If you look to the Internet for information about beauty products, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed with articles about how all-natural ingredients are superior and for your hair and skin and synthetic ingredients are sending you to an early grave. This has always bugged me because if people just thought about it, they’d soon realize that “natural” does not automatically mean “good”. Snake venom, viruses, and radiation are all natural.

In fact, some of the most toxic substances are “natural”.

So, the next time you hear someone droning on and on about how much better natural ingredients are than synthetics just remind them of these ten All-Natural Nasties.

Naturally Toxic Ingredients
10. Patulin: The patulin toxin produced by fungi found on rotting apples. It’s not especially dangerous but a few studies have shown it can cause DNA mutations.

Watch out if you’re making your own apple juice to put in your DIY personal care products

9. Aflatoxin: Another toxin naturally produced by our fungi friends. Aflatoxins make their way into food crops like corn and peanuts. The compound has been shown to cause liver cancer in lab animals and has been associated with live cancer in humans. Governments monitor and regulate food for acceptable amounts of aflatoxin.

Be careful about contaminated corn or peanut compounds in your cosmetics

8. Ergotamine: This is an alkaloid produced naturally by a food fungus that grows on rye and wheat plants. If not properly processed grains contaminated with ergotamine can end up in your bread and cause the disease ergotism. Not a problem if you don’t mind gangrenous infections of the limbs and hallucinations.

This natural material is also the starting point for making the drug LSD.

7. Mistletoe Lectin: People love mistletoe at Christmas but did you know this naturally growing plant is extremely toxic to humans? Any part of the plant can poison you and if ingested can cause vomiting, hallucinations, and blurred vision.

Avoid any product said to contain Mistletoe extract. Unless hallucinating and vomiting is your idea of a good time.

6. Saxitoxin: This is a toxic material naturally produced by a common algae found in oceans around the world. When conditions are right, the little microscopic organisms produce saxitoxin, or red tide. If enough of it is introduced into your body, it causes paralysis and death. On occasion, people can get exposed to the poison by eating contaminated shellfish.

Apparently algae extracts aren’t always advisable.

5. Batrachotoxin: Frogs are cute except for maybe the poison dart frog that makes one of the most toxic compounds known. Batrachotoxins are naturally produced by certain species of frogs, beetles and birds. If you get some of the compound in you, expect paralysis of your breathing muscles followed by death soon afterwards.

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment to stop the nasty effects of this natural substance.

4. Ricin: With a natural sounding name like ricin it’s got to be good right? Wrong. Ricin is a protein toxin that comes from castor beans. Yeah, this is the same plant that gives us the beneficial castor oil. If you’re exposed to enough ricin, it’ll cause diarrhea and death.

Thankfully, man-made, synthetic purification processes can separate the good parts of the castor bean from the toxic ones.

3. Alpha-Amanitin: This is a simple, natural, toxic peptide produced by a mushroom. If you happen to eat some alpha-amanitin laced mushrooms you’ll feel cramps and diarrhea within 24 hours. Left untreated your kidneys and liver will be damaged beyond repair and you will die. This little natural molecule is considered one of the deadliest compounds known.

Synthetic chemicals have nothing on this natural killer.

2. Anthrax Toxin: This natural ingredient is one you’ve probably heard about. This toxin is a combination of three proteins produced by a bacterium (Bacillus anthracis). It most often kills domestic animals like sheep and cattle but it can kill humans too. And you only need to be exposed to it on your skin. Anthrax ultimately causes death by respiratory and cardiac failure.

And you thought protein was always good.

1. Botulinum Toxin: No list of natural toxins would be complete on a cosmetic site without the mention of this neurotoxic protein. While deadly, this compound can be used in small doses to remove wrinkles. Botox treatments are all the rage and are one of the most popular profitable forms of cosmetic surgery. If you ingest this toxin however, you can expect paralysis, blurred vision, vomiting, among other symptoms. Ultimately, this natural compound will lead to respiratory failure and death.

But in the hands of a good cosmetic surgeon, there’s not much to worry about. Yikes!

Natural does not = good.
Synthetic does not = bad.

You have to look at each compound on an individual basis to make a judgment about them. And as millions of successful Botox injections demonstrate, there is a safe way to use “toxic” ingredients no matter where they come from.


Perry Romanowski has over 18 years experience formulating products to solve consumer problems in the personal care and cosmetic industry. His primary focus has been on hair & hair related products. He is also an author who has published extensively about the field of cosmetic science. He is currently Vice President of Brains Publishing which specializes in science education.

Perry received his B.S. in Chemistry from DePaul University. He has written and edited numerous articles and books, teaches SCC continuing education classes in cosmetic science, and is the primary author at ChemistsCorner.com a website dedicated to training current and future cosmetic scientists. His latest book project is the third edition of Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry published by Allured. Perry can be reached thorough his website ChemistsCorner where he is available for consulting about cosmetic formulating, testing, and Internet solutions.


Amanda Foxon-Hill joined the cosmetics industry in 1998 when was offered a graduate job with chemical distributor Brenntag on condition that she complete a diploma in Cosmetic Science. With the challenge accepted, a background in chemistry and love of hands-on experimenting she set to work and before long became hooked (and a nightmare to take shopping as she would read ALL of the labels). The next move was to chemical manufacturer Octel (now Innospec) where she was responsible for the sales, marketing and formulation development of the cosmetic ingredients range in the UK and across parts of northern Europe. A move to Australia meant a new challenge and after settling in with the family Amanda joined another leading chemical distributor, Bronson and Jacobs as a Product Manager. Here she deepened her understanding of sunscreens, silicone’s and anti-ageing actives before leaving in 2007 to set up her own company. Amanda has always had a passion for science communication and after working in all areas of the supply chain saw how gaps in understanding affected sales, product development and market traction. Meanwhile the world outside of the cosmetics industry was growing more demanding thanks to the rise of blogging and an ever growing number of ‘Google’ experts. With the gulf between the backstage cosmetic world and the public widening, the time was right for some respectful thought leadership and so with an out stretched hand, a business was born. Amanda now divides her time between blogging, professional writing and consulting for a number of cosmetic companies where she advises and implements social media strategies to facilitate deeper and more personal supplier/ client relationships. Her Realize Beauty blog has developed a solid and loyal fan base of people looking for a sisterhood approach to skin and hair care information and her Cosmetic Kitchen workshops have been the highlight of many a kids and adults party

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