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List of Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in Skin Care Products

Did you know that 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream?


To be 100% sure that what you put on your skin is actually good for you read the ingredients labels on the products. 

Changing out your beauty products might take some time and energy, but you may find that some of your allergy and health problems will suddenly disappear when you no longer use cosmetics formulated with petrochemicals and other synthetics.Tests suggest you can absorb five pounds of chemicals each year from your daily makeup routine alone. Many of these chemicals have been directly linked to cancer or are known to cause damage to your brain, reproductive system, and other organs. On average, women apply 126 different ingredients to their skin daily and 90 percent of them have never been evaluated for safety. A handful of the most hazardous ones include:

  • Paraben, a chemical found in deodorants and other cosmetics that has been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which can drive the growth of human breast tumors.


  • Sodium lauryl sulfate, a surfactant, detergent and emulsifier used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners. It’s present in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundations, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents, and bath oils/bath salts. The real problem with SLES/SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic by-product.


  • Phthalates are plasticizing ingredients that have been linked to birth defects in the reproductive system of boys and lower sperm-motility in adult men, among other problems. Be aware that phthalates are often hidden on shampoo labels under the generic term “fragrance.”


  • Methylisothiazolinone (MIT), a chemical used in shampoo to prevent bacteria from developing, which may have detrimental effects on your nervous system.


  • Toluene, made from petroleum or coal tar, and found in most synthetic fragrances. Chronic exposure linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing fetus.


Still navigating store aisles can be difficult. Environmental Working Group researchers have evaluated hundreds of safety studies and thousands of ingredient labels to bring you our top recommendations for what not to buy.

  1. Soap - Avoid: triclosan and triclocarban.
  2. Skin moisturizer and lip products - Avoid: Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinol in daytime products.
  3. Hand sanitizers - Pick: ethanol or ethyl alcohol in at least 60% alcohol
  4. Sunscreen: Just say no: (SPF above 50, Retinyl palmitate, Aerosol spray and powder sunscreen, Oxybenzone, added insect repellent)      -   Say yes to: Hats and shade in mid-day sun, Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide as active ingredients, otherwise Avobenzone (at 3%), SPF 15 to 50, depending on your own skin coloration, time outside, shade and cloud cover.
  5. Hair Care- Avoid or limit:  Dark permanent hair dyes, Chemical hair straighteners.
  6. Toothpaste - Avoid: triclosan.
  7. Nails -Avoid: Formaldehyde or formalin in polish, hardeners or other nail products, Toluene and Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in polish. Pregnant? Skip polish

Tips for babies and young children

Children are not little adults. Pound for pound, kids are exposed to more contaminants in air, water, food, and personal care products than adults. Immature organ systems are often less capable of fending off chemical assaults. Subtle damage to developing bodies may lead to disease later in life.

Parents can make healthy choices by using fewer personal care products for their children, ignoring ad hype and following these tips:

  1. Baby wipes -Avoid:
    • Bronopol
    • DMDM hydantoin
    • Fragrance


2.Diaper cream -Avoid:

  • BHA
  • Boric acid
  • Fragrance

3. Toothpaste -Use a small amount of fluoride-free toothpaste until kids can reliably rinse and spit (none for kids under 2). Use child-strength toothpaste for children 6 and younger. Use only a pea sized amount and supervise child’s brushing and rinsing (to minimize swallowing)

4. Sunscreen -Infants under 6 months don’t belong in the sun and they shouldn’t wear sunscreen. For older babies and children, use protective clothing and sunscreen that provides good UVA and UVB protection. Use enough and reapply often.

5. Baby powder -Skip it! Just like auto exhaust or secondhand smoke, tiny airborne particles can damage baby’s delicate, developing lungs.


The best thing we consumers can do is read ingredient lists carefully in order to avoid chemicals that are known to be harmful, even though they continue to be widely used.

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