Published: August 25, 2023
15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products

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We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” But what about what you put on your skin? It turns out that the toxic ingredients in beauty products can be just as harmful as the processed foods we eat. 

In fact, many of them are on the list of chemicals used in cosmetics which can cause cancer, endocrine disruption, and other health problems.

The cosmetics and personal care industry is a $445 billion business, but it’s also a Wild West. The FDA doesn’t require companies to test their products for safety before they hit the shelves, so it’s up to the consumer to be aware of the potential toxic ingredients in beauty products.

So, what should you avoid when shopping for beauty products? We will discuss the top 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products, beauty and personal care.

Key Takeaways:

  • Stay Informed: Educate yourself about the ingredients in your skincare products to make healthier choices for your skin.
  • Avoid Toxic Ingredients In Beauty Products: Steer clear of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde-releasing agents to prevent skin irritation and potential health risks.
  • Read Labels: Avoid ingredients like triclosan, talc, fragrances and aluminum and choose products with transparent, easy-to-understand ingredient lists.
  • Opt for Safer Alternatives: Replace petrolatum with natural emollients like shea butter for effective and safe moisturization.

Before we get started talking about the list of chemicals used in cosmetics, here is a video about the history of the cosmetic industry presented by The Story of Stuff Project and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. It will shed some light about what is inside your beauty products and how it affects your health and well-being.

The Top 15 Toxic Ingredients To Avoid In Skincare Products 


1. Sulfates

Unfortunately, sulfates are one of the most common toxic ingredients in beauty products. Sulfates are used as a surfactant, which means that they help suspend and disperse oil and water in a liquid or gas.

However, sulfates can also be extremely harsh, stripping the skin of its natural oils and causing irritation, sensitization, and even skin cancer.  Worse still, these appear on the list of chemicals used in cosmetics making it easier for you to identify and avoid using them.

If you’re concerned about the safety of your products, it’s important to know about what is on the label of your products. If the products contain these ingredients, then those are the toxic makeup brands to avoid and choose safer alternatives.

One study found:

“Our next studies were designed to further characterize the increased barrier abnormalities found in SLS-treated STAT6VT mice. First, we evaluated the ability of SLS to induce a change in epidermal thickness. Quantitative epidermal measurements indicate an increase in the epidermal thickness of STAT6VT transgenic mice treated with SLS.”



2. Phthalates 

Phthalates are a  common group of environmental list of chemicals used in cosmetics to make them flexible, durable, and waterproof. But, these chemicals, and one of the toxic ingredients in beauty products, end up accumulating in the body over time.

Studies have found that phthalates can cause reproductive problems, asthma, developmental delays, and even cancer. So, if you see this ingredient in your personal care products, it one of the other toxic makeup brands to avoid, and stick to natural ingredients instead.

Research showed:

“Phthalates, as endocrine-disrupting chemicals and SVOCs, are detrimental to the reproductive, neurological, and developmental systems of humans from multiple exposure pathways.”


3. Parabens

Toxic ingredients in beauty products like ethyl, propyl, butyl, and parabens can potentially cause reproductive problems, nervous system damage, and cancer. These are on the list of chemicals used in cosmetics, known carcinogens, and can be traced back to chemical weapons manufacturing. Not only are these ingredients harmful to your skin, but they’re also bad for the environment.

These chemicals, another one the 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products, can be absorbed through the skin and can cause adverse effects including hormone disruption, reproductive, and developmental toxicity. If this is an ingredient on the label of personal care or beauty products, it is one toxic makeup brands to avoid, and you’re doing your body and the planet a huge favor.


4. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is one of the most harmful and toxic ingredients in beauty products. It is a byproduct of the chemical reaction that takes place during the manufacturing of certain beauty products. Formaldehyde can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, and even cancer. If you see formaldehyde as an ingredient, it is another one of the toxic makeup brands to avoid altogether and to use better options.


5. PEGs

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a synthetic compound that is used in a variety of cosmetic formulations, such as moisturizers, eye shadows, and lip balms. Although PEG has been considered safe by the FDA for over 30 years, recent studies have shown that it can be potentially harmful when used in high concentrations.

