Public Health Research 2015, 5(1): 7-15
Hazardous Ingredients in Cosmetics and Personal Care
Products and Health Concern: A Review
Siti Zulaikha R., Sharifah Norkhadijah S. I.*, Praveena S. M.
Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor,
Abstract Increasing demand of cosmetics all over the world from teen to adult has increased awareness related to safety
issue. The objective of this paper is to indicate the ingredients that possess health effect that can be found in cosmetics and
personal care products. The ingredient was segmented to three parts which are preservatives, fragrances and heavy metal
impurities. The related paper was reviewed in terms of the chemicals that commonly identified in the cosmetic and personal
care product. This paper also highlighted the health risk possesses by such ingredients in the products. From the papers
reviews, many chemicals remained arguable in term of safety and its presence in the products. The chemicals are either added
for it intentional purposes or appears unintentionally due to the nature of chemical itself or due to the manufacturing
processes. It is suggested that consumers aware over the ingredients used in their cosmetic and personal care products and the
side effects it possesses.
Keywords Cosmetic, Preservative, Fragrance, Heavy metals, Health risk
According to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN), cosmetics are defined as any substance or
preparation intended to be placed in contact with the
external parts of the human body or with the teeth and the
mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view
exclusively or mainly for cleaning them, perfuming them,
changing their appearance, and/or correcting body odours
and/or protecting or keeping them in good condition .
Generally, cosmetics refer to all of the products used to care
for and clean the human skin and make it more beautiful.
The intentions of using cosmetic products is to maintain the
body in a good condition, protect it from the effects of the
environment and aging processes, change the appearance,
and make the body smell nicer .
Cosmetics industry has grown by average 4.5% per year in
the past 20 years. This industry was able to be one of the
most stable industries despite the economic downturn is
because of the demand that keep increasing all over the
world . Due to an increase in Gross Domestic Products
(GDP), it was predicted the global beauty market to reach
$265 billion in 2017. The expansion of global beauty market
is influenced greatly by the increasing demand from Europe
and Asia Pacific region .
With the economic benefit, it is a challenge to
* Corresponding author:
firstname.lastname@example.org (Sharifah Norkhadijah S. I.)
Published online at http://journal.sapub.org/phr
Copyright © 2015 Scientific & Academic Publishing. All Rights Reserved
manufacturer to provide a good quality product with low cost
and at the same time environmental friendly. Despite the
positive news related with cosmetics and beauty industry,
one cannot run from is the fact that the safety of the cosmetic
used is always at top priority. Safety of the cosmetics has
become the major concern . Group of fragrances,
preservatives, antioxidants, vehicles, ultraviolet absorbers,
humectants, emollients, emulsifiers, acrylates, hair dyes, and
nail polish components are the most common ingredients in
cosmetics . These additive chemicals are sometimes
hazardous and prohibited due to the health risk it possess.
Adverse reaction to beauty products are common reason a
consumer was referred to hospital .
Most chemicals are added to cosmetic product in the form
of preservatives and fragrances. Some of the preservatives
and fragrance are toxic and prohibited from the usage as
ingredients because it can cause cancer, mutation,
reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption . Heavy
metals are also incorporated to beauty product for many
purposes. The toxicity of heavy metals is well documented.
At low concentration, some of these elements can cause
damage to the internal body organ of animals and humans.
Metal poisoning was reported to cause various mammalian
cancers, respiratory diseases, failures in organ function and
intellectual retardation .
This paper reviews the type of ingredients that present in
the cosmetics and personal care products which can possibly
risks human health. The ingredients that reviewed are
various chemicals that are generalize under preservative,
fragrance and heavy metal impurities. These chemicals
added in products purposely to increase, enhance or improve
8 Siti Zulaikha R. et al.: Hazardous Ingredients in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products and Health Concern: A Review
the quality, longevity and odour to the appearance of the
This review paper covers the related study from year 2000
to 2014. The total number papers referred to accomplish this
paper review were 56 published papers. The total numbers of
paper screened were 97 papers. Inclusions of the papers were
based from the year the paper published and the papers fulfil
the category listed. All the articles were searched through
Google scholar and Scopus search engine. The keyword used
to complete the paper finding were preservative, fragrance,
parfum, perfume, heavy metals, trace element, personal care
products, cosmetics, consumer products, health risk and
The aspect focused in this paper is the common chemicals
that possess health risk that presence in the cosmetics and
personal care products. This section is divided to
preservatives, fragrance and heavy metal impurities.
Fragrances and preservatives are listed as the ingredient that
can cause most of skin problems . Heavy metal is focused
as it has becomes a concern in recent years with increasing
number of news related to it and study done to detect these
elements in cosmetics. The concern over it has lead several
countries to provide guideline for heavy metals impurities
limit in cosmetics .
