Eyeshadow Ingredients to Avoid: What’s Safe vs What’s Toxic

Eyeshadow ingredients to avoid sounds like a dull topic – but it’s an important one. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. But our pretty peepers are more than that – they’re also windows to our body and like our skin, they can be a route of entry for toxins into our internal system.

Add to that the fact that our eyes can easily be harmed by chemicals and it’s fairly obvious why I’m a huge advocate for the use of natural eye makeup. Your eyes are probably one of the most useful yet vulnerable organs on your body; above all, you definitely don’t want to be putting your eyes at risk.

Toxic Eyeshadow Ingredients to Avoid

So in view of protecting our precious peepers, let’s look at the toxic ingredients in eyeshadow to avoid as well as safer ingredients to look for in your shadow!

Aluminium Powder

Aluminium powder is mostly used to give makeup its color. If you’re using makeup with both aluminium powder and thimerosal (see below), you’re pretty much screwed because aluminium powder actually inhibits the body’s ability to get rid of mercury when sucked up into the bloodstream by eyelid pores.

We all have some mercury in our bodies, along with some other nasty toxins, but we’re pretty good at expelling them before they can do any real damage. In steps aluminium powder, and it’s mercury city.

Bismuth Oxychloride

Does eyeshadow typically make your eyes red and itchy? That’s probably ’cause it’s got this little ingredient in it. The main problem with Bismuth Oxychloride isn’t toxicity – it’s irritation, especially to the skin, lung and eyes, according to the Bismuth Oxychloride Materials Data Sheet. And since it’s a heavy metal ingredient, it can requires quite a bit of rubbing in to stick to the lids which causes more irritation especially to those with sensitive skin (and who doesn’t have sensitive eyelids?).

It’s found in bronzers, blush and eye shadows thanks to its shimmery, silky appeal but as a rather heavy ingredient, it also tend to clog pores – so steer clear of this one if you have sensitive and/or acne-prone skin.

Coal Tar

A known carcinogen associated with cancer of the lung, bladder, kidney and digestive tract. Experimental studies have found that exposure to and application of coal tar produces skin tumors. It’s been banned in the EU but it’s still used in North America.


This stuff isn’t found quite as often as some others, but there are some much more common ingredients that produce it as an end product. Formaldehyde can cause severe skin irritations, cause you to break out in rashes, and if your pores manage to suck it up, it can also mess with your liver in some cases. Avoid.

Nano Particles

These super tiny particles are bad news for your skin, overall body and the environment. As their name suggests, they are so tiny that they’re easily inhaled and can accumulate in your lungs or in your cells, where they can damage DNA and lead to cancer.

This is something you want to watch out for in even mineral, organic and natural eyeshadow formulations – mica and titanium dioxide, for example can accumulate in your lungs if the particles are nano-sized.


Propylparaben, butylparaben and methylparaben all belong to a nefarious group of ne’er-do-wells called parabens that you can find in most popular eye makeup brands (as well as pretty much every non-natural beauty product).

Yet another ridiculously unsafe choice but a convenient preservative, parabens floats through the pores around your eyes at will and messes with your hormones.

Especially for women, parabens disguises itself as your most abundant hormone- estrogen- and wreaks havoc with your natural hormone production. They’re also probably human carcinogens.


This is a compound that’s literally based on mercury. You know, that stuff that makes you go blind when you drink it? Oh, the irony. This stuff has actually been banned from use in practically every shade of makeup apart from the eyes.

It’s used to get rid of bacteria, which is kind of crazy because you can definitely find much safer things to use as a disinfectant than literal poison.

With this fun little guy, you’re getting skin irritation, allergic reactions (though I suppose having an allergic reaction to mercury is kind of like having an ‘allergic’ reaction to breathing in a lot of water) and there’s even evidence that it can lead to impaired brain functions.

We don’t want to go all ‘the makeup companies are making us into zombies’ on you quite yet, but that’s still some scary stuff to think about.


Talc is the main ingredient in most eyeshadows. It can be carcinogenic and several studies has linked it to ovarian cancer.

So Which Safe Eyeshadow Ingredients Should I Look For?

Most natural eye shadow brands use mineral pigments. And mineral makeup is sort of a big deal right now but keep in mind that not all mineral makeup is the same – many products being marketed as “mineral” actually have the above toxins hiding in them. So make sure to always read the ingredients list before you purchase.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at a few eyeshadow ingredients that are considered safe for most people and will give you the shimmer, shine and color you’re looking for sans toxins.

Iron Oxides

Iron oxides are colorants considered safe for cosmetic use (the EWG gives them a rating between 0-2).


You’ll find mica as an ingredient or a “may contain” sort of ingredient in pretty much every natural and organic eyeshadow on the market. That’s ’cause this mineral provides a natural shimmer.

The EWG rates Mica a “2” – it’s not known to be potentially toxic or harmful, but there is the concern of inhalation. You might also see something called Sericite listed as an ingredient – this is simply a finer version of Mica.

Beware of applying both of these minerals if you have hyper-sensitive skin – go for a light dusting rather than thorough buffing into the skin to avoid microscopic abrasion.

Titanium Dioxide

Usually found in safe sunscreens, this ingredient is safe as long as it’s not in nano particles (smaller than 2.5 microns) that can be inhaled.

Zinc Oxide

Another safe sunscreen ingredient, zinc oxide is also relatively safe as long as you avoid nano particles.

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1 comment
Ann Monroe says August 22, 2018

What eyeshadow is safe then? Name brands please.

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