10 Nasty Ingredients To Avoid In Skincare (And Why)

Harmful Ingredients That Can Be Found In Your Everyday Cosmetics

As a minimalist, I buy things with intention. That doesn’t only extend to clothes, items in the kitchen, furniture and homewares, but also what I use in the bathroom. Today, I’ll be focusing on cosmetics. Specifically, the ingredients to avoid in skincare.

It shocks me how little of an emphasis we put on the type of cosmetics we use. You can read my thoughts on this topic in  another article that I wrote.

Over a decade ago, I used to use products with harmful chemicals. Ones that would have me running in the opposite direction today.

You know the products that I’m talking about. Maybelline mascara, Pantene Pro-V shampoo, Colgate toothpaste, Nivea body lotion, The Body Shop perfumes, and the list could go on and on.

I’ve transformed my skincare, makeup and body care products to only using organic, vegan and toxic-free products.

Yes, you spend a little more on them, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how important it is to not put that toxic load onto your body. With these types of products, they are more concentrated as they don’t have any fillers, so the product does go a little longer than their toxin-laden counterparts.

When looking at ingredients to avoid in skincare, remember this one fact…

Our skin is our largest organ. It’s also very absorbent. The issue here is that most of us don’t think about our skin this way.

We also don’t process the fact that if you put something on your skin, that product gets absorbed into your bloodstream by up to 100%. There are no organs to filter out the nasty chemicals and help you excrete them. They are literally circulating in your bloodstream — scary stuff!

The other scary fact (amongst oh so many!) is that a lot of the chemicals that are used in our bathroom products have not been tested for safety. They’re not regulated at all. I’ve talked about this before, but I want to make sure that it gets repeated as many times as possible.

If they’re not tested for safety, big companies can put whatever they like in the product, and you would have no clue if it’s safe for you to use!

Out of thousands of chemicals that are allowed in our skincare, typically, depending on where you live, only around 20-25% of those chemicals have been tested for safety on the human body and the environment. Also, out of all the ones that have been tested, only 11 have ever been banned.

Conventional skincare brands are trying to market to mindful consumers

After having owned an online store that sold only the best of the best when it came to everyday essentials, I did my research, and I was shocked to see what is allowed to be sold on the shelves in the stores.

Even in the organic space, there’s a lot of what they call “greenwashing”. This means that a product claims that it is all-natural, organic etc. But when you look at the ingredients, maybe only 10% of the product is organic. There are no regulations. Well at least in Australia there isn’t.

Harmful Ingredients That Can Be Found In Your Everyday Cosmetics

I’m very passionate about this area, and everyone that knows me personally can attest to this. I want to educate people to help them make better choices every day, that can help them live a longer and happier life.

With so many issues today, and the number of toxic burdens that we put on ourselves daily, we need to give our bodies the best chance at being healthy and not overloading them with unnecessary endocrine-disrupting chemicals, obesogens (aka fat-soluble chemicals), neurotoxins, immunotoxin, developmental toxins, reproductive toxins and teratogens.

The sad thing is that more and more evidence has been surfacing to state that we start the process of pollution to our babies when they are still in the womb. With their fragile organs and undeveloped bodies, they are far more at risk to chemical toxicity than one of an adult that has much more detoxification abilities.

On that note; here are some such ingredients found in everyday skincare products, which may not be banned in all countries at the time that this post has been written. Please check all your current cosmetics for these ingredients and keep an eye out for them when you go shopping next.

1. Parabens

Parabens are a prevalent ingredient in many everyday skincare and hair care products. You’ll see them listed as Methyl, Ethyl, Propyl, Benzyl, Butyl, Isobutyl or something similar.

Parabens can cause redness and allergic reactions, particularly as they can enter the bloodstream. They can mimic estrogen, so please be mindful of this endocrine-disrupting chemical.

