Our beautiful skin serves as a protective layer for our muscles and organs.
When our skin looks fresh, hydrated, and firm, it gives that unmistakable glow, but when it's dry and irritated it can result in wrinkles and make us appear a lot older than we actually are.
One of the main culprits for this is exposure to harsh chemicals. Harmful makeup brands, chemical-based soaps, and other toxic skin care products can actually encourage wrinkles, dry skin, and even carry health risks that go beyond the effects on our skin.
The worst part is that, in many cases, some of these harmful skin care ingredients are present in products that are supposed to help us achieve that youthful appearance.
It’s important to know which of these substances have a negative effect on our skin and health so we can remove them from our skin care routine.
In this article, we summarize how these chemicals impact your skin and body, the top 13 skin care ingredients to avoid, and where they are commonly found.
How Chemicals Affect the Human Body
Unfortunately, the FDA regulates but does not approve cosmetic and skincare products before they hit the market.
There are many additives, preservatives, and other types of chemicals commonly used in skincare and cosmetic products. While many of these ingredients have received approval from regulatory agencies, it doesn’t mean that they have a positive impact on the skin or that they don’t cause long-term health effects.
As a matter of fact, it really depends on the concentration, exact compound used, and method of application among other variables, so we'll need to keep all of these in mind when evaluating which ingredients to avoid in skin care products.
In most cases, harsh chemicals like chlorine and alcohol can produce skin irritation, rashes, and even lead to difficult-to-treat conditions like psoriasis. These chemicals pose more of a risk for people that have health problems like allergies or sensitive skin, as well as folks who are undergoing a specific type of treatment or suffer from a chronic health condition.
People with additional health complications tend to develop more severe symptoms, potentially resulting in a chronic condition that needs regular attention.
It’s also important to learn about what skin care ingredients to avoid during pregnancy and while breastfeeding because the chemicals you consume directly affect our children.
In addition to common complications like irritation, harsh chemicals can have a heavy impact on the health of our newborn. Some harsh compounds can lead to developmental health issues and other severe health problems if ingested by children.
Because of this, learning about which skin care ingredients to avoid while breastfeeding or during pregnancy is crucial for the health of your child.
Do Skin Products Absorb Into the Bloodstream?
One of the biggest misconceptions in the world of cosmetic and skincare goods is that external-use products don’t get past our first skin layers.
As a matter of fact, research suggests that about 60% of certain chemical compounds penetrate past our skin and are absorbed by the body, where they interact with different organs and often have negative health effects.
If the products we use contain toxic ingredients that should be avoided in skincare, there’s a good chance they can seep into our pores, end up in our bloodstream, and get distributed to the rest of your body - causing different types of health issues.
So, if you’re asking yourself “is chemical soap bad for your skin and the rest of your body?” the answer is a resounding, yes.
Even common products like sunscreen may deposit unsafe amounts of chemicals into the bloodstream, so we need to pay attention to the ingredients lists before purchasing our next products.
Remember, chemical compounds can be used for a variety of reasons including regulating texture, producing a specific scent, and giving personal care products a particular appearance. We would recommend looking through your current personal care products and removing the ones that have harmful skincare ingredients, avoiding them at all costs.
Top 13 Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid
Now that we’ve reviewed the negative effects of toxic ingredients in skin care to avoid and how these can affect the whole body, it’s time to go over the 13 chemicals you should avoid in your skin care products at all costs.
Keep in mind that there are many more chemicals that can harm our skin and cause negative health consequences, but we’ve focused on the compounds often included in soaps, perfumes, baby products, and other common goods.
Our list of ingredients to avoid in skin care products includes synthetic as well as natural compounds that have a detrimental effect on our health as a whole. If you want to know “what ingredients should I avoid for sensitive skin?” then just continue reading!
Let’s take a look at the ingredients we need to avoid in skin care products:
1. Alcohol Denat and Other Harsh Forms of Alcohol
Alcohol is a common ingredient that can help personal care products penetrate your skin easily and keep them from going bad. With this in mind, there are many different types of alcohol and many of these have a negative effect on the body.
This includes alcohol denat, isopropyl alcohol, and ethanol, all of which can cause negative effects on the skin.
The vast majority of alcohols, including alcohol denat, are bad for skin and they can actually result in acne breakouts if used regularly. Bad alcohols melt away part of the protective barrier, so our external layer can’t hold in moisture as long as it usually does. It also affects the health of your skin as it’s more vulnerable to bacteria and fungus development.
This same effect causes the body to produce oil, which can lead to acne and other breakouts if left unchecked.
It’s important to note that vegetable-based, fatty alcohols like cetearyl alcohol don’t produce as much damage. In some cases, these may actually help hydrate your skin and promote better cellular function. While most alcohols produce unwanted effects, you don’t have to worry as much if you’re asking “is cetearyl alcohol bad for skin?”
