Ways in Which Your Cosmetics Could Harm Your Cat

Matthew Burke is a very talented makeup artist living in Brooklyn. In his first article for us he cautions about common nasties in many, far too many, skin care and make up products. He’s also an animal lover, and very smart and nice guy. Like us, Matthew is all about clean toxic free living and we share a common obsession with products, including make-up, that we insist be scent and toxin free. And it’s easier to do than one might think! If becoming a professional makeup artist is a dream of yours, check out his blog mentioned in his bio at the end of the article. The reason this article is so important to us cat-servants/parents is that some cats are very licky, and love to lick our moisturizers and other body care products, and any topical medicinal products that we might use. Cats can’t read labels, but we can. Being armed with knowledge can be lifesaving or certainly something that can prevent disease later in life.

Ways in Which Your Cosmetics
Could Harm Your Cat

By Matthew Burke

Did you know your cosmetics could potentially harm your cat? These days, most of us are well educated about the chemicals in makeup that can harm human health, or the non-biodegradable and fume-exuding products and packaging that take their toll on the environment. If you’re an animal lover, we’re sure you’re also in the habit of looking for that “cruelty-free” bunny on every cosmetic you buy!

However, the cosmetics that can harm our cats are often different than the ones that can harm humans or the environment! There are a few products you might have lying around that you think are innocuous but could end up making your precious fur baby sick. Keep reading to learn exactly how your cosmetics may harm your cat.

Cats have a very powerful sense of smell, so what might seem like a delicate scent to you can be as overwhelming to your poor cat’s nose as a locker room full of Axe-loving teenage boys. This is why you should be careful to avoid scented cosmetics, and we’re not just talking about perfumes — hair sprays, moisturizers, and even certain makeup products can be overladen with fragrance and since they stay on the skin, unlike cleansers, they can irritate your cats when they come over for a cuddle. While they don’t pose a serious health risk unless your cat is asthmatic or has other breathing issues, you don’t want to bug your cat either!

And then there are Phthalates which fragrance is loaded with and which are known carcinogens banned in many countries (except the US) which causes various cancers and diabetes among other diseases which are found in the plastic used to wrap food, bottled water or other beverages, paper including receipts (don’t touch them with wet hands or just refuse them). This article digs deeper into the cesspool that is synthetic fragrance and why for the sake of your health and your cat’s health it must be avoided.



Chances are your kitty is smart enough not to start lapping up spilled shampoo or facial cleanser, so the real risk of ingestion comes when something spills on your cat’s fur. If a bit of a cosmetic product spills on your cat, it is highly likely that they will end up consuming it when cleaning themselves up. It is also possible for your cat to ingest a bit of the leave-on cosmetics you use after giving you an affectionate lick.

With cosmetics, it’s the dose that makes the poison, even for tiny cats, so keep reading to learn which cosmetic ingredients may pose an ingestion risk to your furry friend and should be dealt with more carefully.

Fur or Skin Contact
If a product gets on your cat, the main risk is that they will lap it up while cleaning themselves, but there is also a minor risk that an ingredient will irritate their skin. Cats have sensitive skin, and there are certain ingredients that are highly likely to irritate them. This is why you should be careful to keep cosmetics (especially cleansers) away from where your cat can play with them, and only ever clean your cat with special shampoos intended for felines.

Common Cosmetics and Ingredients That Could Harm Your Cat


Both synthetic fragrances, which are listed in ingredient lists simply as fragrance or parfum, as well as many essential oils can be quite bad for cats, especially if ingested. When it comes to synthetic fragrances, there’s the additional concern that they’re “proprietary,” which means companies don’t have to disclose what they’re actually comprised of! Because of this, fragrances can often hide phthalates, which are hazardous to both pets and humans.

The most harmful essential oils come from tea tree, mint, citrus oils, ylang ylang, spike lavender (English Lavender tends to be okay), sweet birch, pine, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and clove.

Try to avoid applying anything to your skin that contains a fragrance, especially if you’re going to hang out at home with your cat. Wash-off products like cleansers and moisturizers or makeup with fragrances that fade away within a few minutes after application shouldn’t pose a risk if you use them as intended. While the products are still damp on your face, don’t allow your cat to lick you! Once everything dries down, however, it’s usually okay.

As we’ve already mentioned, be extra careful to avoid fragrances if your cat is asthmatic, and skip the trendy essential oil diffusers.


