Get to Know the Dirty Dozen of Skincare

It is said that beauty is only skin deep. But at Max & Madeleine, we know that when it comes to our beauty regimen and skincare products, chemicals go deeper. And it may surprise you to know just how deep.

Thanks to the organic food movement, we’ve become more aware and alert about what we consume and put into our bodies. Yet, people are painfully unaware about the chemicals lacing their skincare products. Skin is highly permeable, allowing for a greater opportunity for absorption. So the products we so willingly slather over our skin can be absorbed into the skin and bloodstream.

Dr. Samuel Epstein, who is the former Head of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, stated ‘it is more dangerous to put a product on your skin than it is to eat it.’ So while it is imperative to be aware of the kind of food we eat, we must become more concerned with that which we put on our skin!

Thanks to very big and unfortunate loopholes in U.S. federal law, the FDA does not regulate the personal care products industry. This means chemicals that are linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects are knowingly added to our skincare products on a regular basis. Do we trust that cosmetic companies will do their due diligence and issue safe products?

The following is a list of 12 chemicals commonly found in skincare products and cosmetics, affectionately known as “The Dirty Dozen.”  In a recent study conducted by the David Suzuki Foundation, it was found that nearly 80% of cosmetic products surveyed contained at least one of the ingredients found on the Dirty Dozen list.

Here is what to look out for, in alphabetical order:

BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluen)

Common preservatives, BHA and BHT are found mainly in moisturizers and makeup. Frighteningly, these are preservatives even found in food! BHA and BHT are known to have adverse affects on the reproductive system and immune system. They are suspected to disrupt the endocrine system and may cause cancer.

Coal Tar Dyes

Also known as PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons), Coal Tar Dyes occur naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline. These are found commonly in shampoos and cosmetics that are dyed (such as hair dye). Coal Tar Dyes are recognized as a human carcinogen, and many contain low levels of heavy metals, which can be linked to brain damage.

DEA-Related Ingredients (Diethanolamine)

DEA compounds are the chemicals used to make our cosmetics creamy and foamy, so they are routinely used in moisturizers and shampoos. On a surface level, DEA’s can cause skin and eye irritation. High doses of DEA can cause cancer.

DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate)

Nail care products, such as nail polish, use Dibutyl Phthalate as a solvent for dyes. It is also used as a plasticizer, which keeps nail polishes from becoming brittle. It is banned from being an ingredient in cosmetics in Europe. The effects of DBP are far-reaching. For adults, DBP impairs fertility. For young girls, Dibutyl Phthalate has been shown to cause early puberty. And there is evidence that it leads to developmental defects in unborn babies.

Formaldehyde (and Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives)

Formaldehyde is a preservative used to increase the shelf life of cosmetics. It is a known carcinogen, as well as a toxin to the immune system. Cosmetics which utilize Formaldehyde continuously release small amounts of the chemical, which are leeched into the body.


Parabens are chemicals with many uses for the cosmetic industry, including as a preservative and antifungal/antimicrobial agent. 75-90% of cosmetics contain parabens, and are most commonly found in lotions, creams and underarm deodorant. Parabens are some of the chemicals most easily absorbed by the skin, and linked to breast cancer, male reproductive functions, hormonal disruptions and DNA damage. Not-so-Fun Fact: parabens are registered with the government as a pesticide!

Parfum (Fragrance)

We love to smell good, right? Unfortunately, there is a price to pay to enhance your scent: the 3000 different chemicals that are used to create synthetic fragrances are linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive issues, triggering allergies and asthma, and even cancer. Parfum has been found in some products marketed as “unscented.”

PEG Compounds (Polyethylene Glycols)

If you use cream-based cosmetics, you have most likely encountered PEG’s. They are used as softeners, solvents, thickeners and moisture-carriers. Polyethylene Glycols are shown to irritate the skin, but have also been linked to contaminants that cause cancer.


Petrolatum is a mineral jelly oil used in hair products, lip balms and moisturizers to lock in moisture. It is the bi-product of the manufacturing of sudsing cosmetics including shampoos, body wash and children’s bath products. Europe has deemed Petrolatum as a carcinogen and restricts it being used in cosmetics. And while it is ranked as a possible carcinogen in America, the United States government has placed no restrictions on its usage. Petrolatum may also cause allergies or skin irritation in small doses.


Siloxanes are used in hair care products and deodorants to soften, smooth and moisten. They also aide hair products in drying more quickly. When checking ingredient lists, look for words ending in ‘-siloxane’ or ‘-methicone.’ Siloxanes inhibits hormone function, and have been found to harm the reproductive and immune systems. They may also impair fertility.

SLS (Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Laurate or Lauryl Sulphate)

SLS’s are used to make cosmetic products foamy, and therefore found in shampoos, cleansers, bubble baths and cleaning detergents. These chemicals can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both of which may cause cancer. SLS’s can have an adverse affect on the nervous system and human development. They are not easily broken down, and may remain in the environment for a long time.


This chemical can be found as an antibacterial agent in cosmetics products such as toothpaste, cleanser, antiperspirant/deodorant and hand sanitizer. This is another cosmetic ingredient that has been classified as a pesticide by the US government. Not only is it an endocrine disrupter, but it disrupts normal breast growth and contributes to bacterial resistance.

Eye-opening, isn’t it? While we cannot speak for other companies in the skincare industry, we at Max & Madeleine promise to never use any of these harmful ingredients in our products. We pride ourselves on being a brand families can trust. Our products are 100% safe and non-toxic. We use only the finest and most pure ingredients to create the best products for your family.

Check back in the near future for more skincare news and updates about our products!