What Chemicals You Want, and What Chemicals You Want to Ditch

Chemicals can produce frightening images of burns, allergic reactions, or deformities. But that’s not all they can do.  They can relieve pain, safely cleanse, or improve a product’s efficacy. It’s important to widen our knowledge and understanding of chemicals because they are in everything, and they are everything. 

Chemicals are literally everything. They are the building blocks for every person, thing, or substance on earth. Chemicals have gotten a bad rap and the natural movement, while having good intentions, has demonized all types of chemicals. 

And it doesn’t help that when found on your shampoo bottle or moisturizer, they all generally have terribly complex and anxiety-inducing names.  A scary name doesn’t necessarily mean a scary chemical. But not all chemicals are bad, and smart consumers need to know how to do their research. 

Generally, while the concern is that certain chemicals are known to have adverse effects, however, it’s important to distinguish between a few factors that are involved. For one, there are a number of known harmful chemicals that even we produce naturally in our bodies. Formaldehyde, classified as a carcinogen, is naturally occurring in nature and our bodies. But if you get a lot of it, well then that’s where the problems begin. 

As the old science adage goes, “The poison is in the dose.” What is important to know is that it’s not just the ingredients but the concentrations they come in. 

It’s also important to know that phrases like, “organic” or “natural” aren’t regulated by the FDA. Some of these brands make bold claims but their ingredient lists tell a different story. 

Chemicals of concern 

The cause for concern in the following chemicals is that they have been shown to cause varying degrees of irritation or in large doses could be potentially harmful to people. 


Commonly used as a cosmetic preservative to keep products from developing bacterial growth. The most common formaldehyde beauty culprits are nail polish and nail polish remover.  

Heavy metals 

Lead, Arsenic, Cadmium, and Mercury, oh my! These are some of the worst offenders for heavy metals that are found in certain cosmetics like lipsticks, eyeshadows or foundations. They are classified as suspected or known human carcinogens and have been linked to neurotoxicity, birth defects, and hormone disruption. 


Parabens are a common preservative used in household products, food, and cosmetics. They have been confirmed as an endocrine disruptor and they have shown to be able to penetrate the skin and stay within the tissue. Some studies have suggested they can cause harmful reproductive issues. 


Found in many sunscreens to provide UV coverage, oxybenzone has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor and ___. It’s found in about 80% of sunscreens. Opting for a mineral sunscreen can help reduce the absorption of this harmful chemical. Look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide sunscreens to help block those rays without the potential side effects. 


Pregnant women and young children are most at risk when it comes to phthalates. Used as a plasticizer, it makes plastics more manageable, like your bendy raincoat or hose, and less rigid to prevent breaking. These chemicals are widespread so completely ignoring them is difficult to do. However, opting for cosmetics and household products that don’t include phthalates is a great way to start reducing exposure to them. 

Chemicals you shouldn’t be afraid of 

Certain acids 

Ascorbic acid is a concentrate of vitamin C this type of acid is used to brighten and even out skin tone. 

Glycolic, lactic, salicylic acids are used in cleansers, peels, and lotions to help exfoliate and clear the skin.  

Hyaluronic acid provides serious moisturizing benefits and no harmful skin benefits. 

It’s important to note that it is often in higher concentrations, lower pH levels that it becomes toxic. Depending on the brand, you’ll want to know what concentration and what pH levels you’re getting so that your products are at once safe and effective. 


Glycerin is a common ingredient in lotions, creams, and serums. They can be synthetically produced or they are naturally derived from plant oils. They are a humectant and help bind water to the skin and improve the moisture barrier. 


Shown to be hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic (or pore-clogging) silicones found in skin and hair products are safe. They are not sensitizing to the skin and they help improve the delivery of other active ingredients. 


Sometimes referred to as hydrogenated lecithin, lecithin is a fatty acid that is used in skincare products as an emollient. It is used to soothe, soften, and moisturize the skin. It can also be naturally found in eggs, soy, and corn. It’s often used in products for dry skin or for eczema. 

Take home message 

Getting a balanced and clear understanding of ingredients and the manufacturing process is a great step for making conscious consumer choices. This list is just a small example of various chemicals that may be considered safe or unsafe. Doing your research is the most important step when considering what product to use. 

For example, at Perfect Image, all our peels are tested for safety and efficacy. We always make sure we’re in compliance with the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Process to provide quality and safety. By using the cGMP guidelines, we’re able to proudly say that our formulations are made in a consistent manner. You can know that each formulation is within the appropriate strength and concentration to ensure consistency and safety. 

When researching ingredients it’s important to keep in mind that for many of them,  limitations have been placed on them to improve safety. In reality, too much of anything can prove to be toxic for humans. 

Knowledgable consumers can become informed, instead of afraid, about what goes into their products and by knowing how they are made. 


References: https://www.self.com/story/controversial-cosmetics-ingredients-research

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