Top 10 Beauty Product Ingredients to Avoid

While the American food supply does have some regulation regarding chemicals and pesticide use, the beauty industry has little to no eyes on what actually goes into products and onto their labels.  When we ingest chemicals through food and drink, we have enzymes to help break them down, and a liver to help purify the body.  Beauty products, however, are massaged directly into the skin, scalp and gums, and inhaled.  There is not much barrier between the chemicals and the bloodstream, and so the quality of our beauty and household products may be of even greater importance than our food.

The Environmental Working Group ( has done in-depth research into cosmetics safety and provides a phenomenal resource for making the most informed choices when it comes to choosing and trusting brands.  I have put together a list of some of the most harmful beauty product ingredients, which should be avoided at all costs:

1. Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
Sulfates are in 90% of foaming and lathering products as well as in skin and hair care products as fillers (I even found SLS in an angel food cake once!).  Frequently described on labels as "comes from" or "derived from," they are known skin irritants, hormone and endocrine disruptors and suspected carcinogens and gene mutagens.  (Any chemical capable of mutating genes deserves our attention.)  Additionally, animals exposed to sulfates experience eye damage, central nervous system depression, labored breathing, diarrhea and severe skin irritation.
On labels, look for sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS).

According to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Reviews, research studies on SLS/SLES specifically have shown links to:  irritation of the skin and eyes, organ toxicity, developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes, possible mutations and cancer (SLS/SLES is often contaminated by two known carcinogens).

Look for these products commonly found to contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLES:

  • Soap/body wash
  • Shampoo Bubble-bath soap
  • Toothpaste
  • Dish soap
  • Laundry detergent
  • Children’s soap / shampoo
  • Stain Remover
  • Carpet Cleaner
  • Fabric glue
  • Shave cream
  • Mascara
  • Mouthwash
  • Skin cleanser
  • Moisturizer/lotion Sunscreen

2. Oxybenzone/Benzophenone-3
A major ingredient in the majority of mainstream sunscreens, Oxybenzone is actually implicated in contributing to cancer, rather than protecting users from it.  According to the Environmental Working Group, there are several suspected dangers associated with Oxybenzone.  Despite its sun protective abilities, it has been shown to penetrate the skin and cause photo-sensitivity.  As a photocarcinogen, it has demonstrated an increase in the production of harmful free radicals and an ability to attack DNA cells; for this reason, it is believed to be a contributing factor in the recent rise of Melanoma cases with sunscreen users.  Some studies have shown it to behave similarly to the hormone estrogen, suggesting that it may cause breast cancer as well.  It has also been linked to contact eczema and allergies.  As children under the age of 2 have not fully developed the enzymes that are required to break down derivatives of Oxybenzone, it is highly recommended to avoid use in that age group.  The FDA has approved the use of Oxybenzone as a safe and effective ingredient, but only in concentrations up to 6%. The European Union Cosmetics Directive has assessed Oxybenzone as safe at up to concentrations of 10%, but requires products that contain more than .5% of the ingredient to be labeled "contains Oxybenzone." Sweden has banned the use of this ingredient altogether.

Fortunately, there are several high-quality sunscreens that do not contain Oxybenzone.  Badger, Terra Sport and Living Libations sunscreens are truly safe and also effective at blocking the sun.  See to see the full report on sunscreens and to see where your favorite brand ranks.

3. Aluminum
Our overwhelming exposure to aluminum does not stop at anti-perspirant.  Cookware is made from aluminum, soda and tuna cans are aluminum, and aluminum foil is found in most kitchens.  Aluminum is also in antacids, aspirin, vaccines, baking powder, and even flour.  Unlike vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, the body does not need aluminum.  It accumulates in the kidneys, brain, lungs, liver and thyroid, competing with calcium for absorption and can also affect skeletal mineralization.  It is a known neurotoxin.  Animal models have linked aluminum exposure to mental impairments, as it targets the central nervous system.  Studies show that toxic metals such as aluminum contribute to brain diseases by producing oxidative stress.  The prevailing belief around the world is that aluminum is linked to degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. 

Avoid products (especially antacids, deodorant, baking powder) with aluminum hydroxide, processed and frozen foods in aluminum containers, as well as aluminum cookware.

4. Parabens
Parabens are common preservatives and one of the chemicals foremost responsible for disrupting the endocrine system and unbalancing vital hormones.  While used in microscopic amounts, parabens devastate cells, and long-term or prolonged use may cause damage.  Parabens cannot yet be said to cause breast cancer, but its estrogenic activity may be a contributing factor.  A 2004 study found parabens in over 90% of human breast cancer tumors. On labels, parabens are often listed with the prefixes ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl- or isobutyl.  They are found in makeup as well as skin, hair and body products.

