What Are the Different Types of Chemicals in Cosmetics?

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  • Written By: Jackie Myers
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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The different types of chemicals in cosmetics include parabens, glycol ethers, mercury, and phthalates. These chemicals can cause birth defects and serious health problems, and research links phthalates to liver and kidney lesions. Hazardous chemicals can be found in personal care products used every day, such as deodorant and shampoo.

Some of the chemicals used in beauty care products can directly affect the skin. Cleansing agents found in soaps may cause acne lesions to increase, and acne soaps may cause the skin to become overly dry. Items with salicylate can cause itching, hives, and rashes to appear on sensitive skin, and people with skin sensitivities have a higher chance of experiencing immediate irritation from the harsh product ingredients.

The three types of parabens found in cosmetic products are butylparaben, propylparaben, and methylparaben. Parabens are the most commonly used chemicals in cosmetics and act as preservatives. They are often found in skin moisturizers and makeup. Studies have found this chemical in breast tumors.

Glycol ethers play a role as solvents in liquid soaps and nail polish. Short-term exposure to these chemicals in cosmetics may contribute to pulmonary edema or narcosis. Severe damage to the liver has also been reported in those with acute exposure. Long-term exposure to glycol ethers can result in anemia, nausea, and neurological effects.


Mercury is one of the most dangerous chemicals in cosmetics. Immediate health problems from applying eye makeup containing mercury are not likely to occur, as mercury accumulates in the body slowly. Experts warn that mercury, even in small quantities, however, can cause neurological damage to humans. Mercury can also harm the respiratory and reproductive systems, and a lot of evidence indicates that it negatively impacts both animals and humans.

Phthalates are another of the dangerous chemicals in cosmetics. Both men and women experience disturbances in their hormonal systems, and poor sperm quality and infertility can result in adult males who are exposed to them. Research found phthalates in the urine samples of pregnant women who had delivered babies with a shortened distance between the anus and genitals. These chemicals can be found in deodorants and hair products.


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