Toxic Compounds In Cosmetics: The Ugly Side Of Beauty Products

Amit Kumar Singh, Research Scholar Department of Biochemistry, University of Allahabad Allahabad, UP, India

2018-01-02 07:14:09



The origins of the usage of different substances in beauty, skin, body, hair, and nails care products can be traced through ancient times. To increase their quality and effects several other compounds are added i.e. preservatives, fragrance, pigments, shines and stabilizers. Heavy metal and aromatic compounds impurities are unavoidable in beauty products. Which has several serious side effects including skin cancer?

In the last 20 years cosmetics industry are growing with a constant rate of 4.5% per year and due to the continuous increasing demand globally, predicted cosmetic industry market is about 265 million dollar in 2017. Since the dawn of civilization cosmetics have constituted a part of routine body care not only by the upper strata of society but also by middle and low class people. According to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), cosmetics are defined as “any substance or preparation intended to be placed in contact with the external parts of the human body or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly for cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, and/or correcting body odours and/or protecting or keeping them in good condition”. Last few decades boon for the cosmetic industry. There is a large number of cosmetic products in markets now a days of different quality and from different manufacturers. Lipstick, lip gloss, mascara, nail polish, talcum, soap, hair dye, hail oil, shampoo, cream, deodorants are cosmetic beauty products which are common in everyday use.

Hazardous ingredients in cosmetics:

Preservatives: Preservatives may be defined as biocides added in cosmetics to prevent the growth of microorganism. It is added to increase shelf life of product. Table 1list the preservatives added in cosmetic products-


Cosmetic products


Anti-stretch mark cream

4- Hydroxybenzoic acid





Hair conditioner

Butyl paraben


Dimethyloldimethyl hydantoin

Body lotion

Ethyl benzoate



Moisturizing cream




Fragrances: Aromatic compounds are added for the desired odor and color. They are frequently being used in cosmetic product example: perfumes and other perfumed cosmetic products also in detergents and other household products. (Table-2)

Cosmetic products

Fragrance detected

Anti-wrinkle cream

Amyl cinnamal


Benzyl benzoate




Benzyl cinnamte










Linalool, menthol



Heavy metal impurities: The most frequent heavy metals present in cosmetic products are cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), nickel (Ni), and copper (Cu). These heavy metals are found in lipstick, talcum, shampoo, cream and eyeliner.

Possible adverse effect on health:

Fragrances and preservatives are the two most important clinically relevant allergens founds in beauty products. Fragrant compounds can penetrate epithelial and absorbed into bloodstream and distributed to other body organs. Fragrance mediated allergic reaction produces side effects such as skin sensitivity, dermatitis, asthma and migraine. Allergic contact dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disease with common symptoms of erythema and swelling and if exposure remain continues it will leads to allergic lesion on skin and subsequently to skin cancer. Heavy metals are present in trace amounts in beauty products. And even in laser concentration these toxic compounds can cause internal body organ damage, in animals and humans. Cadmiumis one of the most toxic metal ions in environment, and it can be found in air, food, and water. Cd ions are absorbed by most tissues of the body and become concentrated mainly in liver and kidneys. The most dangerous characteristic of cadmium is that it accumulates throughout a lifetime. Chronic human exposure to Cd results in renal dysfunction, anemia, hepatic dysfunction, osteo toxicities, and cancer in multiple organs, potentially including the kidneys. Lead poisoning has been a recognized health hazard for more than 2,000 years. Characteristic features of lead toxicity, including anemia, colic, neuropathy, nephropathy, sterility and coma. Exposure to low-levels of lead has also been associated with behavioral abnormalities, learning impairment, decreased hearing, and impaired cognitive functions in humans and in experimental animals. Mercury-containing products are poisonous and induce severe side-effects, which have been demonstrated in multiple case studies.  Local effects include burning sensation of the skin, contact dermatitis, nail discoloration, and paradoxically, blue/black skin pigmentation.