9 Beauty Ingredients That Are Banned Overseas (But Legal in the U.S.)

Updated 04/28/19
Product Disclosure
Harmful Chemicals in Cosmetics
Emma Hoareau

We all know how important it is to be aware of the ingredients we eat and are putting into our bodies, but the same diligence isn’t always used when it comes to the ingredients in our makeup and beauty products. Despite the popularity of organic and natural food, it’s easy to forget that the ingredients we’re putting on our faces and bodies can have a detrimental effect on our health too. While it's safe to assume many of us here in the States don’t take extreme care to read our ingredient labels, it seems that our friends abroad are ahead of the game.

Plenty of ingredients that can be found in our everyday beauty products in the U.S. are strictly regulated or completely banned in other countries. But does this necessarily mean that U.S. regulations are unsafe?

Keep reading to find out which ingredients are banned outside the U.S. and why.

Formaldehyde

Most commonly associated with the Brazilian blowout, this ingredient is still being used in cosmetic products across the U.S. It is banned in the EU for being a known carcinogen and for its association with respiratory problems. Here in the U.S., the Cosmetic Ingredient Review found this ingredient safe to use under present practices and concentrations in nail products but ruled it unsafe in hair-smoothing products and treatments.

Most commonly found in nail hardeners, nail polish.

Hydroquinone

A possible carcinogen, this ingredient is banned in concentrations higher than 1% in the EU. It has most commonly led to photosensitivity, which means your skin is ultra-sensitive to the sun, among other skin conditions. The FDA has not banned the ingredient because it has not been found to be dangerous when used in safe concentrations. However, The British Journal of Cancer linked the substance to proof of cancer in mice.

Most commonly found in skin-lightening products to fade freckles, age spots, and discoloration.

Triclosan

This ingredient is banned in the EU for being an endocrine disrupter that can lead to a variety of health problems involving our hormones. Some of these include obesity and issues with fertility. While triclosan is not banned in the U.S., its use in personal-care products is controversial and the ingredient is under investigation in light of recent studies.

Most commonly found in toothpaste, antibacterial soap, hand sanitizers.

Lead

This ingredient is banned or regulated for cosmetic use in the EU, Canada, and Japan. Lead, a known neurotoxin, has been linked to reduced fertility in men and women, and it can still be harmful in small doses. While the dangers of lead seem obvious, it can be found in lipsticks in the U.S. from brands including Nars and Maybelline. In fact, one study by the FDA that tested 33 popular lipstick brands showed that 61% of lipsticks contained lead. However, the FDA has ruled that the trace amounts found in lipstick are not enough to do any real harm.

Most commonly found in lipstick, progressive hair dyes.

Parabens

Like triclosan, parabens are believed to be another endocrine disrupter. They have been linked to breast cancer, skin cancer, and decreased sperm count. Because of these risks, five different parabens have been completely banned in the EU (isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben, and pentylparaben), while others are strictly regulated. Here in the U.S., the FDA does not believe that parabens present a danger to our health when used in cosmetics.

Most commonly found in lotion, foundation, and plenty of other beauty products—check the ingredient list!

Petroleum Distillates

Banned in the EU for being a possible carcinogen, this ingredient can be found in cosmetics in the U.S. This ingredient also goes by other names on ingredient lists, such as “paraffin wax.” It is legal in the U.S. because the CIR has found this ingredient to be safe in cosmetics with no adverse effects on user health.

Most commonly found in mascara.

Phthalates

Another endocrine disrupter, phthalates can lead to a slew of hormonal health problems. Banned in the EU, this ingredient has been linked to developmental defects, fertility issues, and obesity. Despite these links, the FDA does not have evidence that phthalates present a safety risk as they are used. This ingredient is often hidden in ingredient lists under the umbrella phrase “fragrance.”

Most commonly found in perfume, deodorant, nail polish.

Selenium Sulfide

This ingredient has been banned in the EU and Japan because of concerns regarding toxicity and harmfulness for consumers and the environment. According to a report by the National Toxicology Program, it’s “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” This conclusion was reached after lab tests on mice showed the growth of tumors after oral exposure. However, the FDA has not found selenium sulfide to be dangerous in small amounts, and it’s legal over the counter in concentrations of 1% or less.

Most commonly found in anti-dandruff shampoo.

Quaternium-15

This ingredient is a formaldehyde donor, meaning that it is chemically bound to formaldehyde and will release it over time. Banned in the EU for being a possible carcinogen, it has also been proven in patch tests to be a common allergen. However, the CIR has found quaternium-15 to be safe for use in cosmetics in concentrations up to 0.2%.

Most commonly found in eye shadow, shampoo, bodywash.

Keep scrolling to shop some of our favorite nontoxic beauty products.

Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum $300
Shop

Renowned German aesthetics doctor Barbara Sturm has created a super-concentrated serum that’s infused with long- and short-chain hyaluronic acid—in other words, they’ll actually penetrate your skin and plump it from the inside out. Plus, it’s free of parabens, mineral oil, and synthetic fragrances. 

Kjaer Weis Cream Blush $56
Shop

This creamy, blendable blush from Kjaer Weis is made from certified organic ingredients and free of gluten, petroleum, parabens, artificial coloring, and fragrance.

Tata Harper Concentrated Brightening Essence $150
Shop

Made with all-natural ingredients like lemon water and willow bar extract, Tata Harper’s potent brightening essence fades dark spots and adds luminosity to your skin. 

Youth To The People Superfood Cleanser
Youth to the People Age Prevention Cleanser $36
Shop

Like a green juice for your skin, Youth to the People's gentle cleanser is made with antioxidant-rich ingredients like kale, green tea, and spinach, and is 100% soap-, sulfate-, and phthalate-free.

Prism Exfoliating Glow Potion 1 oz/ 30 mL
Herbivore Prism Exfoliating Glow Potion $62
Shop
Beauty Shroom(TM) Plumping Jelly Serum 1 oz/ 30 mL
Moon Juice Beauty Shroom(TM) Plumping Jelly Serum 1 oz/ 30 mL $58
Shop

Mushrooms are the buzziest new skincare ingredient, and for good reason. The reishi mushroom in this serum from Moon Juice helps soothe sensitive skin, while the silver ear mushrooms holds 500 times its weight in water and gives your skin a bouncy texture. 

This story was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

Related Stories