Ten Toxic Ingredients That Might Be in Your Skin Care (And What to Use Instead)

Recently, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins proposed the Personal Care Products Safety Act, which would give the FDA greater oversight over the millions of skin care and makeup products that are sold each year. This new bill would allow the FDA to recall products that are mislabeled or unsafe, require companies to submit information about their ingredients, and mandate that the FDA put time into vetting common skin care ingredients, starting with those that have been recently called into question, such as propylparaben.

The new bill may have you wondering what the current existing laws are for skin care, and what that means for the safety of yours.

It’s a common belief that if a product is on the shelves, then it only contains ingredients that are considered safe. Some people even think that if a product is available commercially, it has undergone testing to verify its safety.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The FDA doesn’t regulate cosmetics. You can read on their website: “Under the law, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.”

In some ways, this is good news. If every company needed to go through the FDA approval process, the time and money required to do so would hinder many small companies from getting their products on the market.

As a consumer, your best bet is to learn about the ingredients used commonly in skin care so you can understand which are potentially harmful, and what their natural alternatives are.

At this point, you may be asking: What’s the big deal? Why devote so much time to vetting skin care companies and studying the ingredients they use in their products?

Our skin absorbs up to 60 percent of what we put on it. Even if a chemical isn’t so harmful that it affects us right away, some bioaccumulate in the body, therefore taking their toll over time. When you’re dealing with chemicals that are carcinogenic, interfere with hormones (endocrine disruptors), or are even toxic to your nervous system, the goal is to minimize exposure as much as possible.

Additionally, these ingredients aren’t always being used because they’re effective. Often they’re put in products simply because they’re cheap or readily available.

There are millions of skin care products on the shelves, and thousands of ingredients in those products. Where to start?

Start with ten of the most common and toxic chemicals that might be in your skin care, makeup, or body products.

1. Parabens

Parabens have gotten a lot of attention in the past few years. However, they’re not new. Pharmaceutical companies started using parabens to preserve products in the 1920s. By the 1980s, they were being used in over 13,200 formulations on the shelves. Ten years later, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology published a study that revealed parabens as being estrogenic, meaning they compete with estrogen for binding sites in the body, potentially affecting hormonal balance. [1]

Another study in 2002 showed similar results, followed by a 2004 study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, which found parabens in 19 out of 20 human breast tumors they tested. [2] While correlation does not mean causation, these studies raise concern about the link between parabens and adverse estrogenism in the body.

Why would a hormone-mimicking ingredient be used in skin care? Parabens are used to suppress microbial growth in everything from shampoo, conditioner, perfume, toothpaste, soaps, and other hygiene products. When buying skin care, look for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben on the label, and avoid these products.

Of course, you don’t want your skin care to spoil. And unless you’re whipping it up DIY-style in your kitchen every morning, you need it to last you more than a few days. So how do you preserve a product naturally?

One way is with aspen bark extract, which naturally inhibits the growth of mold, yeast, e-coli, Saureas, subtilis, and other microscopic bugs. If you think about it, it’s in a tree’s best interest to keep these little critters away, so they naturally produce compounds that do so.

Another way is to package products in dark glass bottles, which filter out light and thus dramatically increase a product’s shelf life. At Annmarie Skin Care, we use Miron glass, a super high quality and also really beautiful glass. This, plus other naturally antimicrobial herbs and oils, is how we our products fresh. It’s really cool when you realize you don’t need to use synthetics. Nature provides.

2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS)

In a typical household, you’ll find five or more products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate. Think of the products you have that create suds (lather) when you use them. Your shampoo, your body wash, and your facial cleanser are most likely to contain it.

The main problem with this ingredient is that it’s corrosive — it wears away at the protective lining of your skin. SLS have actually been used in clinical studies to irritate skin so researchers can test healing solutions. Right, a chemical used to purposefully irritate skin for research is being used in tons of products that are considered safe for you. It doesn’t really make sense.

Of course, when this research is done, they’re using a lot more of it than what you’ll find in your shampoo. But washing every day, or even every other day adds up.

Another unpleasant effect of SLS is skin aging. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, scientists reported that SLS “had a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties.” Protein denaturing means that the protein structure is disrupted and possibly destroyed. Skin aging as a result of sun exposure is believed to occur because of protein denaturation. [3]

Sodium lauryl sulfate and its slightly more gentle alternative, sodium laureth sulfate make skin care products foamy, which we’re taught as consumers to believe is what a cleanser should do. A lather is really not necessary to get your face clean, though. So save your skin and opt for cleansers and hair care products that don’t have sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate on the label.

