The 10 Toxic Things You Should Keep Out of Your Bathroom

colorful handsoaps with toxic labels
Carlos Yudica/Shutterstock/Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
Carlos Yudica/Shutterstock/Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

If there's any means of adulting you should aim to master this year (OK, maybe next year... but no really, this year), it should be reading labels on the products you buy. It’s annoying and boring, but important -- after all, a lot of food is made with sketchy ingredients, and you’d probably be even more grossed out to know what’s up in your bathroom cabinet.

Looks and smells can be deceiving, and that goes for everything from fancy makeup to just a regular old deodorant stick. These are the bad ingredients you should be watching out for.

woman with jar of moisturizer


Where you may be using it: Moisturizers, sunscreens, and shampoos
What to look for on the label: Diethanolamine
Why it's bad for you: You just knew that silky-smooth feeling was too good to be true, didn't you? In some products, that’s not because of natural oils, but a substance called DEA that makes the mixture creamier, sudsier, and less acidic. Unfortunately, lab experiments on rodents have resulted in some some pretty disturbing effects on the skin, and led to liver cancer in mice.


Where you may be using it: Antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, deodorant
What to look for on the label: Triclosan
Why it's bad for you: Once used as a surgical scrub, triclosan now functions as a kind of all-purpose antibacterial in everything from hand soap to toothpaste. Experts worry, though, that the substance is contributing to bacterial resistance and the rise of superbugs, and the FDA found that antibacterial products aren’t any more effective than regular soap and H2O -- not to mention the fact that it disrupts the endocrine system and may contribute to allergies in kids. You're better off reaching for a regular old bar of soap.

Man with hair gel
Jeroen van den Broek/Shutterstock


Where you may be using it: Shampoos, body wash, and hair gels
What to look for on the label: DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
Why it's bad for you: Formaldehyde is used to embalm dead people and dissection frogs, but it’s also still found in various beauty products to help kill bacteria. Fun! Besides being a flammable gas, it's also known to be a human carcinogen, and banned from cosmetics in countries like Sweden and Japan. As you'll notice in the "what to look for" section, no one comes out and lists "formaldehyde" as an ingredient, because that might freak people out. Go figure!

Petroleum jelly

Where you may be using it: Skincare products and various cosmetics
What to look for on the label: Petroleum jelly, petrolatum
Why it's bad for you: Petroleum jelly is God's answer to nasty, chapped lips, and generally speaking, it’s not all that bad for you. However, some experts fear that not all petroleum is properly refined, meaning it could include cancer-causing chemicals.

tubes of lipstick lined up


Where you may be using it: Moisturizers and lipsticks
What to look for on the label: Butylated hydroxyanisol, butylated hydroxytoluene
Why it's bad for you: As nice as it is to have that facial moisturizer stay put for ages, you don’t want BHA or BHT in any of your cosmetics. Both substances, which are added to help extend shelf life, contain human carcinogens according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Sometimes they're also used as preservatives in snack foods and cereal, too, so keep your eyes peeled.


Where you may be using it: Shaving gel and various cosmetics, from blush to mascara
What to look for on the label: Polytetrafluoroethylene
Why it's bad for you: You don’t want to rub PTFE on your skin for the same reason you wouldn’t want to use a fork on a nonstick frying pan -- Teflon and PTFE are one and the same, and PFOA (a surfactant used to make PTFE) is associated with hypertension and various cancers. The substance is used to make formulas better at filling in lines and creases, but those aesthetics come at an ugly price.

eye shadow

Coal tar dye

Where you may be using it: Hair dye, eye shadows
What to look for on the label: P-phenylenediamine, or the letters "C.I." followed by a five-digit number
Why it's bad for you: Coal tar dye is known for creating vibrant color. But it's as icky and unnatural as its name suggests. It’s actually made from a mixture of chemicals, including heavy metals like aluminum, which is definitely not good for your brain.


Where you may be using it: Makeup powders like mineral foundation and bronzer
Why it's bad for you: Mica may be a naturally occurring mineral, but that doesn't mean it belongs inside of you -- after all, it’s a chemical also used in cement filler and insulation for electric cables. It gives off a bright, shimmery glow, but if you want to do some Kardashian-style contouring be aware of what's on the brush -- mica is very harmful to inhale.

woman painting her nails with nail polish


Where you may be using it: Nail polish
What to look for on the label: Dibutyl phthalate
Why it's bad for you: Cracked nail polish can be a bitch, but you’d rather have that than DBP on your fingers. This plasticizing chemical that helps prevent the formula from going brittle is known to be toxic. Amazing how these things show up in your products anyway, isn't it? Your skin absorbs DBP, and it's especially dangerous for unborn babies. That's why DBP, and other phthalates like it, are banned across the European Union from cosmetics and toys. Not in America, though, home of the free, land of the toxicologically brave.


Where you may be using it: Hair conditioners and styling products
What to look for on the label: Benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, quaternium-15, guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, centrimonium bromide, or polyquaternium followed by any number
Why it's bad for you: It's a formaldehyde releaser, which sounds liberating, except in the case of formaldehyde. Any ingredient that's also found in latex paint just can’t be good to lather, rinse, repeat with. With all its complex, cunning names, this is a preservative known for causing allergic reactions like dermatitis.

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Barbara Woolsey is a Berlin-based writer who begrudgingly threw away nail polishes after writing this. Find more from her on Facebook and Twitter.