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15 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products

Who doesn’t want healthy, youthful-looking skin, am I right?  As we seek radiant skin, we may unknowingly welcome silent toxins into our daily routines.  But don’t worry–I’ve got you! 

We’re about to uncover the 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products. It’s a wake-up call for anyone who cares about their skin AND their health.

I started making progress in my healing journey when I uncovered the harmful chemicals within my products. This involved my skincare, cosmetics, body care, hair care, and cleaning products.

 Finding a non toxic skincare routine is an essential step on the road to recovery (and to glowing skin!).

Beauty should empower, not compromise!  

Let’s ditch the toxic ingredients that may be sabotaging your healthy skin and wellness!

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My story

I first learned about sneaky ingredients and toxic skincare in the Spring of 2017.  

That’s when I had to have a hysterectomy due to a serious precancerous condition.  It’s when my oncologist told me environmental factors caused my condition.

It was then that I decided I needed to take some serious action to learn how to clean up the toxins in my home.  I started researching and the information I uncovered shocked me.  

I’ll share some of what I learned before I break down the 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products. 

If you’d prefer to skip around, you can use the table of contents to navigate.  Or click here to go right to the 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products.

The Personal Care Industry Is Barely Regulated in the US

lotion bottles, skincare products, mirror, cosmetics
Watch out for these 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products.

Did you know that the personal care industry in the United States is barely regulated?  

It’s true.  

The laws regulating our personal care products haven’t changed much since 1938.  

I always used to believe that there were laws that had our back when it came to overseeing the products on our store shelves.

I thought if they were for sale, they must have gone through some serious testing and health checks.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  

According to the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC):

  • There are more than 80,000 chemicals in commerce in the US.  
  • Most of those chemicals have had no testing for toxicity or safety by any government agency.   
  • Approximately 2,000 new chemicals enter into commerce each year.  
  • That’s about 7 new chemicals a day. 

Yet our personal care industry is largely governed by the same laws as it was in 1938.

That’s a frightening thought, isn’t it?  

This truly shocked me when I first learned it.  Does it surprise you, too?  

If so, consider checking out my article about debunking non-toxic living myths

The US Is Far Behind in Protecting Consumers

According to a 2021 analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG):

“Over 80 nations have stricter cosmetic safety rules than the U.S.”

The European Union (EU) has banned or limited over 1,600 chemicals in personal care products. 

Compare that to the United States. To date, the US FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals.

So in the US, we are slathering the same 1,600 ingredients on our skin that aren’t fit for human health in Europe.  Yet somehow these ingredients are OK for us? 

Sorry, that’s not okay with me.  

That’s one reason I’m on a mission to share about this.  And to find and share safer alternatives for your non-toxic skincare routine.

This Idea of “A Little Won’t Hurt You”

woman hugging cosmetics bag filled with creams and skincare products
Check your beauty bag for the 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products.

Then there is the idea that some of the allowed chemicals are “safe” at the levels allowed in the products.  This is a hard one for me to swallow. 

Toxins build up in our systems.  It’s called your toxic load or toxic burden, and it causes health issues.

Maybe I could buy this idea of “a little won’t hurt you” if we lived in a non-toxic, harmful-chemical-free bubble.  

But honestly, we all know we don’t.  Toxic chemicals surround us.  

Think about it this way.  

If the level of a certain chemical is “safe” in your moisturizer, mayyyybe that’s all well and good.  

But what if that chemical is ALSO in your toothpaste? And your body wash?  And your deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, and cosmetics? 

I’m sure you can see that you will be well beyond the “safe” level at that point. 

This is why carefully choosing the products you put ON your skin (and IN your body and air) is so important.

We can’t control everything, but we CAN control what we put on our skin.

~Tina, shewelcomeswellness.com

15 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products

15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products list


If you’d like to start a non-toxic skincare routine, this list of skincare ingredients is the place to start!  These are some of the most concerning synthetic ingredients in skincare.

Look at the ingredient labels on your products to see if they contain any of these ingredients. Don’t be fooled by greenwashing terms like Clean, Organic, Safe, Natural, or Green.

