The Top 12 Ingredients To Avoid In Cosmetics & Personal Care Products

ingredients to avoid
5 min reading time

If you’re new to the conscious and non-toxic lifestyle, you can easily get overwhelmed with all of the information out there on which ingredients you should avoid.

While there are many ingredients in our list of iffy and bad ingredients to avoid, these are 12 of the most common ones you’ll find in your beauty, home, and personal care products.

Check the products you often use for these ingredients and strongly consider disposing of them if you find any of the following 12 ingredients.

1. Parabens

Parabens are synthetic preservatives that you might have heard of before. Look for any ingredient ending in -paraben, including methylparaben, Propylparaben, and isobutylparaben.

You’ll find parabens in virtually all household and personal care products like cleaning products, makeup, and skincare.

2. Artificial Fragrance

Because of laws dating back to the 1960s, manufacturers can use “fragrance” and “parfum” as umbrella terms to hide the exact chemical makeup of the fragrances used in a product.

This is a problem because there are thousands of chemicals used in fragrances, and we as consumers have no idea which of them are being used.

You’ll find artificial fragrance is all kinds of products, from home products to candles, to makeup and skincare, and virtually any similar product you can think of.

3. Chemical Sunscreens

Avoid products using chemical UV absorbers: oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octocrylene, avobenzone, and octisalate.

Not only are these ingredients contributing to the death of our coral reefs, but they absorb into the bloodstream even after a single application, having unknown health effects.

You’ll find chemical sunscreens in many sunscreen products, as well as various beauty and personal care products like moisturizers, primers, and more.

4. Methylisothiazolinone

A toxic preservative linked to skin sensitivity, irritation, and allergies.

You’ll find methylisothiazolinone in products like shampoos, conditioners, and body washes.


Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are sulfates, giving products the foaming, bubbly consistency associated with soaps and shampoos. These chemicals have been linked to skin and eye irritations, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and hormone disruption.

You’ll find SLS/SLES in products typically known to foam, like soaps, shampoos, laundry products, and toothpaste.

6. Triclosan

Triclosan is a preservative and anti-bacterial agent linked to negative health impacts. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned triclosan in hand soaps, bar soaps, and body washes on the basis that triclosan hasn’t been proven to be safe if used over a long period.

However, you’ll still find triclosan in other products, including deodorants, toothpaste, laundry products, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and more.

7. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

Closely related synthetic ingredients commonly used as preservatives. They can cause allergic reactions on the skin, and BHA has been classified as a possible carcinogen.

You’ll find BHA and BHT in products like skincare and makeup.

8. Formaldehyde

Usually used as a preservative, this known carcinogen and hormone is typically found in nail polishes and nail polish removers.

9. Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)

These ingredients are ethanolamines, linked to liver tumors. The EU bans DEA in cosmetics, but they can still be found in products.

You’ll find these ingredients in products like soaps, shampoos, makeup, lotions, shaving creams, sunscreens, and more.

10. PEG Compounds

PEGs (also known as polyethylene glycols) are petroleum-based compounds commonly found in personal care products. In these products, their purpose can be as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture carriers.

The problem with PEG compounds is that with improper manufacturing processes, PEGs can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. These contaminants have been linked to adverse human health effects, and 1,4-dioxane is a persistent compound, meaning it remains in the environment long after it ends up in the water supply.

You’ll find PEGs in virtually all personal care products, like skincare, shampoos, toothpaste, deodorants, and more.

11. Hydroquinone

Famous for its skin brightening properties, hydroquinone is linked to adverse health effects like cancer and organ toxicity. As of September 23, 2020, in the United States, hydroquinone is banned in all over-the-counter products. However, you’ll still find it in various products still floating around, and it’s available through prescriptions.

You’ll find hydroquinone mainly in skincare products like serums, creams, and gels.

12. Phthalates

These ingredients are often used in cosmetics, but you typically won’t find it on the ingredients label. Because fragrances are protected as trade secrets, phthalates will be hidden under the “fragrance” label. Phthalates are also used in nail products as a solvent and plasticizer that keeps the nail polishes from becoming brittle.

You’ll find phthalates in nail products and they can often be used in chemical fragrances (but you won’t see it on the label.)

In Conclusion

These 12 ingredients are a good place to start when making the leap into avoiding toxic ingredients in your personal care products. While it’s not an exhaustive list, these are some of the most common ingredients of concern, and it’s easy to avoid them once you know how to identify them.

Download our free swap guide.
A cheatsheet of 50+ clean alternatives for your whole house. 
Thank you for subscribing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *