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The Top 12 Ingredients to Stay Away From In Skincare

In the quest for glowing skin, we don’t always pay attention to the ingredients in our chosen skincare products. Just because something gets the results you’re looking for doesn’t mean that you should put yourself at risk.

While we are far from the Victorian era when people inadvertently poisoned themselves with lead-based makeup and skin products, there are still some seriously harmful chemicals you should look out for.

1. Sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) and Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

SLS is made when sodium carbonate is added to a mixture of lauryl alcohol and sulfuric acid. This highly corrosive ingredient is used in engine degreasers, carpet cleaners and laundry detergent to help remove oil and grease. 

When used in skincare, SLS and SLES help the other ingredients stay mixed together and make the product have a satisfying foam. They are known to trigger skin allergies and cause problems in otherwise healthy skin.

Used In: Shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, body wash, toothpaste, lotions, sunscreens

2. Triclosan

Love anti-bacterial skin products? Pay close attention to the label. Triclosan is classified as a pesticide. While it does kill bacteria, it can disrupt healthy thyroid and hormone function in the body.

Plus, a little bacteria is good for you! When you kill the healthy bacteria that lives on your skin, you’ll weaken your immune system. If children use a lot of products made with triclosan, they’ll increase their chances of developing allergies, asthma and eczema.

Used In: All chemical anti-bacterial soaps, hand washes, face washes, shampoos and more

3. BHA

A synthetically-crafted antioxidant, BHA is popularly used to extend the shelf life of a product. It has carcinogenic properties, not only causing disruption in hormones but also damaging the liver.

BHA can have side effects such as redness, dryness, increased sensitivity and irritated skin. The good news is that once you stop using a product with BHA, the side effects will go away.

Used In: Diaper creams, moisturizers, lipsticks and cosmetics

4. Parabens

Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetic products. They are harmful for both women and men. The skin can easily absorb parabens, which have been linked to breast cancer and testicular cancer.

Parabens can mimic estrogen, causing your body to have too much of the hormone. This could lead to fluid retention or even cancer.

Used In: Lotions, foundations, body wash, cleansers and shampoo

5. Phenoxyethanol

Another synthetic anti-bacterial, phenxoyethanol is known to be a strong irritant that can harm the skin and eyes. It can also disrupt endocrine hormones and harm the bladder.

Side effects can include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. In large doses, phenxoyethanol can be deadly.

Used In: Bug repellents, lotions, creams and even vaccines

6. Fragrance

Fragrances are widely used in products to give an appealing scent to them. Unfortunately, fragrances are linked with skin irritation, rashes, triggering allergies, disruption in hormones, infertility and reproductive problems.

Fragrance often causes skin irritation. You might think that switching from a product scented with one fragrance to another will do the trick. However, companies don’t have to list the ingredients that make up their “fragrance” since it’s a “trade secret.” Who knows what could be lurking in there!

Used In: Hand creams, hair products, body washes, moisturizers and more

7. Polyethylene/PEGs

Polyethylene — a.k.a. PEG — is an emulsifier and emollient that allows deeper penetration of products into skin. PEG is a compound solution comprising of different polymers which may include impurities such as cobalt, iron, lead and even arsenic.

PEGs and their toxic impurities can irritate the skin and cause breakdown and damage. This will lead to early signs of aging.

Used In: Moisturizers, creams, lotions

8. Retinol

Also known as Vitamin A, Retinol can have negative effects, despite being widely used for prevention of wrinkles. Retinol creams can have side effects such as tingling skin and redness. Later on, retinol can be responsible for damage to DNA at a cellular level and causing tumors in the skin.

Used In: Anti-aging creams, moisturizers

9. Oxybenzone

While it might effectively reflect UV rays, oxybenzone is linked with hormone disruption, irritating skin and triggering skin allergies as well as affecting the reproductive system.

Oxybenzone can act like estrogen, which can cause early puberty in girls, decreased testosterone in adolescent boys and men, and endometriosis in women.

Used In: Sunscreens and other sun protection skincare products

10. Aluminum

While it might prevent you from sweating, aluminum-based products tend to clog the pores in the skin and cause irritation. It can also increase the risk of breast cancer and cause abnormal function of lymph nodes.

Used In: Antiperspirants, cosmetic dyes, foundations, sunscreens, concealers, eye shadows

11. DEET

If used carefully, DEET is a strong bug repellent. However, if can be harmful to use on the skin, particularly for small children. DEET can cause mental problems, numbness, lethargy and irritation in the eyes and skin.

Used In: Bug repellents

12. Phthalates

Meant to soften products and enhance their usability, phthalates are extremely dangerous, particularly when used by children. They are linked with causing birth defects as well as damage to the endocrine system.

Used In: Deodorants, fragrances, hair spray and lotions

The ingredients mentioned above should definitely be avoided as much as possible. Be smart and be vigilant when it comes to your skincare. Read labels, just like you would read nutrition labels and ingredients at the grocery store.

What’s the #1 toxic ingredient you watch out for? Did it make the Top 12? Let me know in the comments below. I might have to make a second list.

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