12 Harmful Skincare Ingredients You Should Know

12 Harmful Skincare Ingredients - Woman siting on window sill applying lotion to her legs

*** All brands & products featured on hellodollface.com have been independently selected by our editors.  Some links in this article may be affiliate links, and things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.  You can view our full disclosure here.  Thanks for reading! ***

I started focusing more on my health and my diet in my late 20s. Eating mostly organic fruits and vegetables, consuming nutrient-rich whole foods,  I considered myself to be health-conscious and thought I was making all the best choices about what I put into my body. Then, in my early 30s, I learned that the (conventional) makeup and skincare products I trusted and used since I was a teenager, turned out to be loaded with harmful skincare ingredients. I was shocked and worried, to say the least.

My clean beauty journey was about to begin…

Finding out there were harmful and toxic ingredients in my skincare products was pretty scary, but finding out there was no government regulations or laws in place to make it illegal to use these harmful and toxic ingredients in my skincare products was a huge shock. 

I went down a rabbit hole of finding information about how and why toxic ingredients were allowed in our beauty products (and household cleaning products).

This led me to throw out bags and bags of makeup, skincare, hair care, personal care products, and body lotions.

I didn’t want any product that wasn’t safe and clean to touch my hair, skin or teeth.

I became very strict with what I used on my body and made an effort to only purchase and use skincare products made without any chemicals whenever possible.

I abide by the 80-20 rule for both what I put in my body and on my body.

80% of what I use is clean + green, the other 20% is conventional products.

I think it’s important to be aware of what you are putting on your skin and know what to absolutely stay away from as much as you can. 

When first setting out on your clean beauty journey, a good habit to develop is to simply check the ingredients listed on the cosmetics and skincare products you are using.


12 Harmful Skincare Ingredients You Should Avoid

Start by looking out for and avoiding the following 12 commonly used, harmful skincare ingredients.

1. Parabens

Can be found in almost every cosmetics, skincare, and personal care product category including lotions, shampoos, and cleansers.

Parabens have been linked to many health risks including hormonal disruption and breast cancer. Studies have shown parabens can also prevent the breakdown of estrogen.

2. Artificial Fragrance, Parfum

Can be found in almost every cosmetics, skincare, and personal care product category.

More than 5000 different fragrances are used in personal care products and fragrance allergies/sensitivities can become dangerous.

3. Coal Tar / Aminophenol / Diaminobenzene

Found in shampoos and scalp treatments, soaps, lotions, and mainly hair dyes.

Coal tar is a known carcinogen, and studies have shown that application of and exposure to coal tar produce skin tumors and neurological damage.

4. Formaldehyde / Formalin

Found mainly in nail polish, nail hardeners, and other nail products.

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are absorbed through the skin and have been linked to cancer and allergic skin reactions.

5. Dibutyl Phthalate / DMDM HYDANTOIN

Found mainly in in hair shampoos & conditioners and can be found in body wash/cleansers and lotions.

DMDM Hydantoin can release or be contaminated with the known carcinogen formaldehyde.

DMDM Hydantoin is a known human skin toxicant and allergen.

Dibutyl Phthalate is a known human respiratory toxicant.

6. PEG Compounds / Polyethylene

PEG compounds have been found to open the pores of the skin, enabling environmental toxins to more easily enter the body.

Examples of these environmental toxins are DDT and DDE, both of which have the ability to influence the endocrine and reproductive systems.

7. Triclosan / Triclocarban

Found in toothpaste and deodorant.

Exposure to triclosan has been linked to hormone disruption and increased risk of breast cancer.

8. Toluene

Mainly found in nail products.

Exposure to toluene has been linked to reproductive damage and respiratory complications.

9. Oxybenzone

Found in sunscreen products.

Oxybenzone is a known photoallergen.

A photoallergic reaction occurs when UV rays (for example, when exposed to the sun) interact with the ingredients products applied directly to the skin. The body’s immune system recognizes changes caused by sun exposure as a foreign threat. The body produces antibodies and attacks, causing a reaction.

A photoallergic reaction can leave you with a rash, blisters, red bumps or even oozing lesions one to three days after application and exposure to the sun.

10. Petroleum Distillates

Found in lipstick and mascara.

Petroleum distillates are banned for use in cosmetics by the European Union but is still allowed to be used in the United States.

Currently, there is some, yet limited, evidence linking petroleum distillates to cancer and other health risks.

11. Hydroquinone

Found in skin lightening and skin brightening facial skin care products.

Hydroquinone is banned for use in cosmetics in Japan, Europe, and other parts of the world but is still allowed to be used in the United States.

If overused, hydroquinone can kill healthy cells and chromosomes, which can lead to cancer and other health risks.

12. Phthalates

Found in color cosmetics, fragranced lotions, body washes and hair care products, and also found in nail polish and treatment.

Phthalates are banned for use in cosmetics by the European Union but is still allowed to be used in the United States.

Phthalates are linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and has been known to be linked to certain forms of cancer.

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