The Gross Ingredients That Are Lurking in Your Cosmetics

Unless you compulsively check the back of your cosmetic bottles for ingredients, you never know what’s lurking in your lotions and potions. Sure, every formula has its fair share of good ingredients, but a lot of the things you slather on your face, legs, and scalp are simply bizarre. If you can stomach it, scroll down to see 10 gross ingredients in your beauty products.

1. Snail mucin


Snail slime could be the reason for your gorgeous glow. |

In Korean culture, taking care of your skin is something you’re taught as a child. At some point many men and women eventually adopt a thorough, 10-step ritual. But perhaps the most bizarre part of K-beauty is its zany ingredients. The strangest? Snail mucin. While it’s reportedly packed with the proteins, acids, and elastin you’d usually find in your creams, at least according to Business Insider, we shudder at the mere thought of slapping snail goo on our face.

2. Whale vomit

humpback whale

It might have a fancy name, but it’s still the contents of a whale’s stomach. |

We never thought we’d use whale vomit in the same sentence as French fashion houses like Givenchy and Chanel, but here we are. According to StyleCaster, ambergris is the waxy substance formed in a sperm whale’s stomach, aka vomit that’s waiting to be secreted. But to our surprise, ambergris is a hot commodity in the fragrance industry, regardless of its nasty origins. The value lies in its scent, which becomes surprisingly sweet once it leaves the body.

At approximately $20 per gram, ambergris is synonymous with luxury, which is probably why several fragrance companies like Dior, Gucci, and Lanvin chose to incorporate the ingredient into their scents. So for all these years, you’ve been spritzing whale vomit on your body without even realizing it.

3. Rust

Rusty part of old car

Rust delivers a nice hue to certain products. |

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but pink-tinted formulas like calamine lotion didn’t get their cheery hues from food coloring, but from rust. The next time you’re studying a new product’s ingredient list, look for anything called “ferrous oxide,” “pigment brown 6,” or “pigment brown 101.” BuzzFeed reports any of these terms are euphemisms for rust. We’ll let that sink in.

4. Hot pepper

Red Hot Chili Peppers

These are why lip plumpers tend to tingle. |

Ever wonder why your lips get a tingly sensation whenever you coat them in a lip plumper? The ingredients have something to do with it. As a leading community for makeup and skin care fanatics, Beautylish knows a thing or two about products. It has been noted that hot ingredients are frequently added to lip plumpers to help boost circulation for that fuller look. Ingredients include, but are not limited to, cinnamon, menthol, and hot pepper. It’s not as gross as, say, whale vomit, but if anyone asked us if we wanted a super spicy pepper on our lips, we’d have to pass.

5. Bird poop

Golden sparrow

Bird droppings have been used in products for quite a while. |

Very few things can ruin your day like finding bird droppings on the hood of your car, favorite bag, or worse, your arms or legs. You might roll your eyes when someone chipperly exclaims, “It’s good luck!” But they aren’t entirely wrong — especially when it comes to the fate of your skin.

We know what you’re thinking, is this just another passing trend? Not quite. Incorporating bird waste into your skin care routine has been traced back to geisha facials, so it’s safe to say it’s here to stay. Since nightingales excrete solid and liquid waste (which is something we didn’t need to know) this specific species is considered the gold standard in bird poop. “The poop contains nitrogen-rich urea and guanine, an amino acid,” dermatologist Dr. Gary Goldfaden told Today. “Urea helps to bind moisture to the skin, thus making the skin look and feel hydrated.”

Perks aside, we don’t see us jumping on this skin care bandwagon anytime soon.

6. Bug shells

Dead cockroach

Maybe you should reconsider the red lip. |

In a perfect world, our amazing lipstick shades would be derived from normal ingredients like berries and peonies. In reality? You can thank crushed bug shells, also known as carmine, for your pout’s pretty hue. “Carmine is made of crushed insect shells that have undergone a chemical reaction,” cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson told Harper’s Bazaar. “It gives red lipsticks their gorgeous shade.”

We’re not going to sugarcoat it for you, this is pretty bad. But when you think about all the other ingredients you’re unknowingly adding, bug shells don’t sound that terrible.

7. Sheep grease

Lambs and sheep

Sheep produce lanolin, which is used to keep makeup products hydrating. |

We hate the thought of having our hair and skin doused in our own grease, let alone someone else’s, but sheep grease might be a smart addition to your daily routine. New York-based dermatologist Dr. Marina Peredo told Today sheep grease, or lanolin, is a great emollient because it’s incredibly hydrating for dry, cracked skin. Lanolin can be found in tons of moisturizers, makeup removers, and lipsticks, which is strange but arguably easier to digest than some of the other ingredients on the list.

8. Fish scales

Macro red siam fighting fish

This is the real reason your nail polish shimmers. |

Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish might’ve been a work of fiction, but there is some validity behind all the hype around those sacred scales. Since fish scales actually have a shimmery effect when exposed to light, many cosmetic companies have added them to nail polishes and lipsticks to give that pearly finish. Before you discard all your scale-clad products for good, keep in mind you voluntarily ingest fish oil to boost your metabolism, improve memory, and reduce inflammation, so this isn’t too far-fetched.

9. Placenta

Pregnant woman sitting

This is more of a beauty supplement, but it was too strange to leave out. |

If you regularly watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians, you might remember one episode where Kim Kardashian-West contemplated eating her own placenta, the organ that provides your unborn child with oxygen and important nutrients. And after she gave birth to son Saint West, she wrote an entire blog post about eating her placenta, which she had turned into pills. “I definitely had to do it again,” she wrote. “Every time I take a pill, I feel a surge of energy and feel really healthy and good. I totally recommend it for anyone considering it!”

But the benefits don’t stop at combating  those post baby blues. “Placenta is loaded with proteins that can help strengthen the skin and hair, ” Wilson told Harper’s Bazaar. “There are plant alternatives but the efficacy is not quite the same.” Sure, it’s weird. But if a Kardashian has embraced placenta, shouldn’t you?

10. Baby foreskin

Baby boy sleeps wrapped in a white fuzzy blanket

It sort of gives baby soft skin a whole new meaning. |

Looking for the fountain of youth? We recommend you examine your products’ ingredients lists first. Nearly a decade ago, it was widely reported some moisturizers and creams that promised to give you young, radiant skin was actually chock-full of foreskin fibroblasts, which are made from circumcised baby foreskin.”It’s filled with everything we begin to lose as we age,” aesthetician Besty Rubenstone told NBC. “And that includes growth factors, amino acids, proteins, collage, elastin and holyuronic acid.”

Forget snail goo and rust, this shocking ingredient takes the cake. We don’t care what properties it has, slathering your skin with baby’s skin — especially skin from the nether region — is disgusting. The cringe-worthy ingredient is still found in tons of skin care products, so if this doesn’t convince you to check your products with care, we don’t know what will.

Follow Kelsey on Twitter @Kmulvs and Instagram @Kmulvs