Skincare Chemicals


When it comes to wellness, we need to focus on what we put on our bodies as well as what we put in our bodies.  Though far from exhaustive, this is a list of common ingredients in skin care products that should be avoided.  Much of this information, I got from Dr. Trevor Cate’s book “Clean Skin from Within: The Spa Doctor’s Two Week Program to Glowing, Naturally Youthful Skin”. If you want to take a deeper dive into holistic skin care, I strongly recommend this book.

 #1 Ingredient to avoid: FRAGRANCE

The word fragrance covers a cocktail of ingredients which may include dozens of potentially harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, the word “fragrance”  can be found in nearly half of all personal care products.  This is because we like to smell good and manufacturers know it.  The problem is most skin care products contain synthetic fragrance, which is where many harmful ingredients are hidden. Fragrance contains a number of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs are a class of chemicals that, in studies, are associated with conditions such as thyroid problems, infertility, early menopause, early puberty, obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancer (such as prostate, testicular and breast cancer).

My advice is to avoid all products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient.  Better to have clean, functional merchandise than a pretty smelling concoction.

#2 Ingredient to avoid: Formaldehyde Releasers.

Look on the label for quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Bronopol, or imidazolidinyl urea. These ingredients are called formaldehyde releasers because they release formaldehyde into the surrounding air and liquids. In other words, when you rub skin care products containing these chemicals onto your skin they can go into the air you breathe or possibly be absorbed into your skin.

Formaldehyde is known to cause DNA damage and cancer. It is most dangerous when inhaled, and in liquid form can be absorbed through the skin. In addition to being carcinogenic, formaldehyde and its releasers can cause “allergic” reactions including skin irritations and asthma.

The FDA says that the small amount of formaldehyde found in personal care products is safe, but I’m not convinced. We’re exposed to formaldehyde thru pressed-wood furniture (most furniture in people’s homes), building materials, permanent-press fabrics, paper product coatings, glues and adhesives, cigarette smoke, and vehicle exhaust. We are already surrounded, and we know they’re carcinogenic, so why add more when we don’t have to? 

In skincare products, formaldehyde releasers are used as preservatives.  Preservatives ARE important, and they can be formulated with products such as alcohol, Tea Tree Oil, Copper Salts, even honey.

#3 Ingredient: Mineral oil (untreated and mildly treated)

Mineral oil is derived from crude oil and is in a variety of skincare and cosmetic products.  In addition to being a non-renewable source and not environmentally friendly, there are concerns about its safety. Untreated and mildly treated mineral oils have been classified as a known human carcinogen. They contain harmful impurities such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogenic.

While most mineral oils in personal care products are refined and considered “safe,” they’re still derived from crude oil, so I’m not convinced we should be slathering them on our bodies. They do accumulate in our bodie fat, lymph nodes, liver, spleen, and lungs. And, that accumulation appears to be from skincare products.

So, until we’re 100% sure the mineral oil we’re using is 100% pure, I would steer clear. There are much healthier, eco-friendly and effective alternatives derived from nature!  I like Alba Botanicals Non-Petroleum Jelly.

#4 Ingredient: Parabens

Parabens are known xenoestrogens, which means they have estrogenic activity in the body. Parabens have been found in breast tumors, yet many skincare companies deny this means anything for your health.

It’s time for skincare companies to stop denying the concerns about parabens, and, as consumers, it’s our job to read labels and demand change. Here is what you’ll find on labels: propylparaben, benzylparaben, methylparaben, or butylparaben.  I’ve noticed whenever I buy something from Sephora, it clearly states that it doesn’t contain Parabens.

#5 Ingredient: DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamide) and TEA (triethanolamine)

Studies have shown a link between exposure to high doses of these chemicals and liver cancers and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid. Canada and the European Union classify DEA as harmful and toxic.

These ingredients can also react with other chemicals in cosmetics to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.

DEA, MEA and TEA are used as emulsifiers to make skin care products creamy (such as moisturizers and sunscreens) and foaming agents in cleansers and soaps to make them foamy.  They also help increase the pH of the formula. A safer alternative is Some natural emulsifiers are beeswax, vegetable wax, and lecithin from plant sources. Castile soap and soapwort are natural surfactants, and decyl and coco glucoside are much safer than ethanolamines.


If you are in doubt about a beloved product in your skin care regime, check out the following apps or websites:

Think Dirty 

Skin Deep

Good Guide

This sites will rate your personal care products for safety and toxicity. Stay beautiful inside and out my friends!