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Synthetic Ingredients to Avoid

Adapted from an Organic Consumers' Association article by biochemist and Aubrey Organics founder Aubrey Hampton.

If you want natural products, you have to be willing to search them out, to learn to read labels, and to refuse to settle for half-natural hair and skin care. Below are listed chemicals to avoid in so-called natural hair and skin care products.

Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea

These formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are the most commonly used preservatives after the parabens. They are well established as a primary cause of contact dermatitis (American Academy of Dermatology). Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals have a good antifungal and must be combined with other preservatives. Germall 115 releases formaldehyde at just over 10°. These chemicals are toxic. Because formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen that can also cause irritation and allergic reactions, also avoid preservatives such as DMDM hydantoin quaternium-15 which release formaldehyde as they degrade.

Methyl, Propyl, Butyl, and Ethyl Parabens

Used as inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend shelf life of products. Widely used even though they are known to be toxic. Have caused many allergic reactions and skin rashes. Methyl paraben combines benzoic acid with the methyl group of chemicals. Highly toxic. The parabens mimic estrogen and may result in reproductive damage, according to recent studies. 3. Petrolatum - Petrolatum is mineral oil jelly, and mineral oil causes a lot of problems when used on the skin. It can produce photosensitivity (i.e., promotes sun damage), and it tends to interfere with the body's own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping. You are being sold a product that creates the very conditions it claims to alleviate. Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is unbelievably cheap. It is a by-product of the oil industry.

Propylene Glycol

Usually it is a synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant. Has been known to cause allergic and toxic reactions. It is inexpensive and, therefore, much used by manufacturers as filler.

PVP/VA Copolymer

A petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, wavesets and other cosmetics. It can be considered toxic, since particles may contribute to foreign bodies in the lungs of sensitive persons.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

This synthetic substance is used in shampoos for its detergent and foam-building abilities. It causes eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, and allergic reactions. It is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the parenthetic explanation "comes from coconut".

Stearalkonium Chloride

A chemical used in hair conditioners and creams. Causes allergic reactions. Stearalkonium chloride was developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, and is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which do help hair health. Toxic.

Synthetic Colors

The synthetic colors used to supposedly make a cosmetic "pretty" should be avoided at all costs, along with hair dyes. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6. Synthetic colors are believed to be cancer-causing agents. If a cosmetic has them in it, don't use the cosmetic.

Triethanolamine (TEA)

Often used in cosmetics to adjust the pH, and used with many fatty acids to convert acid to salt (stearate), which then becomes the base for a cleanser. TEA causes allergic reactions including eye problems, dryness of hair and skin, and could be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.


Loose powders, blushes, and eye shadows can contain up to 50 percent talc, a mineral that has been linked to respiratory damage.

Dibutyl Phthalate

Found in nail polish and moisturizers, this hormone-disrupting chemical accumulates in the body's fatty tissue and can cause reproductive damage.