11 Ingredients to Avoid in Skin Care and Beauty Products

Before you break the bank on the most popular make up or skin care line, make sure to check out what ingredients they put in them. Just because it’s trendy right now, doesn’t mean their putting the best stuff in it. Your skin is your largest organ and absorbs hundreds of chemicals each day.

If you have recently bought products with any of these ingredients simply wait until you have used the products and be more conscious of the ingredients the next time you buy.

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Found in: shampoo, body wash, foundation, face wash, mouthwash and toothpaste. SLS has been shown to cause or contribute to: skin irritation, canker sores, disruptions of skin’s natural oil balance and eye damage. It is also widely believed to be a major contributor to acne especially cystic acne around the mouth and chin. Opt for a natural shampoo, body wash and toothpaste.

2. BHA

Found in: exfoliants, perfume. The National Toxicology Program classifies butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” It can cause skin depigmentation. In animal studies, BHA produces liver damage and causes stomach cancers such as papillomas and carcinomas and interferes with normal reproductive system development and thyroid hormone levels. The European Union considers it unsafe in fragrance. Opt for a BHA and phthalate-free perfume or switch to essential oils. I prefer lavender or serenity blend.

3. Triclosan and Triclocarban

Found in: toothpaste, deodorant, antibacterial soap. Triclosan was all the rage as antibacterial products became ubiquitous in the 1990s. Even the FDA agrees that there is no health benefit to humans who use triclosan, and in 2013 ruled that manufacturers using it had to demonstrate that there were no long-term detrimental effects. Triclosan (in liquid products) and triclocarban (in bar soaps) have been linked to hormonal disruptions, bacterial resistance, impaired muscle function, impaired immune function and increased allergies. Instead, use naturally antibacterial and antiseptic agents like tea tree oil.

4. Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine (Coal Tar)

Found in: hair dye, shampoo. Coal tar, a byproduct of coal processing, is a known human carcinogen, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Hair stylists and other professionals are exposed to these chemicals in hair dye almost daily. Europe has banned many of these ingredients in hair dyes. While FDA sanctions coal tar in specialty products such as dandruff and psoriasis shampoos, the long-term safety of these products has not been demonstrated.

5. Parabens

Found in: makeup, moisturizer, shaving gel, shampoo, personal lubricant and spray tan products. The FDA acknowledges several studies linking parabens, which mimic estrogen, to breast cancer, skin cancer and decreased sperm count, but has not ruled that it is harmful. According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, longer chain parabens like propyl and butyl paraben and their branched counterparts, isopropyl and isobutylparabens, may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders. Look for ingredients with the suffix “-paraben” as well—paraben-free products will be labeled as such.

6. Polyethylene/PEGs

Found in: scrubs, body wash, makeup, toothpaste. Those tiny plastic beads in face or lip scrubs and exfoliating washes are made from polyethylene (used because they’re gentler on the skin than natural exfoliators like walnut shells). These synthetic chemicals are frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which the U.S. government considers a probable human carcinogen and which readily penetrates the skin. Polyethylene has been noted as a skin irritant and should never be used on broken skin. Polyethylene beads in scrubs and body washes also are not filtered by our sewage systems, meaning they can collect pollutants and travel into waterways, where they’re consumed by fish and marine animals.

7. Retinyl palmitate, Retinyl Acetate, Retinoic Acid and Retinol

Found in: moisturizer, lip products, sunscreen, anti-aging product. Retinol products often found in anti-aging products have the opposite intended effect and become carcinogenic in sunlight, making it extra important to only use them at night and to avoid any sunscreens containing retinol-derived ingredients. Retinol has also been linked to cancer and developmental and reproductive toxicity. Try frankincense, a natural replacement for retinol.

8. Petroleum distillates

Found in: mascara. Petroleum-extracted cosmetics ingredients may cause contact dermatitis and are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities. They are produced in oil refineries at the same time as automobile fuel, heating oil and chemical feedstocks. Find a non-toxic mascara to use instead.

9. Fragrance

Found in: moisturizers, deodorant, lotion, face cream, shampoo, conditioner. Federal law doesn’t require companies to list on product labels any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. Recent research from Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name-brand fragrance products, none of them listed on the label. Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. Our advice? Buy fragrance-free wherever possible.

10. Oxybenzone

Found in: sunscreen. Oxybenzone is one of the highest-risk chemicals found in sunscreen. It acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. Studies on cells and laboratory animals indicate that oxybenzone and its metabolites may disrupt the hormone system. It also has high rates of skin allergy. Opt for safe sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium oxide or avobenzene instead. I also have a great blog post for natural sunscreens with natural oils.

11. Dibutyl phthalate, Toluene and Formaldehyde

Found in: nail polish and other nail products, perfume, makeup remover. These chemicals, known as the “toxic trio,” have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, headaches and respiratory problems—especially concerning for nail salon workers and those who frequently get manis or pedis. It’s advised that pregnant women avoid nail products altogether. Non-toxic nail polish brands like Ella+ Mila and Color Me Earth. Look for “toxic-trio-free” products. I personally don’t wear nail polish anymore, it is a big transition but once you get used to it, it’s not so bad.

Making the switch to these products can be a lot to take in, remembering so many weird looking names to make sure you don’t buy them. There is the “Think Dirty” app you can use to scan your products and they can give you a score. You want your products to be at least a 5 or less. I also have a link to the natural products I use daily, I constantly research better and more natural products to try without breaking the bank.

Screenshot this list to keep handy when at the store.

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

2. BHA

3. Triclosan and Triclocarban

4. Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine (Coal Tar)

5. Parabens

6. Polyethylene/PEGs

7. Retinyl palmitate, Retinyl Acetate, Retinoic Acid and Retinol

8. Petroleum distillates

9. Fragrance

10. Oxybenzone

11. Dibutyl phthalate, Toluene and Formaldehyde

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