Ingredients in Skin Care to Avoid: The Ultimate List

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The skin is the largest organ of our bodies and it’s exposed to toxins, pollutants, and other harmful substances every day. So it makes sense that we should care for our skin properly and avoid ingredients that can cause damage to it.

However, most skincare products contain chemicals, preservatives, and other additives that can have both short-term and long-term negative effects on not only your skin but also your overall health.

There are a lot of ingredients in skincare products that are harmful and can cause an allergic reaction. Here are a few to avoid.

Ingredients in Skin Care to Avoid

1. Parabens

Parabens are the most widely used preservative in skincare products because they’re effective at preventing bacterial growth and extending shelf life.

But parabens mimic estrogen in the body, which could lead to reproductive problems and other issues down the road. The parabens commonly found in skincare products include methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and isobutyl paraben.

2. Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is an odorless, colorless oil derived from petroleum. Manufacturers use it as a component of cosmetics and skincare items, such as moisturizers, and shaving cream.

This oil prevents water from penetrating the layers of the skin, which results in clogged pores and leads to comedones or blackheads. It may also cause premature aging of the skin and increase the risk of developing cancerous cells.

3. Phthalates

Phthalates are a family of substances used in fragrances and skincare products, including shampoos, shower gels, deodorants, makeup, and nail polishes.

The problem with phthalates is that they’re associated with several adverse health effects, including reproductive damage, asthma, allergies, and other skin problems.

4. Sulfates

Sulfates such as sodium lauryl sulfate, and sodium laureth sulfate are added to skincare products as foaming agents. They are very harsh on the skin’s natural oils and can strip it of its natural moisture barrier, dehydrating the skin.

You can often find them in shampoo products as well as face washes and cleansers. Sulfates can leave skin dry, irritated, blotchy, or cause breakouts of eczema or psoriasis.

5. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Polyethylene glycol, also known as polyol, is a compound that you might find in your moisturizers and shampoos. When used on the skin, it can be an irritant and mimic estrogen, leading to serious health effects like cancer.

6. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and although the amounts used in skincare products are very small, it can still be harmful.

And because formaldehyde is a known allergen, avoid these products altogether if you have sensitive skin. One way to identify products containing formaldehyde is the presence of ‘Quaternium-15’ on the ingredients list.

7. Triclosan

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that manufacturers add to hundreds of skincare products we use every day. It helps to stop the growth of bacteria, which can cause disease and infection.

However, recent studies show that triclosan is present in human breast tissue. This is bad news because triclosan has been shown to cause cancer in animals.

8. Coal tar

There is no evidence that humans can develop cancer by using skincare products containing coal tar, but chemicals in coal tar are often derived from benzene.

Benzene is a known carcinogen that causes the skin to become thinner and more susceptible to sun damage over time. Additionally, some studies have shown that long-term exposure to benzene can lead to anemia and blood cell disorders.

9. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is an ingredient that you should most certainly avoid in skincare. Researchers have linked this ingredient to cancer and skin irritation, plus it has been banned in several countries across the world, including the United States and Canada.

10. Toluene

Toluene is a type of chemical compound that you can find in many different skincare products. The problem with toluene is that it can cause a lot of side effects like dizziness, headaches, and even depression.

Although the FDA has approved this ingredient for use in cosmetics and skincare, you should avoid it at all costs.

11. Lead

Lead is a toxic metal that has no place in skincare products. It is a known neurotoxin that can cause serious damage to your nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive organs.

Lead-based products are cheap to manufacture and popular with manufacturers because lead acts as a pigment, giving color to the product. So ensure to avoid any skincare product that contains lead, and always read the labels before you buy.

12. Alcohol

The main problem with alcohol in skincare is that it strips moisture from your skin. Alcohol is an astringent, which means it has a drying effect.

It also increases the evaporation rate of water from your skin by tightening pores, making them smaller and less likely to hold moisture. Over time, this can lead to fine lines and wrinkles, especially around sensitive areas like the mouth and eyes.

13. Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is one of the most used ingredients in skincare products including sunscreens, moisturizers, and foundation. But the bad news is that it’s an endocrine disruptor that blocks the estrogen receptors of the body.

