Updated: Aug 18, 2021
If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients list on a traditional skincare product package, you likely ended up more than a little confused.
With so many chemical ingredients with long, scientific-soundings names, it can be extremely frustrating to get a clear idea of what is included in each product. Even if you recognize some of the ingredients, how do you know which ones are safe to use? To help you out in this area, we decided to create a list of some of the most common skincare ingredients that you should stay far away from. Keep an eye out for the following when building a natural skincare routine:
Parabens: Parabens are commonly used to help prevent yeast, mold, and bacteria from growing in cosmetic products. While this may sound like a great idea at first, this ingredient has actually been linked with hormonal imbalances, early puberty in females, and an increased risk of breast cancer. Even less fortunate is the fact that parabens can be found in a huge variety of products, including makeup, deodorant, shampoo, body washes, and more. This ingredient goes by a number of names, so be sure to avoid anything that uses methylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and isopropylparaben.
Phthalates: This common ingredient helps to make plastics more flexible and soft. Like parabens, they are also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Additionally, they may cause reproductive birth defects in both genders and early breast development in girls. Keep an eye out for dibutyl phthalate (most common nail polish), diethyl phthalate (found in lotions and perfumes), and dimethyl phthalate (used in hair spray).
Benzophenone: It’s surprising to see how many harmful chemicals are in a product that is supposed to protect your health. Benzophenon can be found in many sunscreens and is designed to absorb ultraviolet light before it can burn your skin, but it is also associated with cellular damage and cancer. Isn’t that something that sunscreen is supposed to prevent? Other sunscreen chemicals to watch out for include Avobenzone, Ethoxycinnamate, and PABA.
Triclosan: Triclosan is often found in antibacterial soaps, deodorants, and toothpaste. Even though it is frequently used in antibacterial products, there is not much evidence to support that washing with triclosan is any more effective than washing with regular soap and water. Furthermore, this chemical is known to interfere with thyroid and reproductive hormones. Pair that with a growing concern among researchers that triclosan may contribute to making bacteria antibiotic-resistant, and it’s an easy choice to leave this chemical on the shelf.
Retinyl Palmitate: Retinyl Palmitate is a form of vitamin A that is added to about 20 percent of sport and beach sunscreens. A study by the National Toxicology Programhas found that when this ingredient is used in the presence of sunlight it can speed up the growth of cancerous tumors. Retinyl Palmitate and similar forms of vitamin A can also be found in a myriad of different skincare products, lipsticks, skin lotions, and lip sunscreens, all of which are often used in the presence of sunlight. Oddly enough, some brands choose to promote their use of this ingredient to make it appear appealing. Vitamin A sounds good and safe, right?
Sodium Laureth (or Lauryl) Sulfate: Would you use the same chemicals on your body that you would use to wash your car or your garage floor? If you use products that contain Sodium Laureth (or Lauryl) Sulfate, that’s exactly what you’re doing. This chemical is a surfactant, which means it helps create a foamy lather. It can also potentially irritate the skin, lungs, and eyes if used in high concentrations and could interact with other chemicals. Watch out for this ingredient in shampoo, body wash, face wash, and acne treatments.
Synthetic (Chemical) Fragrances: Synthetic (or chemical) fragrances are a significant cause of allergic reactions to beauty products. While they appear as a single item on ingredient lists, such fragrances can actually contain dozens or even hundreds of ingredients. Synthetic fragrances are found in personal care products such as shampoos, body washes, and soaps, as well as cleaning products such as air fresheners, candles, dryer sheets, and detergents. You will commonly find this ingredient listed as Perfume, Parfume or Fragrance.
Synthetic (Chemical) Colors: Synthetic (or chemical) colors are often added to cosmetics to make them look nice. However, they can be irritating for some and are suspected to be linked to cancer-causing agents, which is not quite so nice. Avoid any product that contains such ingredients. They’re often labeled with the letters FD&C or D&C, followed by a number.
Stearalkonium Chloride: You’re most likely to find Stearalkonium Chloride in hair products, particularly rinses, conditioners, and bleachers. It is used to reduce static and improve luster, but it is also known to be an irritant and does little to actually improve your hair’s health.
Triethanolamine: Triethanolamine is used in many cosmetic products to help balance pH levels, as well as to act as a cleansing base. When absorbed into the body over a long period of time, it can become toxic. Even short periods of exposure can cause allergic reactions, including eye problems and dry hair and skin. Look for Triethanolamine in eyeliners, eye shadows, blushers, mascara, foundation, hair dyes, hair care products, shaving products, and sunscreens.
Petrolatum: Petrolatum is a jelly made of mineral oil that is often used in lip products. While the products that use it are often advertised to help prevent chapping, petrolatum can actually interfere with the body’s natural moisturizing abilities. What’s more, this ingredient can be contaminatedwith polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, compounds that are associated with cancer.
Mineral Oil: Mineral oil is a very common ingredient in skincare, haircare, and baby products. You will find it in anything from moisturizers to foundation to lip balm to baby oil and hair conditioners. It is a cheap oil that is used as a filler and “moisturizer” in most products. Mineral oil seals the skin, which can trap other comedogenic ingredients. It also contains no nutrients whatsoever.
Imidazolidinyl Urea: Like parabens, Imidazolidinyl Urea is used as a preservative in a variety of health and beauty products. It’s been associated with skin irritation and allergic contact dermatitis. Imidazolindyl Urea may appear under the trade names Germall II and Germall 115 and can be found in foundations, eye makeup, makeup removers, burn remedies, shampoos, sunscreens, and more.
Propylene Glycol & Butylene Glycol: Propylene Glycol and Butylene Glycol are two more ingredients found in skincare products that can put you at risk of skin irritation and allergic reaction if you are sensitive. You’ll find these two ingredients in moisturizers, conditioners, shampoos, sunscreens, and hair sprays.
PEGs: PEGs (short for polyethylene glycols) are used in a variety of different cosmetics as thickeners. The reason this compound is worrisome lies in the manufacturing process. Poor manufacturing of PEGs can lead to contamination by ethylene oxide or 1, 4-dioxane, which are both suspected carcinogenic compounds. Ethylene oxide has also been proposed to cause harm to the nervous system and may interfere with human development. PEGs are most commonly found in cosmetic cream bases, but you’ll also find them in sunscreens and baby care items.
If you are concerned about the impact that these chemicals might have on your health, switching to all natural skincare and beauty products can make sure your routine is free of harmful substances. It’s also important to keep a close eye on labels when you’re shopping. Even products as seemingly insignificant as lip balmcan have loads of unnecessary junk in them. Be choosy about which products you use to keep your skin safe and looking its best. And please don’t make the assumption that “you get what you pay for” in the world of skincare products. While this is the case in many other fields, it is not very true in the personal care world. Most skincare products only available at high-end department stores are full of toxic ingredients and are sourced from China.
A great source for checking ingredients is the Environmental Working Groups Skin Deep Database. You may just be shocked at what you will find.