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Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare

by Michele Griffiths |

In one of our previous blog posts, we discussed some of the common mistakes that can harm your skin without you even knowing about it. But doing skincare right is actually a lot more difficult than you might expect, especially with the wealth of dangerous, damaging, and outright toxic ingredients that get put into a large cross-section of skin and beauty products. Here’s a list of some of the ingredients you’re likely to encounter, and why you’ll want to avoid them.


Parabens are a family of chemical preservatives found in a wide range of beauty products, from makeup and moisturizer to spray-tan products. They mimic estrogen, which can be catastrophic for the body’s hormone balance; the FDA has noted several studies linking them to breast and skin cancer, as well as decreased sperm count. The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products notes that, because of their closeness to certain hormones, they can also damage the body’s reproductive systems.


You may ask, what’s so bad about fragrances? After all, you like smelling good. Well, when it comes to the labels on your beauty products, that’s not actually what fragrance means. “Fragrance” means “trade secret”—a secret formula that the company doesn’t have to disclose. Thanks to this loophole, federal law doesn’t require companies to list any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. Which means that anything on this list could be in your product, and you wouldn’t be able to tell.

It gets worse: a lot of the chemicals found in fragrances are hormone disruptors, carcinogens, or chemicals that cause reproductive damage, yes, but those are more of a long-term concern. More immediately harmful is the fact that they are among the top 5 allergens in the world, so if you have any allergies, there’s a good bet that “fragrances” are going to do immediate damage. Best to avoid them.


Phthalates are used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics, frequently found in lotions so as to better allow them to stick to skin. Just from that one phrase, you can already see where this might be a problem, but there are further problems: they’re well-known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens, and can lead to increased risk of birth defects. The good news: several types of phthalates are already banned by Congress. The bad news: many of those are included in the “fragrances” part of the recipe, which as we’ve previously stated, don’t need to have their ingredients disclosed. Even if a product says “phthalate-free,” if it has a fragrance, don’t trust it.


PEGs are tiny plastic beads found in scrubs and body wash. While they’re gentler on the skin than natural exfoliators, they’re made out of polyethylene, which is a noted skin irritant that should never be used on broken skin. The beads aren’t filtered by our sewage systems, meaning they collect pollutants before become consumed by marine animals. The worst part, though, is not the PEGs themselves, but what they usually carry: polyethylene is frequently contaminated with dioxane, a carcinogen that easily penetrates the skin (which is certainly made easier for it by the PEGs themselves).

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)/Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

SLS and SLES are surfactants (they’re the thing that makes your products foam—they don’t do that naturally) found in more than 90% of personal care and cleaning products. Aside from the foaming, they actually don’t do a whole lot. Their list of harmful side effects is rough: skin irritation, canker sores, disruptions of skin’s natural oil balance, eye damage, and even lung damage. The worst part, though, is that SLS interacts and combines with other chemicals to form a carcinogen known as nitrosamines, which can also harm your kidneys. Go for products without foam.

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

Believed to be a carcinogen, BHA can cause spin depigmentation, liver damage, and stomach cancers, as well as interfering with the development of the reproductive system and thyroid hormone levels. It shows up in fragrance, so again, avoid that if you can.


We hear about antioxidants all the time when it comes health products, but BHT—a synthetic antioxidant used to extend shelf life—is another likely carcinogen and hormone disruptors, as well as another product harmful to your liver. Generally, preservatives in your products aren’t the best idea. Look for natural antioxidants instead.

If you’re shopping for skincare products, lotions, shampoos, or soaps, be sure to look at the ingredient list. Not everything you’re putting on your skin is safe. There’s a reason SuperNatural Body only uses all-natural, USDA-certified organic ingredients, proven to be safer for both your skin and for the environment.