11 ingredients to avoid in your beauty products

This post is by Melissa from Real Nutritious Living.

Transitioning to Natural Living:

The path to natural living is a transition — honestly, a long transition. I first started making changes to my diet in 2008. I didn't just go straight into eating Paleo, everything organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised meat made of whale tears and unicorns. ;)

It was a slow transition; I swapped things out as I learned about them or as I found places in our budget to cut so we could make room for purchasing higher-quality food.

If you're new to this lifestyle and are reading blogs/health websites, I don't want you to feel overwhelmed or think that you have to make all these changes at once. Make them slowly and at your own pace. It will be much more sustainable in the long run because it will eventually become a lifestyle — something you don't have to think about.

I've been at this for over 10 years and I am still learning and making changes.

After I cleaned up my diet, the next place I started noticing toxins were in my skincare products. I started out by educating myself on harmful ingredients to avoid in my products.

These are the top ingredients to avoid in your makeup and other beauty products:

1. BHA and BHT

What it is: Synthetic antioxidants used to extend shelf life. They are likely carcinogens and hormone disruptors and may cause liver damage.

Found in: Lipsticks, moisturizers, diaper creams, and other cosmetics.

2. Coal Tar Hair Dyes/Products

What it is: A byproduct of coal processing that is a known carcinogen. It is used as a colorant and an anti-dandruff agent.

Found in: Hair dye, shampoo.

3. Formaldehyde

What it is: Used as a preservative in cosmetics. A known carcinogen that is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. Present where quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), and several other preservatives are listed.

Found in: Shampoo, body wash, bubble bath.

4. Hydroquinone

What it is: A skin-lightening chemical that inhibits the production of melanin and is linked to cancer, organ toxicity, and skin irritation.

Found in: Skin-lightening creams.

5. Oxybenzone

What it is: A sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber linked to irritation, sensitization and allergies, and possible hormone disruption.

Found in: Sunscreen, moisturizer.

6. Parabens (Methyl-, Isobutyl-, Propyl- and Others)

What it is: A class of preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Parabens are endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, which may alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies.

Found in: Shampoo, face wash, body wash, body lotion, and foundation.

7. Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP, and Others)

What it is: A class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and may cause congenital disabilities.

Found in: Synthetic fragrance, nail polish, hairspray, and plastic materials.

8. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG Compounds)

What it is: PEGs are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. Depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens.

Found in: Creams, facewash, sunscreen, and shampoo.

9. Retinyl Palmitate and Retinol (Vitamin A)

What it is: A nutrient that may damage DNA and speed the growth of skin tumors when used topically.

Found in: Moisturizer, anti-aging skincare.

10. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES)

What it is: SLS and SLES are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethoxylation, which is used to process other chemicals to make them less harsh.

Found in: Shampoo, body wash, bubble bath.

11. Fragrance

What it is: An engineered scent that may contain any combination of 3,000-plus stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets and therefore can remain undisclosed.

Found in: All types of cosmetics.

This list is just a start — there are more than 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals that really shouldn't be used for products that go on the skin. More than 1,400 of these chemicals are banned or restricted by the European Union, so you want to err on the side of caution and employ the philosophy “guilty until proven innocent” on things you put on your skin.

How to Make Safer Choices:

1. Check your products for safety

Search all of your personal care products (as well as cleaning supplies, etc.) on the Healthy Living App

2. Only wear makeup with a dedicated metal testing policy

Mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium, are natural products, so even if your products are “natural” or “organic” or DIY, if they have metals in them, they can still harbor dangerous heavy metals inside at unsafe levels.

This leads to 2 options:

  1. Skip the foundation, the blush, the eye pencil, the lipstick, the lip gloss, the mascara, and the eye shadow, unless you can find a line of products that uses only plant-based colors. 

  2. Shop safely with a brand that 3rd party tests every batch of makeup for heavy metals, like Beautycounter. See their policy and learn more about heavy metals in makeup here.

No matter where you shop, make sure you do your homework and keep the heavy metals off of your face — 'cause no one needs that stuff in their makeup.


Melissa's journey to non-toxic beauty has inspired me to take a second look at my beauty products. More on that later in another blog post, but I've joined her team as a Beautycounter consultant. To shop with me or learn more, click here!


About the Author:

Melissa Schollaert is a Holistic Health and Nutrition Counselor and founder of Real Nutritious Living. Helping others achieve their health goals to attain their healthiest, happiest life is her greatest ambition. She has been a regular expert on NBC, ABC, Good Day Live, ESPN Radio, various summits, and podcasts. She regularly teaches classes at Whole Foods and many other outlets.

Sources: National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, CosIng, Health Canada, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database