Diane Elizabeth is the founder of Skin Care Ox, a beauty and wellness blog dedicated to spreading awareness through accurate, beautiful, and informative skincare content. Aspiring makeup artists can discover non-toxic makeup alternatives and learn more information on how to avoid harmful chemicals and by using her tool: The Ultimate List of the Best Organic Makeup Brands and Products.

Every day, the average woman applies 515 synthetic chemicals to her body. Products like shampoos, hairsprays, body lotions, deodorants, makeup, and even perfumes contain these harmful chemicals. Linked to a large number of health problems, they cause everything from skin irritation and allergic reactions to cancer and issues having children. There is a lot of concerning research regarding these chemicals, but companies continue to use these dangerous toxins because they are cheap and there are often no laws restricting them (yet).

The best way to protect yourself and your clients is to become informed. Learn about risky ingredients to look out for, why they are dangerous, and how to find safer alternatives. This is the absolute best way to make better choices!

Also, every product you buy helps make a difference. As more consumers change their buying habits and demand safer beauty products, manufacturers will have no choice but to change their standards.

Here are seven dangerous chemicals that are hidden in popular skincare products and how you can identify safer alternatives.

1. Parabens

plastic containers for skin care products

Parabens are cheap preservatives used in a wide range of cosmetic products. They prevent bacteria, mold, fungus, and even parasites from growing. Almost 60% of all cosmetic products contain parabens.

There are a few major concerns with parabens:

  1. Studies show that these chemicals can be absorbed through our skin and into our bloodstream where they then stay and pile up.
  2. They mimic estrogen in the body and may disrupt our natural hormonal balance.
  3. There may be a link between paraben exposure and breast cancer. This is not certain, but existing research is enough to prompt changes in consumer cosmetic choices.

There are many alternatives to parabens which are safe and just as effective!

Best Alternatives: Vitamin E, rosemary extract, fermented radish root, grapefruit seed extract, sodium benzoate, and antioxidant oils such as almond, avocado, and hemp seed oil.

Concerning Alternatives: Ethylhexylglycerin and phenoxyethanol (both have been linked to skin irritation).

2. Fragrance

Fragrances (or perfume) are in nearly 50% of all cosmetic products. These blends of aromatics, which give beauty products their trademark scents, are often chemical cocktails. “Fragrance” is essentially a catch-all term for “secret ingredients”. The problem with fragrance is that the law does not require companies to tell consumers what is actually in these secret “blends”. It is impossible to know what any blend is made of.

Therefore, some clean cosmetic companies will release products that are fragrance-free. These products are often marketed to those with sensitive skin and babies. Now, this doesn’t mean the product doesn’t smell like anything. It just indicates that the products retain their natural scent and are not masked by a fragrance blend.

A study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics looked at 17 brand name fragrance products and discovered 14 chemicals known to have potentially harmful effects on the human body. The FDA also notes that fragrance blends are responsible for up to 30% of all allergic reactions to skincare products.

dangerous chemicals in skin care products

Best Alternatives: fragrance-free or unscented products and high-quality essential oils

Concerning Alternatives: any synthetic fragrance substitute

3. Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make products more liquid and less dry. You can find these in products like nail polish, detergents, toys, shampoos, creams, and moisturizers. Several studies show links to male and female reproductive defects, asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, and even diabetes. Just to be safe, avoid phthalates when possible.

The problem is that “fragrance” includes phthalates, making them impossible to identify on the product label. The best way to avoid phthalates is to avoid products that contain fragrance and come in cheap plastic packaging. You should also shop from high-integrity beauty brands who say that they avoid using these chemicals.

Best Alternatives: Avoid products with fragrance, use products in glass containers.

Concerning Alternatives: Bio-based plastics may contain pesticides, petroleum, or other potentially concerning chemicals.

Discover the best products are for your skin type! Check out these related articles:

4. Triclosan

natural recommended ingredients for skin care products

Triclosan (also known as Microban) is another chemical commonly used as a preservative in skincare products. Any skincare product that claims to have anti-bacterial properties likely includes triclosan.

Triclosan is often added to anti-bacterial soaps and hand-sanitizers. However, they kill both good and bad bacteria indiscriminately. Plus, the FDA has no evidence that “triclosan in OTC (over-the-counter) consumer antibacterial soaps and body washes provide any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.”

There’s also evidence that suggests Triclosan can lead to the growth of “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotic treatment. Triclosan may disrupt your natural hormonal balance and weaken your immune systems. It can build up in your fat cells over time and can be detected in breast milk, blood, and urine.

Best Alternatives: Essential oils such as thyme, rosemary, lavender, and citrus.

Concerning Alternatives: Benzethonium Chloride (synthetic anti-bacterial linked to health risks).

5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

dangerous chemicals found in skin care products

SLS is one of the most common ingredients used in shampoos, soaps, body washes, and just about anything that creates a thick foam. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is in up to 90% of skincare products.

The ingredient itself is not the biggest health concern. But, the harmful contaminants created during the manufacturing process are another story. This includes possible chemicals that may cause kidney and liver defects.

Best Alternatives: SLS-free formulations, foam-free natural products, coco-glucoside, decyl glucoside, saponified carrier oils or castile soaps (such as coconut, olive oil, and sunflower oils).

Concerning Alternatives: Sodium coco-sulfate (produced in a similar fashion as SLS. This alternative actually contains SLS and a blend of other coconut-derived sulfates, and it carries similar irritation risks as SLS).

6. Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol (also known as PG) is an ingredient in a variety of liquid skincare products, as well as in antifreeze, brake fluid, and paints. PG may allow harmful chemicals to seep further into your skin and bloodstream than they could otherwise do on their own.

PG has been linked to some cases of skin inflammation and irritation. While PG can prevent moisture loss by creating a seal over your skin, it can also make your skin drier by drawing moisture from the deeper layers of your skin towards the top-most layers.

Best Alternatives: Vegetable glycerin.

Concerning Alternatives: Propanediol (also known as 1,3 propylene glycol; safety depends on its manufacturing process. Can be derived from natural sources made with GMOs).

Stay away from phthalates

7. Petroleum & Mineral Oils (Petrochemicals)

Used in skincare products for a variety of reasons, petrochemicals have been linked to major health concerns. Petroleum-based products can be contaminated with dozens of toxic chemicals, some known to cause cancer and damage nerves.

22% of beauty products contain toxic levels of these harmful chemicals. Petroleum-based ingredients can also penetrate the skin, causing further health hazards. A 2009 study showed that using mineral oil products has the potential to increase the rate of tumor growth.

Best Alternatives: Natural moisturizers such as vegetable glycerin, coconut oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, raw honey, and shea butter.

Concerning Alternatives: Paraffin wax, toluene, polyethylene glycol, diethanolamine, ethanolamine, and fragrances.

Want to learn more about skincare ingredients that actually benefit the skin? Check out QC’s new Skincare Course!

Author Kate DeCastro

More posts by Kate DeCastro

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Gabriel Peterson says:

    I think that instead of worrying about if a product contains a certain chemical or not we should be more concerned about the amount. All chemicals have the potential to be hazardous . It is the amount taken into the body that determines whether or not they will cause poisonous effects. Poisoning, then, is caused not just by exposure to a particular chemical, but by exposure to too much of it. Moderation is key here. It doesn’t matter ONE BIT whether or not it is contained, it matters as to how much. 🙂

  • izyl says:

    Hi Kate,

    I was looking for some information on skincare and came across your post: 7 Dangerous Chemicals Lurking in Your Skincare Products

    It’s really nice! I especially liked how you mentioned that products like shampoos, hairsprays, body lotions, deodorants, makeup, and even perfumes contain these harmful chemicals. 

    Izyl

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