3. Mineral oil

It’s counterintuitive because minerals and oils are both things that are good for us. However, mineral oil is a different thing altogether.

Mineral oil is a byproduct of the production of crude oil. It’s very costly to dispose of, so oil companies are highly incentivized to find a use for it. Thus, it’s very inexpensive for skin care companies to obtain mineral oil to use as a humectant (something that helps bind moisture to the skin).

It never spoils, which is something that’s good if shelf life is your top concern, but not so much if you’re looking for something that promotes healthy skin.

Our skin doesn’t absorb mineral oil well and it can thus clog your pores. Beyond cosmetic problems, mineral oil is often tainted with other chemicals during the refining process. Think of all the chemicals that are used to produce crude oil. You don’t want any of those on your skin.

The natural alternatives are endless. Coconut oil has gotten a lot of press lately as being a highly moisturizing oil, and it deserves every word. And there are tons of other oils you can use. Depending on your skin type, you can moisturize with avocado, grapeseed, jojoba hazelnut, and sunflower seed oils. Look for jojoba in anti-aging formulas, because it’s similar to human oil. Consider grapeseed oil if you tend to have breakouts because it moisturizes while preventing acne.

4. Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are disruptive to the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. Such interference can lead to developmental, reproductive, and neurological damage. Specifically, phthalates are shown to worsen a woman’s egg quality and quantity.

The effects of phthalates may be related to their ability to mimic human hormones. A study by the University of Maryland reported that exposure to phthalates could cause reproductive abnormalities and decreased production of testosterone in males, as well as decreased male fertility. Other studies show a link between phthalates and premature delivery and endometriosis in women.[4]

Where would you find phthalates? They’re used to plasticize products, making them more flexible or better able to hold in color and scent. In everything from deodorant to nail polish to scented lip balm, these chemicals can be grouped under and listed as “fragrance.” Companies claim their fragrance formulas as “trade secret,” and thus don’t have to specify on the label which ingredients are included.

Conveniently for us, there are so many things that smell good, naturally. When you look at a product label, avoid products that list “fragrance” and instead opt for those that use essential oils to make the product smell lovely.

5. Oxybenzone

We’re told to protect our skin from skin cancer, that daily sun exposure increases our risk and that we should lather up accordingly. But most sunscreens on the shelves contain a harmful chemical called oxybenzone, which has been shown in some studies to be carcinogenic and hormone-mimicking. One might wonder if it’s better to brave the sun alone than to wear a sunscreen that’s toxic.

In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly all Americans were contaminated with oxybenzone. Not only that, but some studies have shown that it penetrates the skin and then increases the production of free radicals when exposed to light. You definitely don’t want a sunscreen ingredient that reacts to the sun by increasing free radical production. This is one way in which oxybenzone is considered a carcinogen. [5]

Using natural sunscreen is a no-brainer. Zinc oxide has long been one of the safest and most trusted sun protection ingredients. It’s a physical sunscreen, which means it blocks the rays from getting to your skin, rather than just neutralizing them.

Using sunscreens with zinc oxide can give you protection from the sun with a side of peace of mind. Consider also sun protection that contains skin-healing ingredients like avocado oil and aloe vera. That way, you can block UV rays while healing past damage.

6. Lead

You probably know that lead is bad. That’s why we stopped putting it in our paint. It’s a proven neurotoxin linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility, and delayed onset of puberty for females. Lead turns weak stress hormones into stronger stress hormones.

So why is it showing up in our foundation, lipsticks, and even whitening toothpaste?

About seven years ago, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found lead in over half of the 33 brands of lipstick they tested. A more recent study by the FDA tested popular brands and found 400 that contained up to 7.19 ppm of lead.

Lipstick is a product that should be cleaner than clean. How many times have you gotten lipstick on your teeth? For those who wear it regularly, this could harm your health. In fact, the average woman eats 10 pounds of lipstick over her lifetime. Recently, my urine heavy metal test came back high in lead, and I got rid of all of the lingering conventional lipsticks, glosses, and shimmers–and replaced them with safer alternatives.

