15 of the Most Shocking Cosmetic Ingredients

 In Beauty Tips & Tricks, Facts, Health & Wellness, Naked Belief

There are dozens of shocking cosmetic ingredients that may be hidden in your beauty products. From animal fat and crushed beetles to fish scales and whale vomit, you are guaranteed to have smothered one of these cosmetic ingredients all over your face, hair and body at least once in your life. Take a closer look at the ingredients list of your favourite products and you may be surprised to find that these shocking ingredients are more common than you think.


Fancy spraying some whale vomit all over your clothing and body? This waxy substance is secreted into the ocean from the intestines of sperm whales. Ambergris, also known as whale vomit, is very valuable as half a kilo of it can cost up to R85 000!  It varies in the scent-from musky, to earthy and sometimes even sweet. So why exactly would companies want to use this ingredient in their products? High-end fragrance brands use ambergris as a means to prolong the scent of their perfumes as it has the ability to fix scent to the human skin.


Be very wary of ingredients listed as “carmine”, “cochineal extract” or “natural red 4” on the label, as these are essentially dead, dried up bugs. It is used to obtain bright red and purple pigments in makeup products such as lipsticks and nail polishes. The pigment is extracted from the female cochineal beetle by drying and crushing them. It is said that it takes approximately 70 000 beetles to make less than a kilo of the dead bug dye. While it is not harmful, some people may experience an allergic reaction to the dye, and the thought of smothering dead bugs all over your lips is completely horrifying.

Iron Oxide

Iron Oxide is another cosmetic ingredient used in the formulation of a wide variety of makeup and skincare products as it gives the product orange, red, yellow and even black pigments. It may also appear on the ingredients list as “pigment brown 6” or “pigment red 101”. It is considered safe to use when synthetically produced but may result in harmful by-products, such as ferrous oxide AKA rust when natural iron oxide is used. Iron oxide can be found in eyeshadows, blushes and lipsticks.


Guanine is a crystalline substance, obtained from the ground up scales of fish. These fish scales have a certain pearly characteristic which makes them commonly used as cosmetic ingredients in shimmer make-up products such as lipsticks and nail polish. It is also commonly used as a cosmetic ingredient in other products such as bath and cleansing products, fragrances and even shampoos and conditioners.


If you have ever gone a few days without washing your hair, you are probably familiar with the resulting greasiness. Now, imagine the same thing happening to a sheep’s wool and instead of a few wash free days, it’s more like a wash free lifetime. Now, imagine rubbing the substance all over your body. This is called lanolin, which is the thick, waxy substance collected from the coats of sheep. It is a common cosmetic ingredient found in lotions, balms and shaving creams.


Squalene is an oil that is extracted from the liver of sharks. You have probably rubbed shark liver juice on multiple parts of your body, as it can be found in moisturisers, sunscreens, eye makeup and bath oils. This is an appealing cosmetic ingredient to the beauty industry as it is easy absorbed and mixes well with other oils without making the skin greasy. Many cosmetic companies have since stopped using squalene from shark liver and have since started using alternative sources, such as olive oil and wheat germ oil.


Parabens are a widely used cosmetic ingredient that can be found in shampoos, mascara, foundations and body lotion. It is used as a preservative to stop microbes from growing in your favourite beauty products. You can find them listed as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben on labels. So why are parabens so horrible? Scientists believe that it may be linked to cancer, but there is currently not enough research to support this theory. As a result, many companies have opted not to use the preservative.

Petroleum Jelly


This ingredient may appear under any of the following names on your label: Petrolatum, Petroleum Jelly, Paraffin Oil, Mineral Oil and White Petrolatum. This is a common ingredient in most lotions and personal care products. Although it is considered safe to use, petroleum jelly can create the impression of moisturised, hydrated skin, all the while suffocating your pores. It is not water-soluble, meaning it merely seals the barrier so that moisture does not leave the skin. While your skin might be softened instantly, you’re actually drying out your pores by keeping out air and moisture. The thick texture makes it difficult to cleanse the skin. At the end of the day, who wants to rub a petrol byproduct all over their body?


Talc is one of the cosmetic ingredients found in body and shower products, lotions, feminine hygiene products, eyeshadow, foundation, lipstick, deodorants and face masks. It is added to absorb moisture, smooth or soften products, prevent caking, and make makeup opaque. Some talc may contain the known carcinogen asbestos and even asbestos-free talc should be avoided in the pelvic areas.


This is also known as rendered animal fat. These ingredients are used in the formulation of various cosmetic ingredients such as eye makeup, lipstick, foundations, shampoos, shaving creams and skincare products. It is mainly used to add moisture and as an emollient. The process involves boiling animal carcasses until a fatty substance is produced, ready to be added to your favourite cosmetics.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is made from the fossilized remains of microscopic, aquatic organisms called diatoms. Their skeletons are made of a natural substance called silica. In cosmetics, Diatomaceous Earth may be used in the formulation of bath products, soaps and detergents, cleansing products, face powders and foundations. Although it is considered safe for human use, it is also used as an ingredient in pesticides for use against bed bugs, cockroaches, crickets, fleas, ticks and spiders.


Gelatin is a protein made by boiling animal skin, tendons, cartilage, ligaments, and bones in water. It’s usually obtained from cows, pigs, or fish. Gelatin can be found in everything from shampoos, face masks and cosmetics to ice cream, marshmallows and even photographic film. It is used as a binder in the above-mentioned products. Aside from being cruel and inhumane, why would anyone want to rub animal skin and bones on their hair and face when there are plenty of natural products which do not contain gelatin.


Keratin is a cosmetic ingredient most commonly found in shampoos and other hair care products. It is made by boiling the hooves of animals such as cows, horses and donkeys. It is used in the beauty industry because it fills in the porosity of your hair, as overly porous hair tends to tangle and break. Keratin may contain sulphates, which are known to cause burning and itching scalp, and may even damage the hair follicle. Keratin may also reduce the moisture in your scalp, so it is not advisable to use it if your scalp is naturally dry.

Placental polypeptide protein

This is by far one of the grossest cosmetic ingredients on this list. It contains waste matter eliminated by the foetus and is derived from the uterus of slaughtered animals. The animal placenta is widely used in skin creams, shampoos and masks.


Would you rub a fiery hot chilli pepper all over your lips? This is exactly what you are doing when you use products such as lip plumpers. It works by temporarily fattening the lips by increasing blood flow to the area, which makes your lips swell and redden for a few hours.

If any of the ingredients on this list are less than appealing to you and you do not want them anywhere near the vicinity of your face, hair or body, it is advisable to start reading labels very carefully. It only takes 26 seconds for whatever you have rubbed onto your skin to find its way into your bloodstream! Better yet, why not look for products with natural ingredients?

Ultra Bee Brands are proud to be a part of beauty without cruelty, and all of our products are free from preservatives, chemicals, colourants and artificial fragrances. You won’t find any dead bugs or shark oil in our products!

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