Hazardous substances

By hazardous substances we mean substances that can affect our health in a negative way. This applies to substances that are carcinogenic, hormone disrupting, allergenic or that interfere with our reproductive capacity.

  • Allergenic: something that can cause irritation and contact allergy (eczema). Fragrances, preservatives, herbal ingredients and hair dyes are examples of allergens.
  • Hormone disruption: something that disrupts the hormone systems in our body. Connections have been made to diabetes, obesity, hormone-related cancer, difficulty having children and brain development. At present, there is no agreement on what a hormone disruptor is and therefore there is no law that prevents the presence of hormone disruptors in our hygiene products.
  • Environmentally harmful substances are those that affect the environment and wildlife in a negative way. A substance may be toxic to aquatic organisms, difficult to degrade, or bioaccumulative (that is stored in organisms).
  • All types of cosmetics and hygiene products may contain such substances.
  • Very few chemical substances have been evaluated for their potential negative effects on both health or the environment. Knowledge of additives in cosmetics and hygiene products is limited. The availability of a substance on the market does not guarantee that it is harmless.
  • It is difficult to detect the exact consequences on our health from being exposed to a number of different substances at the same time and its overall effect.
  • Microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and mold spores are found everywhere in our environment and also on the skin.
  • Many cosmetic products, such as liquid soaps, shampoos and creams, consist largely of water (75-80%), which favors the growth of these bacteria. That is why the preservatives are added to protect the products.
  • Parabens are a group of chemical substances used as preservatives in cosmetic products, but also in foods and medicines.
  • What all parabens have in common is the basic chemical structure of benzoic acid.
  • Benzoic acid is a substance found in plants and berries such as lingonberries, cloudberries and cranberries.
  • Benzoic acid can trigger non-allergic hypersensitivity.
  • In the early 2000s, alarming reports of parabens were published. The reports claimed that parabens were allergenic, hormone disrupting and even carcinogenic. Manufacturers have then started looking for replacements.
  • In 2014, the EU decided to ban certain parabens, namely isopropyl paraben, isobutyl paraben, pentyl paraben, phenyl paraben and benzyl paraben.
  • For other parabens, the EU has restricted its rules so that the maximum permitted levels are lowered and that use in children’s products (0-3 years) is limited.
  • The following parabens are hormone disruptors and are permitted in cosmetic products at low levels:
  • Propyl paraben
  • Butylparaben
  • Polyhexamethylene Biguanide – abbreviated PHMB – is a preservative used in cosmetic products, such as makeup removal, wet wipes, eye makeup remover, toner but can also be found in hand and foot creams.
  • PHMB is suspected to be carcinogenic. Therefore, it was classified as a CMR substance in 2015. CMR substances are a general term for substances that are hazardous to health that can be carcinogenic and cause fertility problems.
  • At present, PHMB is still used in lower concentrations in cosmetics and hygiene products as the beauty industry has worked hard to find a loophole in EU Cosmetics legislation.
  • Isothiazolinones are a group of preservatives that are often used in cosmetics, but are also found in paints, water-based adhesives and detergents.
  • They have been used as a substitute for parabens.
  • The following isothiazolinones are allergenic in contact with the skin and also toxic to aquatic organisms:
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI or CMIT)
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MI or MIT)
  • Benzisothiazolinone (BIT)
  • The combination MI / MCI was so allergenic that it was banned, but the substances can still be used separately.
  • Many cosmetics and hygiene products contain fragrances.
  • Research shows that fragrances can cause contact allergies, regardless of whether the substances are synthetic or natural (essential oils).
  • The rules for the use of perfumes in the products have gradually become stricter within the EU.
  • Most fragrances do not have to be listed with their names in the content declaration, but they can be included in the general name “perfume”.
  • 26 fragrances are so allergenic that they must be printed on the bottle:
  • Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone
  • Amyl Cinnamal
  • Amylcinnamyl Alcohol
  • Anise Alcohol
  • Avernia Furfuracea (Treemoss Exctract)
