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What is it?

“Toluene, also known as toluol, is a colorless, water-insoluble liquid with the smell associated with paint thinners. It has the chemical formula C7H8” Wikipedia

What are the effects?

This substance belongs to the groups:

Toluol is restricted for use in cosmetics in the EU. “Maximum concentration in ready for use preparation” is set to 25% by CosIng.  CosIng is the European Commission database for information on cosmetic substances and ingredients.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) identifies that the substance “may be fatal if swallowed and enters airways, is a highly flammable liquid and vapour, may cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure, causes skin irritation and may cause drowsiness or dizziness, is suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child, causes serious eye irritation and is harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects.”

The substance is on the Red List* from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund) because it may be contaminated with benzene.


Even though it is not listed on the ingredient labels, products with toluol may contain impurities from:

  • Benzene – linked to cancer, irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), and occupational hazards.

* “The Red List includes chemicals found in personal care products that pose serious, chronic health concerns including cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental harm. The list also flags chemicals that are banned or have use restrictions by the U.S. or other world governments, ingredients that adversely impact worker health, and ingredients that are widely used in products marketed to women of color.” – Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

How is it used?

Toluol is used as a solvent (dissolves other substances) and antioxidant (avoids oxidation and rancidity in products) in cosmetics*. It can be found in products such as nail polish, nail treatments, and hair colors, among others. It is also used as a paint thinner.

We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

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Read about the other ingredients.