6 Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid — and Why

Most skincare ingredients on the market are not required to be screened by the U.S FDA (Food & Drug Administration) before being marketed to consumers. A rule of thumb to follow is: just because it is being sold doesn’t make it safe. Consumers need to be aware of ingredients they are likely to come into contact with (and the risks) in order to make informed purchasing decisions. Here’s what you need to know.


In order to prolong shelf-life and deter bacteria and mold, producers will use a group of preservatives called parabens. Methylparaben, isobutyl parabens, propylparabens, and others are commonly found in products like shampoo, lotions, facial cleansers, foundation, and body washes.

Parabens have been found to disrupt endocrine function in humans, which could lead to chronic hormone issues, infertility, and allergic reactions. 


Fragrance is found in nearly every skincare product, perfume, and other products found in your home, like cleaning products and laundry detergent. If the ingredient list reads fragrance or parfum, but does not disclose which specific fragrance it includes, such as grapefruit extract (a natural fragrance), it is likely a concoction of hundreds or thousands of synthetic chemical blends. 

Since product scents are protected as trade secrets, brands are not required to disclose their blends. This, however, paints a dishonest picture to consumers about what is inside the products they are buying.

Fragrances have been found to be endocrine disruptors and allergens and can trigger respiratory distress.


Found in nearly every shampoo, sunscreen, and lotion, PEG’s or polyethylene glycol, is a thickening agent and moisture carrier used in products to give them a soft, pleasing texture. The danger with PEG’s is their high levels of risk of contamination with other additives. 

Most commonly, PEG’s contain high levels of 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, two compounds backed by scientific journals and bodies of evidence that suggest they are carcinogenic to humans. 


Found in many cosmetics, like eyelash glue, shampoos, bubble bath, and other products, formaldehyde is simply one of the worst offenders. Used as a common preservative, this ingredient is not only carcinogenic but has been found to be a potent allergen. 

Irritation to the lungs, eyes, and skin is common with this ingredient. It has been linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

An environmental toxin, allergen, and irritant, sodium lauryl sulfate is a common additive in shampoos, conditions, lotions, creams, and other products. It is used as a foaming agent to create lather. 

Concerns around this ingredient are centered on non-reproductive organ toxicity and lung irritation.


While sunscreen is an essential skincare product to prevent skin damage, premature aging, and prevent skin cancers, most sunscreens are made with the toxic chemical oxybenzone. While more research is underway by the FDA after consumer allegations and complaints, it is noted that the ingredient creates skin sensitivities and allergies.

Oxybenzone holds concerns around its absorption potential, and the FDA admits to gaps in its safety data.

Key Takeaways
  • The FDA does not require screening for most ingredients in skincare and cosmetics.
  • Consumer awareness is the best defense against harmful ingredients in skincare.
  • Some ingredients in skincare are carcinogenic, allergenic, and irritating to both the outside and inside of the body.