3. Hazardous Ingredients in Cosmetics
Most chemicals are added to cosmetic product in the
form of preservatives and fragrances to increase the shelf
life of the product and to have a good odour and appearance
to the users . Preservatives, the usual term for biocides
used in cosmetics, are chemical compounds added to
prevent the growth of microorganisms. They are intended to
be added to clean products to prevent contamination by
consumers while in use. They are not intended to make up
for poor production hygiene or the use of contaminated raw
materials and should not be used to treat contaminated
Table 1 list the example of preservatives detected in the
cosmetic products. The most common preservative used is
paraben (i.e. methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben,
butylparaben) and formaldehyde releaser (i.e. quaternium -
15, Dimethylol dimethyl hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea,
diazolidinyl urea). Parabens are the most common
preservatives in the cosmetic especially on cream-based
products. Cream basically consists of emulsions of water and
oil, where water containing cosmetics are more prone to
microbial contamination . Paraben is antimicrobial
mixture which prevent the microbial activity in cosmetic
creams. A mixture of paraben with other classes of
preservatives offer powerful antimicrobial activity against an
extremely broad spectrum of microorganism . Paraben
have relatively low toxicity, good stability non-volatility,
formulated well because they have no perceptible odour or
taste, are practically neutral, do not produce discoloration,
and do not cause hardening or “muddying” in cosmetic
formulation . Formaldehyde releasers commonly found
in rinse-off cosmetics like shampoo. Formaldehyde releaser
is substance in which it release formaldehyde by hydrolysis
in the presence of water .
Table 1. Preservatives detected in previous study
Ref Preservative detected Products
Dimethylol dimethyl hydantoin
α-Tocopherol acetate (α-ta)
Anti-stretch marks cream
Body care product
Hand creams / gel
Products for babies
Public Health Research 2015, 5(1): 7-15 9
Fragrance chemicals are the most frequent sensitizer
toward skin in cosmetics product . Fragrance and flavour
substances are organic compounds with pleasant odours.
They are ubiquitously used in perfumes and other perfumed
cosmetic products, as well as in detergents, fabric softeners,
and other household products. Fragrance was used to mask
unpleasant odours from raw materials .
Table 2. Fragrances detected in previous study
Ref Fragrance detected Products
Butyl phenyl methyl propional
Everniafurfuracea /tree moss
Everniaprunastri /oak moss
Baby gel / lotions/ creams
Baby wipes product
Lip care products
Natural massage oil
The example of fragrance in cosmetic is limonene,
linalool, hexylcinnamal and butylphenylmethylpropional.
Table 2 lists the fragrance detected in cosmetics. Linalool
and limonene are among the most frequent fragrance used in
cosmetics formulation. Both of these fragrances can be
found in many type of beauty products such as shampoos,
hair conditioner, shower gels, rinse-off creams and lotions
Linalool is a naturally occurring terpene, present in large
amounts in various plants. Pure linalool is not allergenic or a
very weak allergen, but autoxidizes on air exposure and the
oxidation products can cause contact allergy . Limonene
is one of the most inexpensive fragrance materials and used
in large volumes for household products. This substance
forms allergenic oxidation products during handling and
storage . The sensitizing potential of limonene increases
with prolonged air contact at room temperature, when it is
oxidized to allergenic derivatives .
3.3. Heavy Metals Impurities
Heavy metals can appear as impurities in finishing
products. It is a byproduct during the cosmetics
manufacturing process either formed by the breakdown of
ingredients, or an environmental contaminant of raw
ingredients . It is acknowledged that heavy metal
impurities in cosmetic products are unavoidable due to the
ubiquitous nature of these elements, but should be removed
wherever technically feasible . In some countries for
example Canada, heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium,
lead, mercury, beryllium, selenium, and thallium has been
banned as intentional ingredients in cosmetics .
Despite of being banned, it can still be found in cosmetic
products as trace amounts of this element are unavoidable
under conditions of good manufacturing practice .
Some of heavy metal incorporated because of its function.
