and interfere with metabolic processes in our bodies.

This isn’t the only concern when it comes to these ingredients, which also has links to cancer, liver damage, and kidney problems.

Carbon Black

Carbon black is a dark powder that is used in eyeliner, eyeshadow, eyebrow pencils, lipstick, and mascara. I know, I know – we all love the gothic look, but next time we’re putting on black lipstick and dark eyeshadow, have a look at what’s in your products!

This chemical has been found to have links to cancer and lung disease. If we inhale the particles of carbon black, we run the risk of harming our lungs. If we are inhaling these particles often, they may get lodged in our lungs and cause bronchitis.

As you can imagine, it also is an air pollutant and therefore not eco-friendly at all.

Coal Tar

Coal tar is derived from burning coal and producing a thick liquid. It is often used in shampoo as a way of killing head lice and treating dandruff.

However, coal tar is a known carcinogenic and should be avoided. Shampoo manufacturers claim that the amount of coal tar in their products is too low to cause any health problems, but would you take the risk?

Ethanolamine Compounds (DEA, TEA, MEA & ETA)

Ethanolamines are found in a whole load of cosmetics and are used as fragrancers, pH adjusters, and emulsifying agents. They are often found in hair dyes, shampoos, and conditioners but also can be found in soap, hand wash, sunscreen, and makeup.

These chemicals aren’t great as they run the risk of breaking down and forming nitrosamines, which contain chemicals that are known carcinogens. There are also concerns regarding how these chemicals irritate the skin and cause allergies.

Formaldehydes & formaldehyde-releasing Agents

Formaldehyde is a colourless gas and is found in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cleaning products, and cosmetics. It is used as a preservative, making the product last longer and can be found in shampoos, nail polish, hair products, eyelash glue, and soap.

However, it is classed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and even though some companies have removed it from their products, it is still a common ingredient in many beauty products.

Lead, Lead Acetate and Other Heavy Metals

Up until recently, people weren’t concerned that their beauty products contained heavy or toxic metals such as lead. Why would they be?

Then, after a smaller independent study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in 2007,  the FDA found high levels of lead and other toxic metals in lipstick. Lead was found in 400 types of lipstick, with five out of ten lipsticks with the most lead being made by L’Oreal USA.

Since then, more studies have been conducted with even scarier findings. It isn’t just lead being found in lipstick, but other heavy and toxic metals! Aluminum, chromium, and cadmium have been found in lipstick, and these aren’t metals that you want on your lips.

So why are heavy metals a concern? Lead is linked to infertility in both men and women and learning and behavioural problems. Aluminum is also linked to reproduction issues, while chromium can affect the respiratory system.


We are about halfway through our list. So far it is all a bit scary, but remember knowledge is needed to make better choices and better choices have the power to change the world! Plus, it is important to remember that a lot of the risks in regards to these ingredients are quite low, so don’t panic too much!

Next up, Methoxyethanol.

Methoxyethanol is banned in the EU and Canada, but can be found in cosmetics such as nail varnishes and dyes outside of these areas.

When it comes to staying safe, this is a chemical that you must keep an eye on. Classed as an irritant and a developmental and reproductive toxin, it is best to avoid!

Methylchloroisothiazolinone & Methylisothiazolinone

These chemicals are often found in liquidy products, such as shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. They are preservatives and help against bacteria growth to keep the product fresh.

However, these ingredients can be dangerous to both you and the environment. There is a whole load of evidence that these chemicals aren’t good for your skin and can be irritating, plus they are harmful to aquatic life. No good for anyone!


Parabens are a group of preservatives widely found in cosmetic and body care products, again used to make the product last longer. Moisturiser, makeup, deodorants, and toothpaste all might contain parabens.

However, recent research means that there has been a backlash against using these ingredients in cosmetics. Studies have found that parabens can affect the hormones in both men and women, causing fertility problems and decreasing sperm production.

Studies have also suggested that parabens have leaked into the environment, creating damage. They have been detected in waters and can kill coral.


Most of us have used vaseline. Perfect when your lips are chapped or you need to ease sore skin, vaseline is a regular in most people’s bathroom cupboards. However, vaseline is petrolatum, and petrolatum has found itself under criticism recently. This is not because of the ingredient itself, but because of how it is made. If it has not been refined correctly, there is a risk of contamination from cancer causing chemicals. However, most production of petrolatum is heavily monitored and refined properly, meaning that it is safe to use.

