Six Ingredients To Avoid In Your Beauty Products

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Ingredients To Avoid In Beauty Products

If you haven’t yet completely made the switch to all-natural homemade personal products (or at least reputable organic store-bought), consider this: your hair, skin, nails, and body are probably all stressed out and need a break.

Body care and cosmetics are not regulated like foods, so many of them contain toxic chemicals. Some of these chemicals are added intentionally, and some are contaminants or impurities that are released by other ingredients or created when certain ingredients are combined.

Over time, our bodies collect toxins in much the same way a bicycle wheel collects rust. All of that toxicity contributes to weight gain, wrinkles, breakouts, and dull skin, hair, and nails.” Kimberly Snyder, CN ~The Beauty Detox Solution

You’ll find an array of chemicals in beauty products on store shelves. Some have extremely low health risks, while others are known carcinogens or linked to other serious health problems. If you want truly “natural” products, you’ll have to learn to pour over labels and determine which ingredients won’t cause you to grow horns or a third eye. (I’m only *kind of* kidding about that.)

So if you want what’s best for your body, you can start by avoiding the following products in your beauty and personal care products:


What are they?

Parabens are additives that possess antimicrobial activity, frequently used as a preservative in cosmetics (and some foods).

Why they’re dangerous

Concerns about parabens in personal care products have cropped up due to their ease of penetration into the skin. They have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body, interfering with hormone function. They have been detected in human breast cancer tissue, suggesting a possible relationship between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. (source, source)

Where they’re found

You can find parabens in things like fragrances (although they won’t be listed on labels as such), deodorants, makeup, lotions, lip sticks, shampoos, conditioners, body wash, and most other beauty products that contain water. Parabens are a family of chemicals, so they’ll show up under many names on labels.

ON LABELS, LOOK FOR: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and other ingredients ending in -paraben. 


What are they?

Phthalates are chemicals that are used as solvents, dyes, plasticizers, and as a solubulizer in many cosmetics and perfumes.

Why they’re dangerous

Scientists in several countries have agreed that phthalates can cause a range of health and reproductive problems. Phthalates can not only be absorbed through the skin, but also inhaled when found in things like cologne and perfumes. Studies have shown that phthalates can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, lungs, and reproductive systems. They have been linked to reduced sperm count, disruptions in hormone activity, and even liver and breast cancer. (source)

Where they’re found

You can find phthalates in products like perfume/cologne, shampoos, hand lotion, eye liner, eye shadow, mascara, lip stick, bronzer, nail polish, hair gels, deodorants, hairspray, and aftershave lotion. There are several forms of phthalates that may be lurking in your beauty products.

ON LABELS, LOOK FOR: diethly phthalates (DEP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), benzylbutyl phthalate (BzBP), and dibutyl phthalate (DBP).

Petroleum Byproducts

What are they?

Derived from crude oil, petroleum-based ingredients form a barrier over the skin, not allowing it to breath. These products are used by companies because they’re extremely cheap.

Why they’re dangerous

Because petroleum products form a barrier over the skin, they interfere with the body’s natural moisture-production, resulting in dehydration of the skin. Furthermore, the skin is the body’s largest organ, often assisting overloaded organs in the job of detoxification. When petroleum products are introduced to the skin they can interfere with the body’s detox efforts. Petroleum products have also been linked to premature aging of the skin and are a possible carcinogen. (source)

Where they’re found

Petroleum byproducts can be found in lip products, petroleum jelly, baby oil, hair products, skin moisturizers, sunblocks, deodorant, soaps, and more.

ON LABELS, LOOK FOR: petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin, paraffin oil, paraffin wax, propylene glycol, PVP/VA copolymere, and even isopropyl alcohol! 


What is it?

A highly toxic impurity, formaldehyde is released by a number of preservatives used in cosmetics. The use of formaldehyde in personal products has been banned in many countries, but not in the US.

Why it’s dangerous

Formaldehyde has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It has also been identified as a substance that is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the US National Toxicology Program. Formaldehyde is also well known as a skin irritant. Yet, there is still no requirement for the amounts of formaldehyde to be tested in personal products here in the US. (Can anyone say “YIKES?”)

Where it’s found

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives can be found in some nail polishes, shampoos, liquid hand soaps, body washes, nail glues, toothpastes, hair gels, hair smoothing products, lotions, and more.

ON LABELS, LOOK FOR: DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, and sodium hydroxylmethylglycinate.


What is it?

According to the Environmental Working Group, 1,4-dioxane is “an unwanted byproduct of an ingredient processing method called ethoxylation used to reduce the risk of skin irritation for petroleum-based ingredients. Though 1,4-dioxane can easily be removed from products before they are sold, its widespread presence in products indicates that many manufacturers fail to take this simple step.” So I guess you could say it’s an unwanted by-product of an already harmful ingredient (petroleum byproducts) that is put into personal care products.

Why it’s dangerous

Several organizations, including the Environmental Protection agency (EPA) and the US National Toxicology Program (NTP), have classified 1,4-dioxane as a probable human carcinogen. It has been linked to organ toxicity, neurotoxicity, and birth defects.

Where it’s found

This contaminant can be found in most products that produce lather, such as shampoos, liquid soaps, body washes, etc. It can also be found in hair relaxers and other products.

ON LABELS, LOOK FOR: PEG (polyethylene glycol), and any other ingredients that contain “eth,” like “laureth,” “ceteareth,” “oleth,” etc.

