What's Really In Your Skincare?

On average, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that women use 12 personal care products a day, exposing themselves to 168 chemical ingredients. However this doesn’t even take into account the other chemicals we’re often being exposed to throughout the day, such as pesticides, cleaning products flame retardants, and air fresheners. These chemicals can be a major disruption to our endocrine system.

The endocrine system is made up of several glands that produce hormones. Endocrine disruptors can mimic or partly mimic our naturally occurring hormones. They can also bind to a hormone receptor within a cell and stop the natural hormone from binding. And they can block or interfere with the way our hormones are controlled.

Endocrine disruptors affect multiple systems in the body and contribute to lowered sperm counts, precocious puberty, endometriosis, PCOS, thyroid dysregulation, testicular cancer, breast cancer, metabolic dysfunction and obesity

1. Parabens

Parabens are a prevalent ingredient in many everyday skincare and hair care products. They are the preservatives used to keep your skincare and makeup fresh and germ-free. They are found in a variety of products, from soaps to lotions and makeup. Research shows that they cause increased production of the hormone estrogen (female sex hormone) and interfere with reproductive and brain function.

Parabens enter your skin and mimic estrogen that triggers excessive cell division in the breast. This eventually leads to breast cancer. They’ve been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer, although studies haven’t been conclusive. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions.

Look for ingredient names: Methyl, Ethyl, Propyl, Benzyl, Butyl, Isobutyl or something similar (with the word paraben in it).

2. Phthalates Phthalates are salts or plasticizing chemicals used in products. They are used make fragrances last longer and can be found in many nail polishes, perfumes and lotions to name a few. Also used as softeners in shampoos and to make certain plastic soft and bendy, they are reproductive and developmental toxins. skincare products, particularly perfumed skincare products and deodorants. This chemical is used to retain a perfumed scent but is widely linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues. Just like parabens, phthalates can too mimic estrogen. A synthetic form of estrogen that can cause issues for even babies that haven’t been born yet.. The damage from phthalates is caused by daily, repeated exposure – more than our bodies can handle. This damage can mean everything from low sperm counts, asthma, changes in male babies’ testes and penis size, increased incidence of breast cancer and tumours.

Look for ingredient names:

  • Phthalate

  • BBP (Butyl Benzyl Phthalate)

  • DBP (Di-n-butyl Phthalate)

  • DEP (Diethyl Phthalate)

  • DiDP (Di-isodecyl phthalate)

  • DnHP (Di-n-Hexyl Phthalate)

  • DEHP (Di-(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate)

3. Fragrance

Fragrances are found in skincare products like perfumes, moisturizers, shampoos, cleansers and conditioners. They are made with chemicals that are associated with respiratory disorders, skin allergies, dermatitis and side effects in the reproductive system. Fragrances can be carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), irritants and endocrine disruptors. Fragrance is what is called a “cluster ingredient”, and can be anything up to 4,000 different chemicals. They don't have to be disclosed due to proprietary interest or intellectual property. These added fragrance formulas are widely linked to allergic reactions and can cause aggravated skin conditions such as dermatitis as well as respiratory condition

Look for ingredient names: fragrance, parfum, aroma or perfume

4. Triclosan Triclosan and triclocarban are antimicrobial chemicals added to provide antibacterial properties to cleansing and skincare products as well as soaps, toothpastes and deodorants. However, in actual fact it adds little antimicrobial effect and instead irritates the skin, disrupt the endocrine system (thyroid and hormones to be exact), inflame the gut and cause tumor growth. It has now also been banned in many countries in toothpaste, deodorant, sanitisers, liquid antibacterial soaps and mouth rinse.

Found in antibacterial products, especially hand washes and acne-targeting face washes.

Look for ingredient names: Triclosan and triclocarban.

5. Sulfates

Sulfates act as surfactants and are used for lathering purposes and is in a lot of products, particularly anything that foams like skin cleansers, so it is hard to avoid. It is a powerful skin, eye and lung irritant. It is not an ingredient you want to be putting on your skin every day.

Look for ingredient names: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

6. 1,4-Dioxane (also referred to as dioxane) is a chemical that, is often found in products that create suds (such as shampoo, liquid soap, and laundry detergent) and other items such as toothpaste, hair dye, and deodorant. 1,4 -dioxane isn’t necessarily “used” in cosmetics. Rather, it’s a byproduct formed when other common ingredients are mixed together during the manufacturing process. These ingredient include certain detergents, foaming agents, emulsifiers and solvents identifiable by the prefix, word, or syllables “PEG,” “Polyethylene,” “Polyethylene glycol,” “Polyoxyethylene,” “-eth-,” or “-oxynol-.” 1,4-dioxane “

Look for ingredient names: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PEG compounds (usually listed as “PEG” followed by a number), Chemicals that end in “eth” (denotes ethoxylation), like ceteareth and oleth.

7. Formaldehyde Is a colourless, strong smelling gas that is used to prevent the growth of bacteria. It is commonly used in making building materials and many household products, it is also used to embalm dead bodies and removed organs and body parts...! It is also used as a preservative to help prolong shelf life and in such ingredients as nail polishes, hair straightening treatments, hair gels, nail hardeners, soaps, shampoos, deodorants, lotions and makeup. It is associated with developmental toxins, hair loss, scalp burns, asthma and neurotoxicity. When inhaled, formaldehyde can cause dizziness and suffocation.Do note, not all products contain the ingredient formaldehyde, some may contain and/or use formaldehyde-releasing substances.

Look for the ingredient names:

  • DMDM hydantoin

  • Formaldehyde

  • Imidazolidinyl urea

  • Diazolidinyl urea

  • Quaternium-15

  • Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )

  • 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane

  • Hydroxymethylglycinate.

