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The Worst & Best Skincare Ingredients to Look For

In this 2 part blog, we'll discuss what you should be on the lookout for and what you need to stay away from in terms of product ingredients.

The cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, and other products you apply to your skin can be just as useful or harmful as anything you put inside your body. Because there is little to no instruction of harmful ingredients in personal care products, it is up to us to select safer products for ourselves and our families. On a day to day basis, we are exposed to potentially unsafe chemicals from all kinds of sources— plastics, pesticides, car exhaust, and more we can’t control. Choosing safer cosmetic and skincare products is something we can control, and it’s a big part of our daily lives, which means removing dangerous ingredients can have a big impact.

One of the first steps you should take in selecting skincare products with fewer chemicals is to read the label. Many of the claims on the skincare products we buy are just that, claims. Claims which aren’t regulated investigated or verified by governments or regulatory authorities. So your best bet? The ingredients list – just the facts!

We'll start with some of the not good ingredients to avoid in makeup and skincare products.

1. Parabens

Parabens are preservatives found in everything from lotion to soap to makeup. If it has water in it, it perhaps has a paraben to keep it from increasing bacteria. Parabens are well-known endocrine disruptors, meaning they mimic estrogen in the body and can lead to hormonal imbalances, and possibly even breast cancer. For example, a current study found concentrations of parabens, specifically methylparaben, in human breast tumors. Another study found 99% of all cancerous breast tumors confined parabens.

2. Artificial Fragrance/Perfume

Almost every single skincare and cosmetic product (even “unscented” ones) has artificial fragrances. Manufacturers aren’t required to expose what’s actually in their fragrances, so you’ll simply see Perfume or Fragrance on the ingredients list when it could be a cocktail of carcinogens, allergens, endocrine disruptors, and irritants.

3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

SLS/SLES are foaming agents used in a slew of personal care products, including cosmetics and skincare, shampoo, and toothpaste. They are surfactants that can cause skin trigger, irritation or allergies.

4. Toluene

Toluene is a chemical commonly found in hair dyes and nail polish. It is a volatile petrochemical solvent that can be poisonous to the immune system and can cause birth defects. If you’re pregnant, be especially careful and avoid nail polish having toluene entirely.

5. Phthalates

Phthalates are used in cosmetics primarily in perfumes, and can also be found in other personal care products, such as nail polish and hair spray. Examples include: DBP, DEHP, DEP, and others. Like parabens, phthalates are endocrine disruptors and can cause reproductive and hormonal problems and birth defects.

6. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is used is many kinds of cosmetics as a thickener, especially in lotions, shampoo, and sunscreen. PEG is often contaminated with both ethylene oxide (a known carcinogen) and 1, 4-Dioxane (which causes lung problems and is banned in Canada).

7. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is used as a preservative in skincare and cosmetics. It’s a known carcinogen that is also connected to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. It can be found in preservatives such as DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, and imidazolidinyl urea.

8. Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is a famous endocrine disruptor and can alter thyroid function. It’s also linked to skin allergies. You should avoid Chemical sunscreens at all costs—especially with children. Oxybenzone can also be found in lip balm and moisturizers, and makeup.

9. Lead

Lead is very heavy metal and is a neurotoxin. It can cause serious learning and behavioral problems, like lowered IQ. It’s already been removed from things like gasoline and paint, but not the things we’re putting on the skin. If you wear lip gloss or lipstick, think about how many times you reapply it during the day. Some of it will come off when you use a napkin, but plenty of it gets absorbed and ingested.

10. BHT

These are artificial antioxidants that are used to extend shelf life and are likely carcinogens and hormone disruptors that may cause liver damage. Our liver is our bodies’ main form of detoxification and if that’s not functioning at its best, it’s likely that other body parts are functioning at their best either. Most Commonly Found In lipsticks, moisturizers, diaper creams, and other cosmetics.

11. Diethanolamine

Diethanolamine is a foaming agent. It’s a known respiratory and carcinogen toxin, which is why the EU has restricted its use in personal care products. Despite this, it’s still used in body wash, bubble bath, and shampoo in the US. It’s often shortened as DEA on cosmetic labels.

12. Triclosan

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent once used in antibacterial detergents. Not only does triclosan contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but it’s also an endocrine disruptor and was shown to contribute to gut inflammation and help tumor growth in mouse studies. Not good.

13. Petroleum distillates

Petroleum-extracted skincare and cosmetics ingredients may cause contact dermatitis and are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities. They are produced in oil factories at the same time as automobile fuel, heating oil and chemical feedstocks.

Next week - some skincare ingredients you'll want to look for.

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