PEG is absorbed into the body through the skin and can cause negative effects on the skin, such as skin irritation, acne, and even skin cancer. Be sure to avoid these toxic ingredients in beauty products!

6. PFAs and PFCs

PFAs and  PFCs are a family of man-made  list of chemicals used in cosmetics that have been produced for decades not only in beauty products but also in products such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, and firefighting foams.

There is growing evidence that PFAs and PFCs may be harmful to human health and the environment. In particular, PFAs and PFCs can accumulate in the body over time and may be linked to health problems such as cancer, thyroid disease, and pregnancy complications.

Fragrances can also contain PFAs and PFCs.

A study confirmed:

“There is human and animal evidence that PFASs may alter levels of reproductive and thyroid-related hormones.”

7. Petrolatum

Petrolatum is a mineral oil derivative used as a thickening agent and an occlusive moisturizer, another one of the toxic ingredients in beauty products. It is a colorless, odorless, greasy substance that is non-irritating and non-sensitizing.

Petrolatum can help to seal in moisture and soften skin. It is also effective at filling in fine lines and wrinkles, making it a popular ingredient in anti-aging products. Petrolatum is a neurotoxin that can cause skin irritation and other adverse effects and there are some cases where petrolatum may be contaminated with carcinogens.

For example, a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that 27% of petrolatum-based cosmetics and personal care products contained polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to be carcinogenic.

If you’re concerned about the safety of petrolatum in your beauty products, be sure to check the ingredients list for PAHs. If any are listed, avoid the product. 




8. Toluene 

Toluene is a solvent that is often used in nail polish, hair spray, and other beauty products. It is a known neurotoxin that can cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, and even organ damage. Inhalation of toluene can cause central nervous system depression and even death. Exposure to toluene-containing products should be avoided.

This research showed:

 “Low-level exposure to toluene has its primary effect on the CNS(central nervous system). Both depressant and excitatory effects (possibly concentration-dependent) were reported as well as other kinds of results.”



9. Talc

Talc is a mineral that is used in a variety of products, on the list of chemicals used in cosmetics and personal care items. Some talc contains asbestos, which is a known human carcinogen. Asbestos-containing talc has been linked to ovarian cancer in particular.

If you are concerned about the presence of talc in your beauty products, you can check the ingredient list for “talc” or “talcum powder.” You may also want to consider alternate products that do not contain this ingredient.

In recent news , Johnson & Johnson was sued for claims relating to baby powder, which contains talc and other toxic ingredients in beauty products that cause cancer.

10. Carbon black 

Carbon black is a fine, sooty particulate made by burning hydrocarbons in an oxygen-rich environment. It’s used in everything from tires and automotive parts to electrical wiring and construction materials. Increasingly, it’s being used in consumer products, and on the list of chemicals used in cosmetics.

We need to talk about the potential health risks associated with carbon black. The concern is that carbon black is to human health. In the meantime, if you’re concerned about the potential health risks of carbon black, and discover products that contain this ingredient, then these are the toxic makeup brands to avoid.

This study concluded:

“The most likely effect of exposure to carbon black is lung disease. Inhaling carbon black particles can irritate the lungs and cause coughing. Carbon black can also irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.

When people are exposed to high levels of carbon black over many years, the particles may lodge deep in their lungs. If it stays in the lungs, the condition may lead to bronchitis and eventually to a chronic condition called obstructive pulmonary disease.

Animal studies suggest long-term exposure to very high doses of pure carbon black may increase a person’s risk of cancer. Carbon black that comes from incomplete burning of hydrocarbons is more likely to contain cancer-causing chemicals than pure carbon black.”



11. Aluminum 

There are a few aluminum-containing products that can be considered one of the toxic ingredients in beauty products. For example, certain antiperspirants contain aluminum, which can be harmful if it is absorbed through the skin. 

There is some evidence that suggests aluminum may be harmful to human health. Some studies have linked aluminum exposure to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems, while others suggest it can cause skin irritation.

This research study suggested:

“The neurotoxicity proven in humans and animals is the critical adverse effect of aluminum. This includes specific encephalopathy with a dementia syndrome, which, however, is not identical to the pathophysiology of Alzheimer-type dementia.”

