Toxic Ingredients in Skincare

A lot of us are self-proclaimed label readers — we scrutinize ingredients on breakfast cereal boxes and reach for organic macaroni and cheese over the conventional Kraft that we grew up on. We worry about what’s in our tap water, as well as if the plastic from disposable bottles is being leached into that water, which we swore was safer. We pore over the natural sunscreen selection available on the market and analyze the additives in our vitamins. Why, then, do so many of us skimp when it comes to the products we use on our skin? Our skin is our largest organ, and much of what we place on it is absorbed directly into our bloodstream. Think about nicotine and birth control patches — effective doses are delivered into our bloodstream, through the skin, thereby allowing us to curb cravings or prevent pregnancy.

I’ve made it clear that I firmly believe in a good 80/20 balance. If we eat healthy 80% of the week, I don’t feel badly when we treat ourselves to ice cream on a Friday night. When it comes to our products, though, here’s where I don’t skimp:

-With products being applied onto or used by my children

-If I’m soaking in the product (ie, a bubble bath)

-If I’m slathering the product onto my face or body, especially if I’m not washing it off

There are many ingredients to avoid in skincare products — in fact, an entire novel or series of blog posts could be written on the subject matter. You have likely heard the buzz about parabens and pthalates, but here are three that might have slipped under your radar. If any of these are in your current products, I would recommend ditching them — there are much safer and equally effective products out there!


What Is it? Hydroquinone is a skin lightener found in many lightening creams and dark mark fade treatments.

How Does It Work? It reduces the production of melanin in your skin, which is why many people love it for treating hyperpigmentation, sun spots, and other skin discoloration.

Why Should You Avoid It? Hydroquinone works — there is no doubt about that! Unfortunately, its safety is also unclear. In fact, studies have shown that it exhibits carcinogenic effects when applied to the skin. It is also considered cytotoxic and harmful to cells. Though it does decrease melanin production to lighten the skin, long term use might actually damage your pigment cells. With side effects like increased sun sensitivity, irritation, and hyperpigmentation (the opposite of why you use it in the first place!), it’s smart to avoid this ingredient.

Chemical Sunscreens

What Are They? When it comes to sunscreen, you protect yourself in two ways — with a chemical sunscreen or a mineral sunscreen. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, homosalate, and helioplex, to name a few. They tend to be more irritating to the skin and can sometimes cause allergic reactions.

How Do They Work? Mineral sunscreens create a physical barrier to protect your skin from the sun, while chemical sunscreens absorb or scatter — but mostly absorb — the sun’s rays. Chemical sunscreen does offer more protection against UVA and UVB rays than physical sunscreen, but the actual range of protection depends on the specific ingredients and their stability.

Why Should You Avoid Them? Some studies show that ingredients in chemical sunscreens are endocrine (hormone) disruptors, estrogenic (mimic the effects of estrogen), and may interfere with other normal body processes. There are also speculations that chemical sunscreen can contribute to cancer, one of the reasons being that retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A derivative, has been shown to speed the growth of cancerous cells. The ingredient methylisothiazolinone is also found in many sunscreens — ironically, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named this chemical as the allergen of the year. Also problematic is the fact that many chemical UV filters have not been FDA approved.

Mineral Oil

What Is It? Mineral oil is colorless, odorless, and is a byproduct of the distillation of petroleum to create gasoline. It often helps decrease water loss from the skin. Because it is lightweight and inexpensive, it is often found in many creams and lotions.

How Does It Work? It sits on top of the skin to prevent moisture loss.

Why Should You Avoid Them? Mineral oil is available in different grades, and it may be contaminated. Even though cosmetics use “cosmetic grade” mineral oil, scientists have expressed concerns about its safety. It can also clog your pores and increase the risk of blackheads and acne. Mineral oil is what’s known as an “occlusive agent,” which means that it reduces moisture loss by forming a physical barrier on your skin. If your other products contain pore clogging ingredients, this means they will stay close to your skin and increase your risk of breakouts. The bottom line, too, is that it isn’t doing anything for your skin. There’s no nutritional or moisturizing benefits, so why put it on your skin at all, especially knowing the potential risks?


What do you think? Did you find any of these lurking in your favorite products? 

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