10 Toxic Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid

Skin Care + Beauty

Since most skin care products found in your local drugstore or grocery store contain toxic ingredients, in this blog post in our series on skin health I want to share the top 10 toxic skin care ingredients to avoid when making a purchase. This list isn’t exhaustive, but these are the biggest and most common offenders.

Remember, skin is your largest organ, so if you want healthy skin, you have to pay just as much attention to what you put in your body as what you put on your body.

Skincare products include everything from facial cleansers, body wash, shampoo and conditioner to lotions, deodorant, and makeup. Anything that you use to clean and maintain healthy skin is included in this category. Unfortunately, conventional skincare products are full of chemicals that are best avoided as they can be absorbed into your skin and negatively affect your overall health, causing hormone imbalances, infertility, and cancer.

Here is a list of ingredients you want to avoid when choosing skin care products:


Parabens are widely used as preservatives in skin care products since they prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. They also disrupt hormone production, an effect that has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer development (1). Avoid products that list any of the following on the ingredient label: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and isobutylparaben.

Synthetic colors

These are typically derived from petroleum or coal tar and have been linked to hyperactivity in children and are a suspected to be carcinogenic (2, 3, 4). While the European Union has banned their use, they are still present in many American beauty products and can be identified on a label with the letters FD&C or D&C followed by a color and a number. For example, FD&C Red 40.


In order to protect proprietary blends, the fragrances used in skincare products are often unspecified, which means you could be putting any number of harmful chemicals in and on your body on a daily basis. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) the chemicals used in fragrance mixtures have been associated with respiratory distress, dermatitis, and allergies (5).

For healthy skin, it’s best to choose unscented products or those containing natural fragrances.


Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer and birth defects (6, 7). The most common phthalates found in skincare products and cosmetics are dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, and dimethyl phthalate. This list isn’t exhaustive, however, since phthalates are often included in “fragrance” and may not be listed on the ingredient label.


Often found in deodorants, soaps, and toothpaste, triclosan is an antimicrobial chemical. It is also an endocrine disruptor known to negatively affect thyroid function and weaken the immune system (8, 9).

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

SLS is a common ingredient in shampoos and soaps since it traps oil from the hair and skin, making it easier to rinse away with water. It’s also a foaming agent, providing the rich lather that most of us have come to expect when we wash our hair. According to the Environmental Working Group, SLS/SLES is a toxin that has been linked to brain and organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption (10).


A study conducted in 2010 found that at least ⅕ of all cosmetics contain formaldehyde, a preservative that helps to prevent the growth of bacteria (11). Unfortunately, the U.S. government and World Health Organization have classified formaldehyde as carcinogenic when its fumes are inhaled. It is also a potent skin sensitizer and known allergen (12).


Toluene is often found in nail polish and hair dyes as it is a potent solvent able to thin and dissolve paint. Exposure to toluene vapors can cause mild headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea. It can also be irritating to the skin, eyes, and lungs (13).

Propylene glycol

This organic alcohol is most commonly used as a skin conditioning agent. It has been classified as a skin irritant, associated with causing dermatitis and hives and is often found in sunscreens, makeup, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, and hairsprays (14).

Sunscreen Chemicals

Benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate, and methoxycinnamate are ingredients added to sunscreen to absorb ultraviolet light. These chemicals, like many of the others listed, can disrupt endocrine function and increase the risk of developing cancer (15).

You can’t avoid all toxins, but a general rule of thumb when choosing skin care products is to follow the same rules that you follow when choosing healthy foods – look for clean beauty products with unprocessed ingredients, free of toxic chemicals and artificial ingredients.

The more natural your skincare products are the better! Speaking of natural skincare products, be sure to check out my next post, where I highlight a bunch of my favorite brands.


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