The “Dirty Dozen” Ingredients to Avoid

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By Dr. Justin Marchegiani

With over 82,000 ingredients used in body care products (an 1 in 8 being an industrial chemical), I wanted to share a condensed list of the Dirty Dozen ingredients to avoid. These chemicals range from hormone disrupting to carcinogenic. I want to share with you these Dirty Dozen so that you can make the informed choice of whether or not you want to use products containing these toxic compounds.


These two synthetic antioxidants are used as a preservative in products. Exposure to BHA and BHT is linked to allergic reactions, liver, thyroid, and kidney conditions, tumor growth, and cancer. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has classified BHA as a Category 1 ingredient of concern due to the science confirming its effect on human hormones. These ingredients are often found in lipsticks and moisturizers.

Coal Tar Dyes

These dyes are used to give products color, and coal tar like P-phenylenediamine is used frequently in hair dyes. These dyes are made from a mixture of chemicals made from petroleum–a known carcinogen–and contain heavy metals and aluminum which are toxic to the brain and linked to neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimers.

DEA and DEA Related Ingredients 

While these ingredients make products creamy and sudsy, they also cause skin irritation, eye irritation, liver cancer, and disrupt thyroid function. They are often found in facial cleansers, shampoos, soaps, and moisturizers.

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DBP is used in nail polish to prevent it from becoming brittle. Over time, exposure to DBP is linked to liver and kidney failure, hormone imbalance, and lowers sperm count. It absorbs through the skin and can cause genetic mutations–DBP also causes developmental defects in fetuses, which is one reason why I don’t recommend painting your nails while pregnant.

Formaldehyde-releasing ingredients

DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate are just some of the formaldehyde-releasing preservatives used in body care products, but they should never go near your body. At least, not while you’re alive. Formaldehyde is a chemical used to preserve dead bodies. It is a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing compound) that is dangerous whether it’s absorbed through the skin or inhaled.


Easily absorbed, parabens are estrogen-mimicking preservatives which are extremely damaging to the body. They interfere with hormone production and due to their ability to mimic estrogen, parabens are linked to breast cancer, skin cancer, and DNA damage. Around 75-90% of cosmetics contain parabens, making it one of the most abundant toxins to be aware of.


This blanket term is intended to hide a ‘secret recipe’ of fragrance, but really means it is a chemical cocktail of hundreds out of thousands of chemicals. Companies can hide a wide variety of chemicals by cloaking them with the word “Fragrance” on the label. There is no safety data required on these chemicals, though studies have linked fragrance chemicals to asthma, allergies, and cancer.

PEG Compounds

PEG compounds are common in cream-based ingredients, used to thicken and carry moisture. They interfere with the nervous system and human development–another ingredient to be very wary of when pregnant. They are also carcinogenic and are linked to genotoxicity.


Phthalates are used to make plastics soft and to make fragrances and cosmetics stick to the body for longer. Unfortunately, they also harm thyroid health and trigger death in testicular cells.


Petroleum jelly is used to make products shine, like in lip balm and moisturizer. It is linked to cancer, skin irritation, and allergies.


Ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone” (common in hair products and deodorants) are linked to infertility and hormone disruption.


This ingredient is found in antibacterial body products including deodorant and hand sanitizer. Short term concerns include eye and skin irritation, but in the long run triclosan is linked to antibiotic resistance and hormone imbalances. 


Around 80% of cosmetics include ingredients from the Dirty Dozen list. I know it takes work to find clean products, which is why I recommend using the Environmental Working Groups’ database, Skin Deep, to search for clean products. You can look up the safety of products you already own, or search by product type to find the cleanest household and personal care products.

Click here to work with a functional medicine doctor to improve your health! 


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