8. Oxybenzone Most often found in sunscreens to protect your skin against UV rays. Oxybenzone has been found to be an endocrine-disrupting compound.

Look for the ingredient names: oxybenzone and benzophenone-3.

(Other chemicals to avoid in sunscreens include: PABA, ethoxycinnmate and homosalate They are believed to absorb light, but they cause more damage to the body instead of protecting as they are all endocrine disruptors.)

9. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

PEG's are thickening agent in skincare products such as, lotions, sunscreen and shampoos. It can cause cancer and respiratory disorders and also strip the skin of its natural oils (sebum) trigger the sebaceous glands (oil-producing glands) to make more sebum that can make the skin greasy. These petroleum-based polymer derivatives (PEG is the abbreviation of polyethylene glycol) are used in cosmetics as emollients (to soften the skin)s and emulsifiers (which facilitate the mixing of oil- and water-based ingredients).

Look for the ingredient names: PEG number 100, 120, 12, 14M, 150, 10, 180, 2, 20, 30, 32, 4, 40, 6, 7, 75, 8, 80 and 90M, PEG compounds.

10. Synthetic Colours The problem is these artificial ingredients come from petroleum or coal tar sources and are linked to several health issues. Synthetic colors can cause skin irritations, cancers, acne breakouts and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Look for the ingredient names: If you see the letters F, D or C, followed by a colour or number, your skincare products contain synthetic colours

11. Talc

Talc is the softest mineral occurring naturally, it is used to absorb moisture and is mostly found in baby powders, eye shadows, blush, deodorants and some soaps.

However, talc is directly associated with ovarian cancer. It first became a matter of concern when a woman who was using talc made by Johnson & Johnson for 35 years died of ovarian cancer. When inhaled, talc can also cause lung tumors/cancer.

Look for the ingredient names: Talcum powder, cosmetic talc


Found in lipsticks, eye-liners, foundation and whitening toothpastes. Lead is a neurotoxin and can be dangerous even at small doses.

Look for the ingredient names: Lead acetate, chromium, thimerosal, hydrogenated cotton seed oil, sodium hexametaphosphate.

13. Diethanolamine

A foaming agent that is commonly found in body washes, shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. It is a cancer-causing agent and a respiratory toxin.

Look for the ingredient names: Diethanolamine, DEA

14. Petrolatum

Petrolatum has a softening effect and is recommended for dry skin and ca often be found in lip balms, body balms and moisturisers. While it creates a barrier to prevent water from escaping, it also prevents absorption of moisture from the air. Your skin drys out eventually and this is the reason why you are tempted to reapply your lip balm. Also, if not refined well, harmful chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be retained in it.Several individual PAHs, as well as other chemical mixtures containing PAHs, have been classified as human carcinogens and are known skin irritants.

Look for the ingredient names: petroleum, petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin oil, white mineral oil, and liquid paraffin.

15. Toluene Powerful enough to be a paint thinner, it will sometimes be disguised as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane or methylbenzene in the ingredients list. This ingredient can wreak havoc on your immune system, nervous system, the reproductive system, as well as your respiratory system.

Toluene is a petrochemical solvent found in most hair dyes and nail polish. They can be dangerous for your immune system and may carry the risk of birth defects and blood cancer. Toluene can affect the human central nervous system and can lead to fatigue, headache, nausea and drowsiness.

Look for the ingredient names: benzene, toluol, phenylmethane, toluene or methylbenzene

16. Hydroquinone

Used in skincare for skin lightening. It is used to treat pigmentation related to acne scars, freckles, melasma, age spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Can cause skin irritation, cancer, contact dermatitis, sensitivity to the sun.

Look for the ingredient names: Hydroquinone or tocopheryl acetate

17. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

Used as preservatives in both personal care products and food. Oftentimes you’ll find BHA and BHT in lip products, hair products, makeup, sunscreen, antiperspirant/deodorant, fragrance, and creams. BHA/BHT are both known endocrine disruptors, possible carcinogens, and skin irritants.

Look for the ingredient names: Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

18. Ethanolamines (TEA, MEA, DEA. etc)

Found in a multitude of cosmetics and skincare products ranging from moisturizers to baby sunscreen. These chemicals are primarily used as surfactants (foaming agents), cleansers, or preservatives. The compounds have been linked to cancer, and organ system toxicity. 52 to 68 percent of DEA in hair dyes, body lotions and shampoos remain on the upper layers of the skin after exposure

Look for the ingredient names: Triethanolamine, diethanolamine, DEA, TEA, cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearamide MEA, TEA-lauryl sulfate

19. Phenoxyethanol

Used as a preservative in cosmetic products and also as a stabilizer in perfumes and soaps. Exposure to phenoxyethanol has been linked to reactions ranging from eczema to severe, life-threatening allergic reactions. Infant oral exposure to phenoxyethanol can acutely affect nervous system function.

Look for the ingredient names: Phenoxyethanol, 2-Phenoxyethanol, Euxyl K® 400 (mixture of Phenoxyethanol and 1,2-dibromo-2,4-dicyanobutane), PhE

20. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)

Common preservatives are found in many liquid personal care products, and have been linked to lung toxicity[1], allergic reactions and possible neurotoxicity

Look for the ingredient names: Methylisothiazolinone (MIT): 2-methyl-4-isothiazoline-3-one, Neolone 950 preservative, MI, OriStar MIT and Microcare MT. Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT): 5-Chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one and MCI.

Download the Chemical Maze App or the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep App if you’re unsure about other ingredients

Natural Skincare Alternatives:

Young Living - Essential Oils for DIY & Natural Skincare Products

Nourished Life - Non toxic skincare, hair & make up products

The Well Store -Non toxic skincare, hair & make up products