There are so many toxic ingredients in skincare products everywhere that it is difficult to avoid them. The thing is though, there is no need to use them if you know what you are doing. I don’t use any toxic ingredients in my skincare collection but since they are so common it is necessary to be aware of them. That is why I compiled a list of the top ten most toxic skincare ingredients for you to learn about.

Parabens

They are a group of preservatives made from petrochemicals and are found on the label as: methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben. They are found in moisturisers, makeup, hair products, food and more. EU has banned 5 types of parabens for use in cosmetics.

Why to avoid: They interfere with hormonal levels and reproductive function. They are also linked to breast cancer and developmental disorders in babies.

Synthetic Fragrances

This is an umbrella term for up to 100 chemicals that make up a scent but over 3000 chemicals are used as fragrances. These chemicals are often petrochemicals and phthalates and can be found on the label as: fragrance, parfum and eau de toilette. They are found in perfumes, deodorants, creams, hair products and more. EU restricts the use of many fragrances for use in cosmetics.

Why to avoid: They are highly allergenic and are among the top five allergens in the world. Fragrances can cause headaches, migraines, dermatitis and are linked to hormone disruption, reproductive harm and cancer.

Mineral Oil and Petrolatum

This is a by-product of the petroleum industry used to moisturise, soften and shine. They can be found on the label as paraffin/white mineral oil, petroleum jelly, liquid paraffin and liquid/white petroleum. They are found in moisturisers, ointments, lip balms, baby oils/balms and hair products. EU classifies petrolatum as a carcinogen and restricts its use in cosmetics.

Why to avoid: They are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurites. They are also linked to skin irritation and allergies and may clog skin pores and cause acne.

Dibutyl Phthalate or DBP

This is a chemical compound used as plasticizer and to make fragrance last longer. On the label it is found as DEP, DBP, DEHP, BBZP, DMP and MEP. It is found in perfumes, moisturisers, nail polish, hair products. EU has banned phthalates from toys and some of them in cosmetics. Canada has banned DEHP in cosmetics.

Why to avoid: It can easily leech out of products and is absorbed through skin, lungs, intestines. It can cause reproductive and developmental anomalies and is linked to low sperm counts, miscarriage, infertility and obesity. It may also disrupt hormones and cause allergies, asthma, eczema, cancer, thyroid dysfunction and ADHD.

Synthetic Colours

These are chemicals derived from petroleum or coal tar. A single dye can be composed of many chemicals. On the label look for the letters FD&C or D&C, for example FD&C Blue no.2 or just the colour and no. such as Yellow 5. Coal tar-derived colours can be identified by a five-digit colour Index (C.I.) number. Colours are found in moisturisers, skin toners, facial cleansers, nail polish, hair products, soaps and toothpaste. EU has banned many colours derived from coal tar in hair dyes.

Why to avoid: They are linked to skin irritations and various cancers and may contain heavy metals toxic to the brain.

Siloxanes and Silanes

These are silicon-based ingredients that are used as emulsifiers to soften and smoothen. On the label look for „siloxane,” „ethicone” and „silane” as suffixes. Cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), cyclopentasiloxane (D5), cyclohexasiloxane (D6), cyclomethicone, dimethicone and polydimethylsiloxane. They are found in moisturisers, deodorants, hair products and sexual health products.

Why to avoid: They can interfere with hormones, may cause infertility and are possible reproductive toxins. They are linked to cancer and can cause harm to the immune system and also have a potential persistent-bioaccumalative-toxic (PBT) effect on the environment.

Formaldehydes

This is a group of preservatives that are formaldehyde-releasing agents. On the label look for DMDM hydantion, dimethylol urea, quaternium-15, bronopol, diazolidinyl urea, imadazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol and glyoxal. They are found in moisturisers, nail polish, hair products, bath products, make-up, eyelash and nail glue. EU and Canada have restricted its use in cosmetics and Japan and Sweden have banned its use in cosmetics.

Why to avoid: They are known human carcinogens, can trigger allergic skin reaction and may irritate eyes, nose and throat.

BHA and BHT

These closely-related synthetic antioxidants are used as preservatives. On the label look for BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). They are found in moisturisers, deodorants, makeup, perfumes, lip and hair products and food. EU has banned BHA as a fragrance ingredient in cosmetics.

Why to avoid: They may trigger allergic skin reaction, can cause cancer, interfere with hormones and are linked to liver, thyroid, blood, lung and kidney dysfunction. They also have potential persistent-bioaccumalative-toxic (PBT) effects on the environment.

DEA, MEA and TEA

Ethanolamines (DEA, MEA, TEA) are ammonia compounds used as emulsifying and foaming agents. On the label look for DEA, MEA, TEA, monoethanolamine, diethanolamine and triethanolamine, cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, lauramide DEA and stearamide MEA. They are found in moisturisers, sunscreens, bath and hair products, make up and fragrances. EU classifies DEA as harmful and restricts the concentration and their use in cosmetics.

Why to avoid: They can react with other chemicals to form carcinogenic nitrosamines and they may cause skin and eye irritations and asthma. They are also know to interfere with hormones and are linked to liver cancers and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid. They also have potential persistent-bioaccumalative-toxic (PBT) effects on the environment.

Retinol Derivatives (Vitamin A)

Retinol and its derivatives are synthetic versions of vitamin A used to slow skin aging and clear up acne. On the label look for retinol, vitamin A, retinyl acetate, retinyl palmiate, retinyl linoleate and all-trans retinoic acid. It is found in anti-aging creams, anti-acne creams, makeup, sunscreens and lip products. EU has banned Tretinoin (all-trans retinoic acid) for use in cosmetics.

Why to avoid: It may potentially cause cancer with exposure to sunlight and can cause possible developmental and reproductive toxicity.

Other Toxic Ingredients to Avoid

We will also never use the following:

  • SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate – foaming agent)
  • SLES (sodium laureth sulfate – foaming agent)
  • Triclosan (antimicrobal)
  • PABA (UVB filter)
  • Aluminum (odor control)
  • MI/MIT/MCI/BIT (isothiazolinone perservatives)
  • Plastic microbeads (exfoliant and bulking agent)
  • Hydroquinone (skin-lightening agent)
  • Animal ingredients except organic beeswax

About the Author

Anna Rósa is a medical herbalist and author of the bestselling book Icelandic Herbs and Their Medicinal Uses. She’s the CEO and founder of Anna Rósa Skincare and a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists in UK. It’s the oldest herbalist institute in the world, founded in 1894.

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Anna Rósa CEO and Founder of Anna Rósa Skincare