How does lead make it into cosmetics? It isn’t added as an ingredient, but rather makes its way in through contamination. Color additives are some of the most common sources.

The best way to avoid lead is to buy makeup from companies that make products in small batches and avoid contamination, or to buy products colored naturally, like with fruit pigments or alkanet root.

7. Aluminum

Aluminum is most famously used in antiperspirant deodorants, which are a daily must-apply for a lot of people out there.

Classified as a neurotoxin, some studies have linked aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease, though recent research calls that into question. Other studies suggest a link between aluminum and breast cancer and other brain disorders.

So we don’t exactly what the consequences are of ingesting aluminum (both through our mouths and through our skin). The average person will internalize three pounds of aluminum in their lifetime. So if it’s as bad as we think it is for our health, we are wading in dangerous waters.

There are tons of natural deodorants out there, and most people have tried one that didn’t work. Lilfox botanicals makes a great one, and so does Primal Pit Paste. There are even ways to make yourself smell naturally sweet, like eating fenugreek. It sounds crazy, but it works.

8. Triclosan

Here’s what a few studies found when they research the effects of triclosan (found most commonly in hand sanitizer):

A 2006 study published in Aquatic Toxicology showed that triclosan affects the gene expression of hormones related to thyroid production in bullfrogs. [6]

Similarly, a 2007 study showed that triclosan interfered with the expression of thyroxine, a thyroid hormone. [7]

Again, a 2009 study of Wistar rats showed that exposure to triclosan affected their thyroid hormones. [8]

Of course, humans are different from rats and bullfrogs, but it’s definitely something to think about.

Triclosan is included in antibacterial formulations to do just that — remove bacteria from our skin.

But do we want to constantly be removing bacteria from our skin? As we’ve learned in the nutrition world, bacteria is beneficial to our health — necessary actually. Constantly removing bacteria from our bodies using antibiotics, hand sanitizers, etc. is not a health-promoting habit.

Of course, this is harder for those in the health industry, who constantly have to worry about spreading their germs to those they work with. But for everyday purposes, soap and water works just great for keeping our high-five machines clean.

9. PEG Compounds

Polyethylene glycols, or PEGs, are petroleum-based compounds that are used to thicken, soften, and gelatinize cosmetics, making them a common ingredient in cream-based products. The main issue with PEGs is that they are often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.

Ethylene oxide is a known human carcinogen, potentially harmful to the nervous system and human development. 1,4-dioxane is a possible human carcinogen that can remain in the environment for long periods of time without degrading.

PEG compounds also enhance the penetration of other ingredients into your skin, which is great if these other ingredients are healthy, but not so much if they are harmful. The number next to PEG indicates how many units of ethylene glycol they comprise, such as PEG-4 or PEG-150. The lower the number, the more easily the product absorbs into your skin.

If you see PEG on the skin care label, put it back on the shelf.

10. Hydroquinone

This ingredient is most commonly used to lighten skin. Those with age spots, sun damage, or acne scars may use it to lighten marks and make skin tone more even.

There are several reasons not to use hydroquinone.

First, in 2006 the FDA announced that more testing was needed to verify its safety. There was a proposal to withdraw their earlier ruling that hydroquinone was safe when used at a concentration of 1.5 to 2 percent. They ultimately decided to allow this concentration in over-the-counter products, with concentrations over 2 percent available only by prescription. It’s possible that outside interests influenced this eventual decision.

Second, other studies on animals produced evidence that it could be carcinogenic when taken orally. Since hydroquinone is an ingredient that has the ability to penetrate deep into the skin, topical use is concerning as well. [9]

Third, using hydroquinone long term can decrease your skin elasticity. This isn’t what you want.

There are several natural ingredients that can lighten and brighten your skin. A few are licorice root, vitamin C, and turmeric. Look for these ingredients, or those that help heal the skin, such as avocado oil or aloe vera. Your skin tone will become more even over time without the harmful side effects.

If you have products in your cabinet that you’ve been buying for years, it can be really hard to make the switch. My advice would be to start slowly, swapping out products one by one until your beauty regimen is full of natural oils and aloes and herbs and rainbows (just kidding on that last one).

Finally, consider that your skin will detox when you upgrade what you’re applying (especially when you switch up your whole routine at once). So it’s a good idea to swap products out one by one, maybe starting with with your moisturizer, then switching up your cleanser, then tackling your makeup. You skin will be happier and your body will, too.

