Toxic Beauty Ingredients

10 ugly truths about the beauty industry


You wouldn't poison yourself with petrol to prevent wrinkles, hormone disruptors to create perfect lips, or allergens to smell good - would you? Don't be too quick to dismiss this question as crazy. For your health, read on.
You may be cutting back on processed and refined foods in favour of healthy fresh produce, but what are you washing your hair with? What's in the foundation you use every morning? What chemicals are you applying to your body through your daily personal care routine? Yes, you've detoxed your diet, but what about your makeup bag?


When it comes to personal care products, many of us are not aware of the synthetic chemicals we’re slathering on our skin. The ugly truth is that not all ingredients are clean. Some are slowly poisoning our bodies, speeding up the ageing process and worst of all, causing damage to our health. These toxic beauty products try to mimic Mother Nature with inferior, synthetic substances masquerading as 'natural’, 'pure’ and most worryingly, 'safe’. The entire system is flawed. Big cosmetic companies get away with using cheap, synthetic ingredients with known health risks because regulators can't keep up. Consumers don't think twice about the indecipherable ingredient lists on personal care products. It's an unhealthy situation on many levels.

Lük Beautifood is a clean beauty company created by a scientist and we want you – the consumer – to be well-versed in the harmful and hazardous effects of toxins in your everyday products. This will help you make better decisions about what you should and shouldn't be applying to your body. If you wouldn’t eat it, why would you apply it?

That’s why we're revealing the top 10 ugly truths about the beauty industry, including the worst synthetic chemical offenders and what beauty companies are knowingly hiding from you. We believe everyone should know about the hidden nasties in makeup, skincare and personal care products to prevent further damage to our health. After all, our skin is our largest organ - and what goes on, goes in!

1. Some beauty products can cause long-term health effects.

A mind-boggling array of beauty and personal care products contain chemicals that not only trigger skin problems such as rashes, redness, acne, and other symptoms of contact dermatitis, but are known or suspected causes of asthma, infertility, birth defects and learning disabilities. There have been so many studies about health issues linked to toxic chemicals in makeup, and according to a 2004 survey undertaken by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, an average of 12 personal care products are used by women and girls daily. Skin Deep, an online toxicity guide which ranks over 14,000 products on their ingredients, has released information which shows that one out of every 100 personal care products on the market contains known or probable carcinogens and 89 percent of ingredients in products have not been assessed for safety. Alarming? Yep. Should you be worried? You bet. Research by Bionsen, a natural deodorant company, found that the average woman's daily grooming and makeup routine means she applies a staggering 515 different synthetic chemicals on her body every single day. The study show that these toxins, even in a mild form, build up over time and can gradually break down the immune system and result in disease and health problems. Gulp.

2. A toxin is actually a poison - yet can be found in most beauty products these days.

The skin is our largest organ. It helps to detoxify our bodies, cleansing them of metabolic waste products and chemicals. On the other end of the spectrum, the skin is also capable of absorbing toxins, therefore choosing what you put on your body should be consciously examined and regulated. The Nemours Foundation describes a toxin as "a chemical or poison that is known to have harmful effects on the body." Furthermore, they say "toxins can come from food or water, from chemicals used to grow or prepare food, and even from the air that we breathe. Our bodies process those toxins through organs like the liver and kidneys and eliminate them in the form of sweat, urine, and faeces." The words toxin and chemical are often used interchangeably, but water is a chemical, sodium is a chemical and these are not toxins. So when we talk about toxins, we mean the ingredients that are harmful to your health and wellbeing. These days, they are found in everything from household cleaning products to food and makeup. In fact, the makeup you use every day is likely full with toxins that are being absorbed by your body. Thankfully, there has been a surge in recent years towards organic, natural and toxin-free makeup companies (like ours!) who derive their products from pure ingredients to ensure that your body is not being polluted from the outside in. But the fact remains that there are thousands of other brands who don’t use the same discretion and care for consumer’s health when formulating their products.

