EDTA is carcinogenic


Face creams, deodorants, toothpaste, shampoo, perfumes, aftershave and soaps. Have you ever thought about how many cosmetic products you use per day? According to surveys, a man uses an average of 7 such products per day, while a woman uses up to 20 products. However, many of the substances contained in cosmetics are anything but beneficial for the skin and body in the long term. Because our skin is very absorbent, so that certain substances from cosmetic articles get directly into our body through it. For this reason, it is important to read and understand labels in order to select safe products that will protect the skin, hair and the like. not hurt.

When is a component defined as harmful?

First of all, it should be made clear that an ingredient that is classified as toxic on the basis of laboratory analyzes or scientific studies will also be officially banned after being examined by the European Commission. Depending on how harmful the substance is, there may not be a complete ban in the Cosmetics Ordinance, but only limit values ​​[1].

Step 1: learn to read INCI

In 1997 the European Union introduced the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients), in German "International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients" - an international regulation on the correct indication of ingredients on cosmetics. INCI offers a nomenclature system that enables consumers to identify the ingredients of cosmetic products.

  • According to these regulations, cosmetics manufacturers are obliged to list all ingredients in descending order of their percentage by weight at the time of manufacture. The ingredient of which most can be found in the product is listed first.
  • Substances that make up less than one percent of the weight are not obliged to list them in the order listed. They may appear at the end of the list in any order.
  • The INCI names are usually based on the Latin or English names of the ingredients
  • Fragrances do not have to be listed individually, but are simply referred to as "Parfum", "Fragrance" or "Aroma". The reason for this is that a fragrance can consist of up to 100 individual components. Exceptions are fragrances that are suspected of triggering allergic reactions.
  • Artificial dyes are identified by a code with the Color Index (CI) number (e.g. CI12700), with the exception of hair colors, which must always be given with their English chemical name.
  • Natural ingredients from organic farming are marked with an asterisk on the INCI (*).

Ingredients to Avoid

1. Mineral oils

Like gasoline or diesel, mineral oils are extracted from crude oil and purified in several steps. They are mainly used in skin and lip care products, shampoo and makeup, but are also used in some intimate soaps. Mineral oils are used as "film formers", i.e. they form a kind of water-repellent film on the skin and make the products themselves more supple. In certified natural cosmetics, ingredients based on mineral oil are not allowed.

Stiftung Warentest found out that many products based on mineral oil are contaminated with the critical substance MOAH ("Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons") [2], although certain limit values ​​have been defined for this. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the dangerous hydrocarbon compounds are considered to be potentially carcinogenic [3].

Mineral oils hide behind many names, such as:

  • Paraffinum Liquidum
  • paraffin
  • Mineral oil
  • Petrolatum (petroleum jelly)
  • Cera Microcristallina (Microcristallina Wax)
  • Ceresin

2. Silicones

Silicones are synthetic plastic polymers. They are also used because of their film-forming effect, especially in skin and hair products, to impart shine and suppleness. In and of themselves, silicones are not classified as harmful. The molecules are too big to penetrate the skin - so they just lie on the skin. But who likes to have a plastic film on their face that may impair the natural flora of the skin? In addition, synthetic silicones made with environmentally harmful substances are hardly biodegradable, which is why shampoo and co. make a proud contribution to environmental pollution.

On the positive side, it should be noted that many cosmetics manufacturers are now adapting to the demand of increasingly sensitive consumers and printing "silicone-free" on the labels of the products. Ingredients containing silicone can be recognized by the following endings: "-cone" and "-xane".

The most common are:

  • Amodimethicone
  • Dimethicone
  • Polysiloxanes
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Cyclopentasiloxanes
  • Trimethylsiloxysilicate

3. Parabens

Parabens are chemical compounds with antibacterial and fungicidal properties. They are used as preservatives in almost all beauty products. The American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) has named parabens “Non-Allergen of the Year 2019” [4]. Nevertheless, there are already several studies that show that certain parabens have a hormone-like effect [5]. This is because parabens are very similar to the structure of the female sex hormone estrogen and, unlike silicones, can be absorbed through the skin. Studies by Brown University (USA) have also shown that concentrations of the paraben compound triclosan in the urine of pregnant women correlate with a lower birth weight and head circumference in babies [6].

