Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products

Your skin is worth taking care of! Here are five common ingredients in conventional skincare products, and why you should avoid them and look for more natural skincare alternatives.Most conventional skincare products contain harmful ingredients that you DON'T want your skin to absorb! Here are 5 common ingredients to look for and avoid.

Our Wellness Wednesday theme for November is safe skincare. Last week’s post: Is Your Skincare Safe Enough to Eat?

Have you seen the labels in the skincare aisles?

Lotion “With moisturizing shea!”

Sunburn cream “With soothing aloe!”

Skincare products like these contain nourishing, healing elements, sure. But unfortunately, they’re also chock-full of ingredients that you don’t want on your skin.

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and makes up an area of about 20 square feet! It’s worth taking care of.

Here are 5 ingredients commonly found in skincare products that you may want to rethink. (Note: these are my top 5, although there are many other skincare ingredients that need investigation!)

5 Ingredients to Avoid in Conventional Skincare Products

1. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfates

Found in: shampoo, body wash, hand soap, mouthwash, toothpaste, and more

Why it’s there: as as a detergent and foaming agent (because bubbles=clean, right??)

Why you should rethink it: SLS strips and dries out the skin, breaking down the skin’s protective moisture barriers and causing irritation. It can also cause canker sores. Some studies indicate that SLS is also contaminated with carcinogens. Read more about that here.

2. Triclosan

Found in: hand soap, hand sanitizer, toothpaste

Why it’s there: as a germ-killer

Why you should rethink it: Triclosan kills good bacteria right along with the bad, breaking down your body’s natural defenses. Read about more harmful effects of Triclosan here.

3. Parabens

Found in: lotion, deodorant, conditioner, makeup

Why they’re there: as preservatives

Why you should rethink them: Parabens are linked to estrogen disruption, and have been found in breast cancer tissue. Read more here.

4. Fragrance

Found in: shampoo, conditioner, face wash, bath gels, soap, body spray

Why it’s there: for marketing. To create a nice smell, or cover up the bad smells of the other chemicals.

Why you should rethink it: “Fragrance” is a label that covers dozens of chemicals. Some fragrances are hormone disruptor, others are linked to migraines, asthma, and allergic reactions. (Look here for further reading.) Instead, see if you can find products fragranced with essential oils or with names you recognize.

5. Phthalates

Found in: perfume, hairspray, moisturizer, nail polish

Why they’re there: as a softener. Makes the product more flexible and easy to work with.

Why you should rethink them: Phthalates are linked to reproductive and developmental damage. Read more here.

5 Skincare Ingredients to Avoid -

My conclusions

For all the studies and personal anecdotes about these (and other) ingredients being harmful, there are many other studies and “experts” who say that they’re benign. It can be confusing and frustrating to find the truth about what’s safe to put on your skin.

I err on the side of caution. I do believe that these 5 ingredients are harmful to the body, especially as they build up with use over time. This is why I try to make many of my own skincare products.

Why use that lotion “with moisturizing shea!” that contains 20 other ingredients that are potentially harmful? If the shea butter is the redeeming factor in that lotion, why not just buy straight-up shea and use that?

[question]Are you mistrustful of conventional skincare ingredients, or do you think it’s just hype?[/question]


  1. Great article! I make most of my own skin and hair care products, too. And it’s amazing how many of them you *don’t* need. When I wash with real soap, as opposed to the lavender-scented, moisturizing, foaming body wash, I find that I only rarely need body lotion. Hmmm… Plus the lack of plastic bottles cluttering up my bathroom and piling out my recycling box is nice too!

    And thanks for hosting the link-up! This week’s post “26 Books to Help Celebrate the Return of Light!”

    1. Yes, we’ve been trained by advertisements to think we “need” certain products, when really? simple will do.

      Thanks for linking up to Wellness Wednesday!

  2. Great list Elsie! I used Proactiv for acne for YEARS. I stopped using it about a year ago and I still have major acne problems. I’ve started doing the oil pulling method and using raw honey and it’s very slowly starting to look better. I read some terrible things about how Proactiv effects your skin and basically your skin becomes addicted to it. Ugh my pour skin! If only I knew way back then. I have found an amazing lotion recipe and I use Loma for my hair products. I’m still working on using up the rest of my shower gel though! 🙂

    1. Oh wow, that’s scary! I am using a few drops of emu oil as a moisturizer right now. It’s VERY nourishing for skin, although it is pricey! I’ll have to check out Loma for haircare!

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