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Top 10 Not So Nice Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare


The average woman applies approximately 515 chemicals to her skin every day.


This means your personal care products could contain harmful chemicals — and many of them do. Cosmetic products don’t require FDA approval in the United States to sell to consumers. There are potentially harmful ingredients present in products like makeup, shampoo, and toothpaste.

The European Union has banned or restricted more than 1,300 chemicals for use in cosmetics, to the US’s approximately 11. We’ve blogged the “Dirty Dozen” list of ingredients to avoid before, but it bears repeating and can’t be overstated.

The following is a list of 10 common ingredients that are potentially harmful and show up in lots of your personal care products. Read your product labels carefully, and if any of these show up, it’s time for them to go.


1. Parabens

Parabens are preservatives that are commonly found in conventional skin and hair products. If a product contains water, it likely also contains parabens to prevent bacteria growth. Parabens show up in many different forms including methylparaben, isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, pentylparaben, proplyparaben, and benzylparaben.


2. Artificial Fragrance

Product manufacturers aren’t required to reveal what’s in their fragrances, so they may contain just about anything and call it a fragrance. For people with sensitivities or allergies, artificial fragrance is a huge no-no. You can’t really be sure what’s in your products if they contain artificial fragrances.


3. Petrolatum

Petrolatum is derived from petroleum (the same substance refined into fuel) and is often used in skin care as a moisturizing agent. Petroleum-based ingredients are also referred to as: petroleum jelly, paraffin oil, mineral oil, and white petrolatum. When fully refined, petroleum is thought to be safe for use in cosmetics. However, petrolatum is often not properly refined in the U.S., which means it can contain toxic chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In the European Union, the full refining history must be known for any petrolatum product used in cosmetics, and it must be proven to be non-carcinogenic. Those requirements don’t exist in the U.S. currently.


4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate


SLS may strip skin of natural oils. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a type of surfactant commonly used in cleaning and beauty products. Surfactants are chemicals that lower the surface tension between liquids so that ingredients stay mixed together. They can also act as foaming agents.


Research suggests it can be a skin irritant, especially if left on the skin for an extended period of time. It can strip the skin of its natural oils, which causes dryness, redness and irritation. Sensitive skins need to stay away from SLS products. SLS sometimes comes from plant sources like vegetables or palm kernel oil; but it can also be made from petroleum oil. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is a milder surfactant but can still cause irritation. If you’re concerned about SLS and SLES, look for products made with sodium coco sulfate (SCS), a gentler alternative made from coconut. 5. Phthalates

Phthalates possibly disrupt the body’s natural balance. They are chemicals used to make plastic more flexible and used as solvents in cosmetics.Look for names like diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-butyl phthalate (DBP), and di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). They’re also sometimes found in fragrances, giving another reason to avoid products with artificial fragrances.


6. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is possibly linked to neurotoxicity and developmental issues. Another possible carcinogen, formaldehyde is used to extend the shelf life of cosmetic products. According to data from the FDA, nearly 1 in 5 cosmetic products contain a substance that releases formaldehyde. It’s a skin irritant and has been linked to other health problems. Formaldehyde isn’t listed on skincare ingredients labels because manufacturers use “preservative systems” — chemicals that release formaldehyde as they dissolve over time. Look for these clues and avoid them: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and hydroxymethylglycinate.

7. Triclosan

An antibacterial agent intended to prevent bacterial contamination, the FDA banned the use of triclosan in soaps and body washes in 2016, but it is still allowed in cosmetics and skincare products.


8. BHA and BHT

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are closely related synthetic antioxidants that are used as preservatives in some cosmetics as well as some foods. The FDA considers both to be safe. The European Union classifies BHA as potentially harmful. They are often used together; avoid products that contain one or both.

9. Chemical vs Mineral Sunscreen

Chemical or Mineral Sunscreen: which is better? The Environmental Working Group published a report explaining the problem with ingredients in some sunscreens. Therefore, we suggest looking for a mineral sunscreen instead of a chemical sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens contain Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide (like our Raw Elements sunscreen which is reef-safe).


10. Diethanolamine

Diethanolamine is a foaming agent commonly used in body washes, shampoo, and bubble bath. It’s abbreviated as DEA. Studies have shown that exposure to DEA can burn skin, and impaired vision if it comes in contact with the eyes. The EU has restricted its use in personal care products, but is allowed in the United States.


Make it a practice to read product ingredient labels before you purchase. If an ingredient sounds like an unsafe chemical or has an alphabet soup name so long you can’t pronounce it, move on. There are so many results oriented, clean products out there – like ours!


Visit The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, which rates personal care products based on the ingredients.




NOTE: Studies are still ongoing for many of these chemicals and are not yet conclusive. We suggest avoiding them until we learn more.

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The Euro Institute of Skin Care

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Skin Sense: Your No-Nonsense, No Hype Guide to Healthy, Happy Skin!