In cosmetic products, parabens are often hidden behind the following names:

  • Isobutyl paraben
  • Butyl paraben
  • Benzyl paraben
  • Isobutyl paraben
  • Isopropyl paraben

4. Polyethylene glycol (PEG)

Polyethylene glycol and PEG derivatives are water-soluble polymers made from petroleum. They are used in many cosmetics such as ointments and creams, among other things because of their emulsifying effect, i.e. their ability to bind oily and aqueous substances. However, PEGs are not harmless, because they make the skin more permeable, thus promoting the absorption of harmful substances and can thus promote skin irritation. Certain PEGs are also classified as carcinogenic [7].

Polyethylene glycol compounds can be recognized by their names with "eth" or by the abbreviation PEG with a number that represents the molecular weight.

Frequently used PEGs:

  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (sodium lauryl ether sulfate)
  • Laureth-9 (PEG 450)
  • Ceteareth-33


EDTA stands for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. It is a chelating or complexing agent that can bind (heavy) metals, among other things. The synthetic substance is used not only in cosmetics, but also in the food industry and medicine because it can neutralize the harmful effects of heavy metals. In cosmetic products such as lotions, shampoos and sun lotions, EDTA is used as an emulsifier, foaming agent or stabilizer.

How harmful EDTA really is is still unclear. In any case, EDTA is not beneficial for the environment because it is not degradable. Because it is highly soluble in water, the chemical compound is not completely eliminated in wastewater treatment and often settles in the waters of rivers and seas. EDTA has thus already been detected in drinking water and groundwater [8].

The most common EDTA compounds are:

  • Disodium EDTA
  • Tetrasodium EDTA
  • EDTA diammonium
  • EDTA dipotassium

6. Phthalates

Phthalates are chemicals that are also extracted from oil. They are used as plasticizers, solvents or to improve the consistency of various products. They are mainly used in nail polishes, perfumes and aftershave, but can also be found in creams, shampoos and non-cosmetic products such as PVC. Phthalates are highly questionable because they are absorbed through the skin and seem to have a hormonal effect similar to parabens [9, 10].

Phthalates in cosmetics:

  • DINP - diisononyl phthalate
  • DEHP - bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate
  • DNOP - dioptyl phthalate
  • DIDP - Diisodecylphthalate
  • BBP - butyl benzyl phthalate
  • DBP - dibutyl phthalate

7. Aluminum salts

Aluminum salts are water-soluble compounds made from aluminum that are mainly used in deodorants, but also in lipsticks and toothpaste. They ensure that the skin contracts and form gel-like protein complexes that temporarily clog sweat pores like a kind of plug. In the case of antiperspirants, this prevents sweat from escaping through the pores. A study by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) examined the absorption of aluminum in antiperspirants such as deodorants. The result showed that the daily use of such products exceeded the tolerated dose specified by the EFSA [11]. Aluminum salts are suspected of causing breast cancer [12]. Fortunately, more and more producers are doing without aluminum in deodorants and the like.

The most common aluminum connections:

  • Aluminum chlorohydrates
  • Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex Glycine
  • Aluminum stearate
  • Aluminum hydroxychloride

8. UV filter

Most sunscreens on the market contain chemical UV filters that protect us from the sun's rays. They are often preferred to mineral UV filters because they distribute the cream better on the skin and do not leave a white film. However, chemical UV filters can be harmful to health. A recently published study with 24 healthy volunteers showed that the use of various sunscreens led to concentrations of the UV filter avobenzone (butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane) in the blood that exceeded the threshold value set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [5] .

The following are to be avoided:

  • Methoxycinnamate
  • Octocrylene
  • Benzophenones-3, -4, -5
  • Ethylhexyl salicylate
  • Ethylhexyl dimethyl PABA
  • Isoamyl methoxycinnamate

9. Chemical fragrances

Don't be fooled by the pleasant smell of cosmetic products. As already mentioned, they are only referred to as "perfume" or "fragrance", without distinguishing between chemical and natural origin.As a rule, these are compounds obtained from oil or synthetic compounds that, due to their low molecular weight, can penetrate the skin.

Since some fragrances can trigger allergies, they are listed by their full name [14]. These include substances such as Amylcinnamyl Alcohl, Anise Alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Cinnamate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Cirtronellol, Eugenol, Farnesol, Geraniol, Carboxaldehyde, Isoeugenol, Linalool and Limonene.