1,4-Dioxane

Although you won’t find 1,4-dioxane listed on any ingredient list, it is one you do want to avoid. 

It’s not listed as an ingredient because it’s not intentionally added to the product. It’s a contaminant produced through a process that makes other chemicals less harsh.   

California added 1,4-dioxane to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer (way back in 1988).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) lists 1,4-dioxane as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1,4-dioxane is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

Remember, you won’t see 1,4-dioxane listed on the label.  To avoid it, look for the following ingredients that are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.

  • PEG compounds
    • Polyethylene
    • Polyethylene glycol
    • Polyoxyethylene
    • Polyoxynolethylene
  • Ingredients that end in -eth
    • -oleth,
    • -ceteareth
    • -laureth
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Benzalkonium Chlorides (BAK)

Benzalkonium chloride is one of many ingredients in a class called “quats,” or quaternary ammonium compounds.  These ingredients can be used as antiseptics, preservatives, or surfactants.

Benzalkonium chlorides have been associated with severe skin and eye irritation and allergies.  They can cause irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis.  They’re also associated with respiratory irritation and allergies.

According to EWG, this ingredient is a sensitizer. And it is “especially dangerous for people with asthma or skin conditions such as eczema.

Butylated Compounds: Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and  Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are synthetic antioxidants and preservatives.  

Companies often use synthetic antioxidants to prolong the shelf life of products.  

These are on the list of “15 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products” due to health concerns.  

BHA has hormone-disrupting properties.  It is also classified as a possible human carcinogen. 

BHT is a toluene-based ingredient. It’s associated with reproductive toxicity, respiratory irritation, and environmental health hazards.

Ethanolamines (MEA/DEA/TEA)

Manufacturers add ethanolamines to skincare, personal care, and other products for various reasons.  For example, they may be used as emulsifiers, surfactants, or pH adjusters  

Common names are monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA), and triethanolamine (TEA).

Health concerns include skin irritation, skin allergies, respiratory irritation, organ toxicity, and cancer.  

MEA and DEA have links to asthma.

The EU restricts the amount of MEA allowed in cosmetics and personal care products. 

The EU also bans DEA in cosmetics and personal care products. When DEA compounds react with nitrite in cosmetics they produce nitrosamines. And nitrosamines are carcinogenic. 

Unfortunately, there are no such regulations around these chemicals in the US.

Additionally, there is concern about the bioaccumulation of these chemicals in our bodies. 

Food for thought:  EWG rates diethanolamine (DEA) as a 10.  

That’s the worst possible rating a chemical can have.  

Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

Out of all the chemicals listed, formaldehyde is likely the one most of us recognize as being dangerous.  I had always associated formaldehyde with embalming fluid.  

I have no idea how I knew that, though.  Maybe it was all those episodes of CSI and Quincy I used to binge-watch?  Anyone else?

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, “Laboratory studies suggest that formaldehyde in cosmetics can also be absorbed through the skin.”

Formaldehyde is a human carcinogen.  It is also linked to endocrine disruption and immune conditions.  And it can cause skin and eye irritation and allergic reactions, even in small amounts. 

Formaldehyde was the American Contact Dermatitis Society’s 2015 Allergen of the Year.

Fragrance

“Fragrance” can contain any combination of almost 4,000 chemicals.  These chemicals include hormone disruptors and allergens.  

Manufacturers use the term “fragrance” to hide the actual ingredients used.

Many people believe that fragrance is only found in cologne or perfume.  However, that’s not correct.  Fragrance can be hiding just about everywhere.  Including your skincare products.

Fragrance was the American Contact Dermatitis Society’s 2007 Allergen of the Year.

 My biggest piece of advice is to avoid fragrance at all costs!  

Learn more about the dangers of fragrance in my article:  Hidden Fragrance Ingredients.  It’s the Ultimate Guide to finding and avoiding fragrance!

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)

Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone are preservatives.  They’re used as substitutes for parabens and triclosan.