But, petrolatum isn’t too great for the environment as it comes from crude oil and therefore is not a renewable source.


Used as a stabilizer in soaps and as a preservative in makeup and skin care, phenoxyethanol is found in a lot of beauty products. It is mostly agreed that it is safe when used in small doses.

There are some worries because this ingredient is a skin irritant, but this will only affect a small number of the population, and compared to other preservatives, phenoxyethanol is a much safer choice.


Okay, we are nearly finished with our list of ingredients, only a few left. I hope the long words aren’t too confusing and you are getting your head around it all! I am, sort of…

So, phthalates are up next. These are a group of chemicals that are used in order to make plastic more flexible. They are used in cosmetics such as nail polishes and hair sprays.

Similarly to other chemicals on this list, phthalates can affect the hormones, with research suggesting a link between phthalates and reproductive difficulties. There also has been a link between these chemicals and miscarriages.

Phthalates are also shown to be harmful to the environment, with bird eggs found in the Arctic having traces of these chemicals in. This is because of the plastic being dumped into the environment and then breaking down, thus contaminating the wildlife.

Retinol & Retinol Compounds

Retinol is vitamin A which is used in food and dietary products. When it comes to beauty, Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and come in different strengths.

These are mainly used in anti-aging cream, boosting the cell function in our skins and assists with the production of collagen.

However, just because these ingredients come from vitamin A does not mean that they aren’t without their health problems. The side effects of retinoids can be damaging as they can increase dryness and inflammation for those of us with eczema and other skin conditions. If you have sensitive skin, you must avoid retinoids at all cost!


Styrene acrylates copolymer is a chain of synthetic polymers that are often found in beauty products such as nail polish, bodywash, shampoo, and eyeliner. This ingredient is used as a film former and has very large molecules so is said to not penetrate the skin.

Because of this it is considered safe, however it is seen as a moderate hazard ingredient because of the risk of cross contamination with other potentially harmful chemicals, such as methacrylic acid.

Sulfates (SLS & SLES)

A sulphate is a salt that is derived from sulphuric acid and another chemical. When it comes to beauty, the two main sulfates used are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). Another ingredient found in both cleaning products and cosmetics, these chemicals are used to create a lather that helps move oils and grease.

These are mainly found in shampoos, face creams, and body wash. It helps to make you feel clean, but sulfates can cause skins and eye irritation and can dry out the hair when used regularly. Because of this, companies have started to use as little sulfate as possible in their products.


Toluene is one to look out for when it comes to buying beauty products as, unlike a lot of the ingredients on this list, the evidence of it being toxic to both humans and the environment is universally agreed on.

Toluene is a chemical that can be found in nail varnish and hair dyes. However, it is a known respiratory toxicant for humans and overexposure can lead to reproductive damage.

It also is bad news for wildlife, toluene is toxic to aquatic life and can damage crops and plants when leaked into the soil.

Triclosan & Triclocarban

These ingredients are mainly found in soap and used as antimicrobial agents. They have been in use since the fifties, but recently have been looked into and studied by health organizations. Scarily, in 2017 more than 200 scientists and medical professionals came together to speak out about the usage of these chemicals in household and cosmetic products.

This is because triclosan and triclocarban have serious negative effects on both your own health and the environment. Triclosan is known to affect your hormones, specifically your thyroid.

It also has a great impact on the environment and is found to contaminate waterways after being disposed of down drains. Triclosan is toxic to wildlife, specifically agae, which the waterways need to survive!

Final Thoughts

Sadly, consumerism means that big businesses put profit over the health of both individuals and the world as a whole. Many chemicals once seen as staple ingredients in beauty products have now been found to have detrimental effects. However, companies seem to not be listening to the science.

This means that we have to take it upon ourselves to say ‘no’ to harmful products, and ‘yes’ to a healthier and more environmentally friendly way of living. Don’t worry about having used products with these ingredients in previously, as for the majority of us the health concerns are minimal. However, now is the time to make the change to take care of ourselves!

Rejecting products that are made with toxic chemicals means using nicer ones on your body, and you will feel so much better. We are living creatures, just like the algae in the waterways, and we should be subjected to these nasty chemicals either!

Now you have the knowledge to make change for not just yourself, but the world around you. Remember to keep this list available to you when shopping for your next beauty product. Power is in your hands!