10 Toxic Skincare Ingredients To Avoid Immediately

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Nowadays, we cannot live without makeup, skincare, and/or personal care products — from daily self-care routines to applying our everyday makeup look. 

Most of the time, these products are applied directly on your skin, and our skin absorbs these products’ ingredients deeply into the bloodstream. 

Since the skin is one of the most delicate parts of the body, have you ever read the ingredients listed on the skincare products you use?

Have you researched each one? 

a young asian woman wearing white tank top is holding a face mirror and touching her cheeks sadly

Sure, going through every ingredient in a product sounds like a hassle.

However, all users should research which skincare ingredients to avoid, especially if they don’t want to irritate the skin or worsen any skin condition they have.

If you are a skincare consumer, being mindful of which ingredients to look out for when buying skincare products is crucial to keeping yourself healthy. 

Now you may be wondering, What ingredients should I avoid in skincare?

To help you distinguish which ingredients you should avoid in skincare products, we compiled a list of the worst skincare ingredients to apply to your skin. 

Let’s begin!


Parabens are one of the most common ingredients found in cosmetic products today. 

Parabens are preservatives widely used by cosmetic and skincare manufacturers since the 1950s to prolong the shelf life of products. 

But why are parabens considered one of the top ingredients to avoid in skincare?

Paraben is a chemical that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and eventually elicit adverse neurological, reproductive, developmental, and immune effects in both wildlife and humans. 

Moreover, regular paraben exposure has been linked with breast cancer. Occasional paraben exposure may cause flaking, redness, itchiness, irritation, and hives. 

Because of that, most beauty gurus suggest people opt for products that are paraben-free. 

Products That Might Contain Parabens

  • BB cream
  • Blush
  • Conditioner and shampoo
  • Foundation
  • Lip balm
  • Lipstick
  • Moisturizer
  • Moisturizing face cream
  • Shaving cream
  • Soaps
  • Sunscreen

How To Spot Paraben on a Label

  • Butylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)


Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is different from beta hydroxy acid (BHA), the good stuff that acts as an exfoliant in skincare products. 

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives to help cosmetic and skincare products last longer.

Moreover, BHT is a stabilizer that helps maintain the performance and chemical properties of a product when exposed to air. 

Hence, these ingredients help avoid a change in texture, color, and odor in products. 

However, they are included in the leading ingredients to stay away from in skin care as they have been linked to health concerns such as skin irritation, organ toxicity, etc. 

Butylated hydroxyanisole has been categorized as a “high human health priority” since this ingredient is a potential endocrine disruptor and human carcinogen.

While BHT is not classified as a carcinogen, it has been linked to thyroid and developmental changes, endocrine disruption, and cancer.

These are definitely two ingredients to avoid in moisturizers or other skincare products.  

Products That Might Contain BHAs and BHTs

  • Creams and moisturizers
  • Deodorant
  • Fragrance
  • Hair products
  • Lip products
  • Nail polish
  • Shampoo
  • Sunscreen

How To Spot BHAs and BHTs on a Label

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

Synthetic Fragrance or Parfum

Synthetic fragrance consists of chemical compounds composed of aromatic raw materials. It is used in skincare and cosmetic products to replicate natural fragrances. 

They may either contain 100% synthetic raw materials or a mix of both synthetic and natural ones. 

Thanks to continuous research and regulations, synthetic fragrances can be manufactured without harming the environment or disrupting nature. 

However, some synthetic chemicals in fragrances are petroleum-based, which can be detrimental to human health. 

Apart from that, phthalates are also a chemical that can be found in fragrances — a chemical that’s considered a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor.

Still, some fragrance formula components may have the potential to cause sensitivities or allergic reactions in some people. 

Hence, synthetic fragrances or parfum are used by manufacturers to conceal various ingredients used in the product that are not disclosed on the ingredient list so you’ll never know what other chemicals will be exposed to your skin. 

