Why Coal Tar In Your Cosmetics Isn’t a Good Thing

Petroleum. . . Not For Your Face

Coal tar

Coal tar is a mixture of different chemicals, drives from petroleum.  Coal tar is widely recognized as a carcinogen and the primary concern for coal tar colours in cosmetics is the risk of cancer.  Also, coal tar colours are often contaminated with low levels of heavy metals.  Many heavy metals are toxic to brain function and development.  While these colours are not approved for food / consumption, they are often found in lipstick, and inadvertently ingested.


  • eyeshadow
  • bronzer
  • lipstick
  • hair dye


P-phenylenediamine and colours identified by “C.I” followed by a 5 digit number. 


Skin Sensitization:  Evidence correlates p-phenylenediamine is a common skin allergen with a 5% sensitization rate(1).

Cancer: P-phenylenediamine has been linked to cancer in laboratory tests conducted by the US National Cancer Institute (1).  One study found a correlation between hair dye and an increased disk of developing non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma (2). 

Organ System Toxicity: When ingested, p-phenylenediamine is highly toxic (4)(5).

Read More

  1. BHA
  2. Coal Tar Dyes
  3. DEA
  4. Dibutyl Phthalate
  5. Formaldehyde
  6. Parabens
  7. Parfum
  8. PEG Compounds
  9. Petrolatum
  10. Siloxanes
  11. Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  12. Triclosan


  1. Schnuch A, Geier J, Uter PJ et al. National rates and regional differences in sensitisation to allergens of the standard series. Contact Dermatitis 1997; 37: 200-209
  2. G. Reznik and J. M. Ward. “Carcinogenicity of the hair-dye component 2-nitro-p-phenylenediamine: Induction of eosinophilic hepatocellular neoplasms in female B6C3F1 mice.” _Food and Cosmetics Toxicology_17, 5 (October 1979): 493-500.
  3. Zhang, Y. et al. “Personal use of hair dye and the risk of certain subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” Am J Epidemiol. 167, 11 (June 1 2008):1321-31.
  4. Anuradha S, Sandeep Arora S, Arora A, Kar P (2004) Acute Renal Failure Following para-Phenylenediamine (PPD) Poisoning: A Case Report and Review. Renal Failure 26(3): 329-332.
  5. Bolt H.M, Golka K (2007) The Debate on Carcinogenicity of Permanent Hair Dyes: New Insights. Criticial Reviews in Toxicology 37: 521-536.