If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients on a skincare product you know that most items listed are nearly impossible to pronounce, let alone actually identify. 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:
Found in antibacterial soaps, deodorants, and toothpaste, this chemical is known to interfere with thyroid and reproductive hormones. Research is also showing that triclosan may contribute to making bacteria antibiotic-resistant. Scary! Even though it is frequently used in antibacterial products, there isn’t much evidence to support that washing with triclosan is any more effective than washing with regular soap and water.
Parabens are used liberally in items like shampoo, makeup, deodorant, body washes to to help prevent yeast, mold, and bacteria from growing in cosmetic products. Seems like a reasonable idea, right? Unfortunately, parabens have been linked over and over again with hormonal imbalances, early puberty in females, and a shocking increase in a woman’s risk of breast cancer. This ingredient goes by a number of names, like methylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and isopropylparaben.
Like parabens, imidazolidinyl urea is used as a preservative in a variety of health and beauty products. These toxic chemicals are a common cause of 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.
This common ingredient helps to make plastics more flexible and soft. Like parabens, they are also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Research has also show 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).
PEGs (short for polyethylene glycols)
PEGs are used in a variety of different cosmetics as thickeners. This compound is worrisome because its manufacturing process may contaminate it with ethylene oxide or 4-dioxane, which are both carcinogenic compounds. Ethylene oxide can also harm your 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.
Benzophenone & Retinyl Palmitate
Benzophenone is designed to absorb ultraviolet light before it can burn your skin and is found in many sunscreens. Unfortunately, this harmful substance is associated with cellular damage and cancer. Odd, since we’ve all been told those are things that sunscreen is supposed to prevent. Other sunscreen chemicals to watch out for include Avobenzone, Ethoxycinnamate, and PABA.
Retinyl Palmitate is a form of vitamin A that is added to about 20 percent of sport and beach sunscreens. Recent studies have found that when this ingredient is used in the presence of sunlight it can speed up the growth of cancerous tumors. Retinyl Palmitate can also be found in lipstick, lotion and lip sunscreen, 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 retinal palmitate seem appealing. After all, Vitamin A sounds 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 irritate the skin, lungs, and eyes and has the potential to interact with other chemicals to form a carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines. Watch out for this ingredient in shampoo, body wash, face wash and acne treatments.
Synthetic (Chemical) Fragrances & Colors
Synthetic fragrances are the number one 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 colors, on the other hand, are added to cosmetics to make them look nice. However, because they are linked to cancer-causing agents we would suggest avoiding products that contains them. They’re often labeled with the letters FD&C or D&C, followed by a number.
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 or skin. Look for Triethanolamine in eyeliners, eye shadows, blushers, mascara, foundation, hair dyes, hair care products, shaving products and sunscreens.
Mineral oil is a very common ingredient in skincare, hair care and baby products. You will find it in anything from moisturizers to foundation to lip balm to baby oil to hair conditioners. It’s a cheap oil that is used a filler and “moisturizer” in most products. While it may appear to have a moisturizing effect, mineral oil actually seals your skin and prevents it from breathing. It contains no nutrients whatsoever.
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, putting you more at risk for damage. What’s more, this ingredient can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, compounds that are associated with cancer.
Propylene Glycol & Butylene Glycol
These are two more ingredients found in skin care products that can put you at risk of skin irritation and allergic reaction. Even very small concentrations have been found to cause dermatitis and hives. You’ll find these two ingredients in moisturizers, conditioners, shampoos, sunscreens, and hair sprays.
As you can see, it’s vitally important to keep a close eye on labels when you’re shopping. Even products as seemingly insignificant as lip balm can have loads of unnecessary junk in them. Be choosy about which products you use! If you’re concerned about the impact these chemicals might have on your health, try switching to organic skincare & beauty products.
Looking for a great resource to check ingredients? We love the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database. Simply type in the product name or the name of the ingredients.