Synthetic Cosmetics

Article published at: Oct 26, 2023
Synthetic Cosmetics
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Mar 11

This is the most widely used category of cosmetics, with products primarily composed of synthetic chemical ingredients. They may contain plant-based, animal-derived, fish oils, or mineral ingredients that have undergone chemical processes.


  1. Long shelf life due to the inclusion of effective preservatives that inhibit microbial growth.

  2. A wide range of functions and elements, easily obtainable through laboratory production.

  3. Cost-effective raw materials.


In recent years, consumers' shift towards a healthier lifestyle has raised questions about the safety of cosmetic ingredients. New research has implicated some of these substances in causing severe health issues and even their association with carcinogenesis.

For example, aestheticians and hairdressers who regularly come into contact with cosmetics have been found to have 2 to 4 times more toxins in their bodies than women who use cosmetics on a daily basis. This is a result of the toxic substances present in cosmetics. It has been proven that every woman using cosmetics burdens her body with 2 kilograms of chemical substances per year. Some of these chemicals are particularly hazardous to the body. The following list includes some of the ingredients that have been accused of unwanted effects from time to time.

Parabens (mainly butyl & isobutyl paraben): Used as preservatives to extend product shelf life and prevent microbial growth. Parabens are estimated to be used in over 13,200 products (shampoos, soaps, creams, conditioners, sunscreens). They have been linked to allergic reactions and dermatitis, considered toxic in large doses, and are under investigation for their role in breast cancer development, as they have been found in biopsies of cancerous tumors. They may also affect hormonal balance in the body.

Petroleum-based or mineral oils (paraffin oil, petrolatum): They create a thin, membrane-like layer on the skin, hindering its ability to breathe, expel toxins, stay hydrated, and generate new healthy cells. Common reactions include blackheads, dehydration, photosensitivity (sensitivity to the sun, leading to pigmentation), and premature skin aging. They are widely used in cosmetics due to their low cost. Mineral oils like petroleum jelly (petrolatum) can cause problems in photosensitive skin, making it more vulnerable to UV radiation and hindering the natural functioning of the body, leading to skin dehydration.

Synthetic colors: They enhance the appearance of cosmetics, making them more visually appealing. They usually contain heavy metals, identified by their initials FD&C or D&C followed by a color and a number. Synthetic colors used to make cosmetics more attractive, as well as hair dyes, should be avoided as much as possible because they are associated with several forms of cancer. You will find them listed as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color or number. For example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6.

Synthetic Fragrances
The words 'fragrance' and 'parfum' conceal dozens of chemical ingredients that are not listed on the product label. Their combination is responsible for headaches, dizziness, skin irritations, coughing, hyperpigmentation, and more. They may also contain phthalates, toxic substances that harm the kidneys and reduce fertility. Synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can contain up to 200 different ingredients.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
can be synthetic or plant-based (from coconuts) depending on the company's philosophy. They are used to create foam in shampoos, shower gels, cleansers, and toothpaste. They can cause eye irritation, skin rashes, hair loss, dandruff, and allergies.

Aluminum Compounds
(Aluminum Allantoinate, Aluminum Carbonate, Aluminum Chloride) A very common ingredient used in deodorants and antiperspirants. Aluminum compounds can literally stop the body's natural sweating process. They can shrink sweat glands and block pores.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) It is a synthetic ingredient (derived from petroleum) found in water-based creams, moisturizers, and cosmetics as an antioxidant. It is highly photosensitive and can cause severe irritation when exposed to the sun, as well as allergic skin reactions.

The well-known 'acetone' used as a solvent for nail polish is classified as a hazardous substance. It can cause dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, speech difficulties, and, in extreme cases, coma. It acts as a depressant of the central nervous system (CNS).

Ammonium Hydroxide Compounds
Many ammonium hydroxide compounds are used in cosmetics. They are toxic and can trigger allergic reactions in many people. Prolonged exposure can lead to coughing, and respiratory distress resulting in pulmonary edema, which can be fatal.

Diethanolamine (DEA)
Often used in cosmetics as a pH regulator. It is also used in many fatty acids to convert the acid into stearic acid salts, which are then used as a base in creams. DEA can cause allergic reactions, and eye & skin irritation. Prolonged use can be toxic.

Mercury Compounds
Mercury compounds are easily absorbed through the skin via topical application and tend to accumulate in the body. They may cause allergic reactions, irritant dermatitis, or even neurotoxic events. The use of mercury compounds in cosmetics is limited to those used in the eye area, in concentrations not exceeding 65 parts per million (0.0065%) of calculated mercury as a metal, and provided that there is no other effective and safe preservative. All other cosmetics containing mercury are considered adulterated unless the quantity is less than 0.0001% of the total product.

Below are summarized the most common adverse effects of synthetic cosmetics that can be observed during their use:

  • Irritant dermatitis

  • Allergic dermatitis

  • Phototoxic or photoallergic dermatitis

  • Acne from cosmetics (cosmetic acne)

  • Exacerbation of skin conditions.