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What Ingredients Really Goes Into Your Favourite Cosmetic Brands

What Ingredients Really Goes Into Your Favourite Cosmetic Brands

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No cosmetic or skin care product can truly be called 100% natural. A ‘natural’ cosmetic or skin care product is usually a product containing a small amount of ‘natural’ ingredients. The rest of the product, meanwhile, is made with synthetic ingredients. Yet, the ingredients in these ‘natural products’ may not be safer than their synthetic counterparts!


Apart from plants, the ingredients in ‘natural products’ are usually minerals or animal-derived ingredients, such as crushed insects, fish scales, snail slime, or swine brain cells. These ingredients are often given nicer names, an example being carmine, a common red coloring agent in lipsticks and foods. Carmine comes from crushed cochineal insects, which live on cacti. To produce about 0.5 kg of carmine, it takes roughly 70,000 insects. Another colorant, guanine, is obtained from fish scales. It provides a shimmery, iridescent effect when used in skin care products and cosmetics like lipsticks. Then there are skin care products with added snail slime or cerebrosides (taken from cow, ox, or swine brain cells) that claim to possess nourishing and moisture-retention effects.


All cosmetic and skin care products are susceptible to bacterial contamination, so preservatives must be added to them. Without preservatives, cosmetic and skin care products can become contaminated with harmful microbes that cause infections, or they may degrade when exposed to oxygen. The harm that could arise from these problems would be greater than that of any preservative. Adding a small amount of safe and approved preservatives can ensure the safety and stability of a product. It also allows products to perform as intended over their lifetime.


Even so, health and safety of cosmetic users should come first. Many ingredients deliver remarkable results, but may also increase the burden on the skin and body. This can happen when ingredients are ingested by accident (for example, lipstick) or absorbed through skin (for example, lotions and toners).


Scientists have found many common cosmetic ingredients that stays in human tissues. Even breast milk has been identified to contain harmful chemicals from cosmetic and skin care products. Heavy metals and asbestos are some of the most common impurities in cosmetics. For example, lead, arsenic, mercury, and asbestos are found in lipsticks and beauty products. These ingredients can affect the health of fetuses and babies when used by pregnant women and nursing mothers. They can also cause increased pigmentation on the skin where they are used or cause allergic contact dermatitis, nerve damage, and even skin cancer.


Infants and children can be exposed to these harmful substances if they touch their parents who use the offending products, get the products on their little hands, and then put their hands and fingers into their mouths, which kids normally do. Children may also accidentally inhale or swallow products like baby powder, shower gels, or other baby skin care products.

Impurity Limits In Cosmetics

Heavy MetalCanadaEuropean Union (EU)GermanyJapanU.S.A
Arsenic3ppmNo set limits. Allowed at trace levels only if they are technically inevitable with correct manufacturing processes and provided that the product is safe.5ppm< 2ppm< 3ppm in certain colourants
Lead10ppm20ppm< 20ppm
  • No restriction in cosmetics
  • 20ppm in certain colourants
Mercury3ppm1ppmShould not be detected< 1ppm in certain colourants

Note ppm = parts per million


The same ingredient may appear in similar products from different brands. However, the source of the ingredient, how it is processed, and the manufacturer’s knowledge can make a big difference whenit comes to the quality, purity, and safety of the final product. For instance, although they are all water, differences exist among tap water, mineral water, distilled water and purified water.


Harmful side effects may arise if any ingredient is not processed correctly or combined with the wrong ingredients. For example, alcohol, a common ingredient in skin care products, cannot perform as intended when an inadequate amount is added. On the other hand, too much of it may cause harm. Certain low-grade alcohol derived from petroleum may contain harmful substances like toxic benzenes or methanol, which can cause poisoning if accidentally ingested. On the other hand, pure and safe alcohol is obtained by fermenting grain and yeast in a fermentation tank and purifying it by filtration, rectification and many other processes. Alcohol obtained in this way does not burden skin.


IngredientFunctionDangerous Combination/Source/ContaminantsHarmful Side Effects
AlcoholSolvent and preservativeObtained from petroleumAllergic contact dermatitis
Cocamide DEAFoaming agentContaminated with nitrosating agentsCancer-causing nitrosamines are formed
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)Foaming and cleansing agent1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of manufacturing SLES, is not removed1,4-dioxane is a possible human carcinogen
TalcAbsorbent and anti-caking agentContaminated with asbestosAsbestos is a known human carcinogen
Tricalcium PhosphateAnti-caking agentCombined with trimethylolpropane-derived productsBicyclic phosphates and phosphites, which have neurotoxic properties, are formed
TriclosanAntibacterial agentCombined with chlorinated waterCreates chloroform, which may cause depression, liver problems and even cancer


The selection of raw materials, research and development, formulation, and testing of cosmetic and skin care products all involve elaborate and stringent scientific research. Professional knowledge and expertise is required, and the products should be manufactured by ethical and reliable manufacturers. An ethical manufacturer wilt take every step of the product-manufacturing process very seriously and will carry out numerous and repeated tests for toxins, heavy metals, bacteria, stability, potential to cause allergies, and interactions among the different ingredients. This is to eliminate any chance of damage to health or the skin and to ensure product safety by reducing the risks of irritation or sensitivity to the bare minimum.

Naomi Truong

Naomi Troung is a YesMyWellness.com author covering topics such as fitness, relationship, beauty and general wellness and wellbeing issues. She is a certified Yoga teacher from the Yoga Institute in Mumbai India and yes, she is also Muay Thai enthusiast and can been working out her moves at her regular gym.

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