My Recommendation for You 

If you’d like a skin care product recommendation from me, Annmarie Skin Care is one of best and most effective natural products I’ve come across. They also have a luxurious smell and feel, and when you put them on your skin, you can rest easy knowing that they don’t contain any of the toxic chemicals you’ve read about in this article. Since I found this line, I’ve been recommending it to my family, friends, and entire team.

If you’d like to try the Annmarie line for yourself, now is a great time. Their team has put together 3 different sample kits (depending on your skin type) that you can get now. This is a great, low-risk opportunity to see if they work for you. The kits are $10, but they’re shipped to you free anywhere in the world, and you also get a $10 off coupon for a future purchase. So if you like the products and get a full size, your kit is essentially free.

On top of that, if you get a sample kit today, you’ll also get their Toxic Free Home Guide for free (a $24.95 value) — a complete ebook that shows you where you can find hidden toxic chemicals at home, and what products and options you have to remove them. In this guide, you’ll find tips and advice from some of the leading experts in organics, GMOs and removing toxic chemicals like Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association; Stacy Malkin, author and natural skin care advocate; and Pamm Larry, founder of LabelGMOs.org. It’s a great book to help you clean up the place you spend most of your time.

And one last thing, if you’re one of the first 100 to get a kit, you’ll also get a free travel sized Neroli toning mist as well.

Here’s where you can get this special deal now, and I hope you’ll love the products as much as I do: http://go.hormonereset.com/sample-kit


[1] Routledge, E., J. Parker, J. Odum, J. Ashby, and J. Sumpter. “Some Alkyl Hydroxy Benzoate Preservatives (Parabens) Are Estrogenic.” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 153, no. 1 (1998): 12-19. doi:10.1006/taap.1998.8544.

[2] Darbre, P. D., A. Aljarrah, W. R. Miller, N. G. Coldham, M. J. Sauer, and G. S. Pope. “Concentrations Of Parabens In Human Breast Tumours.” Journal of Applied Toxicology 24, no. 1 (2004): 5-13. doi:10.1002/jat.958.

[3] Robinson, V. C., W. F. Bergfeld, D. V. Belsito, R. A. Hill, C. D. Klaassen, J. G. Marks, R. C. Shank, T. J. Slaga, P. W. Snyder, and F. Alan Andersen. “Final Report of the Amended Safety Assessment of Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Related Salts of Sulfated Ethoxylated Alcohols.” International Journal of Toxicology 29, no. 3 (2010): 151S-61S. doi:10.1 177/1091581810373151.

[4] Upson, Kristen, Sheela Sathyanarayana, Anneclaire J. De Roos, Mary Lou Thompson, Delia Scholes, Russell Dills, and Victoria L. Holt. “Phthalates and Risk of Endometriosis.” Environmental Research 126 (2013): 91-97. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2013.07.003.

[5] Hanson, Kerry M., Enrico Gratton, and Christopher J. Bardeen. “Sunscreen Enhancement of UV-induced Reactive Oxygen Species in the Skin.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 41, no. 8 (2006): 1205-212. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2006.06.011.

[6] Veldhoen, Nik, Rachel C. Skirrow, Heather Osachoff, Heidi Wigmore, David J. Clapson, Mark P. Gunderson, Graham Van Aggelen, and Caren C. Helbing. “The Bactericidal Agent Triclosan Modulates Thyroid Hormone-associated Gene Expression And Disrupts Postembryonic Anuran Development.” Aquatic Toxicology 5, no. 83 (2006): 217-27.

[7] Paul, K. B., J. M. Hedge, M. J. Devito, and K. M. Crofton. “Short-term Exposure to Triclosan Decreases Thyroxine In Vivo via Upregulation of Hepatic Catabolism in Young Long-Evans Rats.” Toxicological Sciences 113, no. 2 (2010): 367-79. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfp271.

[8] Zorrilla, L. M., E. K. Gibson, S. C. Jeffay, K. M. Crofton, W. R. Setzer, R. L. Cooper, and T. E. Stoker. “The Effects Of Triclosan On Puberty And Thyroid Hormones In Male Wistar Rats.” Toxicological Sciences 107, no. 1 (2009): 56-64. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfn225.

[9] McGregor, Douglas. “Hydroquinone: An Evaluation Of The Human Risks From Its Carcinogenic And Mutagenic Properties.” Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 2007, 887-914.