Cover Me in Chemicals! How Our Daily Beauty Routine is Killing Us

I’m sharing this as someone who was raised to not question mass-marketed beauty regimens and doctor-recommended medication and treatments.


I’ve had cystic acne since I was twelve-years-old, which means I’ve tried pretty much every acne-fighting lotion, potion, and drug available over-the-counter, off infomercials, and from doctors.  I read a book proclaiming to have the “acne cure,” which essentially was incredibly high topical dosages of acids that I promptly tried and that promptly left me with a chemical burn.

I went on Accutane at 15 (including the required hormonal birth control that was prescribed with it) until it began deteriorating my muscles to the point I was in chronic pain, while still suffering from acne.  I also had to fight with another dermatologist a few years later to NOT go back on the drug after she tried treating my acne.  She insisted that if they monitored it and added an anti-depressant to the mix, I’d feel fine.  I had to tell her she was wrong and cite medical research on the drug, but she still said that I was misinformed and was not open to the best treatment for my skin.

I believed that if I just kept searching for the next latest and greatest product that eventually I would find something to cure my acne, as well as the scarring, skin discoloration, and dry skin that the chemicals caused.  I went through a phase where I believed that the higher levels of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid the better.  The longer the ingredient list, the better– I mean, didn’t that mean there was more working to clear my skin up?

As I’ve started embracing a cleaner, more plant-strong diet, I’ve been on the hunt for more natural skin care products.  I found a few that I liked and thought that maybe natural products could work on my skin too.  Little did I know, they actually were just as toxic as the highly chemical ones (more on this in a bit).  After reading a lot natural health websites and books, I realized finally that my skin is my biggest organ.  So how can I be so concerned about what I’m digesting, but not concerned about what I’m putting on my skin?

After finally coming across a concise, well-written list called “Top Ingredients to Avoid in Personal Care Products” from, I decided to tackle my stash of personal care items to see what ones had the bad ingredients.

The results: The only items I currently own/use that do not contain ingredients from the list are one perfume, an eye makeup remover, and my shampoo.  Every thing else– my body wash, conditioner, moisturizer, lotion, foundation, mascara, hair spray– all of it contains at least one ingredient from the list (see picture below of the offenders), with several containing 3-5 ingredients.

Toxic Skin Care Products

The most common offenders?

Prefixes Ethyl, Methyl, Butyl or Propyl
What It Is: Parabens
Health Risks: Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer
Found In: Lotions and shampoos

Polyethylene glycol (PEG, PPG, Cocoate), propylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene mineral oil
What It Is: Petroleum byproducts
Health Risks: Carcinogen; liver and kidney effects
Found In: Lotions

Dyes: Blue 1, Green 3, Yellow 5 & 6, Red 33
What It Is: Coal tar
Health Risks: Carcinogenic
Found In: Hair color, medicated shampoos

One of the worst offenders I owned?  My Garnier Fructis Style: Curl Sculpting Cream Gel with nourishing shea.

Toxic Garnier Fructis Curl Sculpting Cream Gel

It contained Proplyene Glycol (Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer), PEG/PPG-4/12 (Petroleum byproducts; Carcinogen; liver and kidney effects), Methylparaben (Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer) ,Ethylparaben (Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer).  And those were just the obvious bad chemicals in this product!  I could only pronounce two of the ingredients (Avocado Oil and Shea Butter), so who knows what the rest of the ingredients are.  Also, manufacturers are great at listing ingredients as different names or using abbreviations.

Another trick?  Partial ingredient or hard-to-find ingredient lists.  Since the FDA doesn’t regulate many parts of the cosmetic industry, tracking down a COMPLETE list of what is in many projects is nearly impossible.

The worst offender?  Mary Kay Cosmetics.  Consultants for Mary Kay are able to access ingredient lists on their consultant website, which is not visible to the general public (full disclosure: I was an Independent Beauty Consultant with Mary Kay for about two years).  Their products often come in a jar/bottle that is inside a box.  The ingredient list is either on the box or paper insert with the jar/bottle.  So when you start using the product, you throw out the box and paper insert and are left with no ingredient list.  Through some Google searching, I came across a fabulous list on Paraben Free Princess of which Mary Kay items contain some of the most common harmful ingredients, especially parabens (great explanation of parabens found here on

I was particularly pissed when I discovered a Conditioning Clay Mask I purchased from “The Power of Plants Botanics” line included Butylene Glycol among its ingredients.

Toxic Power of Plants Botanics Clay Mask

Yes, I know some will argue that Butylene Glycol isn’t considered carcinogenic.  However, as pointed out by health advocate Ann Marie Gianni:

As someone who wants to apply only natural, nourishing ingredients to my skin, I would recommend that you avoid butylene glycol, mainly because it is derived from petroleum, and doesn’t really add to the health of your skin. (Kind of like eating a Twinkie—may not hurt you, but certainly isn’t going to help you.)

So, Butylene Glycol is not an ingredient I want in a product that’s professing to harness the power of plants!

As I’ve shared with people my plans to start ridding my skin/body care stash of chemicals, most ask: “So what will you use?”

Growing up, I had fairly sensitive skin.  In recent years, my sensitive skin has gotten worse as it now reacts to most fragrances and dyes by swelling up with red, hot welts.  So, I am taking my time with this process to make sure I am only adding quality products to my beauty routine that don’t contain toxic chemicals and won’t cause any sensitivity reactions with my skin.

At this point, I have added Coconut Oil.  I am working on a full post about all the different ways I am using this product and natural oils to replace about half of my skin/beauty care products.  I won’t leave you hanging though– here’s one example of why I love coconut oil!

Coconut Oil and Thyme Essential Oil

Remember that toxic Garnier Fructic curl cream?  Since last week, I’ve been washing/conditioning my hair like normal, then applying a small amount of  coconut oil once my hair is brushed and damp.  That’s it.  No creams, gels, sprays, spritzes, etc.  My hair has never looked better!  I have bouncy, tight curls that I haven’t had since I was about 6-years-old.  And the best part: No toxic chemicals!  The only ingredient: mechanically (expeller) pressed naturally unrefined virgin organic coconut oil.

So there you have it: my take on toxic chemicals in our skin/beauty care and how they’re hurting our bodies.  I have a series of posts coming about what products I am using to replace the toxic ones I was using.

Have you switched your beauty routine to be chemical-free?  What are you using?  Share in the comments below!