Top Skincare Ingredients to Avoid at All Costs

Toxic skincare ingredients can be hiding in a lot of products, even ones that are labeled organic. So we called in skincare pros to help you identify these 10 harmful ingredients and avoid them at all costs!

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen that’s found in lots of preservatives including DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol). It’s also known to be an irritant for skin, eyes, and lungs.


Parabens are a popular preservative used in beauty products to prevent bacteria and mold from growing. The problem is that these chemicals are also endocrine disruptors, which means they can mimic our natural hormones and even cause changes to our DNA. This is why parabens are so hotly debated by everyone from skincare professionals to “clean” beauty advocates.

While parabens haven’t been proven to cause cancer, some researchers believe that long-term exposure is a risk. Plus, they can be irritating for sensitive skin.

You can find parabens in nearly all water-based skincare and hair care products, including sunscreen (check out my favorite reef-safe one), shaving cream, foundation, body wash and lip balm. To avoid them, look for the words “paraben-free” on the label or check the Environmental Working Group’s free online Skin Deep database for verified paraben-free products.

Many companies use natural preservatives like jojoba, grapeseed and Vitamin C instead of parabens, but these aren’t as effective at keeping microbes at bay. So, it’s essential to stick with a good skincare routine that includes patch testing and paying attention to the times of year or life stages when your skin is more reactive.

Sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates (SLS) are also a big no-no for sensitive skin, because they can strip your natural moisture barrier, leading to redness and inflammation. They’re also a major environmental pollutant and a likely carcinogen. If you’re unsure of what to replace them with, try switching to castile soap for washing your face and body. You can even make your own nourishing homemade SLS replacement with coconut oil, baking soda and apple cider vinegar.


Our skin is exposed to harmful environmental pollutants every day, so the last thing we want to do is put more toxic chemicals on our bodies via beauty products. Luckily, many skincare items are regulated by the FDA and can be avoided. But navigating the seven-syllable words on an ingredient label is not always easy. “There are over 12,500 ingredients used in cosmetics in our country, and the FDA has only screened less than 10%,” says Yashi Shrestha, research scientist and green cosmetic chemist. This means that there are potentially harmful ingredients lurking in your favorite lotion, cleanser, and makeup.

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas that can be found in skincare products as an antimicrobial preservative to prevent bacterial growth. But it’s also a known carcinogen and an irritant to the eyes, nose, and throat. It can also disrupt our hormone systems, which is why it’s so important to avoid it as much as possible.

Luckily, there are plenty of natural alternatives to this chemical. For example, vitamin E and rosemary extract can be used as preservatives that keep products fresh and stable. Also, oils like neem oil, jojoba oil, and essential oils have naturally antimicrobial properties that keep products from going rancid. To know the biggest beauty trends that do not harm your skin, visit oversixty nz!

Another big thing to look out for is formaldehyde releasers, which are similar in function to preservatives but often release formaldehyde into the air as they break down. Some of these include quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (bronopol). They can be released from hair products, nail polish remover, eyelash glue, and more. They’re also endocrine disruptors that can cause acne and other problems.


Phthalates are a group of plasticizing chemicals that make products like toys, vinyl flooring and shower curtains more flexible. They also help the perfumed fragrances in skincare and hair care products stick to your skin and body. They can be found in hundreds of products, from nail polish to shampoo. Like parabens, this family of man-made chemicals are known endocrine disruptors and linked to a number of health problems including birth defects, cancer, reproductive toxicity and more.

They’re also found in products that come into contact with your skin, such as perfumed lotions and deodorants. Even worse, a recent study linked high levels of phthalates to early deaths in American adults.

The FDA monitors the use of phthalates in food packaging and some other products, while the EPA regulates certain phthalates under its clean air and water powers. But despite this, there’s no law requiring manufacturers to test skincare and cosmetics products for phthalates before they hit the shelves.

And while many brands have been eliminating phthalates from their products, you may still be exposed to them because there is a loophole in product listing requirements that allows phthalates (especially dibutyl phthalate, methyl butyl phthalate and diethyl phthalate) to hide under the names of fragrance ingredients like parfum. Also look for quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (Bronopol) as preservatives that are also phthalates.

As such, it’s important to read labels, choose unscented products and avoid synthetic fragrances. You can also help reduce your phthalate exposure by eating fresh, unprocessed foods and not heating meals in plastic containers. Until governments and beauty companies take action to eliminate them, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid products with phthalates altogether.


You don’t want to be putting petroleum products on your skin, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in many skincare items. Despite the fact that we use oil for everything from cooking to lubrication, it’s actually not good for your body. For one thing, it can clog pores and prevent your skin from getting the nutrients and oxygen it needs to function properly.

Petroleum also acts as a barrier, blocking toxins from leaving your body. So it’s not surprising to learn that it can also cause acne, rashes, and a variety of other health problems. It’s important to avoid petroleum, but there are some other harmful chemicals that can be found in skincare products that you should also keep an eye out for.

One of these ingredients is carbon black, which is often used as a coloring agent and to add texture to beauty products. However, it’s often contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and 1,4 dioxane, both of which are petroleum-derived contaminants that have been linked to cancer. You can look out for these contaminants in hair care, facial cleanser, soap, lip balm, and makeup.

Another ingredient to avoid is SLS, which is a foaming agent that’s commonly used in shampoos and other bath and body products. This chemical is banned in Europe, but it’s still common in the US. It has been linked to allergic reactions, dryness, and hormone disruptions.

Swap these ingredients for natural alternatives such as shea butter, cocoa butter, jojoba oil, and other nourishing oils and you’ll notice the difference in your skin in no time. Plus, you’ll be helping to protect the environment and support sustainable farming. You’ll also be giving your body the best chance to thrive, not just look great.


As a beauty blogger, I’ve seen all the marketing ploys out there, from “free of” claims to “dermatologist-tested” to claims like a product being “clinically proven to smooth wrinkles” (when in reality it was just puffing up your skin in a lab). It can be hard to tell what’s true when reading skincare ingredients lists, but it’s important to remember that what goes on your skin will go into your body. That’s why it’s so important to check ingredients and avoid these harmful chemicals.

Sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) and its relatives are chemical detergents that strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness, inflammation, acne and itching. They also have the potential to react with other ingredients in products to create nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. Benzalkonium chloride is another harsh detergent, which can cause skin and eye irritation as well as allergic reactions and disrupt the natural balance of bacteria on the skin.

Lead is another ingredient that should be avoided. It’s especially dangerous for pregnant women and children because it can cross the placenta to the baby, leading to brain damage and behavioral issues. It’s also dangerous to use in cosmetic lip products, which is why both the European Union and Canada have banned its usage.

Heavy metals like aluminium and mercury are added to makeup and skincare products as pigmentation agents and dyes. They have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including cancer, rashes, hormonal disruption, and even fertility issues. In addition, they can cause a variety of environmental harms. Moreover, they are absorbed by the body through the skin and are a significant risk factor for developing endocrine-related diseases.