Top 9 common skin care ingredients to avoid

Did you know that, apart from color additives, skin care ingredients do not require FDA approval before they come to sit on your bathroom shelves? Or the term “skin care ingredients”, in the eyes of the FDA, wraps in such items as moisturizers, lipsticks, perfumes, hair colors, perms, shampoos, other makeup products, and even deodorants? We use plenty of these products on a daily basis, which can total up to hundreds of different ingredients. The alarming truth is that some of these skin care ingredients are harmful to your skin, body, and overall health. But don’t fret as you do not have to give up all of your skin care products! Making healthier and safer choices can actually be fun and easy as long as you know what skin care ingredients to avoid. Now let’s get down to business and find out the top 9 common skin care ingredients you should never use!


Parabens are a family of chemicals including propylparaben, isobutylparabens, and methylparabens that are used in skin care products to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. They are often found in moisturizers, shampoos, shaving gels, spray tanning, and personal lubricant products. 

Research has shown this family of preservatives acts as endocrine disruptors with serious effects on important hormone mechanisms in the body. Parabens are also known to promote skin cancer, breast cancer, and reduced sperm count, although this is not officially recognized by the FDA.

As skin care products are used daily, lifetime exposure to this class of ingredients is dangerous, especially longer chain parabens like butyl and propyl and their branched counterparts as they may disrupt the endocrine system and cause developmental or reproductive disorders allergic reactions. For this reason, look for parabens-free products and avoid skin care ingredients with the suffix “-parabens”.

MEA, DEA, and TEA (also known as ethanolamines)

Found in lotions, dyes, moisturizers, facial cleansers, and shampoos, Monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA), and triethanolamine (TEA) are pH adjusters and foam boosters (surfactants). This ingredient family is restricted in Europe given their link to liver cancers and precancerous changes in the thyroid and skin of users.

Despite limited scientific testing on these chemicals, they can cause allergies, hormone disruption, skin toxicity, and inhibited brain development of fetuses. They are still used in skin care products in Australia and the US. Therefore, next time when you go shopping, check the list of ingredients carefully before making a purchase.

Polyethylene glycol (PEGs)

You might find this ingredient in many skin care products as a moisture carrier and thickener. The tiny plastic beads from polyethylene glycol are also used as a softener or solvent in your cosmetics.

The problem with this synthetic chemical is that it is typically contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both of which readily penetrate the skin and are listed by the US government as probable human carcinogens [2]. Noted as a skin irritant, polyethylene glycol should not be used for broken skin. Besides, this chemical in body washes and scrubs is not filtered by our sewage system. It can travel into waterways and collect pollutants to be eventually consumed by marine organisms.


Phthalates such as DEP, DEHP, and DBP are a family of plasticizing chemicals used to make cosmetic products more pliable and accordingly stick to your skin. They are most commonly found in body lotions, deodorants, shampoos, soaps, hairsprays, and basically any skin care products that are scented.

Many studies confirm that this class of chemicals is toxic to both your reproductive and non-reproductive organs as well as disrupts the endocrine system. They can even lead to birth defects. These skin care ingredients are extremely dangerous for kids and are banned from products for children by Congress. While the US FDA still monitors their use, the EU has already banned the use of phthalates in skin care and cosmetic products.

But this does not stop manufacturers from adding these skin care ingredients to their products under the classification of “trade secrets”. Hence, you might still find one or more undisclosed phthalates in your skin care products.


Shampoos, hair dyes, bath lotions, nail polish, and bubble bath products are some of the items containing this ingredient. It can prevent bacteria from growing in water-based products and is often used as a preservative.

The US National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen. The ingredient is also banned in Europe. In addition, formaldehyde is linked to asthma, dermatitis, neurotoxicity, joint pains, headaches, liver problems, and immune system toxicity. Even at low levels, it can cause irritation to the lungs, eyes, and skin.


This one is surprising, isn’t it? Marketers always boast about its anti-aging effects, but retinol also comes with negative sides. When used on your skin, it speeds the growth of skin tumors and damages DNA. This makes it a no-no for those with skin cancers and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Notwithstanding this, retinol is still great to soften wrinkles, heal breakouts, and give you a glowy complexion. As a result, you can try bakuchiol, a new natural retinol alternative with amazing anti-aging results. You can enjoy incredible benefits without side effects. It is also highly recommended by dermatologists!

Coal tar

Another one on the list of skin care ingredients banned by the European Union. Why? Coal tar is easily contaminated with heavy metals that are detrimental to your brain. 

It is a known carcinogen but sadly, coal tar is still used in the US in products like cosmetics, toothpaste, mouthwash, anti-itch creams, hair dyes, and shampoos. Sometimes you cannot find coal tar on the labels of skin care products if only its constituent parts are used.


Lead is naturally found in the environment, but you will also find it as a contaminant in cosmetics like eye shadows, lipsticks, compact powders, blushes, body lotions, and even shampoos.

Although it is not listed on the label as an ingredient, the US FDA detected lead in all chemicals tested in a study in 2009. While there is not a limit for lead in cosmetics, the lead levels found were ten times as high as the FDA’s safety limit for candy.

There is strong evidence suggesting that lead is a carcinogen and a hormone disrupter. As part of skin care ingredients, it is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and accumulated in bone, causing damage to your blood, kidneys, and nervous system. Exposed to lead in the womb, babies can develop serious complications such as attention disorders, seizures, and brain damage.

Until now, no safe levels of lead have been established for skin care products by the FDA irrespective of the many efforts being put into them. Definitely, one of the most dangerous skin care ingredients to avoid!


Oxybenzone is one of the most unsafe skin care ingredients found in sunscreen. 

Research on laboratory animals and cells proves that oxybenzone and its metabolites are endocrine disrupters with serious effects on fertility. Therefore, it should be avoided at all costs during pregnancy as oxybenzone can result in birth defects. It also has high skin allergy rates. 

Moreover, parents are advised against using sunscreens with oxybenzone on their children. Besides, Hawaii has prohibited oxybenzone from sunscreens due to its negative impact on the coral reef. Just another reason for you to opt for safe sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide that are mineral-based and chemical-free.


So, there you have it - the ultimate skin care ingredients checker with 9 common harmful substances to avoid when shopping for new skin care products and cosmetics. With this powerful guide, selecting safe and healthy items for your skin just got so much easier! Also, you find our supplements with natural ingredients that can promote your skin health and beauty effectively. Click here to know more! 




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