Products That Might Contain Fragrance 

  • Cologne
  • Deodorant
  • Exfoliating scrubs
  • Facial cream
  • Lotion 
  • Perfume
  • Serums
  • Shaving creams
  • Skin toner
  • Soap and body wash
  • Sunscreen
  • Literally anything and everything

How to Spot Fragrance on a Label

  • Aroma
  • Essential oils
  • Fragrance
  • Parfum
  • Perfume


Triclocarban is an antimicrobial ingredient used to prevent the buildup of microbes and bacteria in your soaps. 

Aside from preventing harmful bacteria from spreading, this ingredient is also used to avoid unpleasant odors in creams and shampoos. 

For over 35 years, triclocarban has been a widely used ingredient in the skincare and cosmetic market in the United States, Asia, and Europe. 

But why is it included in this toxic skincare ingredient list?

The persistent hoarding of triclocarban and its byproducts causes the formation of carcinogenic compounds, which are detrimental to living creatures, marine life, and humans.  

Its environmental impact alone should make you rethink using it on a daily basis 

Products that Might Contain Triclocarban

  • Antibacterial lotions
  • Antibacterial soaps
  • Color cosmetics and creams
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving products
  • Toothpaste

How to Spot Triclocarban on a Label

  • Triclocarban
  • TCC

Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives (FRP)

Cosmetic and skincare companies add formaldehyde in their product formulas to stop mold and bacteria growth. 

But even if formaldehyde and FRP can stop the thriving bacteria within vanity products, body washes, cleansers, etc., they are proven to be common ingredients not good for skin and are toxic to the immune system.

If used in personal care products, formaldehyde and FRPs can be absorbed through the skin. They trigger allergic skin reactions and irritation and induce dermatitis, even when used for a short time. 

Not to mention, formaldehyde is flammable and considered a carcinogen.

a girl applying lotion with Formaldehyde/FRP

Products That Might Contain Formaldehyde/FRP

  • Body wash 
  • Moisturizer
  • Eyelash glue
  • Hair gel
  • Lotion
  • Makeup remover
  • Nail glue
  • Nail polish
  • Shampoo 
  • Soap
  • Sunscreen

How to Spot Formaldehyde/FRP on a Label

  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol
  • Bromopol
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Formaldehyde
  • Glyoxal
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Polyoxymethylene urea
  • Quaternium-15
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate


Phthalates are chemicals used to increase the strength and flexibility of plastics.

They affect the product’s texture. Usually, this ingredient is not listed on the product’s ingredient list. 

It can be found in many skincare product formulas, particularly perfumed deodorants and products. Phthalates are also present and listed in cosmetics like fragrance oils under the term “parfum” or “fragrance.”

But like most ingredients on this list, phthalates are one of the ingredients to avoid in skin care since they have been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and endocrine disruption. 

Aside from that, this toxic ingredient can mimic estrogen and has been linked to adverse effects on organs (specifically the thyroid, liver, and kidneys) and DNA damage in sperm. 

Products That Might Contain Phthalates

  • Body wash
  • Color cosmetics
  • Deodorant
  • Fragranced lotions
  • Nail polish
  • Perfume
  • Shampoo and conditioner

How to Spot Phthalates on a Label

  • Phthalate
  • DEP
  • DEHP
  • DBP
  • Fragrance


Mostly, makeup or skincare products contain aluminum compounds instead of pure aluminum. Hence, these products may contain aluminum but in low dosages. 

In cosmetics, aluminum-containing compounds are used as thickening agents and pigments.

Also, this ingredient helps minimize body odor by blocking the odor-producing bacteria that feed on your sweat, which is why it is commonly found in antiperspirant formulations.

This ingredient reduces perspiration due to the blocked sweat ducts on your underarm when used. 

Unfortunately, this toxic metal can mimic estrogen within your systems. As a result, it disturbs your endocrine system’s functions. 