Commonly Found In…
Alcohols are found in hand sanitizers, moisturizing creams, and soaps. They are among the top moisturizer and soap ingredients to avoid because they can actually produce the opposite effect and leave you with dry and unhealthy skin. Keep in mind that isopropyl alcohol is used in hospitals and other settings as rubbing alcohol, but it can still cause irritation and other health issues for some people.
So, if someone asks you “is rubbing alcohol bad for your skin?” the answer is almost always yes.
2. Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is considered a natural ingredient that’s sourced from the plant with the same name. Scientifically known as Hamamelis virginiana, the leaves, bark, and branches of this flowering shrub are processed to create topical creams, home health remedies, and other products often applied directly to the skin.
Witch hazel is packed with antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, but it also contains substances that produce dryness and irritation. Tannins, which are present in witch hazel, are among the ingredients to avoid in skin care, so check the label of every product you want to purchase to ensure it doesn’t contain this natural ingredient.
Is witch hazel bad for your skin? Well, the simple answer yes, to some extent.
While the negative effects of this natural compound are not lethal, the tannins in witch hazel can compress the protein found in your skin, thus causing dermal dryness and even cracking in severe cases.
Additionally, most witch hazel products are processed using other harsh chemicals that can affect your health - like alcohol. So, it's good to check the label of every product before making your choice.
Commonly Found In…
Although it’s natural, witch hazel can produce severe irritation and dryness. That said, it’s commonly used by acne-prone people to address spots and blemishes that appear on over hydrated skin. It’s also a common ingredient in makeup remover, anti-aging creams, and puffy eye treatments.
Phenoxyethanol is a common cosmetic ingredient, but this compound has received a lot of negative attention over the last few years. Also known as glycol ether, phenoxyethanol is among the most common toxic chemicals in everyday products, giving them a sticky and slimy texture as well as a faint, sweet scent -- but it can still be very bad from a health perspective. Keep in mind that phenoxyethanol can appear under a wide variety of names, including:
- Rose ether
- Fragrance (phenoxyethanol is a common ingredient of many types of fragrance)
- Arosol and many more
While the FDA has found that concentrations below 1% don’t produce immediate side-effects, people that used phenoxyethanol have experienced side-effects like:
- Dermal dryness and irritation
Some experts have observed central nervous system complications in children exposed to different forms of phenoxyethanol, so you should always avoid baby products that have this compound.
Commonly Found In…
Some of the products that may contain phenoxyethanol include:
- Different types of gel, like ultrasound gel
- Hand sanitizer
- Blush and more
- Anti-aging products
4. Baking Soda
Is baking soda bad for your skin? Well, baking soda is a common household item and many folks have implemented it into their cleaning routine. Also known as sodium bicarbonate, this compound has anti-inflammatory properties and is alkaline, so it’s also used to stabilize certain products’ acidity. Unfortunately, some people have also started using it to try to address acne and dry out over moisturized body parts without realizing that baking soda is bad for skin health.
The dermis is naturally acidic because this helps maintain beneficial oils intact. Baking soda is a powerful alkaline substance, so it can actually affect the natural oils in our dermis and result in health problems like:
- Early wrinkle onset
- Increasingly severe breakouts
- Skin inflammation and dryness
- Dying cells or peeling/flaking dermis
- Elimination of dermal flora
Commonly Found In…
Baking soda is also a common ingredient in some cosmetics like facial exfoliants, pore cleansers, spot treatments, anti-aging creams, and dermal repair treatments, so make sure you check your labels to keep your skin’s oils intact.
Some ingredients on this list may sound harmless, but they are actually dangerous compounds that can produce severe health complications. 1,4-dioxane is one of these ingredients and it’s found in a wide variety of products. You should thoroughly check the label of the products you buy as well as the ones already in your cabinet and pass on products that contain this harsh synthetic chemical.
1,4 dioxane is classified as an industrial chemical and a known carcinogen, according to the EPA. In addition to potentially causing breast cancer in healthy people, exposure to a large amount of 1,4 dioxane can cause headaches, drowsiness, respiratory system irritation, vertigo, and other side-effects. But, even though it’s an extremely harmful chemical, the FDA does not regulate the amount of 1,4 dioxane in cosmetics, so it’s up to you to protect your skin and your health.
Commonly Found In…
There’s a huge variety of cosmetic and skincare products that contain this ingredient as a stabilizer, including baby lotion, shampoos, hair relaxers, detergents, anti-aging products, and other personal care products. Additionally, 1,4 dioxane is a common ingredient in dish soaps, sanitizing gels, body wash gels, toothpaste, deodorant, laundry detergent, and hair dyes.