Detergents is the term we use for all kinds of cleansing agents commonly used in shampoos, body washes, facial cleansers, as well as household cleaning products. They pose both an ingestion risk but also a skin contact risk to your pet. If consumed, they can make your cat very sick (although non-cosmetic detergents are the most toxic), while if you wash your cat with a human cleanser or shampoo of some sort you risk seriously irritating their skin since those products are not formulated at the right acidity level for cats.


Even small amounts of alcohol can cause liver and brain damage to cats, so in addition to keeping your liquor bottles locked away, you should also have a second look at your toner, setting spray, and hair spray, which often contain alcohol. Keep ‘em away from your cat anyway, but especially if they list SD alcohol or alcohol denat as one of the ingredients. We have a little secret: alcohol is pretty drying for your skin, so better to skip it altogether in your skincare products.

Hair Dye

There are a ton of ingredients in hair dye that are not safe for cats, from ammonia in lighter hair dyes to henna in natural hair dyes. Permanent hair dye formulas pose the highest risk, and they can also have very strong fumes, so prevent both ingestion and inhalation by keeping your cat away when dyeing your hair. Oh, and definitely don’t dye your cat’s fur!


We suggest staying away from spray deodorants because of the smell and the particles which go in the air which you are breathing and if your cat is nearby, your cat is breathing too. Even stick deodorants can cause GI upset if consumed by your kitty. Recommended are coconut oil based cream deodorants such as the ones made by shmoopys.com (don’t worry, you won’t smell like a coconut!)


There is a wide range of preservatives that are commonly used in cosmetics that have gained a bad reputation for being harmful to human health, but what could their effect be on your cat? The truth is that very little research has been done, so we don’t know what the long term effects of exposure could be.

The preservatives most frequently maligned are parabens and as it turns out, many cats are ingesting parabens from their food! The levels are parabens are the most high in dry/kibble cat foods. When it comes to limiting your cat’s exposure to potentially harmful preservatives, the concern is in both your cosmetics and the cat’s food. Seek out recipes for homemade cat food or natural brands. When in doubt, call the company and demand lab studies.


Ideally you already know about the hazards of the (unnecessarily in our view) common preservative in cosmetics and in many pharmaceuticals which are endocrine disruptors as well as being a precursor to many serious diseases for both species. These man-made preservatives can interfere with hormones which may have harmful effects on developmental, reproductive and neurological systems. The 3 most commons parabens are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. If you apply cosmetics which contain any of the parabens to your skin, you are absorbing them and risk them wrecking havoc on your body. If you cat licks you where you applied that product your cat is ingesting them.


Benzalkonium Chloride

This topical antibacterial agent is often found in handwashes, sanitizing wipes, and acne-products, and while it’s benign for humans it can give cats mouth ulcerations. Don’t let anything with benzalkonium chloride get on your cat’s fur, and don’t let them lick you if you use leave-on products that include it.

Salicylic Acid

Sometimes marketed as BHA, this anti-acne ingredient is closely related to aspirin and if large amounts are ingested it can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and even damage to the central nervous system. The main danger comes when cats are fed large amounts of aspirin rather than from salicylic acid in skincare, but it’s still important to be aware.

More Beauty Safety Tips for You and Your Cat

The most dangerous thing your cat can do is get into your cosmetics and eat them. It’s not particularly likely — your cat is more likely to drop a bunch of bottles on the floor or play with a precious brush than they are to start eating something that could hurt them, but it’s better not to take risks. Keep all cosmetics in a place your cat won’t be able to reach them, like in a drawer or in a medicine cabinet with secure doors.

Be extra conscientious when applying cosmetics, especially if you have a curious cat. Shut the bathroom door, and if you’ve used anything that gets in the air like hair spray or perfume, make sure to turn on the fan and wait for the product to dissipate before letting your cat have access to the area.

Finally, if you do suspect your cat may have eaten something they shouldn’t have, don’t pause too long — take them to the emergency vet clinic immediately, along with a sample of whatever it is you think poisoned them!

Matthew Burke is a makeup artist in Brooklyn, NY, who helps makeup artists get started in their careers. As a big proponent of clean cosmetics, he’s stopped by to tell us about how some of the most common beauty products can be downright terrible for our little loved ones! www.makeupartistessentials.com