Some studies show that people exposed to high levels of aluminum may develop breast cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease.

a beautiful black girl drying her hair with towel after using hair products

Products That Might Contain Aluminum

  • Antiperspirants
  • Hair products
  • Lip products
  • Body lotions
  • Face cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothpaste

How to Spot Aluminum on a Label

  • Aluminum
  • Aluminum chlorohydrate
  • Aluminum zirconium
  • Tetrachlorohydrex gly

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is an odorless, transparent liquid regularly used for many years in grooming products.

This ingredient is also colorless, fragrance-free, cheap, doesn’t oxidize, and can be kept for a long time, which puts mineral oil in demand in the beauty industry. 

Mineral oil is an occlusive emollient, which means that it can help hydrate your skin as it forms a barrier on your skin’s surface to seal moisture. 

Regardless of its benefits, extended exposure to mineral oils is strongly connected to an increased risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer

Hence, you might not want harmful ingredients in face creams or any cosmetic product you have. 

Products That Might Contain Mineral Oil

  • Bath oils
  • Hair gels
  • Lip care products
  • Lotions
  • Ointments
  • Skin creams
  • Sunscreens

How to Spot Mineral Oil on a Label

  • Cera microcristallina
  • Ceresin paraffin
  • Microcrystalline wax 
  • Ozokerite
  • Paraffin
  • Paraffinum liquidum 
  • Petrolatum
  • Synthetic wax

Synthetic Colors

Synthetic colors are sketchy skincare ingredients used to make skincare and cosmetic products look “aesthetic” or cover up the actual color produced while manufacturing.  

You can tell if your skincare products contain synthetic colors if you see the letters C, D, or F and then followed by a number or color. 

Now, what’s the problem with this artificial ingredient?

These artificial ingredients come from petroleum or coal tar sources and are linked to several health issues. Even FD&C dyes are toxic as they contain legally acceptable levels of heavy metals such as lead. 

Eventually, an accumulation of heavy metals can cause health issues, such as cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders, organ damage, muscle disorders, allergies, reproductive and developmental issues, etc. 

Fortunately, safe, naturally derived, plant-based alternatives can help create beautiful colors in cosmetic and skincare products without depending on harmful compounds. 

These may include seaweed powder, molasses, coffee, spices, and clays.

To achieve primary colors, ingredients like woad powder (blue), beetroot powder (red), turmeric powder (yellow), and many others can create vivid shades without risking your health.

Products That Might Contain Synthetic Colors

  • Cosmetics (blushers and rouge, brush-on-brow, eye shadow, eyeliner, lipstick, makeup and foundation, mascara)
  • Deodorant
  • Facial treatments
  • Liquid cleansers
  • Lotions
  • Mouthwash
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Skincare products
  • Soaps
  • Toners
  • Toothpaste
different kind of foundation and concealer in a table with various sizes of flat brushes for application

How to Spot Synthetic Colors on a Label

  • D&C
  • FD&C 

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) / Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

SLS and SLES are compounds used to mix ingredients in skincare products, which enables the ingredients to blend well and facilitate cleansing better. 

Whether produced from intensively processed coconut or synthetically, they help produce a foaming effect on products. 

However, these are two of the main toxic ingredients to avoid in skin products. 

These products are usually contaminated with harmful chemicals that might irritate your mouth, eyes, skin, and lungs. 

Moreover, SLS and SLES are particularly irritating when mixed with warm water.

Products That Might Contain SLES/SLS

  • Body wash
  • Face cleansers
  • Hand wash
  • Shampoo
  • Soaps
  • Toothpaste

How to Spot SLES/SLS on a Label

  • Ammonium laureth sulfate
  • Dodecyl sulfate
  • Sodium dodecyl sulfate
  • Sodium laureth sulfate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Sodium n-dodecyl sulfate
  • Sodium salt
a young girl with healthy and clear skin is smiling while looking sideways

Frequently Asked Questions

Are all-natural skin care products better?

In terms of cosmetic and skincare products, the term “natural” currently has no regulations. 

Even those claimed “natural products” also contain just as many harmful ingredients in skincare products to avoid, just like the conventional ones. Even the “unscented” products have synthetic fragrances in them too. 

