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12 Toxic Skincare Ingredients To Always Avoid

12 Toxic Skincare Ingredients That Are Destroying Your Health

Did you know that the average woman uses 12 products, containing 168 different ingredients, every single day?

There’s so much focus on what we put into our bodies, by eating organic and non-GMO foods, that we sometimes forget to look at what we put onto our bodies. But our body washes, lotions, shampoos, cosmetics and even toothpastes contain countless chemicals that are just as harmful.

According to Dr. Mercola, putting chemicals on our skin or scalp may actually be worse than eating them. When you eat, enzymes in the saliva and stomach break down what’s ingested and flush it out of the body. However, chemicals on the skin are absorbed into the bloodstream without any filtering. Just imagine what the cumulative effects of long-term use may do.

With some of these skincare ingredients linked to cancers, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive issues, it’s really time we started reading labels on everything we buy.

Let’s look at just some of the common toxic ingredients we should be avoiding:


Sure, alcohol in cosmetics gives them a lovely quick-drying finish that feels weightless… but it comes at a cost.

Not only is it drying and irritating, but a study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that regular exposure to alcohol-based products means skin is no longer able to keep water and cleansing agents from penetrating into it. This loss of the skin’s natural skin barrier means we are more vulnerable to bacteria, molds and viruses.

Alcohol in products can also be seen under the names SD alcohol, ethanol, denatured, isopropyl, methanol or ethyl alcohol. Look out for it in skin and hair products, fragrances and antibacterial hand washes.


Found in soaps, shampoos, lotions, shaving creams, paraffin and waxes as well as numerous cosmetics, it’s scary to think how many times a day we are exposed to these chemicals. Already restricted in Europe due to known carcinogenic effects, ethanolamines are used freely in the United States.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported an increased incidence of both skin lesions and liver and kidney tumors in mice from repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents (although they did not find the same increase when applied to rats). They also report testicular degeneration and reduced sperm motility and sperm count in animal studies, through oral exposure to diethanolamine.

Look out for these chemicals under names like DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine) and TEA (triethanolamine) amongst others.

DMDM (dimethyl-dimethyl) Hydantion

This white crystalline solid is used as a preservative in shampoos, conditioners, skin products, moisturizers, nail and eyelash glues and other cosmetics.

There are concerns that this chemical releases formaldehyde which may cause joint pain, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pains, chronic fatigue and dizziness. It’s also thought to cause irritation to the skin, eyes and lungs.

DMDM is even restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan and Sweden but is used freely in other parts of the world.

FD&C Color Pigments

These synthetic colors are made from coal tar and contain heavy metal salts that deposit toxins into the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic.

The acronym stands for ‘Food, Drug, and Cosmetics’, and you will also find D&C (Drug and Cosmetics) labels. In recent years, the FDA has banned a number of these colors, but several are still legal. Interestingly, five of the still-legal colors in the USA have been linked to both ADHD in schoolchildren and cancer in European studies.

Look out for them in shampoos, toothpastes, body washes, baby products, deodorants, lotions, creams, and more. They’ll usually be listed as a color followed by a number e.g. FD&C Red 40.

Mineral Oil

This one seems harmless enough doesn’t it? ‘Mineral’ sounds pretty healthy right?

Well, the mineral oil used in our cosmetics is actually derived from petroleum and is found in baby oil and Vaseline (which are actually purely mineral oil) amongst other products. It’s hugely debated within the cosmetics industry whether this oil is safe to use or not.

While many say it is perfectly safe, other sources say it coats the skin, clogs pores and interferes with the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins. These actions all increase the risk of acne and other skin conditions. There is also evidence to suggest that cosmetics are a source of mineral oil contamination in women with researchers even stating that mineral oil hydrocarbons are the greatest contaminant of the human body.

Even if it isn’t dangerous, it still might be best to replace mineral oil with another ingredient. After all, there are plenty of oils out there that actually provide nutrients and benefits to your skin, which mineral oil certainly does not. Instead, check out the benefits of Sweet Almond Oil, Coconut Oil and Avocado Oil for glowing skin and glossy hair.


Used as preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast, parabens are found in a ton of products. Scarily, some of these have been shown to interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.

Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming. It’s certainly something to keep in mind for pregnant or nursing women.

