10 Bad Skincare Ingredients

Image by Christin Hume

Image by Christin Hume

I’m guilty of not using cleaner skincare products. I have a habit of testing new things, trying to get the best results from my skincare routine. I’ve been wanting to educate myself a bit more about why people are freaking out about going green. Does it really matter? What happens if I don’t make the switch? How can I tell what products are good or bad for me?

A little edu: our skin is the biggest organ in our bodies, and what we put on it could go right into our bloodstream. In the US, the FDA doesn’t regulate the beauty industry like the rest of the world does, so a lot of our ingredients can actually cause cancer or other pretty terrible health issues.

Ingredients can do one of two things: penetrate or absorb into our skin. Penetration is when a product make it to the deeper layers of the skin. Absorbing means that products, unable to break down, will go through the three layers of skin (epidermis, dermis and subcutis) right into the bloodstream. This is incredibly scary.

There are a ton of bad ingredients out there but I put together what I think is the top 10. For more information about ingredients that are not so good, check out the ingredient glossary.

Bad Ingredients for your Skin

Artificial or Synthetic Coloring
It’s a chemical additive that helps change the shade of color cosmetics, hair care and skincare products. Many of these artificial colors are made up from coal tar, metal salts and possibly lead.

This ingredient is carcinogenic (which means it has the potential to cause cancer). It can also make your skin more sensitive and even be the cause of acne. Some dyes are linked to thyroid tumors, hyperactivity, kidney tumors and other allergic reactions.

Chemical Sunscreen
It’s a UV light filter that can potentially mimic hormones. It’s easily absorbed into the body and it can cause cellular damage and cancer. Chemical sunscreen can cause allergic skin reactions.

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are added to skincare and cleansing products to stop microbes from growing in water-based products. It’s found mostly in body washes, conditioners, shampoo and cleansers. This ingredient can be absorbed through the skin and is considered carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). This ingredient can also affect the immune system and cause allergic skin reactions.

Fragrance or Perfume
Comes from petroleum or natural raw materials — most companies buy fragrance mixtures. This is a harder ingredient to identify, since companies aren’t legally supposed to tell you what their fragrance formula is made of. Research says synthetic fragrances can disrupt our hormone responses, can cause lung disease, cancer, reproductive toxicity or dermatitis.

Parabens (ethyl, butyl, methyl, propyl)
It's an organic compound that is used as a preservative found in about 85% of personal care products. What’s tricky about this ingredient is that mimics the female hormone estrogen, which can effect your reproductive health and stimulate the growth of breast tumors increasing your risk of breast cancer.

There are actually a ton of different types of parabens which go under the names of methyl- , ethylparabens, propyl- and butylparaben.

Phthalates (dibutyl, diethyl, dimethyl)
This ingredient is used to keep plastic strong, but is also used in lotions, shampoos and fragrances. There is some research showing that phthalates can mess with hormones causing reproductive abnormalities or developmental problems. Diethyl Phthalate (DEP) is a common one found in fragrances or dibutyl phthalate (DBP) which is found in nail polish.

Propylene Glycol
This ingredient is found mainly in face creams or other personal care products. Can cause severe skin irritation or sensitivities, damage to the kidneys and liver.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
This ingredient is found in more than 90% of personal care and cleaning products since it does a good job at trapping oil-based dirt. It’s also the ingredient that helps your products lather, froth or bubble up. There isn’t any significant evidence that links this ingredient to cancer but it does have potentially toxic effects on aquatic organisms. Some studies show that if this ingredient is mixed with other chemicals, it can form what is called nitrosamines (a cancer causing chemical) or can negatively impact your skin, irritate your eyes, kidneys and lungs.

Toluene (benzene, phenylmethane, methylbenzene)
Found naturally in crude oil and in tolu tree. Toluene is typically added to gasoline and making products like paint thinners, adhesives, rubber and dyes. In the cosmetic industry it’s mostly found in nail polish or hair dyes. Can cause irritation to your eyes or skin, can develop issues within your immune system, effects the nervous system, liver and kidneys Avoid this ingredient if you are pregnant as it can cause developmental damage in the fetus.

Is an antimicrobial chemical, initially used as a surgical scrub for the medical industry, put in products to kill bacteria and fungus. This ingredient doesn’t break down really quickly. There has been some research that it can irritate the skin, cause issues with your thyroid or reproductive hormones. It’s a endocrine disruptor — which is relating to the denoting glands which keep your hormones functioning properly. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, avoid this ingredient.

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