Is glycerin bad for your skin? Well, the answer to that question really depends on where it’s sourced from. Glycerin is a type of sugar alcohol that is commonly generated from vegetable sources like coconut and soybean, among other raw materials. This substance is used because it can keep your skin hydrated when combined with other compounds.
However, glycerin can also be sourced from synthetic materials like chlorine, petroleum, and propylene and this is the form you want to to avoid in your skincare ingredients. Chlorine and propylene may release harmful compounds into your bloodstream, while petroleum creates a barrier that doesn’t let your skin breathe.
Synthetic glycerin contains chlorine and other chemicals that produce free radical damage. Free radicals are loose molecules that damage cells in your body and produce premature tissue aging. Not only this, but the petroleum content often found in synthetic glycerin creates a barrier that doesn’t let your skin breathe, trapping pollutants and forcing them into your body.
Commonly Found In…
Glycerin has many different uses across a wide variety of industries. It’s often used as a preservative in the tobacco industry, but it’s also a common ingredient in cosmetic products. Glycerin is commonly found in soaps, moisturizing products, shampoos, toilet cleaning solutions, cleaning wipes, shaving cream, toothpaste, anti-aging treatments, dish detergent, and other personal care goods. Not only this, but it’s often added to cosmetic products like eyeliner, making it one of the so-called “make-up toxins” you should steer clear from.
7. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Known respectively as SLS and SLES, sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are dangerous compounds that can cause a variety of health concerns. While severe symptoms require extensive exposure, these compounds can’t be metabolized by the liver once they enter the body, making it one of the key ingredients to avoid in skincare. This means that coming in contact with this compound on a regular basis can still result in long-term complications.
Negative Effects of Sulfate
SLS and SLES are carcinogenic chemicals, so large amounts can significantly increase the chance of developing breast cancer and similar conditions. Both of these usually contain dioxane, so they can also cause all the effects associated with this harmful compound.
Additionally, sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are believed to disrupt the endocrine and adrenal systems, so they can produce fatigue as well as hormone disruption. And, mentioned before, sulfate SLS and SLES can’t be metabolized, so they tend to cause more harm than others on this list.
When a drug is metabolized, its chemical composition is altered by the liver. In most cases, the resulting compounds are either used up by the body or ejected through urine or feces. Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate can’t be altered by the body, so these hazardous compounds stay in the body and their effects are magnified in intensity.
Commonly Found In…
SLS and SLES are ingredients usually found in exfoliant creams, baby wash, mascara, face washes, body wash gels, shampoos, and conditioners, so pay close attention when picking up any of these items from the shelves.
Our list of toxic cosmetics would not be complete without chlorine. You’re probably familiar with this harsh chemical because it’s the active compound found in bleach. We’ve all been in a pool that had a bit too much chlorine and some of us even ended up with green hair, but this chemical can do much more than that.
If you’re asking yourself “is chlorine bad for your skin?” or “is bleach bad for your skin?” the answer is a resounding, yes. For starters, chlorine can irritate your external layer, causing redness, mild inflammation, and itchiness. It also causes free radical damage, so your skin will age and show signs of damage early on.
Chlorine damages your skin’s natural oils and the good microorganisms that help keep your dermis in good condition. It's definitely part of the ingredients to avoid in skincare.
Commonly Found In…
Chlorine is known as a common ingredient in cleaning products, but it’s also present in a variety of cosmetic goods. These include perfumes, skin lightening creams, sunscreens, gel soaps, hand sanitizers, antiseptic cream, moisturizers, blemish control products, and hair dyes, among others.
9. Benzoyl Peroxide
Does benzoyl peroxide age the skin at an accelerated rate? The short answer is yes, it does. This chemical is often used as an antibacterial that can help reduce the oil content in your dermis. Benzoyl is easy to wash away, so it’s often used to make skincare products like acne creams, blemish treatments, and goods for oily skin.
In addition to its potential side-effects, benzoyl peroxide-based products may also cause allergic reactions that require immediate attention. If you notice any discomfort or other signs of allergies, stop using benzoyl products and seek medical attention right away.
Benzoyl may cause painful symptoms if applied in large quantities to sensitive or damaged skin. It can cause dryness, pain, and discoloration at the application site in people who are not allergic. Some people also report a burning sensation when exposed to benzoyl, so discontinue the use of any product that contains this compound and causes any of these side-effects.
Benzoyl peroxide is very harsh and it’s considered an antiseptic because it can help destroy microorganisms, regardless of whether they are good or bad. The good microscopic organisms living on the skin can help fight off fungal infections and bad bacteria, but products that contain benzoyl often eradicate these completely.
