10 Harmful Skincare Ingredients to Avoid and Why

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With the prevalence of toxic chemicals like parabens and phthalates, it can be challenging to navigate the world of harmful skincare ingredients. In this article, we will break down the 10 most harmful ingredients found in skincare and cosmetics products.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute personal health advice.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the European Union has banned 1,328 chemicals from its cosmetics, while the U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 30 chemicals. This stark difference means that there are potentially thousands of chemical ingredients being used without knowing their potential harm to our health.

Many people may not be concerned or aware of the ingredients in their skincare products, believing that as long as it works, it’s fine for their health. However, it’s important to note that just because a product is effective, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for your health.

Most commercial and even some “natural” cosmetic brands contain harmful ingredients that can have serious health effects, including cancer, hormonal imbalances, and respiratory issues.

The average woman uses 12 personal care products a day, exposing herself to an average of 168 chemical ingredients, not including other potentially harmful chemicals encountered throughout the day.

It’s essential to understand that not all chemicals are harmful, and some are necessary and safe. However, many common ingredients used in cosmetic products today have the potential to be harmful to our health.

So, what can we do to reduce our exposure to harmful skincare ingredients?

One approach is to read the labels on the products we use. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has analyzed thousands of brands and chemicals and categorized them in their “Skin Deep Database.” Other resources like Made Safe, the Think Dirty App, and Safe Cosmetics can also provide information on the safety of ingredients.

To make it easier for you, we have compiled a list of 10 harmful skincare ingredients to avoid and why they are harmful.

10 Harmful Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products (and Why)

1. Parabens

Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products.

Potential health impact: Parabens are endocrine disruptors, meaning they can interfere with the body’s endocrine system and cause adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects.

Be on the lookout for: Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Methylparaben, and Polyparaben.

2. Carbon Black

Carbon black is a black pigmented powder used in eyeliner, mascara, and other cosmetic products to provide a dark color.

Potential health impact: Carbon black has been linked to increased cases of cancer, neurodevelopmental effects, and respiratory issues.

Be on the lookout for: Products containing carbon black, D&C Black No. 2, acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black, and thermal black.

3. Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is commonly found in lotions and skincare products as a moisturizing agent.

Potential health impact: Improperly refined petroleum jelly can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known carcinogens and skin irritants.

Be on the lookout for: White petroleum soft paraffin, mineral oil, paraffin oil, white mineral oil, and liquid paraffin.

4. Fragrance

Fragrance is found in many conventional products and is often listed as an umbrella term for a mix of various chemicals.

Potential health impact: Fragrances can contain endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, developmental toxins, and neurotoxins.

Be on the lookout for: Products containing fragrance, eau de toilette, perfume, essential oil blend, and aroma.

5. Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is commonly found in sunscreens.

Potential health impact: Oxybenzone is an endocrine-disrupting compound and has been banned in Hawaii due to its harmful effects on coral reefs.

Be on the lookout for: Sunscreens containing oxybenzone and benzophenone-3.

6. Phthalates

Phthalates are found in various cosmetic products and are used to make plastics more flexible.

Potential health impact: Phthalates have been linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and cancer.

Be on the lookout for: Products containing phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP, and fragrance.

7. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are used in cosmetic products as preservatives.

Potential health impact: Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions.

Be on the lookout for: Products containing DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, Bronopol, 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, and Hydroxymethylglycinate.

8. Ethanolamines

Ethanolamines (TEA, MEA, DEA, etc.) are used as surfactants, cleansers, or preservatives in a wide range of cosmetic and skincare products.

Potential health impact: DEA and certain DEA-related ingredients have been associated with cancer in laboratory animals.

Be on the lookout for: Products containing Cocamide DEA, DEA-Cetyl Phosphate, DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate, Lauramide DEA, Myristamide DEA, Oleamide DEA, TEA-Lauryl Sulfate, and Triethanolamine.

9. 1,4-Dioxane

1,4-Dioxane is a byproduct found in some cosmetic products that create suds and other items like toothpaste and deodorant.

Potential health impact: 1,4-Dioxane is a potential human carcinogen and can harm respiratory health.

Be on the lookout for: Products containing Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PEG compounds, and chemicals ending in “eth” such as ceteareth and oleth.

10. Butylated hydroxytoluene and butylated hydroxyanisole

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are used as preservatives in personal care products and food.

Potential health impact: BHA/BHT are known endocrine disruptors, possible carcinogens, and skin irritants.

Be on the lookout for: Products that list BHA or BHT as ingredients.

By avoiding products containing these harmful ingredients and being mindful of what we put on our skin, we can reduce our exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. It’s important to prioritize our health and choose products that are safe and free from harmful ingredients.

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