2. Phthalates

BPA Bisphenol-A (BPA) which is found in the lining of aluminium cans, plastic bottles, toys, and pretty much anything that is a hard plastic has gotten greater coverage in the last couple of years, and it really is about time! What you may not know is that there are other types of phthalates and they’re not listed on any labels.

Phthalates often creep into the formulas of many skincare products, particularly perfumed skincare products and deodorants.

This chemical is used to retain a perfumed scent but is widely linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues.

Just like parabens, phthalates can too mimic estrogen. A synthetic form of estrogen that can cause issues for even babies that haven’t been born yet.

3. Fragrance

If you were to take anything away from this post, it would be this. Please remove products that contain the word fragrance, parfum, or perfume. This is what is called a “cluster ingredient”, and can be anything up to 4,000 different chemicals

They never have to be disclosed due to proprietary interest or intellectual property. Who knows what fragrance concoction this contains and these added fragrance formulas are widely linked to allergic reactions and can cause aggravated skin conditions such as dermatitis as well as respiratory conditions.

Do you feel like you want to step as far away from someone that is wearing perfume? This is because our noses are so sensitive that just a few small molecules can reach our bloodstream and send signals to our brain in a second.

I know I personally can’t be in the same room as someone that is wearing perfume, it’s simply really unpleasant. I’ve also heard countless others saying that it gives them brain fog, a headache, nausea, or dizziness.

4. Triclosan

Triclosan and triclocarban are antimicrobial chemicals added to provide antibacterial properties to cleansing and skincare products as well as soaps and deodorants. Unfortunately, more often than not, it adds little antimicrobial effect and instead serves only to really irritate the skin and disturb thyroid and hormone functions.

It has now also been banned in many countries in toothpaste, deodorant, sanitisers, liquid antibacterial soaps and mouth rinse.

5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

If you spot the letters SLS or SLES among the ingredients (or their long-form names), put that product back on the shelf.

Unfortunately, this ingredient is in a lot of products, particularly anything that foams like skin cleansers, so it is hard to avoid. However, it is a powerful skin, eye and lung irritant. It is not an ingredient you want to be putting on your skin every day.

Many brands are now catching onto the fact that consumers are becoming better informed. The first thing that you’ll see now as a marketing strategy by many is to say that the product does not contain any SLS or SLES.

Even still, always check the ingredients list on the back. Never take the word of what you see on the front without seeing what you’re actually buying.

Skincare ingredients to avoid

6. Toluene

This is one nasty petrochemical you want to avoid in your skincare too. It comes from petroleum or coal tar sources, which probably says enough. It’s powerful enough to be a paint thinner, so keep it away from your skin. It will sometimes be disguised as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane or methylbenzene in the ingredients list.

This ingredient can wreak havoc on your immune system, nervous system, the reproductive system, as well as your respiratory system.

7. Formaldehyde

Skincare and cosmetics companies include formaldehydes in their formulas to prevent the growth of bacteria. While it may stop bacteria growing inside of cleansers, body washes and other vanity products, it can prove harmful to the immune system and can cause allergic skin reactions.

It is also often found on your furniture, household cleaners, floor polish, and clothing.


The key ingredients of many skin lightening and brightening creams, hydroquinone is not the hero ingredient you might think it is. Many users find their skin can get irritated and bumpy from it, while others develop contact dermatitis and sensitivity to the sun.

You’ll also find hydroquinone in anti-ageing products as well as paint, and super glue. Yes, you read that right. These products share a common ingredient.

9. Polyethylene Glycol (PEGS)

PEGs have started to get a bad reputation as of late, and it’s well deserved. An all-too-frequent feature in skincare formulas, PEGs are used to thicken skincare products. Unfortunately, they also can strip the skin of natural moisture and contribute to oily or greasy residue on the skin.

PEGs come under many different numbers as well. So you can see them as PEG number 100, 120, 12, 14M, 150, 180, 2, 20, 30, 32, 4, 40, 6, 7, 75, 8, 80 and 90M.

