Skin safety and health prevention: an overview of chemicals in cosmetic products

J Prev Med Hyg. 2019 Mar 29;60(1):E50-E57. doi: 10.15167/2421-4248/jpmh2019.60.1.1080. eCollection 2019 Mar.


Introduction: Cosmetic products contain a wide range of chemicals to which we are exposed every day. The aim of the study was to determine the presence of potential dangerous substances which can cause adverse health effects by examining product labels.

Materials and methods: A total of 283 products were collected from various shops in Lecce (Italy) and divided into 3 categories: rinse-off, leave-on and make-up. The label of every product was examined and a list including fragrances, preservatives and other chemicals of concern was created.

Results: Fragrances were present in 52.3% of the examined products, mostly limonene (76.9%) and linalool (64.6%) but also citronellol (34.1%), geraniol (31.5%), coumarin (30%) and hexyl cinnamal (29.2%). Preservatives showed a rate of 60% and the most frequently identified were phenoxyethanol (48.7%), sodium benzoate (35.6%), potassium sorbate (22%), methylparaben (15.2%) and MI/MCI (9.9%). The other chemicals of concern were detected in 58% of products; included PEGs (62.3%), acrylate copolymer (34%), petrolatum (17.2%), polysorbates (14,8%), BHT (14.7%), ethylhextyl methoxycinnamate (13.6%), benzophenone-1 (3.7%), benzophenone-3 (4.9%), BHA (1.6%), cocamide DEA and toluene (1.2%).

Conclusions: The use of many of these substances is allowed within certain limits, due to their toxicity at higher concentrations. Other important aspects should be considered as, for instance, the possibility of long-term effects. On the other hand, other substances may induce several acute adverse side-effects, i.e. contact dermatitis and allergic reactions. For these reasons, an enhancement of the criteria used for cosmetics formulation is required since many chemicals used singularly or combined are potentially unsafe.

Keywords: Additive Effect; Cocktail Effect; Cosmetics; Health Prevention.

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / adverse effects*
  • Cosmetics / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Odorants*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / adverse effects*
  • Skin Diseases / chemically induced*


  • Allergens
  • Cosmetics
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical