Top 12 Toxic Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid: How to avoid.

toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare

The sad truth is that there are tons of toxic skin care ingredients to avoid! The EU has banned more than 1300 chemicals for use in cosmetics. The US, only 11! Yep, you read that right. 😒 It’s up to you to get educated and create your own personal ban on certain ingredients to avoid until things change.

Being an educated consumer enables you to make the best choices for your skin and body!

In this post, we’re introducing you to the top 12 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare. We'll list the names of these toxic ingredients, their functions, and exactly how these ingredients appear on skincare labels so that you can avoid them easily. All of these toxic ingredients are banned in our PureGlow™ Promise! 

We're also giving you a downloadable wallet-sized guide of toxic skin care ingredients to avoid so that you're empowered to make clean beauty choices wherever and whenever you shop for skincare!

Shop 100% Cruelty-Free, Vegan, Clean Beauty!

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How to avoid toxic skin care ingredients.

The absolute best way to avoid toxic ingredients in skin care is to read labels carefully! This may sound obvious, but so often we don't pay attention to skincare ingredient labels at all!

This is a huge problem, especially because we can easily get hooked on "green"-appearing packaging and assume that what's inside the bottle is good for our skin without even checking.

Skincare companies know that many consumers want clean, safe ingredients and that they want to actively avoid toxic ingredients in skincare. Some companies, instead of actually providing clean, safe ingredients, simply focus on appearing green.

Packaging may be covered in green font or images of plants and natural settings. They may have certain green buzz words and state that a formula contains natural ingredients even though 80% of them are toxic and should be avoided! 

Don't judge a skincare product just by its packaging! 

This is what we call greenwashing. And you definitely don't want to fall victim to this tactic if you want to avoid toxic ingredients in your skincare products. Reading labels, not simply looking at packaging, is the only way to know what's inside a product! 💚

Before you get started on reading labels, keep in mind that skincare ingredients can look and sound complicated whether they are toxic or clean.

Pop quiz! Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate is toxic. True or false?

If you answered true, it's no surprise considering the complicated name! The reality is Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate is a safe and gentle surfactant (cleaning agent) that works very well in skin cleansers and body wash.

The point is that you will not automatically know what toxic ingredients to avoid just by looking at names on a skincare label. You actually have to become familiar with (or reference your wallet-sized guide 😉) names of ingredients you want to say "no way" to.  

top 12 toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare

What are the top 12 toxic skin care ingredients to avoid?

The following list reviews some of the most common toxic ingredients in conventional skincare products that you'll want to avoid. They are listed in alphabetical order.

1. Benzalkonium chloride: 

What is it: Benzalkonium chloride is a toxic skincare ingredient used as a preservative and surfactant. It's often found in sunscreens and moisturizers.

Why avoid it: You'll want to avoid Benzalkonium chloride because it's associated with severe skin, eye, and respiratory irritation and allergies.

How it appears on a label: As Benzalkonium chloride.

2. Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoulene:

What are they: 2nd on the list of toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare, butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoulene are synthetic antioxidants that are used to keep products from spoiling for longer periods. These ingredients are often found in lipsticks, moisturizers, and diaper creams.

Why avoid them: They are suspected carcinogens and hormone disruptors and may damage your liver. 

How they appear on a label: As Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoulene or BHA and BHT.


Natural and naturally derived antioxidant systems that aren't known or suspected of causing harm to your skin keep these CLOUDBERRY Glow Drops fresh! No BHA or BHT in this formula! Period. 

3. Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid: 

What Is it: Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid is a chelating agent that aids in a product's stability and is often found in moisturizers.

Why avoid it: This ingredient should be avoided as it may cause organ toxicity.

How it appears on a label: As Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid or EDTA. 

4. Ethanolamines: 

What are they: Ethanolamines are surfactants and pH adjusters. They are often found in mascara, foundation, fragrances, sunscreens.

Why avoid them: Ethanolamines have been linked to allergies, skin toxicity, hormone disruption, and inhibited fetal brain development

How they appear on a label: As MEA/DEA/TEA. 

Gentle, yet effective, eco-friendly surfactants and natural pH adjusters power this GELLY GELLY Gentle AHA Gel Cleanser! No ethanolamines in here!

5. Formaldehyde: 

What is it: Formaldehyde is used to preserve cosmetics. This toxic ingredient should definitely be avoided in your skincare products. It's often found in shampoo, body wash and bubble bath.

Why avoid it: Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that has also been linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity.

How it appears on a label: If you see the words "quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol)," then formaldehyde is in the product. 

6. Hydroquinone: 

What is itHydroquinone is a chemical that lightens skin. It is often found in skin-lightening and scar creams.

Why avoid it: Hydroquinone is linked to cancer, is toxic to organs, and causes skin irritation.

How it appears on a label: As hydroquinone.

We are half-way through the list of toxic skin care ingredients to avoid. How are you doing? Information overload? Hang in there!😍

7.  Parabens:

What are they: Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics. They are often found in shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion and foundation.

Why avoid them: Parabens are endocrine disruptors, altering certain important hormonal pathways in our bodies.

How they appear on a label: As methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl-paraben.

8. Phthalates: 

What are they: Phthalates are plasticizing chemicals that are used for texture in cosmetics or to get fragrances to cling to your skin. They are often found in synthetic fragrance, nail polish.

Why avoid them: Phthalates are toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare due to the fact that they are hormone disruptors and suspected to cause birth defects.

How they appear on a label: As DBP, DEHP, DEP and others.

Hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 are clean skin softening agents found in our MALDIVE GLOW Beauty Essence! 100% Phthalate-free!

9. Polyethylene glycol compounds: 

What are they: Polyethylene glycol compounds are used to thicken cosmetics and used as solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. They are often found in creams, sunscreen and shampoo.

Why avoid them: Polyethylene glycol compounds should be avoided in skincare because they are are sometimes contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens.

How they appear on a label: As Polyethylene glycol or PEG.

10. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate: 

What are they: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are surfactants. They are often found in shampoo, body wash and bubble bath.

Why avoid them: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate can irritate skin and cause allergy symptoms. Sodium Laureth Sulfate is sometimes contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen.

How they appear on a label: As Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate or SLS and SLES.

11. Synthetic flavors or fragrance: 

What are they: Synthetic flavor or fragrance are engineered scent or flavoring agents that often contain numerous chemicals. They can be found in nearly all cosmetic products. 

Why avoid them: Synthetic flavors or fragrance can be composed of numerous chemicals that are hormone disruptors and allergens. Often companies do not disclose all the ingredients in flavors and fragrance because they are considered proprietary. Because of this, you aren't able to tell what exactly is in the product.

How they appear on a label: As flavor, or fragrance. The actual components may not be listed because they are considered proprietary.

12. Triclosan and Triclocarban: 

What are they: Triclosan and Triclocarban are antimicrobial pesticides. They are often found in liquid soap, soap bars, and toothpaste.

Why avoid them: Avoid these ingredients in skincare because they are toxic to marine life and also suspected of harming human reproductive systems

How they appear on a label: As Triclosan and Triclocarban.

Top 12 toxic skin care ingredients to avoid: Downloadable Reference

We just reviewed a lot of information! It may have been intimidating, but don't worry, the more you start reading labels, the more you will recognize these ingredients.

We want to make it as easy for you as possible to avoid these 12 toxic ingredients in skincare, so we’ve created a free wallet-sized guide that you can take with you for any skincare shopping trip. You don't have to memorize these long names! 😂


Happy shopping!

Looking for 100% Cruelty-Free, Vegan, Clean Beauty? We've got it! Shop Now!

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Thankbvb you for mas kingbit easy to make healthy and wise choices for the products I use for my skin care.

Shannon December 08, 2021

Thank you for the wallet sized guide and all the info in this article. It’s really helpful. I’ve been trying to switch to clean beauty and I wasn’t looking carefully enough at the labels to be honest. I was just noticing some buzz words on the packaging. Now I’m checking my products against your list.

Dawn October 19, 2020

I have been making my makeup for a while using titanium dioxide. My skin is dry now so I was looking online to find kaolin clay. I was surprised to find that you sell Pacifica which is my favorite lip gloss that I buy at Sprouts. I love that the lipgloss is tasteless and makes my lips shiny without looking oily.

Carol September 15, 2020

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