Put These Toxins on Your Beauty Never List

Beautycounter founder Gregg Renfrew gives us the lowdown on five nasty ingredients that are lurking in your medicine cabinet.

Gregg Renfrew
You could call Gregg Renfrew, the founder of Beautycounter, a professional entrepreneur. She’s also the super-creative mind behind The Wedding List, a bridal registry company that she sold to Martha Stewart Living, and has been hired by everyone from Intermix to Jessica Alba to consult on new concepts, branding and marketing. Through her work, Gregg became increasingly aware of a major problem in the beauty industry—companies are legally allowed to use ingredients linked to breast cancer, learning disabilities and infertility in the products we use every day. She learned that the US hasn’t passed a federal law to regulate the personal care industry since 1938 (!), and that, while the US has banned 11 ingredients, the European Union has banned 1,300 (!!). Even more disturbing were the studies she found claiming that one in two men and one in three women in the US will be diagnosed with cancer, and that our children’s generation may be the first to die younger than their parents. She decided it was time to take on the beauty industry.


In 2013, Gregg launched Beautycounter, a certified B Corporation, which means they’ve committed to high standards of transparency and accountability in an industry that’s severely under-regulated. First of all, the products? Love. With effective formulas and chic packaging, these are not your hippie neighbor's natural beauty products. As a direct retailer, Beautycounter sells online, as well as through a network of independent consultants, and they donate $10 on behalf of every consultant to their nonprofit partners, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Breast Cancer Fund, and Healthy Child Healthy World. Pretty cool, huh? Of course, their ingredient-selection process is the most rigorous of its kind in the industry, with a "never-list" of over 1,500 ingredients. We asked Gregg to choose her top, absolutely-will-not-touch ingredients. Warning: this will make you want to go into your bathroom and purge your medicine cabinet.

1. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is used as a preservative in cosmetics. It’s a known carcinogen and is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. Even if you don’t see “formaldehyde” on a label, it’s hiding behind any of these ingredients: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol).
Look for it in: shampoo, body wash, bubble bath

2. Coal tar hair dyes and other coal tar ingredients

This is a byproduct of coal processing and a known carcinogen. It’s used as a colorant and an anti-dandruff agent.
Look for it in: hair dye, shampoo

3. Triclosan and Triclocarban

These are antimicrobial pesticides that are toxic to the environment and may also impact human reproductive systems.
Look for them in: liquid soap, soap bars, toothpaste Beautycounter Ingredients Never List

4. Hydroquinone

It’s used as a skin lightening chemical that inhibits the production of melanin, and is linked to cancer, organ toxicity and skin irritation.
Look for it in: skin-lightening creams

5. Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP and others)

Phthalates are a class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. They disrupt the endocrine system and may cause birth defects.
Look for them in: synthetic fragrance, nail polish, hairspray

6. Synthetic flavor or fragrance

When you see “fragrance” on a label, that encompasses a combination of 3,000+ stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law' as “trade secrets.” As far as secrets go, this is a pretty dirty one.
Look for it in: everything

Print Beautycounter’s Never List cards to keep in your wallet when you’re shopping for beauty products!