  • Benzyl Alcohol
  • Benzyl Benzoate
  • Benzyl Cinnamate
  • Benzyl Salicylate
  • Butyphenyl Methylpropional (Lilial)
  • Carboxaldehyde
  • Cinnamal
  • Cinnamal Alcohol
  • Citral
  • Citronellol
  • Coumarin
  • Eugenol
  • Evernia Prunastri (Oak Moss Extract)
  • Farnesol
  • Geraniol
  • Hexyl Cinnamal
  • Hydroxycitronellal
  • Hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene
  • Isoeugenol
  • Limonene
  • Linalool
  • Phthalates are a group of substances that are used, among other things, as plasticizers in plastic, but which can also be used in nail polish, hair spray and perfumes.
  • Some phthalates are rather safe, while others are hormone disruptors or suspected to be hormone disruptors. It is common for some of them to be hormone disruptors with antiandrogenic effect, which means that they counteract the effects of male hormones.
  • They negatively affect our organ system, which may lead to, among other things, impaired thyroid function, reproductive disorders and breast cancer.
  • The most exposed to phthalates are fetuses in the womb, whose development is negatively affected.
  • The following phthalates are hormone disruptors that you should beware of:
  • DEHP
  • dibutyl phthalate DBP
  • benzyl butyl phthalate BBP
  • DIPB
  • dicyclohexyl phthalate DPCHP
  • diisononyl phthalate DINP
  • diisodecyl phthalate DIDP
  • DCHP
Highly fluorinated substances
  • Highly fluorinated substances (PFAS) are a group of substances with the ability to form smooth, water, grease and dirt-repellent surfaces. They are used in a number of different products such as outdoor life and rainwear, furniture fabrics, ski blanket, fire foam and Teflon frying pans. They are also used in cosmetic products.
  • These substances are difficult to degrade, i.e. they can not be degraded in nature. They reach aquatic environments where they will contaminate drinking water and have a damaging effect on wildlife. Animal experiments show that they cause liver problems, adversely affect the immune system and decrease the ability to reproduce.
  • Two of these substances – PFOS and PFOA – are suspected carcinogens and are now banned.
  • The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation has found PFAS in a number of cosmetic products, namely: face masks, face cream, eyeliner, foundation, hair oil, highlighter, mascara, powder, primer, shaving foam, eyebrow shadow, eye shadow.
  • The following substances are PFAS and can be found in cosmetic products:
    • PTFE
    • Polytef
    • Polytefum
    • C9-15 Fluoroalcohol Phosphate
    • Decafluoropentane
    • As well as names that contain “perfluoro” or “polyfluoro”, for example:
    • Ammonium C6-16 Perfluoroalkylethyl Phosphate
    • Polyperfluoroethoxymethoxy Difluoroethyl Peg Phosphate
    • Polyperfluoromethylisopropyl Ether
    • Perfluorooctyl Triethoxysilane
  • Cosmetics and hygiene products may contain UV-absorbing substances, such as skin cream, nail polish, lip gloss and shaving gel.
  • Some UV absorbers are hormone disruptors and allergens.
  • Read more about sun protection here.
  • Microplastics are small plastic particles that are 5 mm in diameter or smaller.
  • They have been used in scrubbing products such as in body scrubs, peeling and shower creams.
  • They have also been used in cosmetic products for their properties as a texture-giving, film-forming, protective or as a filler. For example in toothpaste, shampoo, skin creams, eye shadow, deodorant, hair spray, blush, nail polish, mascara, shaving cream, baby products, foundations, hand and face cleanser, hair dye and sunscreen.
  • Microplastics are so small that they can not be caught in sewage treatment plants. They end up in streams and lakes and there they are consumed by aquatic animals. They are bioaccumulative and have a number of negative effects such as reduced food intake, inflammation, as well as a negative impact on the animals’ energy storage, nervous system and reproduction.
  • Our drinking water may contain microplastics.
  • Since 2018, microplastics have been banned in cosmetic products that are rinsed off, such as soap, toothpaste and shower cream. Microplastics in non-rinseable products are still permitted.
  • The most common plastics in cosmetic products are:
    • Polyethylene (PE)
    • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
    • Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
    • Polypropylene (PP)
    • Polyamide (PA; nylon)
    • Acrylic


Further reading

Here you can read more about more substances in cosmetics and hygiene products that can be good to keep track of: davidsuzuki.org

EWG’s skin deep is a database of the Environmental Working Group. It gathers information about cosmetic products, their content and their potential hazards to health and the environment.


Updated 2021