5 Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid

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Research undertaken in 2016 by deodorant-maker Bionsen found that the average woman puts on 515 unique synthetic chemicals on her body each day. While that is a staggering number, perhaps the most alarming findings from the study is that 70% didn’t care about the chemicals that are within their daily routine. If they are responsible for buying products for their families, they are exposing them to chemical overload too – the mind boggles.

You shouldn’t need a degree in chemistry to understand what is in the product that you are buying – but sometimes it can feel like that! European legislation has meant that 1,328 chemicals have been banned from cosmetics (for comparison, the FDA in America has banned 11). This is obviously fantastic, but it has meant than other chemicals are now being used that are even less tested!

The best way to avoid possibly toxic ingredient is to use products that are organic and use natural ingredients. Research brands and know what you are putting on your body. Here are five of the most common harmful ingredients in cosmetics and beauty products:


What are parabens? Parabens are preservatives that have been used in the cosmetic industry since the 1950s. They work by preventing the growth of bacteria and mould, but your body has 10 to 1 bacterial cells v human cells, and so this delicate balance is challenged by parabens. There are also serious concerns that parabens are endocrine disrupting chemicals that can interfere with your body’s hormones – they mimic the action of the hormone oestrogen. They are stored in your body’s fatty tissues and have been found in high concentrations in breast cancer tissues.

Cause: endocrine (hormone) disruption, allergic reactions, rashes and skin irritation.

P.S Parabens are often preceded by the words: ethyl, butyl, methyl and propyl – so keep an eye out for those too.

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


What’s the difference between SLS and SLES?  Both sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are made by mixing lauryl alcohol with sulphuric acid and adding sodium carbonate, but SLES has ethylene oxide added. SLES is considered by many brands to be a gentler version of SLS because it doesn’t strip the epidermis of its natural oils to the same extent. However, the production process can contaminate the ingredients with 1,4-dioxane which is a carcinogen associated with organ toxicity.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is naturally present in coconut oil and palm kernel oils, which leads product manufacturers to claim that SLS and SLES are a natural compound – they are not! This dastardly duo are found in shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes, shower gels, cosmetics and many beauty and skincare lotions and potions.

SLS and SLES are surfactant examples, which means that they help lather and foam and cleanse oil better than just water. They are both expert in stripping your skin of its essential natural oils and lipids. Lipids are the skin’s natural fats and are essential for maintaining its protective barrier from damage and retaining moisture; they also help the skin’s healing process.

Cause:  eye irritation, scalp scurf (like dandruff), skin irritation and other allergic reactions.

Ethanolamine Compounds: DEA/TEA/MEA

What are ethanolamine compounds? These compounds are found in so many beauty products. They are the foam in your bubble bath, shampoo and facial cleanser; the emollient in your lotions and potions, shampoos and conditioners. When ethanolamines are in the same product as some preservatives they can react and create nitrosamines. Nitrosamines have been linked to cancer. They are toxic when absorbed by the skin over a long period of time.

The ethanolamine compounds come in many guises, but here are the most common ones that have been found in beauty and skincare products:

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  • Cocamide DEA

  • Linoleamide MEA

  • Cocamide MEA

  • Myristamide DEA

  • DEA-Cetyl Phosphate

  • Oleamide DEA

  • DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate

  • Stearamide MEA

  • Lauramide DEA 

  • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate

Cause: allergic reactions on the skin, eye irritation symptoms and dryness of hair and skin.

Synthetic fragrances

Just because a skincare product smells divine, doesn’t mean that it is, and unfortunately synthetic fragrances are often made up of up to 200 artificial chemicals. Synthetic fragrance oils are laboratory made and are composed of a variety of toxic chemicals almost entirely from petroleum by-products including derivatives from benzene, toluene and aldehydes. They are cheap to produce, offer a uniform result and can provide a vast range of aromas; however, they contain phthalates to lengthen the time the aroma lasts.

Phthalates definition: a salt or ester of phthalic acid.

What the definition doesn’t tell you is that phthalates have been linked to damage of the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system – oh, and phthalates are an endocrine disruptor too. The problem is that phthalates are rarely used on labels – they are hidden under the generic term of ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfume’ – use products that are fragranced with essential oils and not nature identical!

Cause: headaches, dizziness, vomiting, coughing, skin irritation and rashes.

TIP: if a label has ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’ on it – avoid the product.

Petroleum jelly, mineral oil and paraffin

Petroleum jelly is a common ingredient in skincare products, and yes, its cousin is the same that you put in your car. It has many aliases that appear on the ingredients list including xylene, toluene, mineral oil and liquid paraffin.

Petroleum jelly has been used for dry skin for decades, but it can inflame skin problems. Petroleum jelly dangers come from the fact that it coats your skin with a plastic-like wrap which clogs your pores and leads to a build-up of toxins and disrupts your body’s natural mechanism for moisturising – your skin needs to be able to breathe!

You are not a machine – you are a living being, so ditch the petroleum!

Cause: skin breakouts, dry skin, skin irritations, skin infections, skin allergies.

Always check the labels of products that you are buying. But be warned, the terms ‘organic’, ‘natural’ and ‘green’ have been exploited by brands to imply that their products appeal to consumers. Click here to read how brands greenwash products and the tactics these brands use to lure you in.


There are so many better, natural alternatives to using harsh synthetic chemicals. The natural alternatives provide so many additional benefits - fatty acids that plump skin naturally, skin enhancing Vitamins that are antioxidant and fight free radical damage, and nutrients that improve your skin’s elasticity.

In the truest sense, organic beauty and skincare products only use organically farmed ingredients. Ingredients that have not been touched by any synthetic material through the cultivation, refinement or production process. This means:

  • No genetically modified organisms (GMO)

  • No herbicides

  • No pesticides

  • No synthetic materials

  • No silicones

  • No paraffin or petroleum-derived ingredients

  • No non-organic compounds used in the production