Are there harmful chemicals in aftershave?

Harmful Ingredients in Aftershave
Careful! The more nicks, the more pain.
Careful! The more nicks, the more pain.

A quick trip through the grocery store shelves will yield a selection of aftershaves with ingredient lists that read like a chemistry paper. Synthetic ingredients are used in the majority of skincare products because they're almost always cheaper than natural ingredients, and they help make a formula more stable, meaning a longer shelf life, too. But, they generally aren't as effective as their natural counterparts. Not all are harmful, but there are some that should be avoided as much as possible. Here's what to look out for.

In the astringent category, propolene glycol is a type of alcohol approved for use in small amounts in the cosmetic industry. But this is the same stuff that's used to make antifreeze, so do you really want to put it on your skin? Benzyl acetate and ethyl acetate are solvents that are often found in perfumes and aftershaves. They're known carcinogens that have been linked to pancreatic cancer, not to mention they're found to be irritating to eyes and respiratory systems.

Fragrances are a controversial topic in the world of skincare. The problem with fragrance is that formulas are proprietary to the manufacturers, so they're not required to list the ingredients. A fragrance could be made up from as many as 4,000 different chemicals, but it's just listed in the ingredients as "fragrance" or "perfume." These chemicals can be responsible for all sorts of reactions like headaches, dizziness and trouble breathing, and sometimes even more serious reactions in particularly sensitive people. They're best avoided, especially if you have sensitive skin or allergies.

And lastly on our steer clear list are synthetic colorants. Remember red dye No. 5 in the M&M's that could kill you? The part about the deadly M&M's wasn't true, but it did make us take a closer look at synthetic colorants. Manufacturers may think a colored formula looks better in the bottle and therefore on the shelf, and maybe it does. But FD&C Yellow No. 5 is believed to be the cause of multiple reactions like asthma and hives, not to mention aggravating eczema problems. You'd hate to find out the hard way, so your best bet is to avoid dyes all together.

Related Articles


  • "History of Hair Removal.", July 24, 2009.
  • "Ingredients in Aftershave.", 2010.
  • Petch, Simon. "Are Perfumes Harmful?", 2010.
  • "Propylene Glycol.", 2010.
  • "Toxic Chemicals in Toiletries.", 2010.
  • "Twenty Most Common Chemicals in Thirty-one Fragrance Products [based on a 1991 EPA Study.", 2010.

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