Mineral oil

12. Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a byproduct of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline and other petroleum-based products. it is a colorless, odorless, and flavorless liquid that is denser than water. It is a petroleum derivative and it’s the most common ingredient in baby oil. it’s also on the list of chemicals used  in cosmetics, skincare products, and hair products.

According to the EWG, exposure to mineral oil is linked to developmental, and reproductive toxicity. Petroleum derivatives can be toxic and carcinogenic. They can also cause skin irritation and other adverse effects.

13. Trilocsan

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning against using three triclosan products, marketed as “toxic beauty” products, because they may contain high levels of the poisonous chemical triclosan.

The products, which are made by the company Trilochan, include facial scrubs, skin creams, and body lotions. Laboratory tests have found that they contain up to 65 percent triclosan, which can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

In addition, triclosan is a known skin and eye irritant, and can also be harmful if ingested. For this reason, it is important to carefully read the labels of any triclosan-containing beauty products and avoid using them.

This study revealed:

“There is evidence that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and impacts thyroid function and thyroid homeostasis.”


14. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a topical skin lightening agent that is used to reduce the appearance of dark patches on the skin, usually as a result of exposure to the sun. While hydroquinone is effective at lightening skin, it is another one of the toxic ingredients in beauty products.

Some skincare products that contain hydroquinone have been linked to health problems, such as skin irritation, cancer, and organ damage. It has been banned in Europe due to its cytotoxicity.

If you are using any products that contain hydroquinone, be sure to read the ingredients list and research the product before using it.

According to consumer reports:

“Skin-lightening creams and lotions can contain potentially harmful chemicals such as hydroquinone (a skin irritant linked to skin cancer), corticosteroids, and mercury, which have been associated with kidney and nervous system damage and elevated blood mercury levels.”

Synthetic fragrances


15. Synthetic fragrances 

Fragrances are often among the top five toxic ingredients in beauty products, but they don’t have to be. Synthetic fragrances can be toxic, and they’re not necessary for a great product. If you’re looking for natural fragrance options, check the ingredients list for essential oils.

A study was performed by the EWG(Environmental Working Group) and found:

“Laboratory tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and analyzed by Environmental Working Group revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, topped by American Eagle Seventy Seven with 24, Chanel Coco with 18, and Britney Spears Curious and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio with 17.”


EWG And Toxic Ingredients Checker: Your Guide to Safer Beauty & Personal Care Products

When it comes to skincare, being aware of the ingredients you’re putting on your skin is essential for maintaining its health and radiance. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides a valuable resource for consumers looking to make informed choices about their skincare products. By utilizing the EWG’s online database and toxic ingredients checker, you can gain insights into the safety of various toxic ingredients in beauty products.

Using the EWG Database for Safer Choices

The EWG maintains an extensive database that evaluates the safety of ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. This resource allows you to search for specific products or individual ingredients and get a comprehensive overview of their potential risks. The EWG rates ingredients on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest risk and 10 indicating the highest.

How the Toxic Ingredients Checker Works

The toxic ingredients checker by EWG is a user-friendly tool that empowers you to make quick and informed decisions about the products you use.

Here’s how it works:

Search for Specific Ingredients

Have a product label in hand or curious about a particular ingredient? Simply type in the ingredient’s name, and the toxic ingredients checker will provide you with its safety rating and potential concerns.

Product Safety Ratings

If you’re considering a new skincare product, the EWG database can help you determine its overall safety. Just input the product name, and you’ll receive a rating along with detailed information about the potential hazards associated with its ingredients.

Comparative Analysis

The toxic ingredients checker enables you to compare different products or brands. This feature empowers you to make side-by-side evaluations and select the one that aligns with your safety preferences.

Why Use The EWG’s Toxic Ingredients Checker?


The EWG’s database offers transparency by shedding light on ingredients that might not be clearly understood or listed on product labels.

Personalized Choices

By using the EWG’s resources, you can tailor your skincare routine to your specific preferences and safety concerns.

Avoiding Toxic Ingredients In Beauty Products

The toxic ingredients checker helps you avoid potentially harmful substances that could irritate your skin, disrupt your hormones, or pose other health risks.


Armed with knowledge, you’re empowered to advocate for your skin’s health and make informed decisions as a conscious consumer.

Incorporating the EWG’s toxic ingredients checker into your skincare regimen can have a positive impact on your skin’s well-being. Remember, the health of your skin is in your hands, and utilizing resources like the EWG database is a step towards achieving radiant and healthy skin through informed choices.

Frequently Asked Questions About The 15 Toxic Ingredients To Avoid In Skincare Products

1. What are some common toxic ingredients in skincare products?
Common toxic ingredients in skincare products include sulfates, parabens, synthetic fragrances, mineral oil, talc,  and aluminum. These substances can have negative effects on the skin and overall health.

2. Why should I avoid synthetic fragrances in skincare products?
Synthetic fragrances often contain a mix of undisclosed chemicals that can trigger allergies, skin sensitivities, and even respiratory issues. Opting for fragrance-free or naturally scented products reduces these risks.

3. What’s wrong with using products containing mineral oil?
Mineral oil, derived from petroleum, can clog pores and potentially exacerbate acne. Choosing plant-based oils as moisturizers, such as jojoba or argan oil, helps maintain clear and healthy skin.

4. Why are sulfates harmful for the skin?
Sulfates like SLS and SLES are strong detergents that can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation. Choosing sulfate-free products prevents these issues and maintains the skin’s moisture balance.

Finally, step behind the mirror and into the untold secrets of the beauty industry with the gripping new documentary now streaming on HBO Max. Uncover the captivating truths that shape the world of cosmetics and personal care.


In a world saturated with beauty products, understanding what goes into your skincare regimen is paramount. This article unveiled the top 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products, shedding light on the hazards they pose.

With an average of 12 beauty products exposing individuals to 168 toxic chemicals daily, being vigilant about these harmful components becomes a vital step in safeguarding your well-being.

From the stripping sulfates to hormone-disrupting parabens, each ingredient carries potential risks. Synthetic fragrances, mineral oils, and more also fall under the scrutiny, urging you to opt for safer alternatives.

Armed with this knowledge, you’re empowered to make informed choices, steering your skincare routine towards healthier, more radiant skin. Your journey to a mindful, safe, and vibrant skincare regimen begins with these conscious decisions.

What are your thoughts about the top 15 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products? Please let me know, in the comments below.


1. DaSilva, Sonia C, et al. “Increased Skin Barrier Disruption by Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in Mice Expressing a Constitutively Active STAT6 in T Cells.” Archives of Dermatological Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2012,

2. Wang, Yufei, and Haifeng Qian. “Phthalates and Their Impacts on Human Health.” Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), MDPI, 18 May 2021,

3. Lewis, Ryan C, et al. “Serum Biomarkers of Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Substances in Relation to Serum Testosterone and Measures of Thyroid Function among Adults and Adolescents from Nhanes 2011-2012.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, MDPI, 29 May 2015,

4. PMC, Europe. Europe PMC,

5. Povtak, Tim. “Johnson & Johnson to Continue Global Sale of Talc-Based Baby Powder.” Mesothelioma Center – Vital Services for Cancer Patients & Families,, 10 May 2022,

6. “Carbon Black.” Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 12 Jan. 2022,

7. Klotz, Katrin, et al. “The Health Effects of Aluminum Exposure.” Deutsches Arzteblatt International, Deutscher Arzte Verlag, 29 Sept. 2017,

8. “Ewg Skin Deep®: What Is Mineral Oil.” EWG,

9. “Triclosan.” Safe Cosmetics,

10. Calderone, Julia. “Beauty Products May Cause Health Risks in Women of Color, Researchers Warn.” Consumer Reports,

11. “Not so Sexy.” Environmental Working Group,

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2 Responses

  1. Wow, I didn’t realize how many toxins can be in our skin products. Thanks for this very informative article.

    1. Hi Ann, thank you for your comment. There are definitely a lot more than the 15 top toxic ingredients in your skincare, personal care and beauty products mentioned in this article. My mission is to raise awareness and help you find better solutions that are good for your health and the environment.

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