Ingredients to Avoid in Skin Care Products

A little over two years ago, I started to really pay attention to the ingredients in the skin care products I used every day. The skin is our body’s largest organ, and some of what we put on top of the outer layer is ultimately absorbed into our bodily systems. Skin care products are things we use on a regular basis, so it’s important to take into account the ingredients they contain.

A question I often ask of those looking to start their non-toxic skin care and makeup journey is “What ingredients should I avoid?” Being aware of what gets into the skin can help you avoid skin irritation as well as potential health issues that can result from toxic chemicals and harmful ingredients in skin care and cosmetics. While I probably could have extended this list even more, I decided to focus on the main ones I’m looking for (Follain Restricted Ingredient List is also a great resource). Here are some of the ingredients to avoid in skin care products.

Ingredients to Avoid in Skin Care Products

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

This ingredient is commonly referred to as a surfactant. It allows the oil and water molecules of many skin care and cosmetic products, such as soap or facial cleanser, to bind all other compounds together. It is mostly found in foaming products, so be careful when purchasing shampoo, facial cleansing foam, or foaming liquid soap.

This ingredient harms the skin because it weakens the defense mechanism of the outer layer of the dermis. It has an irritating effect on the skin and can cause red patches, itching or dry patches. This study shows that 3 and a half out of 7 people suffered from skin irritation when exposed to this compound.


Known as one of the major endocrine disruptors, this synthetic antimicrobial agent mimics and interferes with hormones in the body (endocrine system). You can find it in soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, body wash, and many facial cleansers. It was even banned from antibacterial soap by the FDA in 2016.

Triclosan can inflame your colon, cause thyroid problems, and has been linked to epidemiological studies. It’s best to avoid this endocrine disruptor and be wary of compounds found in your personal care products.


This ingredient is widely found in sunscreens and deodorants and has been linked to a variety of health concerns. It is a toxic metal compound that works as an endocrine disruptor. It is known to interfere with the well-being of the central and peripheral nervous system.

Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, hormonal disturbances, brain disorders, oxidative skin damage, and neurotoxicity are the health concerns most associated with this ingredient. This study details some of these effects in more detail.


A glycol commonly found in products listed with “fragrance”. Potential health problems from exposure include reduced fertility, low birth weight, and skin irritation.

Coal tar tincture, known as P-phenylenediamine

This compound is actually a mixture of many other chemicals derived from petroleum. The main concern with this ingredient is its potential to cause cancer. It can also be contaminated with moderate levels of heavy metals. Which means it could have a toxic effect on the brain like aluminum does.

They are often found in lipsticks, hair dyes, and anti-aging or moisturizing tinted creams. This study actually linked to skin irritation in addition to other health risks.


Formaldehyde is a clear and effectively flammable gas. Manufacturers use it in anti-aging cream, moisturizer, toner, nail polish, and eyelash glue. It is used as a preservative for other compounds, but its side effects on your skin are not worth the later expiration date.

Its effects include watery eyes, difficulty in breathing, skin irritation, and a burning sensation in the nose if inhaled. The International Agency for Research on Cancer actually classified it as a human carcinogen. It has also been linked to developmental toxicity, asthma and a potential trigger for allergies. Find out more here on this coin from the American Cancer Society.


Another of the many endocrine disruptors is phthalates. This compound can be found in things like synthetic perfumes and hair spray. Potential side effects from exposure to this aggressive ingredient include breast cancer and birth defects in both men and women. This study goes in depth on the effects.

It is difficult to spot this compound in many personal care and cosmetic products due to the way it is often hidden inside the “perfume” label. Perfume ingredients do not need to be individually listed on cosmetic labels, as they are considered “trade secrets”. It’s a way for companies to hide potentially harmful ingredients in their products. Your best bet to avoid it is to ask your favorite brands about it and stick with cosmetic companies you trust when shopping for new skin care products.

Polyethylene glycols (also known as PEG)

Manufacturers of skin care products use polyethylene glycols as softeners, thickeners, moisturizers, skin penetration enhancers, and are also surfactants. Its raw materials used to develop these polyethylene glycol compounds can often be derived from gas or charcoal, making it a danger to your skin and body. They usually appear as PEG on labels. PEGs can be found in everything from hair products to foundations.

Producers use ethylene oxide in PEG, which regularly risks cross-contamination. These unintentionally added ingredients are linked to several types of cancer. Check out the link for more on this topic.

Mineral oil

The word “mineral” may make it sound good, but mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum distillation. This is because the same petroleum that your car uses as its main fuel. You’ll find it in creams, lotions, face masks, and other skin care products.

This ingredient coats your skin, thereby clogging the pores and preventing your skin from breathing. This clogging increases your chances of suffering from acne and other disorders related to the dermis. Read more about it in this study.


Parabens are primarily used as a preservative to prevent a product from spoiling however there are studies that show that parabens are a hormone disruptor. They have been linked to reproductive problems and an increased risk of breast cancer. They can be found in everything from makeup to moisturizers, but many brands have found effective alternatives to parabens to prevent microbial growth or preservative-free products that have a shorter shelf life than something with parabens.

Have you noticed any of these ingredients in your everyday skincare or makeup products?

Hope this list has helped you recognize some potentially harmful and toxic ingredients in skin care and beauty products. It can be overwhelming to constantly try to read ingredient lists for every new skin care product. I like to shop at brands and stores where I know the standards for product ingredients like Follain, labeled products Cleaning at Sephora, and Creed Beauty to name a few.

What’s exciting is that there are tons of amazing beauty and skin care brands out there (I realize that the word ‘clean’ doesn’t have a standard definition in the industry either. industry, which also creates confusion). I’ve discovered so many amazing brands over the past few years, from hair care to skin care and makeup (and I’ve shared a lot here!). Here are a few blog posts that might interest you (and some of my favorite clean skincare products right now).

My favorite natural deodorants

Two amazing products for dry skin and fine lines

My top 5 Holy Grail products from Sephora

9 own beauty brands owned by blacks

My Favorite Clean Hair Care Products

My Current Clean Beauty Skin Care Routine

Disclosure: If you buy something through my links, I can earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for your support for this blog.

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