Abbreviations used for methylisothiazolinone are MIT or MI.  Abbreviations used for methylchloroisothiazolinone are CMIT or MCI.

I’m using MIT and CMIT as abbreviations in this article, as they were more common in my research.

MIT and CMIT are on the list of 15 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products due to several concerns. 

MIT and CMIT are skin irritants and skin sensitizers.  They can cause contact skin allergies.  

Remember when I mentioned that they are paraben substitutes?  

Well, MIT and CMIT are often found in products that claim to be “paraben-free” or “natural.” Yet these chemicals are dangerous in their own right. 

 How’s that for tricky marketing tactics?

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) was the American Contact Dermatitis Society’s 2013 Allergen of the Year.

Oxybenzone (Benzophenone)

mother applying sunscreen with SPF to child at beach
Oxybenzone is often found in sunscreen and SPF products.

Oxybenzone is a derivative of benzophenone. It also goes by the names BP3 and benzophenone-3.  It’s a synthetic, chemical UV (ultraviolet) light filter.

Oxybenzone is an ingredient you’ll find in many sunscreens.  It is also found in skincare products that have sunscreen properties (SPF).  

Oxybenxone, and benzophenones in general, are associated with:

Additionally, benzophenone is persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT).

Benzophenones were the American Contact Dermatitis Society’s 2014 Allergen of the Year.

For these reasons, oxybenzone made it to the list of 15 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products!

Parabens

15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products 15
Parabens are one of the 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products.

Parabens are synthetic preservatives that are used in various skincare products.  They are a type of xenoestrogen. 

In short, xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen’s effects on our bodies.  You can read more about xenoestrogens in my article about removing household toxins.

Parabens are endocrine disruptors.  That means they disrupt your hormone balance, which can cause many problems.  

Other concerns with paraben use include:

  • Breast cancer
  • birth defects
  • cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • obesity

Parabens are in many personal care products, including skincare products.  

To avoid parabens, look for variations of the word “paraben” on the label. For example, methylparaben, isobutylparaben, or propylparaben.

Also, avoid products with “fragrance” as an ingredient.  

If parabens are in a fragrance formulation, they don’t have to be on the ingredient list.  Manufacturers can even call that product “paraben-free!”

PEG Compounds (Polyethylene Glycol Compounds)

PEG compounds (PEGs) are used in many personal care products, including skincare products and sunscreens.  

PEGs are readily absorbed by the skin.  They also make it easier for other substances to pass through the skin.   That’s crucial to consider when it’s an ingredient in your skincare products!

Depending on the manufacturing process utilized, PEGs may become contaminated.  Two of the contaminants of concern are ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.  

Ethylene oxide is known to be a human carcinogen.  I discussed the cancer-causing concerns about 1,4-dioxane above.

Petrolatum and Petroleum Jelly 

scientist formulating skincare products, graduated cylinder, beaker with chemicals, personal care bottles, cotton swabs
Petrolatum, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil are on the list due to health and environmental concerns.

Petrolatum is a byproduct of petroleum refining.  If refined properly and fully, there aren’t “known health risks.”  

However, in the United States, petroleum is often not fully refined.  This can lead to contamination with impurities like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

PAHs are persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment.  They are also “known” or “probable carcinogens.”  

A 2002 study of women on Long Island, NY found:  

“An ∼50% increase in breast cancer risk…in relation to PAH-DNA adducts, which are indicative of recent DNA damage.”

This especially hits home, because I live on Long Island.

Additionally, there are environmental concerns with petrolatum, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil themselves.  

They’re toxic to aquatic life.  They’re also persistent in the environment, meaning they don’t break down easily over time.  

Phthalates

“Numerous studies have found links between personal care product use and concentrations of phthalate metabolites in urine. And phthalates are transferred from mother to fetus during pregnancy.

Russ Hauser, Frederick Lee Hisaw Professor of Reproductive Physiology

Phthalates are also xenoestrogens. They help make plastics more pliable and less breakable.  

Phthalates are also used as a solvent in cosmetics and personal care products.  Including skincare products.

There are many reasons to avoid phthalates.