Parabens may come under the names of butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, or propylparaben.

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

These detergents are used in 90% of personal care products – particularly those that foam, as that’s one of their primary functions.

There are nearly 16,000 studies in the PubMed science library relating to the toxicity of this chemical so clearly there are concerns within the scientific community. Animals exposed to SLS experience eye damage, depression, labored breathing, diarrhea, severe skin irritation and even death.

Also, when combined with other chemicals in the manufacturing process, SLS can be transformed into nitrosamines, a potent class of carcinogens.

With all these concerns and potential side effects, is it really that important to us that our shampoo foams up?

Synthetic Fragrances

This vague term is apparently used on labels to protect ‘trade secrets’. However, it’s really just allowing big corporations to cover up the amount and composition of chemicals they’re adding to their products.

In fact, more than 95% of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals such as benzene derivatives and aldehydes. They also commonly contain parabens, phthalates and synthetic musks that can disrupt hormones, cause reproductive problems and are even linked to cancer.

To avoid these hidden toxins, read labels on perfumes, baby care products, air fresheners and laundry detergents to name but a few. Scarily though, the average fragrance product contains 14 chemicals that are not disclosed on the label (along with another 15 that are).

The alternative is to use natural scents like organic essential oils and replace air fresheners with reed diffusers, freshly cut flowers and fruit bowls.


These endocrine-disrupting plasticizers are present in many fragrances, perfumes, deodorants and lotions. Phthalates are banned from use in children’s toys in both the EU and California.

The main phthalates in cosmetics are dibutyl phthalate in nail polish, diethyl phthalate in perfumes and lotions, and dimethyl phthalate in hair spray so keep an eye out if you are purchasing these products.

Unfortunately, this category of chemicals is not always disclosed on labeling as it’s included under ‘fragrances’ as mentioned above.


Toluene is a clear liquid which is usually found in nail products and hair bleaches or dyes.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists it as a potent neurotoxin that can impair breathing and causes nausea. In studies, toluene has been associated with toxicity to the immune system and a possible link to blood cancer. It’s also believed to be linked with disruption to the immune and endocrine systems and abnormal fetal development.

It might be listed on labels as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane or methylbenzene.


A synthetic antibacterial ingredient, triclosan is registered as a pesticide with the EPA, and is flagged as a risk to both human health and the environment.

According to the FDA, animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation and other studies have raised concerns that triclosan contributes to antibiotic resistant bacteria. In spite of these findings, triclosan is still used in cosmetics and other products, although the FDA states that are engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient.

Research has also shown that triclosan may interfere with fetal development in pregnant women, and has been linked with allergies, weight gain, inflammatory responses and thyroid disfunction.

Scarily, a 2008 study looking at our exposure to triclosan, found it in the urine of nearly 75% of people tested.

Remove this product from your home by avoiding ‘antibacterial’ soaps and dishwashing products. After all, even the FDA stated that ‘there is currently no evidence that antibacterial soaps are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water’!

DEET (diethyltoluamide)

While getting bitten by mosquitos is both annoying and potentially dangerous, the chemical DEET which is used in mosquito repellent may be even more dangerous.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency says you should wash DEET off your skin when you go inside, wash treated clothing before wearing them again, avoid breathing it in and not spray it directly on your face.

Instead of using DEET, try a natural mosquito repellent, fill your garden with mosquito repelling plants, stay indoors during peak mosquito hours and cover up wherever possible. Why not try making this gorgeous mosquito repelling incense, too.

So, how can you limit, or avoid, exposure to these chemicals?

  • Buy natural products like plain soaps (have you tried Dr. Bronners Liquid Soap?)
  • Avoid heavily scented or colored products.
  • Just like with your food, look for organic labels.
  • Simplify! Consider what products are really necessary – chances are you don’t need half of what you use.
  • Babies, children and teens are particularly sensitive to chemicals and the effects on their developing systems. Keep this in mind when choosing both the quantity and quality of products for children.
  • Invest in a jar of coconut oil. You can use it to replace so many of your personal care products.
  • Make your own! You’ll know exactly what’s going into your products – and a lot of the ingredients will even come from your own kitchen. Pick up a copy of the Everyday Roots book which includes over 215 recipes for making your own beauty products, as well as natural cleaners and home remedies.