And, it doesn’t just block them, it also mimics the effects of estrogen by binding to them. This can cause a variety of issues, including allergic reactions, hormone disruptions, and cancer.

14. Fragrance

Fragrances are one of the most common irritants in skincare products. It’s a catchall term for a variety of chemical compounds that give a skincare product a nice smell but aren’t good for your skin.

In addition to irritating skin, fragrances can also contain hormone disruptors and carcinogens that can trigger allergies and even cause cancer.

15. Petrolatum

Petrolatum is a petroleum by-product that manufacturers use in skincare products as a base for creams and lotions.

The dangers of petrolatum come from its chemical makeup. It is a mix of hydrocarbons and includes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are carcinogenic.

To ensure proper care for your skin, avoid petrolatum in skincare ingredients and choose natural alternatives instead.

16. Talc

Talc is a mineral made up of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen that helps to absorb moisture in many skincare products.

However, talc is a known carcinogen and you should avoid ingredients like talc or talcum powder if you want to take proper care of your skin.

17. Carbon black

Manufacturers make carbon black by burning a wide variety of materials, including plastics, rubbers, synthetic fibers, and crude oil, which gives it its dark color.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these ingredients can get into the lungs or bloodstream causing a wide range of potential health hazards, including irritation of the skin and cancer.

What Are the Best Ingredients to Put On Your Skin?

You can’t go wrong with water. And then after that, ceramides. Ceramides are just an incredibly great moisturizer, and you should be able to find them in most face creams and moisturizers out there.

The next one would be vitamin C, which is another great antioxidant. It helps repair your skin from UV damage. The next thing would be vitamin E, which is another really good antioxidant that also helps protect you from UV damage — and then zinc.

Zinc is a great ingredient to have in your sunscreens because it helps make the sunscreen last longer on your skin.

How Do You Know if a Product Contains Harmful Ingredients?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is the best resource available to help you identify which products contain ingredients that could be potentially harmful. The EWG amassed a list of 1,500 chemicals found in over 75,000 products.

Each product was given a hazard score based on an assessment of the associated hazards. The EWG has made this list available online at their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.

It is easy to use, just type in the name of the ingredient you want to search for and it will pull up the score for that ingredient for all products containing that ingredient.

For example, if you type in “phthalates” it will pull up all products containing phthalates as well as the hazard score for each product.

Which Ingredients Are Best for Preventing Acne?

The best way to prevent acne is by using products that contain salicylic acid in your skincare routine. This ingredient helps to open up pores and exfoliate dead skin cells so that they don’t clog pores and cause breakouts.

Another ingredient that can help prevent acne is glycolic acid (AHA). Glycolic acid works by loosening the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing them to slough off naturally and reveal newer skin underneath.


Is alcohol good for your skin?

No, it’s not. The problem is that alcohol tends to be drying. This effect can be more pronounced in some people than others, but it’s something to watch out for.

If your skin is already prone to dryness or flaking, it’s best to avoid products with alcohol as an ingredient and look for products with natural ingredients instead.

Should you use products with artificial fragrances if you have sensitive skin?

No, you shouldn’t. There are many risks to using artificial fragrances on sensitive skin, which can include allergies, irritation, and even an adverse effect on your health.

If you have sensitive skin, look for products with natural fragrances instead. These products give you a natural scent and they also do not contain chemicals that may irritate or damage your skin.

Should you use retinol when pregnant?

No, you shouldn’t. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is highly recommended that you avoid using any retinol product.

Retinol converts to retinoic acid when it interacts with the skin. This retinoic acid can cause birth defects in babies, so experts recommend that women avoid using retinol while pregnant or breastfeeding.


When shopping for skincare products, it’s a good idea to avoid ingredients that could irritate your skin. Some of the ingredients to avoid if you want to take good care of your skin include fragrances, talc, parabens, and sulfates among others.

Ingredients to avoid may vary from brand to brand, so it is important to read the ingredients list on the label before purchasing a product.

Thanks for reading.

Visit Serum101 for more information about which skincare ingredients to avoid and which to include in your routine.