Skincare Ingredient Checker – The Good vs The Bad

Skincare Ingredient Checker

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For most of us, transitioning from using conventional skin care and beauty products to natural skincare and clean beauty products isn’t that easy. Most of us don’t even know where to start, and the ‘creative’ marketing used by the cosmetic and beauty industry is often misleading and confusing.

The best way to know which skincare products are good and safe for you is to know and understand what the product is really made with. 

In this article, we discuss some commonly used skincare ingredients you might find are in cosmetic products in your makeup bag or on your vanity right now. 

Looking for and knowing what ingredients our cosmetics are made of is one thing, and understanding whether or not an ingredient is good or bad is another. 

Lucky for us, there are helpful websites and mobile apps that make it easy for us to look up ingredients and products.  In just a few minutes, you can identify what an ingredient is, why it’s on the product, and know whether or not it’s a good ingredient or an ingredient you should avoid.

Skincare Ingredient Checker Reference Websites and Mobile Apps

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Why Are Bad Ingredients Allowed in Skin Care & Makeup?

You might be asking yourself…

‘if a chemical or ingredient is unsafe and known-to-be harmful, how and why is it allowed to be in my skincare and makeup products?’

Good question.

I asked myself the same.

The unfortunate truth is that currently, the cosmetics and personal care industry in the United States is poorly regulated and the laws that cosmetics and skincare product manufacturers must abide by haven’t been updated since 1938.

In the United States, there 11 ingredients prohibited or restricted by FDA regulations. (source)

In contrast, the European Union has outlawed or banned over 1,300 ingredients.

The European Union bans any ingredient presumed to be dangerous or thought to cause harm, but in the US, the law can basically be interpreted as any ingredient is innocent until proven very, very guilty.

EWG’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) launched their online database, EWG’s Skin Deep® Database, in 2004 to help consumers find safer products and to inform consumers about the ingredients lurking in their personal care, home care and food products that could be hazardous or haven’t been thoroughly tested.

From the EWG’s About Us page, the organization describes themselves as follows:

The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action.

We are a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.

With EWG Safety Ratings for over 87,000 cosmetics and personal care products and almost 2,500 brands, the EWG’s Skin Deep® Database has become my #1 trusted source for skincare and cosmetics product safety and ingredient education.

The EWG’s Skin Deep® Ratings are as follows:


Low Hazard – Rating 1-2

Moderate Hazard – Rating 3-6

High Hazard – Rating 7-10

Skincare Ingredient Checker - Ingredients Label

Common Skincare Ingredients You Should Know

What is a peptide?

And exactly what are good antioxidants for skin, and what are the bad antioxidants I should avoid?

What is the deal with retinol? 

And should I use PABA-free sunscreen?

These and more questions were rolling around in my brain, and when friends asked me about sulfates and mineral oil, I didn’t have any answers for them either. 

I realized I didn’t know much. 

I decided to dig in and review some commonly used yet bad ingredients in skincare and cosmetics.


Look at most skincare products and you’ll most likely find retinol, retinyl palmitate, or retinyl acetate listed in the ingredients.

Retinol is a topical ingredient, derived from vitamin A. It’s absorbed through the skin and increases the rate of skin turnover. Retinol boosts collagen production, plumps the skin, and reduces fine lines. 

All good things.

Like most aging individuals, I want to decrease wrinkles and increase collagen.

Retinol has more proven anti aging skin benefits than any other anti-aging remedy currently on the market so it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular skincare ingredients. 

With so many benefits, why are some concerned about the use of retinol in skincare? Some questions and many have written about the dangers of retinol…. is retinol, in fact, dangerous?

Because of the remarkable anti-aging benefits retinol can produce as described above, it’s no wonder retinol can be found in a wide variety of skin creams and body lotions, including skincare products with SPF. 

And retinol used in products with SPF is where the problems concerning (and the risks of) the use of retinol in skincare are founded.

Based on studies done by the EWG (The Environmental Working Group), there is cause for concern when forms of retinol are found in products intended to be worn in the daytime when the skin is exposed to the sun. 

