10 Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid (Plus the Products You Should Use Instead)

My friend Danielle and I were recently talking about clean beauty products and laughed that 10+ years ago the only option was to shop at Whole Foods where there were not many options. Clean beauty beauty has come a long way and there are so many brands and products that I think are best in class. While not everyone is ready to make the clean beauty switch, it’s important to educate yourself on all of the ingredients that are in many of the products you put on your skin and face. These are the 10 toxic skincare ingredients to avoid in your skincare, beauty and haircare.

Our skin is our largest organ which is why this list is so important. My goal is NOT to freak you out about your routine or favorite products. Instead, I want this to be informative so you can make informed decisions about the products you buy and use. You don’t need to dump out your entire vanity today; instead, research products and start integrating better-for-you products as you’re looking to restock your beauty closet.

10 Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid

These are the 10 toxic skincare ingredients to avoid, plus my recommendations for products to help you make the switch to cleaner ingredients and better products.

1. Parabens

Parabens are a whole family of chemicals that help preserve shelf-life of products and is one of the most commonly found toxins in beauty products. Parabens can mimic estrogen in the body disrupting our delicate hormonal balance. They’ve been linked to breast cancer and since they act as hormone disruptor, they can lead to reproductive and fertility issues. Given my strong family history of breast cancer this is an ingredient that I immediately cleaned out of my beauty and skincare drawer.

Parabens can appear in different forms, so here’s what you want to look out for:

  • benzylparaben
  • butylparaben
  • propylparaben
  • methylparaben
  • ethylparaben
  • isobutylparaben

Found in: shampoo, body wash, face cleanser, body lotion, makeup, hair care products

Make the switch: Playa Shampoo, Playa Conditioner, Beauty Counter Body Balm, Versed Face Wash , Necessaire Body Lotion

2. Phthalates

Not only is this type of chemical difficult to pronounce, but it’s also harsh on our body. Phthalates are often used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics in cosmetics essentially allowing the product to stick to your skin. They have been found to act as a hormone disruptor linked to reproductive defects, insulin resistance and developmental problems in children.

Phthalates usually aren’t listen on the label of your products, instead they are found in anything that lists “fragrance” as an ingredient. Opt for products that are unscented or scented with essentials oils instead.

Found in: deodorant, lotion, fragrance & hair spray

Make the switch: Primally Pure Deodorant, Heretic Dirty Fig, Eminence Body Lotion

3. Fragrance

Fragrance doesn’t sound scary as other toxins, but it’s just as toxic. Companies don’t have to disclose what ingredients are inside their fragrance, so a lot of chemicals are hidden under “fragrance”. Fragrance as well as the ingredients hidden in it contain chemicals that can cause allergies, hormone disruption, reproductive issues and infertility.

Found in: moisturizers, hand creams and hair products

Make the switch: Olaplex No. 7 Bonding OilEltaMD Hand Lotion, Briogeo Deep Conditioning Hair Mask

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and/or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

SLS and SLES can be found in more than 90% of personal care and cleaning products and are known to cause skin, eye and lung irritation and trigger different allergies. Another major concern about SLS is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen, which can lead to kidney and respiratory damage.

A major concern about SLS is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen. These combinations can lead to a host of other issues like kidney and respiratory damage. They can be found in shampoo, body wash/cleanser, mascara and acne treatment.

Found in: shampoo, body wash, face cleanser, acne treatment, mascara

Make the switch: Versed Just Breath Clarifying Serum, Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser, ILIA Beauty Mascara, UpCircle Coffee Body Scrub, Playa Shampoo, GOOPGLOW Instant Glow Exfoliator

the best clean beauty products you should use

5. Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is an active ingredient many sunscreen products including those for kids, babies, face and body. This chemical has been linked to skin irritation and allergies, hormone disruption and low birth weights in baby girls.

Found in: face sunscreen, foundation, kid’s sunscreen

Make the switch: Elta MD UV Daily, Supergoop! Mattescreen Sunscreen, Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint, BeautyCounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist

Tip: check out my guide to the best clean sunscreen.

6. Lead

Lead is a heavy metal and is a neurotoxin and can cause serious behavioral and learning problems, such as lowered IQ. It’s commonly found in lipstick and lip gloss which means you likely ingest it throughout the day and as you reapply it.

Found in: lipstick, lip gloss, lip balm, Vaseline

Make the switch: Kosas Lip fuel, Kosas Lipstick, Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm

7. Formaldehyde

Yes, this is the stuff that is used in high school biology to preserve dead animals. What’s even more gross is that it’s found in cosmetics! It is a known carcinogen that is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity.

Found in: shampoo, body wash, bubble bath

Make the switch: Honest Bubble Bath, Kai Bathing Bubbles, Playa Shampoo, Playa Conditioner

8. Petroleum

This one always gets me since some high end European brands actually flaunt petroleum in their products. It contains 1,4-Dioxane, which has been listed by the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency as a probable carcinogen. It hides under many names, so get to know this list:

  • Petrolatum
  • Xylene
  • Toluene
  • Mineral oil
  • Liquid paraffin

Found in: lip balm, lipstick, foundation, moisturizer

Make the switch: Kosas Lip fuel, Ilia Foundation, RMS Uncover Up Concealer, Biossance Squalene & Probiotic Gel Moisturizer

9. Artificial dyes and synthetic colors

Whether you’re donning a shocking hot pink lipstick, a classic rouge to make those cheekbones pop, or rebellious black nail polish, if your favorite cosmetics are conventional, chances are they are just as dangerous as they are fabulous.

Many beauty products are made with synthetic colors that are made from coal tar. These harsh artificial colors have been shown in studies to be carcinogenic and are likely to cause skin sensitivity and irritation due to the heavy metals they deposit on your skin when you use them. If you see anything listed beginning with FD&C or D&C in your beauty products, then you know it’s made with artificial dyes and synthetic colors.

Found in: lipstick, blush, nail polish

Make the switch: Bite Beauty Longwear Lip Stain, Kosas Color & Light Cream Blush & Highlighter, Jin Soon Nail Polish

Tip: Check out my guide to my favorite clean lipsticks.

10. Triclosan

Triclosan is often found in antibacterial soaps, deodorants, and toothpaste. It is known to interfere with thyroid and reproductive hormones. Plus, there is growing concern among researchers that triclosan may contribute to making bacteria antibiotic-resistant.

Found in: deodorants, toothpaste, face wash

Make the switch: Primally Pure Deodorant, David’s Premium Toothpaste, Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser

As I mentioned earlier, the goal of this guide is not to scare you, but to educate you on the different chemicals so you can make more informed decisions when shopping for beauty and skincare products.

All of this information was researched using EWG’s Skin Deep Guide.

10 toxic skincare ingredients to avoid

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