Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid

It’s interesting how some brands can advertise products that are “good” for your skin, but bad for your overall health…and the environment. But with the long list of ingredients that can go into even the smallest bottle of cream, how can you keep track of which are acceptable and which you should avoid?

Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb to follow is that if you can’t pronounce the name of the ingredient, then it’s probably not good for you. But to help clarify further, we’ve put together a  list of common toxic ingredients that you should avoid in your skincare regime.

Coal Tar Dyes: these are a known carcinogen across Europe, but are still heavily used in North America. You’ll typically find these dyes in anti-lice or anti-dandruff shampoo products, or dry skin treatments and lotions. You’ll usually find these in an ingredients list under “p-phenylenediamine” or colours listed as “CI” followed by a five digit number.

DEA/TEA/MEA: foaming agents, these chemicals can be found in shampoos, shaving creams, bubble baths or make-up products. Again, restricted in Europe due to carcinogenic effects, it’s still found in many products in the U.S. Can also be found on labels under diethanolamine, Monoethanolamine or Monoethanolamine.

Formaldehyde: this ingredient is an irritant and found in many nail products, hair dye, fake eyelash adhesives and shampoos. Exposure may also irritate the respiratory system and trigger asthma attacks. May also be found as “Formalin” on ingredients lists.

Hydroquinone: this is rated as one of the most toxic ingredients on the EWO’s Skin Deep database, and has been linked to cancer and fertility issues. It’s commonly used to lighten skin.

Lead: often not even listed on ingredients lists because it’s a ‘contaminant’ vs. an actual ingredient, lead can still be found in many lipsticks, toothpastes, nail polishes or hair dyes. It has been linked to brain damage, miscarriage and learning disabilities.

Mineral oil: this is a petroleum by-product which coats the skin and clogs the pores, eliminating skin’s natural ability to eliminate toxins. It slows down skin function, causes acne and other skin disorders and can lead to premature aging. This ingredient is used in many body oils, including baby oil.

Parabens: used as preservatives, parabens can be found in many products, like shampoos and other haircare products. This ingredient has been linked to cancer, fertility issues or cause development issues in fetuses. You can identify parabens on a label under the following names: alkyl parahydroxybenzoate, butylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, or isobutylparabens.

Phthalates: plasticizers, these are often present in fragrances, perfumes, lotions and deodorants, despite being recognized by the World Health Organization as carcinogens and are thought to negatively affect fertility and fetal development as well. Phthalates are commonly “hidden” on ingredients lists under the vague name “fragrance” or “parfum”.

Polyethylene Glycol: another petroleum ingredient, PEG can be found in face cleansers…or oven cleaners 🙁 It’s a known carcinogen.

Talc: commonly found in products such as baby powder or talcum powder, talc has been linked to causing ovarian cancer and respiratory issues due to its asbestos content. You might remember the massive $4.8B settlement Johnson & Johnson was forced to pay to 22 women and their families due to the asbestos content in their talcum powder leading to ovarian cancer.

Triclosan: an antibacterial ingredient, it actually registers as a pesticide considering the high risk it has to both humans and the environment, despite being found in many hand sanitizers and deodorants. It’s been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption. Most commonly found in products made by the brand Microban.

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database gives you the ability to look up a product, ingredient or company and see just how safe it is, or if its not, the ability to find safer alternatives. Each product is rated with a hazard score and a data availability score so you can find out just how your products rank, and learn top tips to using safer products on your skin, every day.

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