5. Pthalates
Pthalates go by various long, involved names such as diethyl hexyl-, diisononyl- and butyl benzyl phthalate.  They are used as plasticizers to increase flexibility, lifespan and transparency.  They can be found not only in cosmetics and beauty products, but also children’s toys, packaging, pharmaceuticals, shower curtains, vinyl products, and much more.  

Both the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services have classified diethyl hexyl pthalate in particular as a probable carcinogen.  Rats and mice fed 2 different forms of pthalates had an increase in liver cancer over animals that had not been fed those chemicals.  Additional studies using rats showed that the offspring of rats fed pthalates had issues regarding sexual development, low birth weight, and an increased number of stillbirths. According to a 1996 report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), “No information is available regarding possible effects caused by diethyl phthalate if you breathe, eat, or drink it, or if it touches your skin.” Considering how many products contain this potentially dangerous chemical, it is advised to avoid pthalates as often as possible.

6. Fluoride
Fluoride has been recommended by dentists all over the United Staes for decades as part of a healthy dental regimen.  For years, no one questioned the fluoride in toothpaste and children’s vitamins.  Recently, the cavity prevention myth associated with fluoride, has been linked to a scientist named Gerald J. Cox, who in 1939 was employed by the largest producer of toxic fluoride waste, who, at the time was being threatened by fluoride damage claims. Cox fluoridated a group of lab rats, concluded that fluoride reduced cavities and claimed that it should be added to the nation’s water supplies.  Over the next thirteen years, eighty-seven new American cities began fluoridating their water, including the control city in a water fluoridation study in Michigan, thereby eliminating the most scientifically objective test of safety and benefit before it was ever completed. 

Fluoridation causes slight damage to a specific part of the brain, making it more difficult for the person affected to defend his freedom and causing the individual to become more docile towards authority.  Fluoride remains one of the strongest anti-psychotic substances known, was used in Nazi camps, and is contained in twenty-five percent of the major tranquilizers.  Fluoride is found in most toothpastes and many American cities’ water supplies.  

7. Petrochemicals
Chemicals made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum (crude oil) are found in baby oils, body oils, and petroleum jelly (vaseline).  They surround and suffocate cells, creating an oxygen-depleted environment ripe for infection.

An article from American Laboratory clarifies the everyday dangers of using petrochemicals:
“Depending on their use, since petrochemicals can be absorbed through the skin or might be ingested, they can accumulate in human tissues and organs such as the brain and liver and can cause brain, nerve and liver damage, birth defects, cancer, asthma, hormonal disorders, and allergies. We are still in the early days of understanding the adverse effects of petrochemicals on our health and environment”.

8. Parfum/fragrance
Fragrances (aka Parfum), including Geraniol, Citral and Limonene found in cosmetics are all synthetic.  The term alone can indicate the presence of up to one thousand substances, many toxic or carcinogenic. Phthalates are used to stabilize fragrances, which adds to the potential danger of parfums.  According to the FDA, synthetic fragrances may cause headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing, vomiting and skin irritation.  Clinical observation shows fragrances can affect the endocrine and central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity and irritability.

9. Sodium benzoate
Look for sodium benzoate at the end of the ingredients list of skincare, toothpaste, and mouth wash. Sodium benzoate is another very common cosmetic, food and supplement preservative used to protect acidic environments from spoiling. When mixed with vitamin C and ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate (as well as potassium benzoate) forms benzene, a known carcinogen. If you have vitamin C in your food or already in your body and you use a product with benzoate, you have created a carcinogen.

10. Polyethylene Glycol
Polyethylene Glycol has many different uses in cosmetics as well as harsh chemicals like oven cleaners.  As a degreaser, it strips the skin of its natural protective oils leaving the body susceptible to invaders.  PEG is commonly contaminated with a known carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane.  Some studies have linked it to leukemia and uterine, breast and brain cancers.  Although it is rather simple and inexpensive to remove 1,4-dioxane from PEG, most cosmetic manufacturers choose to leave the contaminates in to save money.  PEG also contains high amounts of heavy metals, which are known to cause neurological, autoimmune and kidney issues.

Yikes!!  So what do I buy?  Good news!  There are many responsible companies with integrity who are producing high-quality items we can feel safe about using and sharing with our families.  You can search the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database to find how your makeup checks out.  Here are some of my recommendations for safe and effective beauty products:

    Piper Wai (Amazon)
    Poetic Pits (
    DIY (see our thread in the member forum)
face soap/moisturizer:
    Sea Buckthorn Oil Best Skin Ever (

    DoTerra essential oils (
    Living Libations perfumes (

    Jason sea fresh (Vitacost)
    Desert Essence Neem and Tea Tree Oil (Vitacost)
    Wintergreen Clean activated charcoal toothpaste ((

    Badger (Vitacost)
    Terra Sport
    Everybody Loves the Sun (
    Babo clear zinc stick
    Acure (Vitacost)
Hair color:
    Henna-based dyes
    Hairprint (

     100% Pure
     Living Nature



Jennifer Kellyblock 2