13 Skincare Ingredients to Avoid + a FREE Checklist!

Toxic people... toxic skincare ingredients... let them all go!
BY Sarah Lim
| Last updated Jul, 2022
skincare ingredients to avoid

When most people think about their skin, they think of how to keep it clear and radiant. But, of course, that’s a great goal to have—because aside from the fact those qualities mean YOUR skin looks good, they’re indicators your skin is healthy, too. And while many skincare ingredients help on both the beauty and health front, there is plenty that doesn’t exactly help it either. That’s where comes the importance of knowing which skincare ingredients to avoid.

Did you know the largest organ of your body is actually your “skin”? That’s right. It’s actually part of the integumentary system, including your skin and hair, nails, and even your fat. The skin can absorb what you put on it. Skin is designed to keep out toxins. And your skin can absorb chemicals based on the concentration of the chemical as well as your exposure. Some can even be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Looking at skin this way certainly changes the way you think about your skincare products, which can contain many different ingredients. And while the European Union has banned over 1,300 ingredients in personal care products, the United States has banned a mere 11.

So it’s really up to YOU to do your homework on what ingredients are safe for your skin and which you should skip. But don’t worry, we’ve researched for you. These are the top 13 skincare ingredients to avoid “regardless of your skin type”!

1. BHA

Butylated hydroxyanisole (better known as BHA, but NOT associated with beta hydroxy acids!). You can find them in skin exfoliants as well as fragrances (we’ll get to fragrances a bit further down the list). The National Toxicology Program says BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” BHA acts as a synthetic antioxidant in personal care products.

2. BHT

Butylated hydroxytoluene, or BHT, is a synthetic chemical that’s one of the ingredients bad for the skin. It’s used to extend the shelf life of products and you can find it in skin moisturizers, facial cleansers, and other skincare products. This chemical is considered to be an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors can interfere with the body’s natural hormones and cause problems with the brain, immune system, and even reproductive health.

3. Diethanolamine (DEA)

Found in facial cleaners as a foaming agent, this harsh chemical is also used in “industrial gas purification to remove acid gases.” Absorbed by the skin and liver, it’s unknown if and how this product is toxic to humans, which makes it questionable for use in skincare products. DEA may also appear on a label as:

  • Cocamide DEA or Cocamide MEA
  • Stearamide MEA
  • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
  • Triethanolamine

These different terms make it even more important to check the label of your skincare products for ingredients bad for the skin!

4. 1,4-Dioxane

The byproduct of manufacturing certain skincare products is actually 1,4-Dioxane and may be present in your product in small amounts. While you won’t see 1,4 dioxane on a label, if your product contains polyethylene or polyethylene glycol, it probably includes 1,4 dioxane. You can usually find it in facial creams, anti-aging products, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it’s also a probable “human carcinogen”.

5. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde can “prevent bacteria growth” in skincare products, but it’s also a known human carcinogen. This chemical has a link to allergic reactions and skin rashes in some people. It can cause some individuals to develop a sensitivity to it after repeated exposure.

6. Fragrance

If you see the word “fragrance” or “parfum” on your skincare products, run away! Fragrance and parfum are umbrella terms used to reference the thousands of different chemicals (both synthetic and natural) that companies do not have to disclose due to their being considered “trade secrets.” While some of these chemicals are natural, others are known carcinogens, and due to the protected nature of this information, you’ll never know which ones you’re getting. Fragrance can cause allergic reactions as well as hormone disruption in the body.

7. Hydroquinone

You may see hydroquinone on your skincare label in anti-aging products, facial cleansers, or moisturizers that say they have a brightening effect or are advertised as improving hyperpigmentation. People even use this skin irritant as a developing agent in photography. We don’t know if it causes reproductive, developmental, or carcinogenic effects in humans. It is one of the chemicals that European Union for uses in personal care products.

8. Mineral Oil

Found in moisturizers, mineral oil, a refined oil that’s a byproduct of petroleum, essentially “suffocates skin” by creating an impermeable barrier. For some, this can trigger clogged pores and breakouts. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), mineral oil is a possible human immune system toxicant or allergen. Our suggestion? Look for natural oils instead!

9. Parabens

Parabens have been on the skincare ingredients to avoid list for some time because they mimic estrogen in the body. Even they are hormone disruptors that may influence your risk of cancer. You’ll find parabens in almost every skincare product, from facial cleanser to lotion and foundation, and their names vary, but as long as it has the word “paraben” in it, you can put it back on the shelf!

10. Phthalates

According to the Environmental Working Group, often found in fragranced products, deodorants, and lotion, phthalates have the link to breast cancer and reproductive issues, as well as obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities. It is one of the ingredients bad for skin!

11. Polyethylene Glycol

Polyethylene glycol is a thickening agent. You’ll find it in lotions, foundations, and even fragrances that can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier. When the skin’s natural barrier is compromised, your skin is no longer protected from aging, toxins, and even breakouts.

Polyethylene glycol is expected to be toxic or harmful,”

Acording to the EWG.

12. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

Sodium lauryl sulfate is in many products and acts as a foaming agent, but for those of you who have dry skin, you know that this can be a very drying product and is among the skincare ingredients to avoid. According to the EWG, SLS is another endocrine disruptor that has a link to organ toxicity and even gene mutations. Yikes!

13. Triclosan

Although not as widely used anymore, you’ll often find this antibacterial chemical in soap and cleansers. However, it has a link to allergies and eczema and is best if you can avoid it.

Download the FREE Checklist on the No-No Skincare Ingredients

Do YOU recognize any of these skincare ingredients to avoid? Do you know of any other harmful ingredients that are bad for the skin? Let us know in the comments below, and download our free checklist of these “no-no skincare ingredients to avoid”!

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