Nneka Leiba, M.P.H., EWG’s Director of Healthy Living Science states:

‘Thirty percent of the sunscreens we see have retinyl palmitate…

The concern is about photocarcinogenicity, the cancer-causing potential of retinol in the presence of UV light.

Our stance on retinol is that consumers should be wary of them only in products designed to be worn in the sun. So we don’t flag the presence of retinol in, say, a night cream, because that’s not something people wear during the day when they’re exposed to sunlight. 

We focus just on retinol in sunscreen—and we do feel they are dangerous in that context.’ (source)

So is retinol a good and useful skincare ingredient or is retinol a bad ingredient to avoid?

The answer is yes and no.

To be safe and benefit from using products made with retinol, apply products with retinol in the evening only.

Try this Anti-Aging Bakuchiol Treatment by Biossance. A clean beauty plant-derived retinol that is Vegan, Fragrance-Free, and EWG VERIFIED.

SPF – Sun Protection Factor

Speaking of SPF…  I’m forever applying sunscreen. Daily.

SPF is an estimate of how much protection your skin will get from those nasty UVB rays, the kind of radiation from the sun which causes sunburn and permanent skin damage.

The EWG suggest an SPF between 15-50, depending on your own skin color, and to not go over SPF 50.  The FDA has stated that products with SPF over 60 can be potentially ‘misleading.’ (source)


Antioxidants for your skin… 

You see antioxidants listed as ingredients everywhere from diet products to skincare products, from lotions to body washes

Antioxidants are powerful vitamins and minerals that can prevent, impede, or even reverse the skin damage caused by free radicals and environmental stressors.

Skin care products made with antioxidants for your skin help to correct signs of aging, protect against future damage and promote healthier skin.

What exactly is a free radical?

Free radicals are molecules produced when the body breaks down certain foods or are produced by environmental causes like tobacco smoke, pollution, poison, and radiation to name a few.

These free radicals scavenge the body, looking to damage cells, protein, and DNA.  Free radicals can cause aging, tissue damage, and certain diseases. 

By consuming or using products with antioxidants, you’re, in essence, fighting oxidation or free radical damage.

When shopping for skin care, look for powerhouse antioxidants in the ingredients list such as beta carotene, lycopene, and vitamins C, E, and A. 

PCA SKIN C&E Strength – Antioxidant Corrective Face Serum with Vitamins C&E
  • High concentration of pure vitamins C and E delivers impressive results
  • Minimizes fine lines and wrinkles, and evens skin tone
  • Stronger, smoother skin seen in as little as two weeks

These are powerhouse antioxidants you want to see listed in the ingredients of your cosmetics and skin care products because they can help fight the damaging effects of free radicals.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

Usually listed on skin care ingredient lists as AHA, Alpha Hydroxy Acids include any of the various acids: glycolic acid (from sugar cane), lactic acid (milk), malic acid ( apples and pears) citric acid – (oranges and lemons) tartaric acid – (grapes). 

AHA’s are used as exfoliating agents that can slough off dead skin cells, encouraging new cell growth.

It’s rumored that Cleopatra soaked in a bath of sour milk (lactic acid) to improve her complexion. Could be true since AHA’s aid in rejuvenating the skin. 

High concentrates of AHAs are used in professional cosmetic peels.  At home products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids include moisturizers, cleansers, toners, and masks.

Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
  • TRIPLE ACTION CLEANSER: This AHA/BHA exfoliating cleanser delivers the benefits of a hydrating cleanse plus physical and chemical exfoliation in one effective skincare treatment.
  • SMOOTHS & POLISHES: Gently removing dull and dry skin, the skin smoothing polish reveals a more radiant and youthful complexion, and prepares skin for optimal results from serums & treatments.
  • EXFOLIATING TREATMENT: Giving facial skin a fresher appearance, the exfoliating facial cleanser is suitable for Normal, Oily, Dry, and Combination skin and can be used 2-3 times a week.


Peptides are short chains of amino acids linked together. 

And what exactly are amino acids? 

Oh, I should have paid closer attention in 9th-grade biology! 

Amino acids can be defined as the smallest unit of protein.  They are made up of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen molecules. 