Because of this, the sustainable beauty movement has stimulated a controversial debate regarding natural versus synthetic ingredients — pitting the natural community against the chemistry community.

Brands promoting natural products claim to be sustainable by using natural ingredients.

However, chemists and researchers argue that using natural ingredients is not sustainable since they could deplete the natural resources on the planet.

This debate is particularly prevalent in skincare products, which have an increasing consumer base since more people are now investing in such products. Plus, it makes up the largest share of the cosmetics industry.

In the end, weighing the sustainability of an ingredient goes beyond simply looking at its synthetic or natural origins. 

If possible, you must investigate every ingredient on a case-to-case basis, research deeper about the story behind the ingredient and brand, and look for hard data that support its claims.

Remember that there are many instances when synthetic ingredients are actually more sustainable than natural ones.

So to fully determine which one is better, you need to look at every stage of the ingredient’s life cycle.

Lastly, consider every ingredient’s proven potential health risks to avoid risking your health in the future.

What are non-toxic makeup and skincare products?

You’ll know that a skincare or makeup product is non-toxic if it does not contain ingredients not good for the skin, such as the ingredients highlighted in this article. 

Non-toxic ingredients are ingredients that are not allergens, carcinogens, and hormone disruptors. Moreover, they are safe to use and are not disclosed as toxic by environmental agencies.

Should I avoid all chemicals?

Absolutely not! If you avoid chemicals, then you’d have to avoid nature. 

Nature produces chemicals. Water is chemical. Natural air has chemicals. Plants produce natural chemicals. Our organs produce chemicals.

There’s what you call natural chemicals, which are chemicals produced by nature, and man-made or synthetic chemicals, which are chemicals created by humans.

Note that there are plenty of harmful natural chemicals too. Arsenic, mercury, botulinum, and aluminum are natural chemicals. Bacteria, fungi, venom, allergens, and toxins are all part of nature.

So there’s no such thing as chemical-free cosmetics. Even “natural” cosmetics are basically made up of chemicals. It’s literally impossible to avoid chemicals.

Instead, the things to avoid in skin care are the harmful chemicals and ingredients in the products available in the beauty market. 

These harmful chemicals can lead to adverse effects on our health and even the environment. So it’s crucial to know the ingredients of a product before supporting and using it.

Remember: Just because an ingredient is synthetic doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. And just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. 

Conclusion: Avoid Harmful Skincare Ingredients at All Costs

Most cosmetic and skincare products are manufactured with little to no harmful ingredient regulation. 

So it’s totally up to you whether you switch to safer products now or turn a blind eye to the adverse effects harmful ingredients can offer. 

To choose safer skincare products, research what ingredients you should avoid in skincare products. Then proceed by looking for companies and brands that are committed to safety testing and transparency in their ingredients. 

Thankfully, some companies are now paving the way for safety testing, responsibility, and transparency in makeup and skin care for kids, men, and women. 

Knowing what ingredients to avoid in skincare and makeup products is important to help you make informed decisions. 

Do you have any questions about your current skincare or makeup ingredients? 

Let us know, and post them in the comments below!

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  • Stephanie Martin

    Stephanie Martin blends her beauty industry background with expertise in communications to lead in the fashion and beauty world. As a fashion and beauty editor, she is known for engaging and informative articles. Her lifelong passion for fashion, makeup, and hair shines through her work, earning her widespread respect among readers and clients. Stephanie's style, a mix of classic and contemporary, makes her a dynamic and influential figure in the industry, inspiring others with her knowledgeable and approachable insights.

  • Emily Zink

    With ten years in healthcare, Emily Zink bridges adult and pediatric medicine with cosmetic dermatology. A certified Family Nurse Practitioner, she's an expert in treatments like Botox, Dysport, and Sculptra, also diagnosing skincare concerns and offering wellness counseling. Specializing in neuromodulators and dermal fillers, Emily leads injections at her practice.

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