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The Grooming Manual

Stay Away From These Toxic Ingredients in Your Cologne

Stay Away From These Toxic Ingredients in Your Cologne

News flash: not all colognes are great for you. In fact, the majority of cheap colognes - and even some nice ones - are packed with synthetic, harmful ingredients that can cause short and long-term health problems. 

Here are some of the ingredients to avoid and what you should look for in your cologne instead. 

Toxic Ingredients to Avoid 


This is a toxic ingredient that you probably know you should avoid - but you may not know why or exactly what you’re dealing with.

Parabens are a family of preservatives -  including methylparabens, propylparabens, butylparabens, and ethylparabens - that are often used to extend shelf life or prevent mold and bacteria from growing in cosmetic products. 

They're effective at what they do, which is why they were popular in so many products for decades. But they’re also harmful. According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, parabens can disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders. 

What’s more, the FDA acknowledges several studies linking parabens - which also mimic estrogen - to breast cancer, skin cancer, and decreased sperm count.

To avoid these issues, make sure that you keep away from products with ingredients that contain the suffix “-paraben.” Also, keep in mind that most paraben-free products will be labeled as such. If you don’t see “paraben-free,” then, you should probably investigate further. 

Polyethylene glycol (PEG compounds)

PEGs are compounds widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. And those tiny colorful beads found in face scrubs or exfoliating washes? Those are PEGs, too.   

While PEGs themselves aren’t bad, they can be too harsh for daily use. And they cause irritation when used on broken skin. 

What’s worse, PEGs are often contaminated with ethylene oxide (a known carcinogen that easily penetrates the skin) and 1,4-dioxane (which causes respiratory problems and is banned in Canada).

Additionally, these small particles go right through our sewage systems into waterways, where they are often consumed by marine animals. This makes them a huge environmental hazard. 


Phthalates are plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. They’re used in hundreds of personal care products, including soap, shampoo, hair spray, and nail polish. 

They can be extremely dangerous, particularly to children. It’s best to avoid them altogether (even if you’re an adult) as they can be serious endocrine disruptors and even cause birth defects. Congress has already banned several types of phthalates from children’s products.


Both synthetic and natural fragrances can cause severe allergic reactions - and you may not even know it. Your skin is great at hiding obvious signs of irritation, so you may not notice any allergy concerns right away. But the damage adds up over time. 

It’s sort of like skin damage. You usually don’t notice it as it’s happening on a daily basis. But as you age, signs of accumulated damage - like wrinkles and dark spots - can begin to appear. 

It’s the same with fragrance-caused irritation. 

So what should you do? Your best bet is to avoid ingredients that are known to cause allergic reactions and irritation.

  • Fragrance
  • Parfum/Perfume/Aroma
  • Citronellol
  • Cinnamal
  • Eugenol
  • Lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Bergamot oil (Citrus bergamia)
  • Ylang-ylang oil (Canaga odorata)
  • Lime (Citrus aurantifolia or Citrus medica)
  • Orange (Citrus sinensis)
  • Tangerine (Citrus tangerine)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
  • Eucalyptus
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum)

And remember - you won’t be able to tell if a product contains irritants just by smelling it. You can’t identify all hidden ingredients from a whiff alone.

Plus, an offending product may have no aroma because the fragrance is included to mask the odor of the real skincare ingredients which don’t smell agreeable. Do your research and make sure you understand what ingredients can hurt. 

Synthetic Dyes 

Used to make cosmetics "pretty," synthetic colors and synthetic hair dyes should be avoided at all costs. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. 

Many synthetic colors can be carcinogenic. If a cosmetic contains them, don't use it.


Sulfates go by many names, including sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, alkylbenzene sulfonate, sodium cocoyl sarcosinate. In general, sulfates are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. 

They have also been shown to contribute to skin irritation, canker sores, disruption of the skin’s natural oil balance, and eye damage - yikes! And they're widely believed to contribute to cystic acne, particularly around the mouth and the chin. 

If that’s not bad enough, SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process that’s known to cause respiratory problems. 

In short, don’t mess with this stuff. 


Silicone is interesting because it’s not actually toxic in and of itself. However, it can prevent moisture from getting into your skin - which causes skin dehydration, clogs pores, and irritates the skin. 

Bonus: Synthetic flavor or fragrance

The word “fragrance” is often used a cop-out for many companies that don’t want to admit to all the chemicals that they have in their products. 

Generally, these “fragrances” are engineered scents or flavoring agents that may contain any combination of 3,000-plus stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens. 

But since fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets, they can remain undisclosed. Bad news.

Good Ingredients to Incorporate 

The good news? Not all fragrances will cause sensitization, so you don’t have to nix everything that smells nice. Some natural ingredients have a pleasant fragrance but cause no irritation and are great for the skin.

Your best bet is to stick with a high-quality natural cologne that replaces these toxic chemicals with high-grade, certified organic natural ingredients. 

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