What does that mean in skincare?

You want peptides for increasing collagen production.  When you increase collagen, your skin gets thicker which, in turn, reduces the appearance of wrinkles. 

And we all know that collagen is what helps keep skin plump and supple.

Skincare Ingredient to Avoid – PABA

PABA, or para-aminobenzoic acid, was a once-popular sunscreen ingredient. When shopping for sunscreens, you’ve probably seen ‘PABA’, or ‘PABA-free’ written somewhere on the label.

Widely used as ultraviolet B (UVB) filters, research studies found it to cause allergic reactions in many people who used products containing PABA. Later findings concluded exposure to PABA may alter thyroid activity and PABA derivatives may have additional endocrine disrupting properties. 

And a small sidenote, PABA also was known to stain clothes. 

For obvious reasons, it’s rarely used now. 

If you do happen to find PABA on an ingredients list, this is definitely an ingredient you should avoid.

Skincare Ingredients to Avoid – Parabens, Sulfates, and Mineral Oil

We discussed PABAs and explained why PABAs may not be great for your skin, but how about other ingredients?

Many natural or organic skin/hair/cosmetic lines boast ‘free from parabens, sulfates, mineral oil’. 

Why do I want my products to be free from those things? 

Read on fellow beauty lovers and learn. 

I knew parabens, sulfates, and mineral oils were bad, but I didn’t understand where they came from or why we should avoid them.

Now let’s discuss parabens.

Are parabens really that bad?

Used to preserve cosmetics and skincare products, parabens are chemicals found in shampoos, moisturizers, shaving gels, topical pharmaceuticals like creams, spray tanning products, and toothpaste. 

Parabens are mostly non-irritating to people with normal skin although they can cause irritation to those with allergies.

There was a scientific study linking parabens to breast cancer however, the results of the study were not completely conclusive.

Pregnant women who use paraben-containing products run the risk of passing along the harmful chemicals to their unborn babies. That’s something to think about!

Sulfates are found in personal care products like toothpaste, soap, shampoo. Sulfates are to thank for that rich lather I love when shampooing my hair. Sulfates thicken products and are cheap.  They dissolve oil and dirt, key components when using shampoo and soaps. 

The two commonly found sulfates in cosmetics and skincare products are sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).  Both can cause your hair and skin to lose moisture and hydration, sometimes even leading to hair loss from drying out hair follicles.

If you color your hair as I do, sulfates are to blame for stripping the color, sending you straight back to your colorist again and again.

Petroleum (crude oil)-based products include mineral oil, paraffin, and propylene glycol, all commonly found in beauty products.

Propylene glycol is an ingredient found in products like antifreeze, laundry detergent, and paint. You might also find it shampoo conditioner. 

Petroleum is a key component in gasoline, styrofoam, lubricating oils, and lipgloss.

Another commonly found ingredient, mineral oil, can be found in many foundations, cleansers, and moisturizers. 

Mineral oil is known to block pores and the result is pimples, maybe a rash, and clogged pores.


Skincare Ingredient to Avoid – Phthalates

Defined on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website as follows:

‘Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break…’

Phthalates are used as additives in an assortment of products, including PVC products, construction materials and fragrance, nail polish, deodorant, and body lotion. 

Scary thought. 

The same chemicals used to make plastics harder to break aren’t banned by the FDA, and by law, skincare and cosmetics manufacturers can make products we put on our faces and on our bodies with these chemicals. 

Plastics are known to produce toxic chemicals and exposure to the toxins from plastics is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, and endocrine disruption, to name a few.

Phthalates imitate hormones and in laboratory tests, scientists discovered reproductive and neurological damage.

I’m glad I did my research and learned a little more about cosmetic and skincare ingredients.

I picked up a few products laying around my bathroom and read the ingredient lists. I’m disappointed and a little shocked to see mineral oil, sulfates, and phthalates in many of the lotions and creams I have in the house.

The good news is there are many companies that are utilizing organic and natural plants in their products.

These companies are becoming easier to find as consumers turn away from harmful elements and demand healthy ingredients.

Last update on 2022-07-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API