3. Some beauty companies that contribute to charities pose a threat to the cause they are supporting.

Every October there's a barrage of pink-ribbon products promoting breast-cancer awareness and research. The biting irony is that many of these big brands may actually be contributing to breast cancer diagnoses via the toxins in their products. Household-name personal care products are known to contain reproductive toxins, hormone-disrupting chemicals and carcinogens. In fact, in America, as part of the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrance Association trade group, many of the big conglomerate companies opposed a California bill that would require cosmetics firms to disclose their use of chemicals linked to cancer or birth defects. The beauty industry is a huge customer of the synthetic chemical industry, so they shouldn't be touted as champions of breast cancer research and women's health.

4. There are flawed safety assessments required for cosmetic products sold in Australia.

With over 25,000 chemicals marketed with little government intervention, regardless of tests, statistics and scientific evidence, it’s no wonder there is an epidemic of ADD, allergies, asthma, sinus problems and learning difficulties among today’s members of society - not to mention children. Cosmetics sold in Australia are regulated by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), a division of the Department of Health and Ageing. Despite regulation practices in place, many harmful chemicals are still lurking in our personal care products, apparently considered safe by the authorities despite research showing otherwise. Many haven't been thoroughly tested. Worse yet, some of the chemicals found in cosmetics sold in Australia have actually been banned or restricted in other countries. Take Methylisothiazolinone (or MI - a preservative used in cosmetics and shampoos), which is banned in Europe and yet can still be found in leave-on cosmetics and baby wipes here in Australia, despite it being a common trigger for rashes and swelling. The United States’ attempt to self-regulate when it comes to beauty products hasn't fared any better. According to the FDA, "a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA" (FDA 1995).

5. Despite scientific evidence, cosmetic companies are continuing to produce the same toxic substances.

The Daily Mail mapped out research from the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, suggesting that some parabens we had previously presumed to be safe, such as Methylparaben, may mutate and become toxic when exposed to sunlight, causing premature skin ageing and an increased risk of skin cancer. According to The Daily Mail, (long chain) Methylparabens are found in more than 16,000 products, including moisturisers and toothpastes, yet cosmetic producers have always defended their use of parabens on the grounds that they can't be absorbed into the body. However, the Daily Mail interviewed Dr Barbara Olioso, an independent (UK green) professional chemist, who said: "Research shows that between 20 and 60 per cent of parabens may be absorbed into the body." Despite this alarming information, few mainstream cosmetics companies have committed to removing carcinogens, parabens or other harmful contaminants from their products, and continue to use the same polluting technologies and toxic formulas they developed decades ago. Do new laws need to be put in place that hold the beauty industry accountable for the chemicals they use? Do consumers need more information to make safer choices? Why are these companies not developing the next generation of safer, nontoxic products? These are the questions we need to be asking and acting on.

6. Many personal care products contain toxic chemicals not listed on labels.

Trying to avoid phthalates? What about 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde? Good luck locating these and other toxic chemicals in a product's fine print. Many chemicals are hidden behind ambiguous terms like 'fragrance’ or smuggled in as trace contaminants. Loopholes in our ingredient-labelling laws exempt companies from listing them. Of concern, too, is the number of products without ingredients listed, particularly eye makeup products that are sometimes found to contain heavy metals like lead and mercury. Sidestepping undercover toxins is no easy feat, but examining labels for chemicals that are likely to be contaminated, including urea, quarternium-15, PEG compounds, and sodium laureth sulfate, is important. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database is a great resource for researching the contents of your products and how likely they are to be tainted. However, Cindy Luken, scientist and founder of Lük Beautifood, believes they take an inaccurate position on some ingredients such as citrus and spice essential oils. For example, they rate limonene (citrus peel oil) as a 6/10 hazard due to allergen concerns, while synthetic colours like D&C Red 7 Lake score a 1/10 for toxicity - despite being produced from coal tar or petroleum and precipitated with metal salts such as aluminum, calcium, barium, or others. It's important to do more than just read labels, you also have to consider which companies you can trust. Which companies are standing up for what's right? Make your consumer decisions accordingly. You can click here to see how beauty labelling is regulated in Australia.

7. None of the mainstream beauty giants have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics pledge.

The US-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is lobbying to get the personal care products industry to phase out the use of chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other serious health concerns - and replace them with safer alternatives. Although there has been some success and more than 1,000 companies have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, ironically missing in action are some of the world's largest makers of cosmetics and personal care products. Let's hope it doesn’t stay this way for long.

8. Beware of greenwashing - natural does not always mean safe.

There are many vague and misleading marketing terms on packaging labels. The word 'natural’ may lead us to think that a beauty product is pure and therefore healthy, but because labels are insufficiently regulated, marketers are free to write persuasive spin on the packaging. Brands claiming to be 'natural’, 'pure’,'organic’ and 'additive free’ can still contain a cocktail of chemicals, so be mindful of the strategies used to lull us into a false sense of security. Find companies that are 100 percent transparent about what their products contain and genuinely believe in facilitating a healthy, safe and toxin-free consumer experience for their customers. This list of 'greenwashing’ companies may be a good starting point.

9. Some beauty products can affect pregnancy.

A study done by Environment California (titled 'Growing Up Toxic: Chemical Exposures and Increases in Developmental Diseases') found that makeup, shampoo, skin lotion, nail polish and other personal care products contain chemical ingredients that lack safety data. Some of these chemicals have been linked in animal studies to altered pregnancy outcomes. An unborn child is particularly susceptible to chemicals absorbed through a mother’s skin, which is then passed into the blood stream and on to the foetus. Just because a skincare product is marketed to kids doesn't mean it's been tested for safety. In fact, children are exposed to some of the muckiest ingredients, including known carcinogens like 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde. So not only are your beauty and personal care products potentially affecting you, but also your family and your children.

10. It has someone's seal of approval, so it must be okay to use? Not always true!

As a consumer, sorting fact from fiction and truth from lies can be challenging. Every year billions of dollars are spent convincing us that the beautifully packaged concoction of who-knows-what that’s endlessly endorsed by a big name celebrity will change your life and transform your skin. Don’t be fooled. Arm yourself with knowledge and make informed decisions about what you put on your skin and into your body.

To summarise…

Consumers need to decide for themselves whether the benefits of using products containing toxic ingredients outweigh potential risks. The whole point of makeup is to enhance beauty that is already there - but if these same products are robbing you of your health, should they still be considered beauty products? Don’t believe what you read on the product packaging. Ask questions, research, self-educate. Get to know the ingredients listed on the back of products and look out for any of the Dirty Dozen. After all, our skin is our largest organ, and what is applied is absorbed into the bloodstream, which makes choosing all-natural, toxin-free products an essential part of maintaining optimum health for you and your family.

Our mission

Lük Beautifood wants to disrupt the beauty industry by giving every woman the opportunity to cultivate her natural beauty - without compromising her health with chemically formulated toxic products. Truth-in-beauty product labelling is paramount for our health, community and planet – that is why we created the Lük Clean Beauty Standard. We don’t use chemical ingredients that are known endocrine disruptors, carcinogens or have been linked to cancer - including preservatives, phthalates, petrochemicals, synthetic colours and fragrance. We only use 100 percent natural, toxin-free ingredients that are good for you on the inside and outside. Our goal with this article was not to scare or shock you, but to educate and enlighten you, giving you the ability to make an informed decision about your health and lifestyle. We hope this information has helped, and rest assured, we will continue to unveil hidden truths about the beauty industry until no corner is left unturned. If you want to learn more, read our post on the top toxic chemicals to avoid in your beauty products.

toxic chemicals used in the body

Image from The Daily Mail

Main image by Joanna Kosinska 

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