10. Ingredients of animal origin

Anyone who values ​​vegan, i.e. purely plant-based cosmetics, should pay particular attention to the list of ingredients. Because the addition of animal ingredients is widespread in the cosmetics industry. Keratin, which is mainly found in hair products, can come from the manes, feathers or horns of various animals. Hyaluronic acid, which is mainly used in skin care creams and as an anti-wrinkle agent, is partly obtained from cockscombs. Stearic acid, which is often used in soaps, often comes from lard (pork fat) or tallow (beef fat). And that tooHyped collagen is extracted exclusively from animal materials, i.e. slaughterhouse waste.

At a glance

Fortunately, we don't have to memorize all of the names and information we have listed here. There are now various websites and apps that give an insight into the ingredients of cosmetic products. The website of the German Society for Skin Health e.V. (DGfH), for example, has published a list of the most common cosmetic ingredients and indicates which of the more than 9,000 evaluated ingredients is classified as questionable or hazardous to health [15].

The free apps "CodeCheck" and "ToxFox" check products by scanning the barcode and assess its composition. The "Cosmile" The app works very similarly and provides detailed information on the ingredients.

The alternative way: care from nature

More and more people use organic or natural products because of the growing awareness of health and environmental protection. But here, too, you shouldn't just pick up the tube without looking at the list of ingredients. Terms like "natural origin" or "natural" are not protected by law. "Bio" is also not regulated by the state in the cosmetics sector - unlike in nutrition.

Of course there are also natural cosmetics seals, such as NATRUE or BDIHwhich guarantee that the raw materials used are at least for the most part of natural origin. Ingredients based on petroleum, as well as silicones, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and synthetic fats, oils and fragrances are therefore not allowed.

An even more environmentally friendly, healthier and often cheaper alternative are specially made care products. For example, rose water can be an excellent facial tonic, cocoa or shea butter mixed with almond oil makes a pleasant lip balm, and coffee grounds mixed with olive oil make a pleasantly smelling body peeling. So: Homemade cosmetics not only save you from reading cosmetics labels, but are also good for the environment and your body.


[1] European Commission, Cosmetics (https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/cosmetics/) (as of 11/2019)

[2] Stiftung Warentest, mineral oils in cosmetics (https://www.test.de/Mineraloele-in-Kosmetika-Kritische-Stoffe-in-Cremes-Lippenpflegeprodukten-und-Vaseline-4853357-0/) (as of 11/2019 )

[3] EFSA, mineral oil hydrocarbons (https://www.efsa.europa.eu/de/topics/topic/mineral-oil-hydrocarbons) (as of 11/2019)

[4] Fransway et al., Parabens: contact (non) allergen of the year. Dermatitis. (2018)

[5] Fransway et al., Paraben toxicology. dermatitis (2019)

[6] Etzel et al., Urinary triclosan concentrations during pregnancy and birth outcomes. Environ Res. (2017)

[7] David Suzuki Foundation: The Dirty Dozen: PEG Compounds and their contaminants. (https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/dirty-dozen-peg-compounds-contaminants/) (as of 11/2019)

[8] Wisotzky et al., EDTA pollution in the groundwater of two drinking water catchment areas through bank filtration. Applied groundwater chemistry, hydrogeology and hydrogeochemical modeling. pp 397-407 (2017)

[9] Hannon and Flaws, The effects of phthalates on the ovary. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). (2015)  

[10] Ponzo and Silivia, Evidence of reproductive disruption associated with neuroendocrine changes induced by UV-B filters, phthalates and nonylphenol during sexual maturation in rats of both gender. Toxicology. (2013)

[11] Tietz et al., Aggregated aluminum exposure: risk assessment for the general population. Archives of Toxicology, pp 1–19 (2019)

[12] BfR aluminum in everyday life: a health risk? (https://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/343/aluminium-im-alltag-ein-gesundheitliches-risk.pdf) (as of 11/2019)

[13] Murali et al., Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients. JAMA (2019)

[14] AGES, Allergenic Fragrances (https://www.ages.at/themen/kosmetik/kennzeichnung/allergene-duftstoffe/) (Status 11/2019)

[15] DGfH, INCI list (https://naehrstoffkosmetik.com/inci-liste) (as of 11/2019)