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Cosmetic ingredients to avoid

Whether you’re a natural nomad, a beauty product overhauler or just trying to figure out what works for your skin, don’t stress. Its true that going all-natural isn’t the answer for every skin type, but if you are trying to take a more natural approach to your skincare routine to better look after your skin, learning how to decipher a product’s ingredients list is the best place to start.

The beauty product industry is highly unregulated. This means that brands are able to sell you products without having their ingredients approved by FDA. And with the organic and natural beauty trend quickly taking preference over commercialised personal-care brands because of this, becoming aware of toxic ingredients listed on products marketed as ‘natural’ is more important now than ever.

If you have have sensitive skin or you’re prone to irritation and allergies, you may already know how to decode a product label out of basic necessity. Or maybe you’re still not sure which what it is that’s causing your skin so much sensitivity or unusual breakouts. By creating a ‘watch-list’ you’ll be able to identify the more harmful commodities on a products ingredients list, which may also help you to decipher how your skin will react to the product in question.

An easy way to decode a product’s ingredient list is to look at the first five ingredients and see if you know what they are. Brands are always required to disclose their ingredients in the order of highest to lowest concentration on product labels. These are the ‘hard working’ ingredients, the ones that can make up roughly 80% of a product, so they’re also the ingredients you want to know will be safe to use on your skin. If you recognise any of these as potential skin irritants or an ingredient you know that you’re allergic to, avoid the product completely.

Below is a list of some of the more harmful ingredients to avoid if listed in a products ingredient list at all. Since many of these synthetic chemicals are skin irritants, skin penetrators, endocrine disruptors and are carcinogenic, it’s a good idea to get familiar with their names.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)

This is a foaming agent used in many products like cleansers, shampoos and household cleaning detergents. It’s a known irritant to skin and eyes, however the main concern is that it has the potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen (AKA a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue). There are other ‘sulfates’ too, and generally you want to avoid any product containing these.


This category was first established to protects a brands ‘secret formula’, however it’s a cause for concern because there is no way of knowing what a fragrance is made from. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database, fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.


It goes under many different names such as Mineral Oil, Liquid paraffin, Xylene and Toluene, however it’s all still the same substance from which your motor oil is made.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Popular in almost every acne treatment on the market for its efficiency at destroying all kinds of acne lesions, but here are the reasons why you should seek alternative medication if you’re looking for acne treatment. It’s a known skin, eye and respiratory irritant and has been linked with the promotion of tumor growth.

If you’re wondering what you could be using instead, tea tree oil shares similar properties to benzoyl peroxide. Applying a 5 percent tea tree oil solution to the face has been shown to be as effective as applying a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide solution.


These are the most commonly used preservatives in personal care products. However, it has been proven that paraben chemicals mimic estrogen and lead to hormone imbalance, which in turn can lead to reproductive issues like infertility or slowed growth and developmental disorders in children. Avoid using any products containing parabens especially when you are pregnant.

Try EWG’s Skin Deep search engine to find out more about any ingredient you’re not sure of. It's a great, international resource of information with regards to food and cosmetic health and safety. 


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