Synthetic Fragrances

What are they?

Synthetic fragrances are added to products to make them smell good. These fragrances can contain a laundry list of chemicals that don’t have to be disclosed on labels, since most fragrances are a unique blend formulated by companies. (A fragrance is considered a trade secret that is actually legally protected!) Instead, you’ll only see “fragrance” listed in the ingredients.

Why they’re dangerous

Unfortunately, synthetic fragrances can contain things like phthalates, petroleum byproducts, and parabens. (See info above if you can’t remember why these are bad.) Other harmful ingredients in synthetic fragrances include Toluene (aka methyl benzene), acetaldehyde, styrene oxide, acetonitrile, and and Musk tetralin (AETT), which have all been linked to dangerous health issues. Since companies don’t have to list all the chemicals that make up their synthetic chemicals, you’re basically getting a “mystery blend” of toxins. Most synthetic fragrances are also likely to cause or exacerbate allergies, headaches, or asthma.

Where they’re found

You can find synthetic fragrances in colognes, perfumes, deodorants, and almost any other personal care product on the market.

ON LABELS, LOOK FOR: fragrance or perfume. 

What to Use Instead

To completely avoid having toxic ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products, we recommend replacing products with homemade versions. This allows complete control over ingredients, with the ability to formulate a product that’s perfect for your skin or hair type.

On this site, we have recipes for many simple, natural, non-toxic beauty care products, including:

If you just aren’t ready to dive into making all your own products, a little research will be your best line of defense against toxin-filled products. Choose companies that are devoted to producing the most pure, natural products. (Hint: These will not be the big brands found in stores.) You’ll likely spend more for these products, but you’ll probably save on medical bills in the long run if you’re avoiding carcinogens and other toxic ingredients. Look for plant-based ingredients, nourishing butters, and essential oils that will naturally leave your complexion, hair, and nails looking beautiful.

If you want to do more research on products already in your cabinets, or other ingredients to avoid, you can visit the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database for more information.

What ingredients have you banned from your beauty products?


References & Resources:

About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebookand Twitter.

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  1. Sunny Hamrick says

    I am currently working in the beauty industry as a Stylist at a local corporate chain salon ~ I am awakening to the toxins in the many products we use and sell, and will be making the move to work for myself very soon. I will be using organic products only ~ and I will be using info I have learned here to educate and awaken others. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge ~ it is very much appreciated! Namaste ~ Sunny

    • Matt Jabs says

      That is awesome Sunny, we say go for it! There is definitely a growing market for it and your business is destined to be a success. Blessings.

  2. Natalie @ Paper & Birch says

    Great list – very informative!

    One thing to add for Shampoos/Conditioners especially is any Silicone (products that end in “xane”, “cone”. The problem with silicones is that they suffocate the hair and the only way to remove them is with a Sulfate and sulfates strip all the natural oils.

  3. Iris Weaver, Shamanic Herbalist says

    Terrific article! I teach classes on making your own herbal lotions and salves, and body care products, and a couple of these ingredients are not on my handout of chemicals to avoid. They’re going to get added on! Thanks. Thanks also for the list of informational resources.

    I have eliminated all of these chemicals from my body care products, my housecleaning products, and my laundry products, because mostly I make my own, or buy from sources that I know don’t include them.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      So glad this article was helpful to you Iris! How wonderful that you’re out there teaching classes and spreading the word! Best of luck to you. 🙂

  4. cassie wadley says

    Betsy, as always your articles are ‘eye openers’, and I wanted to share what I use as a face wash. First, what problems I was having and regimen I was following. Cystic acne with menopause was wreaking havoc, and having always had naturally clear skin this was out of the blue for me. Dermatologist put me on benzole peroxide wash followed by antibiotic wipes, then followed by retin A….I know, I know, weapons of mass destruction, but I was desperate. I faithfully followed for 6 months, it never got better, and the dryness was painful and in the winter, my face cracked and bled when I smiled, which wasn’t often. Then enter my 29 year old daughter. “Mom, why don’t you just wash with honey?” Honey? No, not your grocery store honey, raw, unfiltered, organic honey, I found it at Trader Joe’s. I washed that night and my skin was calmed in only one wash. Over the course of a week, my cystic acne spots were no longer red, or hard, they were softened and drying up. My skin was no longer flaking and breaking. It’s been 2 months now, and my skin is so lovely I don’t even wear makeup. You can even leave it on as a mask. No more WMD for my face. My 12 year old uses it and her skin is glowing. There is a lot of science behind why this works, but mainly I’m just elated to have nice even toned, fresh looking skin again. Just thought I’d share, I’m 53 and in love with my skin again!

  5. Joan Metzner says

    Thanks for this timely article. I have been going through my personal care products and tossing most of them because of these chemicals. Fragrance seems to be ubiquitous, even if products do not contain the other ingredients.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yes, fragrance is a hard one to get around. This is when you have to look for products that contain only pure essential oils for fragrance. You won’t see essential oils listed as “fragrance,” but instead will be listed with their plant name. Best of luck with your clean out project Joan!

  6. Petra says

    What a great article. I am pleases that you not only gave us the “official name” but the names that it would be listed under in the ingredients list. I am working on becoming more natural with what I put on my face and body. I will be printing the list out and checking the products I have on hand. I can definitely say I will not be spending my money on poison and will be making all of my own product in the future. I enjoy all the article and DIY’s. Keep up the good work.