For instance, press powder for eye shadow main ingredients
are talc with pigments and zinc or magnesium stearate used
as a binder. A metallic brilliant finish is created by copper,
aluminium, brass, gold, or silver powders. Heavy metals
such as cadmium, copper and lead retained as impurities in
the pigments of eye shadows, or they are released by the
metallic devices used during the manufacturing of products
Table 3 lists heavy metals detected in cosmetic and
personal care products as reported in previous study. The
most common heavy metals detected in cosmetic products
are lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), chromium (Cr),
nickel (Ni) and copper (Cu). These heavy metals found in
shampoo, lipstick, cream, eye shadow and powder. The type
of ingredient used, the type of colorant used in decorative
cosmetics and the inadequate purification of raw material
influence the heavy metals impurities presence in cosmetics
Table 3. Heavy metals detected in previous study
Heavy metals detected
Pb Cd Cu Fe Cr Ni Zn Co Al Mn Ti Hg As Be Se Th Ag Sb Ba Bi Sr Mo
 / / / / / / / /
Surma (kohls), powder,
cream, lipstick, shampoo,
non-medicated soap and
cream, hair cream
/ / / / / / / / / / / / / /
Lipstick, fairness cream, lip
balm, anti-ageing cream,
skin lightening cream, nail
colour, skin cream
 / / / / / / /
powder, blush, mascara,
eyeliner, eye shadow
 / / / / / /
Eye shadow, Eye pencil, eye
liner, mascara, lipstick, lip
gloss, native eyeliner
  / / / / / / / / / / /
Cream (face, body, hand),
dried powder, body lotion,
skin whitening, sunscreen,
lipstick, eye shadow, dead
sea black mud
 / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /
Lipsticks, Kohl (eyeliner),
henna (hair dye or
temporary tattoo), eye
shadows, cream; freckles,
moisturizing and foundation
and face powders, talcum
10 Siti Zulaikha R. et al.: Hazardous Ingredients in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products and Health Concern: A Review
Public Health Research 2015, 5(1): 7-15 11
4. Possible Health Effects
Cosmetics are an important cause of allergic contact
dermatitis (ACD). Fragrances and preservatives are the two
most clinically relevant allergens found in cosmetic products
causes of contact allergy . Fragrances account for 30–45%
of allergic reactions to cosmetics . Allergic reactions
produce side effects include skin sensitivity, dermatitis,
asthma attacks and migraine .
Fragrances are naturally a volatile chemical. Products that
contain fragrance chemical will ends up in the air. The main
focus of safety testing in fragrance industry is the effect to
skin. Fragrance materials can penetrate the skin, absorbed
into the bloodstream, and distributed to other organs.
Ingestion is another route of exposure because many of the
same materials are used as flavours in foods .
Contact allergy to fragrance ingredients occurs when an
individual has been exposed to a sufficient degree of
fragrance that cause allergy. Contact allergy is a life-long,
specifically altered reactivity in the immune system. As a
consequence, symptom such as allergic contact dermatitis
may occur upon re-exposure to the fragrance allergens .
Allergic contact dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disease
characterized by erythema, swelling and vesicles in the acute
phase. If exposure continues it may develop into a chronic
condition with scaling and painful fissures of the skin.
Allergic contact dermatitis to fragrance ingredients is most
often caused by cosmetic products and usually involves the
face and hands. It may affect fitness for work and the quality
of life of the individual. The frequency of contact allergy to
fragrance ingredients in the general population in Europe is
estimated between 1-3% .
Aside from fragrance, preservatives is also the major
cause of contact dermatitis. Allergy toward preservatives
effect area such as face, neck, hand and armpits. It can also
cause health problem such as contact urticarial, an itching
with swelling and redness in the skin .
Formaldehyde was once a common preservative used. The
wide spectrum of antimicrobial action makes formaldehyde a
good preservative. However, the use of formaldehyde in
cosmetics and toiletries has decreased due to concern about
its toxicity. Although the used of formaldehyde as
preservatives has decreased for the past few years, the used
of formaldehyde releaser has become a common practice
. Quarternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea,
bronopol and dimethyloldimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin are
formaldehyde-releaser that often used in cosmetic products.
Non-formaldehyde-releasing substances also used as
preservatives in consumer products.
Methylchloroisothiazolinone or methylisothiazolinone
(MCI/MI), methyldibromoglutaronitrile (MDBGN), and
parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and
butylparaben) are among the commonly used .
