Ingredients to Avoid in Beauty Products

March 13, 2018

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You know what else needs to get spring cleaned, besides the 10 types of clutter I talked about yesterday?  The ingredients in the products you put on your body.  When you really dive into the world of more natural skin care and start learning about exactly what it is they're putting in makeup and moisturizer... yikes.  Companies put a lot of nasty things in there, chemicals that are known to be irritating or disrupting to our hormones, and we really don't know how these will affect us long term because they haven't been around very long.  

But it's so incredibly confusing.  A lot of ingredients just sound scary, but are actually completely fine or even beneficial.  Even oils have sketchy sounding official names.  So how do you even know what you're reading when you look at an ingredients list?  I recommend starting with the products you already own and scanning the labels for the few major bad chemicals and from there, avoid them at all costs.

There's plenty of questionable ingredients you'll need to make your own decisions on, but these are the ones that are universally agreed should be avoided:


Parabens should absolutely be avoided and unfortunately, they're incredibly common and used as a preservative.  They disrupt hormones, which causes everything from early puberty to breast cancer.  On the ingredients list they'll be listed as a few different names, all ending in '-paraben', including butylparaben and isopropylparaben, which are the two most toxic.  You'll find these in all kinds of products, including moisturizer, shaving cream, and mascara, so read carefully.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene 

BHT is a preservative used in makeup (it's even sometimes used in food.) The only reason it's not as big of a concern is because of the limited studies that have been done - but it's regulated closely in Canada, so let's just take a page from them.  Studies on humans show significant allergic reactions, but studies on animals?  Tumor formation, mutations, hormone disruption, developmental effects... I think the studies will catch up soon and recognize it as really bad for humans too.  It'll be listed as this in the ingredients, though could be shortened to BHT.  It's in lipstick a lot.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Cocamide DEA

These are the ingredients you'll find in anything that lathers and foams a lot, so shampoo, soap, and shaving cream.  They're irritants that many can be allergic to, and they're also linked to organ system toxicity concerns.  Although they have a lot of names, they're almost always on ingredients lists as those names.  It's hard for people to switch away from stuff that lathers because they think it's not cleaning if it doesn't foam up, but that's not the case at all.  You don't need foam!


Talc is linked to ovarian cancer and lung disease, if you breathe it in, because it can be contaminated with asbestos.  You'll find it in powder products like eyeshadow, blush, and bronzer, and it's called talc on the ingredients list.  Almost all eyeshadows sold in Sephora contain it, so it's really up to you how dangerous you think it is based on how much you use it.  There are a ton of green beauty brands out there though that make great eyeshadow and would never dream of using talc, so if you're hunting for new products, start with them.  I don't use many powder products any more, and the one that I do doesn't have it.


Phthalates are a plasticizer so they're most often used in nail polish, but you'll also find them in perfume and shampoo.  This one also causes hormone disruption, birth defects, obesity, and can lead to cancer.  On the ingredients list, look for DBP (​dibutyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate.)


This preservative is a known allergen but even worse than that is the fact that you'll find this mostly in hair products, which is crazy because scientists are pretty sure it's neurotoxic.  At least in their animal studies it is.  Check your hair care products for this word in the ingredients list.  It can pop up in cosmetics as well.


I mean, I don't even need to tell you that one is a no go, I think as soon as you hear it, you know.  It's a known carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer.  But it's sneaky on the ingredients list.  You have to look for: formaldehyde, quaternium-15, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal.  Ridiculous, right?  You'll find it most often in makeup remover (please, just use oil!), eyelash glue, eye cream, and cheap shampoo.

I try to use a lot of totally natural products, like raw honey as face wash, but there are times where I want to use a product you can buy at Target (I hate making my own lotion, for example.  I've tried, not my thing.)  For those moments, I take the time to look up and understand every ingredient in the item I'm about to try, but I always scan for these first.  My non-negotiables.  But you can search EWG for any ingredient you see on your list, if there's anything else you might be wondering about that I haven't listed here.

Hopefully this helps you get some of the worst offenders out of your lineup.  How clean are your skin care, makeup, and hair care products?

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