10. Synthetic Colours

Few people tend to question the inclusion of “synthetic colours” in skincare products, but you really should. If you see the letters F, D or C, followed by a colour or number, your skincare products contain synthetic colours.

The problem is these artificial ingredients come from petroleum or coal tar sources and are linked to several health issues. Think about it. Why would you willingly put petroleum on your body disguised as a skincare or haircare product?

Ingredients to avoid in skincare

These are just a few of the ingredients that I have come across that I recommend that you stay away from.

If you’re keen to get the most from your skincare regime, it sure pays to get to know the ingredients in your skincare products.

With so many chemicals that you can find in your bathroom, I’d imagine that the majority of them have not been tested for safety on the human body. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To arm yourself with the right tool when shopping or cleaning out your vanity, use this app.

Other articles you’ll love:

  1. 25 Vegan Beauty Brands To Support (Organic, Fair-Trade and Sustainable)
  2. What Is Vegan Leather?
  3. Mindful Consumption: A 6-Step Guide To Consuming Better
  4. The Link Between Consumerism and Toxic Chemicals
  5. 100+ Simple Tips To Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle

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12 thoughts on “10 Nasty Ingredients To Avoid In Skincare (And Why)”

  1. Jennifer Luttikhuizen

    I’m listening to your podcasts everyday for a few months now and I’m learning so much. I’m completly shocked about the chemicals that I put in my body. I was already looking at if it is vegan and without animal testing, looking for shampoos without SLS and toothpastes without Fluoride. But now I’m checking the products that I’m currently using I just can’t believe this. This world is ruled by money and disgusting leaders…. Thank you so much for waking me up! Now hopefully my boyfriend will understand when I show him because he already complains about the other things I was changing.

    1. Jennifer Luttikhuizen

      I have one question. I’ve found safe products on more natural websites from my country, but they are talking about natural perfumes. Is this still not ok?

      1. Hi Jennifer,
        Glad to hear that the information that we’re sharing has helped you on your journey to better health! It honestly depends on the product. Most of them I would stay away from but some may be fine. If you’d like a more straightforward answer, I’m happy to have a look at the product for you? Thanks, Maša

  2. I used to opt for cosmetics I could afford, and, usually, that’s the crappy stuff. I have never been into this topic at all, but now, I have even become a consultant for Europe’s fastest-growing cosmetic label because they convinced me with their effects, their ingredients, and their dedication against animal testing. However, I first needed to make a switch in my thinking and understand the high price of good quality. My body is thanking me, and I would never want to go back.

    1. Hi Annie, sorry I just saw your comment! It sounds like you had a paradigm-shifting experience. Thank you for sharing with us. I wish more people knew about the impact of these products.

  3. According to Paula’s choice its SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE that is an irritant, not SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE. The website has a really useful ingredient dictionary.

    1. Thanks for sharing that resource Astrid, I’ll check it out! From all the research that I have done, both SLES and SLS are damaging. Yes SLS is more toxic, but both should be avoided where possible.

  4. This is so helpful!! I’m trying to make the switch to a life that is better for me and our Earth, and this article has made that a little bit easier… thank you so much!

  5. Dear Maša: What is wrong with Colgate toothpaste? I’m afraid it’s always been the toothpaste I use. (Now, I’m using Sensodyne more. Maybe that’s OK?)
    Thank you for your information.

    1. Hi Judy, good question! There have been many studies done to point out that Colgate uses a few very questionable (harmful) ingredients, in particular, triclosan that has been banned in many countries – as mentioned above. What I would recommend that you do is download the app The Chemical Maze (link at the end of this article) and put in each ingredient and determine the safety level of each one to see if you’re personally still happy to use the product knowing what they could do. If you would like to buy something from the supermarket for a reasonable price, Grants toothpaste isn’t too bad (if you’re in Australia). I hope that helps!

      1. Thank you, Maša! Actually I’m in New York — I will look for some supposedly more healthy toothpastes.

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