Is It Really Toxic?

Sep 14, 2020 | Skin Care

“Toxic” has become the title for many make-up and skin care products.  Have you ever wondered how it got that label? Better yet, is this information valid or are you just agreeing with your favorite influencer? 

It can be very alarming to read something bad about a product or ingredient we love.  Undeniably we have become savvier about what we put on our skin and in our bodies.

Several ingredients have been deemed “toxic,” meaning that using products that contain these ingredients can lead to a variety of health problems.

What does the scientific research really say?  

Parabens are a group of preservatives that have borne the brunt of toxic claims over the last decade or so. Research suggests that parabens can alter or disrupt how our biological systems work. Ultimately leading to health problems.
The studies cited to back this claim do not consider how parabens are used in cosmetic products. If you research carefully, the ones eluding to this negative conclusion are examining high concentrations. Studies that led to these negative statements examined extremely high concentrations of parabens. There is less than 1% used to preserve cosmetics.

Additionally, multiple safety and regulatory boards around the world (not just in the US) have stated parabens are safe and do not pose a health risk.  Products labeled “paraben free” often contain more harmful but lesser known preservatives. 

PEG Compounds

Polyethylene Glycol also known as PEG compounds are mixed with fatty acids and fatty alcohols.  This creates ingredients that serve numerous functions in cosmetics, from thickening agents to emollients to stabilizers.

Some claim PEG compounds are harmful and are contaminated with a harmful substance known as 1,4 dioxane.   Which is a manufacturing by-product classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible human carcinogen. PEG compounds are a risk when inhaled in it’s purest form.

Even with that in mind, PEG compounds, as used in cosmetics, are formulated to greatly reduce or remove contaminants.  A 2016 safety assessment from the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel concluded that PEG compounds are safe in their current use and concentrations in cosmetics applications.


Silicones, substances derived from the natural mineral silica, are used to give cosmetics a silky feel, as well as to impart emollience and to serve as moisture-binding agents.

One of the chief arguments against silicones is that they somehow “smother” skin, leading to clogged pores and acne breakouts.  This is not how silicones work. Even though, their unique molecular structure means that even though they are resistant to air (which is how they form a protective barrier on skin), they’re also porous.  Porosity allows skin to “breathe”.  

Numerous studies and research panels have found that silicones, as used in cosmetics, are perfectly safe to apply to skin and hair.


Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Sulfates get a lot of flak in the industry, but it is actually is derived from coconut.

Sodium laureth sulfate is generally considered one of the gentler and more effective ingredients for cleansing skin.  Reason being its high amount of fatty alcohols. Numerous industry experts have stated that sodium laureth sulfate is safe as used.

The problem is that sodium laureth sulfate sounds (and is) very close to sodium lauryl sulfate.  These two ingredients are not the same. Sodium lauryl sulfate is one of the more sensitizing, drying cleansing agents found in skincare products. Accordingly, some studies use it as a comparative baseline for determining sensitizing reactions to other ingredients.

Even though it can cause skin dryness and itching and should be avoided, sodium lauryl sulfate should not be considered “toxic.”. I think that label is a bit of a reach. I am not promoting any of these ingredients, of course, there are some safer alternatives. The decision to avoid these products (or not) is a personal choice. Do what is right for you and you can’t go wrong!

Dermatology PA and creator of Perfect Skin Code.

Photo of Perfect Skin Code owner Kimberly Brown
Kimberly Brown

Perfect Skin Code was created by Kimberly Brown, a Physician Assistant in Dermatology, when she decided to create products for her patients who had trouble finding effective yet gentle skin care products.

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