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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

The Top 20 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products

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Did you know that the majority of our skincare products today include an incredible amount of toxic ingredients? This guide will help you understand what ingredients to avoid in skincare products, which ingredients are good for your skin, and what brands are safe to use!

ingredients to avoid in skincare products - photo of skincare line

As many of you know, I am very passionate about the ingredients that go into the food we eat, and am constantly disappointed at the FDA’s willingness to allow certain ingredients in our food. It is still unbelievable to me how ingredients that are banned in Europe are still allowed in food products in the US. And if you have a little one, you probably have come across my baby formula investigation because it’s ridiculous what’s allowed in some of the first foods that our little ones are exposed to!

After realizing the truth about what’s in our food, I began asking the question about what’s going on with our cosmetic and personal care products.

And if you thought the FDA does an inadequate job in regulating what goes into our food, you’ll be just as appalled as I was on its regulation of what goes into our skincare products (for both adults and kids!)

This industry is a mess. It’s unregulated, the process for approval before a product goes on the market is minimal and limited, and many of the chemicals in beauty products are skin irritants, allergens, skin penetrators, endocrine disruptors and are carcinogenic.

There are so many harmful chemicals out there, it’s hard to know what to prioritize, so I’ve done the research for you!

The Top 20 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products

And What To Buy Instead!

top 20 ingredients to avoid in beauty products

What Are The Harmful Ingredients To Avoid in Skincare Products and Cosmetics?

  1. Dibutyl phthalate
  2. BHT / BHA
  3. Siloxanes
  4. Parabens
  5. PEG Compound & Glycols
  6. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
  7. Coal tar dyes
  8. DEA-related ingredients
  9. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
  10. Petrolatum
  11. SLS/SLES
  12. Triclosan
  13. Oxybenzone & Octinoxate
  14. Retinyl palmitate
  15. Isobutan
  16. Talc
  17. Mineral Oil
  18. Aluminum & metals
  19. Methylisothiazolinone (M1) and other “isothiazolinones”
  20. Nanoparticles (pulverized metals like zinc and titanium

All of these ingredients are a little bit different in terms of their risk level, and in terms of what issues they cause!

Below I have a chart with more details on how risky these ingredients are, whether they are a known carcinogen or endocrine disruptor, and where they are commonly found. (Note on endocrine disruptors: they can mess with brain/nervous system development, reproductive system function and hormone levels, and metabolism/thyroid/adrenal function).

top 20 ingredients to avoid in skincare products

Which ingredients are good for the skin?

The best ingredients are often the most natural! I love coconut oil, shea butter, green tea, calendula, and tea tree oil for skincare. But in general, products that do not contain any of the top 20 ingredients above are going to be good for your skin!

What are the worst skincare products?

Deodorant and sunscreen probably have some of the highest level of ingredients to avoid on this list.

Body Wash, Lotion, Shampoo, Conditioner and Perfume are next — as they likely contain sulfates and parabens among other harmful ingredients.

Brands I recommend avoiding include: Clean & Clear, Pantene, and Clairol — all of which have Parabens, SLS/SLES, and Coal Tar; Vaseline which includes mineral oil, all perfumes that include “fragrance,” and any brands that include Triclosan (eg Colgate) or Formaldehyde (most hair treatment products) and Phthalates (most nail polish brands).

What are the best skincare products?

Here is my ranking for the healthiest, cleanest and safest beauty & body products:

#1: Pure Haven or any of Dr. Bronner’s products (e.g. their soap/shower gel and baby products). I love both of these product lines because their ENTIRE line of products are all clean and free of every single one of these harmful ingredients. All of the ingredients in both of these brands are organic, and Pure Haven’s products are made in a USDA organic food-grade certified facility and are shipped fresh within just a few weeks of being made. Pure Haven also has a 60 day money back guarantee, even if you’ve used the product. No other company comes close! The only reason Pure Haven might slightly edge out Dr. Bronner’s is that they just have a more extensive product line that includes all skin care products including exfoliators, cleansers, eye creams, moisturizers, face masks, etc. which I use on a daily basis!

#2 | Acure Organics: Another super clean product line, but occasionally they may use potassium sorbate or sodium lauryl which are preservatives, and all of their products aren’t made with 100% organic ingredients.

#3 | California Baby: Their main issue is the use of sodium benzoate – which, when mixed with vitamin C, forms benzene – which is a carcinogen. They also have a few preservatives and they don’t have 100% organic ingredients.

#4 | Avalon Organics: They have more preservatives than Acure or California Baby, and they use sodium benzoate, which is why they are #4.

Other general tips:

  1. For any product you have questions about, go to the EWG’s database and the safecostmetics site.
  2. Buy your products online! So many more options than at the drugstore and you don’t have to go to multiple stores to buy all of your products.
  3. Adopt a minimalist approach to your beauty routine – do you really need all 5 products that you currently use for your hair or face? Or would pairing down to 1-2 great products save you money, time and reduce your exposure to harmful toxins?

If you swap out just 8-10 of your daily routine products you could greatly reduce your exposure from 300 hazardous chemicals to almost zero. I hope this post was helpful in breaking down the ingredients in beauty products today and helps you to find safer options for you and your family. If you have any questions about any of this, you can leave a comment below or email me at I respond to every single message and comment I get!

Sources: David Suzuki Foundation Dirty Dozen List, Environmental Working Group, EWG Skin Deep Database

For more helpful resources find out about the best protein powders for women, the best multivitamins for women, and the best vitamins for immunity.

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