The safety of paraben as preservative has been reviewed
by Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) in 1984. It has been
concluded that methylparaben, propylparaben, and
butylparaben were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels
up to 25%. Typically parabens are used at levels ranging
from 0.01 to 0.3% . A study by Darbre et al., has detected
parabens in breast tumors . The study also discussed on
the weak estrogen-like properties of parabens and the
influence on breast cancer, however, the study did not show
that parabens can cause cancer. Although parabens can act
similarly to estrogen, they have been shown to have much
less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring
estrogen. Further, parabens are used at very low levels in
Heavy metals commonly presence in cosmetic and
personal care products as impurities. That explain on the
very lower concentration detected in it. As product
impurities, their presence in cosmetics is not required to be
on the label . Although the presences of the toxic metals
were in trace amount, these metals are known to be
cumulative poison. The slow release of these metals into the
human system may be harmful to the biological system if
allowed to accumulate over time. These metals could
accumulate in the body organs due to their long half-life
Table 4. Preservatives, fragrances and heavy metals that are allergen 
Less important sensitizers
α-Amyl cinnamic aldehyde
α -Hexyl cinnamic aldehyde
12 Siti Zulaikha R. et al.: Hazardous Ingredients in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products and Health Concern: A Review
At low concentration, some of these elements can cause
internal body organ damage in animals and humans . Pb
and Cd are described as the most severe dangerous
contaminants to ever presence in human civilization because
they are distributed in the environment as polluting elements.
The toxicity of lead and cadmium in continual exposure to
relatively low levels may give adverse health effects both
acute and chronic poisoning and pathological change of
organs and diseases related to cardiovascular, kidney, bone,
and liver . Cr is an essential nutrient for human beings
and animal as it plays important role. However inhaling large
amount of Cr can cause stomach, kidney and liver problems.
Hg is widely distributed in the environment by natural and
anthropogenic sources . Hg is not classified as a
carcinogen in humans, however mercury chloride and
methyl mercury are potentially carcinogenic in humans .
Some of heavy metals also known to be allergen. Metals
that can caused allergic dermatitis is nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co),
copper (Cu) and chromium (Cr) . Considering the
prolonged contact time of cosmetic products with the skin,
the risk of allergic dermatitis contact might be increased .
Table 4 list preservatives, fragrances and heavy metals
which are known to be allergen that commonly presence is
5. Safety Assessment of Ingredient in
In risk characterization, uncertainty factor applies in the
last phase of the safety evaluation for cosmetic substance.
This uncertainty factor is defined as the Margin of Safety
(MoS) and it is calculated by dividing the lowest
non-observed adverse effect level (NO(A)EL) value of the
cosmetic substance by its estimated systematic exposure
dose (SED)  as in equation (1).
World Health Organization (WHO) proposes a minimum
value of 100 for MoS, and it is generally accepted that the
MoS should at least be 100 to conclude that a substance is
safe for use.
The NO(A)EL is defined as the highest dose or exposure
level where no (adverse) treatment-related findings are
observed. It is mainly derived from repeated dose animal
studies (90 day, developmental toxicity studies, etc). The
SED of cosmetic ingredients is the amount expected to enter
the blood stream. It is expressed as mg/kg bw/day.
Calculation of SED may be based either on percentage of
substance penetrating the skin (equation 2) or absolute
amount of substance penetrating the skin (equation 4) .
SED is calculated by dividing the I (mg/day) - the daily
dermal exposure to the substance and DAp (%) - dermal
absorption of the substance in percentage – by the default
human body weight (60 kg bw) .
The calculation of the daily dermal exposure (I) of
substance applied to the skin as in equation (3) is the amount
of finished cosmetic product applied per application (A,
g/application) times the, concentration of ingredients under
study in the finished product (C, %) and the frequency of
application of the substance (F, day-1).
3 -2 -1
( ) 10 (mg/g) C(%) 10 F(day ) I A g / application= × × × ×
The SED also can be calculated using the formula in
equation (4), where the dermal absorption of the substance
reported as amount DAa (µg/cm2) times the surface of skin
area expected to be in contact with the cosmetic product SSA
(cm2) and the frequency of application of the substance F
(day-1) divided to default human body weight .
23 2 1
( ) 10 ( ) ( ) ( )
DA g / cm mg / g SSA cm F day
Several ingredient has been calculated for the MoS. For
example salicylic acid MoS was 133. The calculation of the
margin of safety was performed according to the different
uses of salicylic acid in cosmetic products. Salicylic acid was
considered to be safe for “other uses” than as a preservative,
at a concentration up to 2.0 % for the leave on and rinse-off
cosmetic products and at a concentration up to 3.0 % for the
cosmetic rinse-off hair products . Scientific Committee
on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has decided the relevance of
MoS calculation on a case-by-case basis, taking into account
the general toxicological profile of the substance, its
toxicokinetic properties and its intended use .
In conclusion, many ingredients are incorporated into
products for the beauty purposes. These ingredients help the
development of complex formulations that improve the
quality of human life in term of disease prevention, health
maintenance, beauty enhancement and also building the
self-esteem. The cosmetics industry is regulated, however
only the basic guidelines are present . As the industry
keep expanding, and the related authority keep reviewing the
safety of beauty ingredient and products, consumer should
also play their role by keeping themselves updated with
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