Skip to main content

8 UnBeautiful Ingredients in Your Beauty Products


Since the word "natural" has become as ubiquitous as it is mishandled (ahem, euphemism...) in a sea of unregulated beauty products, it's up to us – the savvy consumers – to do our own homework. And certainly to never fall into the trap of equating something that's touted as natural to have any organic ingredients (or more than one or two natural ingredients for that matter).

We're calling out eight nasty, toxic skin care ingredients that load up labels on shelves worldwide. Keep a lookout for these and when you come across one, just say no. An eco-friendly, healthy alternative is just around the corner, and it will get the job done – trust us.

1. Phthalates They mess with your hormones, are endocrine disruptors, and they're everywhere. Used as softeners for plastics, oily substances in perfumes, additives to hairsprays, lubricants and wood finishers, look out, especially if you're pregnant.

2. Formaldehyde Leave the formaldehyde at the morgue. This preservative is frighteningly common in everything from toothpaste to lotion to shampoo and beyond. Besides being an irritant, it's a known carcinogen. Manufacturers will try to trick you by using synonyms: check them out here.

3. Parabens In their myriad forms (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben), parabens have been linked to breast cancer. While the FDA claims they're not dangerous at low doses, considering the hefty amount of products that do contain them, the combined dose might be anything but low.

Scroll to Continue

From the Organic Authority Files

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate These foaming agents found in soaps and shampoos are skin irritants and can enter the heart, brain and liver through your skin, where they accumulate in your organs.

5. Toluene Generally found in nail polish and hair dye, Toluene is toxic to the nervous system, and breathing it in can cause dizziness and headaches. High exposures can lead to birth defects and miscarriage, so watch out if you work in a nail salon (and educate your favorite salons!). Toluene-free brands are on the rise.

6. Fragrance Owing to an FDA loophole, companies hawking cosmetics are able to mask a whole slew of nasty chemicals, many of which are phthalates, under the label "fragrance."

7. Triethanolamine Though used in many "gentle" products to balance PH levels, TEA has been known to cause allergic reactions, irritations and drying out of the hair and skin. With consistent use, TEA is absorbed into the body and accumulates, where it can become toxic.

8. Hydroquinone This skin-bleacher, while banned in Japan, the EU and Australia, is unfortunately still around in the US. Hydroquinone is found in skin-lightening creams, like those that diminish age-spots. It's linked to cancer and the unsightly skin condition, ochnronosis.

image: li-penny

Shop Editors' Picks

Related Stories