  • endocrine disruption
  • damage to the cardiovascular system
  • damage to the liver
  • increased risk for cancer
  • associated with diabetes and obesity
  • affect birth outcomes and increase birth defects
  • increased risk for attentional, learning, and behavioral disorders.

To avoid them, look for DBP, DEHP, and DEP on the labels.

And of course, avoid the ingredient “fragrance.”  That’s because phthalates can be hiding in the ingredients that are used to make the fragrance. Even if the product claims to be “phthalate-free.”

Eliminating phthalates and parabens from personal care products is crucial.  

A 2023 study showed how important it can be to remove these xenoestrogens.  They found that doing so “reverses accumulation of cancer-associated phenotypes within disease-free breast tissue of study subjects.” 

Retinyl Palmitate and Retinoic Acid

Retinol palmitate and retinoic acid are derived from Vitamin A.  But they don’t have the positive effects we usually associate with Vitamin A.

These ingredients have the potential to cause mutations in the presence of sunlight. These ingredients may increase the risk of skin cancer when combined with sunlight.

Other concerns include developmental and reproductive toxicity, especially in pregnant women.  

Some names to avoid on ingredient labels:

  • Retinyl palmitate,
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin A palmitate
  • Retinoic acid

Many skin care products include these ingredients. Think moisturizers, BB creams, anti-aging skincare products, and those with sunscreen (SPF).

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS & SLES)

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are surfactants. They can cause skin irritation or skin allergies. 

In addition, (SLES) is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane during processing. 1,4-dioxane is the first of the 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products. I discussed it above.  In case you missed it, it’s a probable human carcinogen.

Triclosan and Triclocarban

Triclosan and triclocarban are synthetic antimicrobial agents. They’re added to many products, including those used to care for your skin.  

There are health and environmental concerns with these ingredients. Triclosan and triclocarban are readily absorbed by our skin. They’re linked to the following:

  • endocrine disruption
  • resistant bacteria
  • breast cancer
  • bioaccumulation
  • aquatic toxicity

According to the Public Health page of the European Union:

“Using triclosan in products that are intended to be left on the consumer and not rinsed off such as body lotions or mouthwashes is not safe.”

TL;DR

Some ingredients allowed in our skincare and personal care products are concerning for health and environmental reasons.  These are some of the most concerning synthetic ingredients in skincare.

Finding a non toxic skincare routine is an essential step on the road to recovery (and to glowing skin!).

If you’d like to begin your non-toxic skincare routine, this list of skincare ingredients is the place to start! 

These are some of the most concerning synthetic ingredients in skincare products.

15 Toxic Ingredients You DON’T Want in Your Skincare Products

shocked woman looking through magnifying glass
Carefully choosing the products you put ON your skin is so important.
  1. 1,4-Dioxane
  2. Benzalkonium Chlorides
  3. BHA/BHT
  4. MEA, DEA, and TEA
  5. Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives
  6. Fragrance
  7. MIT and CMIT
  8. Oxybenzone /Benzophenone
  9. Parabens
  10. PEG Compounds
  11. Petrolatum and Petroleum Jelly
  12. Phthalates
  13. Retinyl Palmitate and Retinoic Acid
  14. SLS and SLES
  15. Triclosan and Triclocarban

Need help getting started with your non-toxic skincare routine? I’m here for you! Grab my free guide below.

Clean Beauty for Age-Defying Skin: Elevate Your Glow

  • Get Clear on Clean Beauty
  • Simple Steps to Choosing Safer Products
  • Self-Assess Your Skincare Habits
  • Holistic tips to elevate your beauty routine
  • Love Your Mature Skin Again

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Hi, I'm Tina!

A precancer diagnosis, the resulting surgery, and autoimmune diseases sparked my journey to a toxin-free life.

Through countless hours of research and trial and error, I learned about toxins, clean beauty, and the power of small consistent choices.

Now, I’m here to guide you on your path to wellness and clean beauty.

LET’S REWRITE YOUR STORY TOGETHER! LET’S CHAT and see how we can work together to move you forward.

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