The dermatologic effects of benzoyl peroxide have been well-documented and they also include mild stinging, scaling, hives, itching, peeling, and swelling. In large quantities, benzoyl peroxide may even cause difficulty breathing and throat tightness as well as eye irritation and hypersensitivity. It's definitely one of the ingredients in skincare to avoid.
Commonly Found In…
Benzoyl has the ability to sterilize surfaces. For this reason, it’s found in personal cleaning products, professional and at-home tooth whitening treatments, and body wash products for oily skin. It’s also the active ingredient in many skincare products like anti-acne creams and anti-aging treatments due to its antibacterial properties. But, these products may cause severe irritation if they contain more than 5% benzoyl peroxide concentration.
Although formaldehyde is produced in small amounts by most living organisms, it's definitely one of the skincare ingredients to avoid. This chemical is colorless, tasteless, and extremely flammable. If you ever dissected an animal in biology class, it was probably preserved in formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is used in a large number of industries and not only in skincare products. It's used in the production of wooden goods, adhesives, some types of fabrics, coated paper, and some insulation materials. It’s also an active ingredient of many herbicides, pesticides, and disinfectants, plus it’s sometimes used in morgues to keep corpses preserved in good condition.
The effects of formaldehyde vary depending on each person’s sensitivity and how concentrated the product is. In laboratory research conducted a few decades ago experts found that formaldehyde caused a variety of negative health effects in rats, including nasal cancer, so it has been listed as a known carcinogen to humans.
More immediate complications associated with this harmful ingredient include hormone disruption, burning sensation, dry skin, hives, rashes, and eye irritation. People who are allergic or hypersensitive may experience wheezing, coughing, and similar respiratory symptoms.
Commonly Found In…
Formaldehyde is banned from being used in cosmetic, personal care, and other consumer products in some parts of the world.
Unfortunately, it's one of those harmful ingredients that’s found commonly in keratin hair products, hair restoration solutions, anti-aging treatments, bath lotions, bubble bath solutions, shampoos, deodorants, makeup, soaps, and even baby products like lotions and creams.
Formaldehyde is also an active compound in other harmful ingredients like formalin, formic aldehyde, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, and DMDM hydantoin.
We all love facial creams and other skincare products that smell like lemon or carry another delightful fragrance. The problem is that not all fragrances come from natural sources. Not only this, but, because a product’s fragrance is regarded as a “secret” ingredient, cosmetic manufacturers don’t usually reveal the ingredient list.
In many cases, a powerful fragrance that reminds us of apple or cinnamon may actually be composed of hundreds of different chemicals. Even if there is a small percentage of natural fragrance, phthalates and other harmful ingredients usually make up a large portion of the product’s content.
Is fragrance bad in skincare products? This would depend on where the fragrance comes from. But since most manufacturers don’t proactively share their formulas, your best bet is to avoid products that have any type of fragrance and treat it as if it came from a synthetic source - unless it specifically says otherwise.
A synthetic fragrance produced from chemical sources can contain neurotoxins, compounds that cause free radical damage, and unidentified carcinogens. The negative effects vary depending on each product’s formula, but they can include coughing, premature aging, and irritated skin, making it one of the ingredients in skin care to avoid.
Commonly Found In…
Fragrance is present in almost every single type of cosmetic product, even if it doesn’t actually have a particular smell or fragrance, if you will. The reason for this is that fragrance can help conceal certain chemical or unpleasant smells, so this ingredient is also present in products you wouldn’t expect.
In the vast majority of cases, fragrance is found in anti-aging products, skincare ointments, body wash gels, soaps, perfumes, colognes, shampoos, conditioners, almost all baby products, and things like detergent. You can also find fragrance in makeup products like lipstick, mascara, base, and blush to help conceal other odors.
12. Hydrogen Peroxide
Is hydrogen peroxide bad for your skin? Does hydrogen peroxide eat your skin?
Hydrogen on its own is extremely flammable, so it usually comes in a water-based solution called hydrogen peroxide. You may be familiar with this compound because of hair bleach, which often contains pure hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is also commonly used in paper dying companies and other industries that require bleaching.
Like others on this list, hydrogen peroxide is a transparent liquid that doesn’t have any particular smell. It’s actually used in water treatment plants to kill bacteria as well as in rocket fuel manufacturing and cosmetic applications. However, this harmful chemical is a mutagen that can cause damage to your skin, which is why some people say that hydrogen peroxide will eat your skin if you don’t wash it off right away.
Why is hydrogen peroxide bad for skin? In simple terms, this chemical is a mutagen, or a compound that causes mutations in cells and other living tissue. When it comes into contact with your skin, hydrogen peroxide may alter the genetic composition of your cells, leading to cancer and increasing your chances of developing serious health conditions.
High concentrations of this ingredient can also produce blisters, chemical burns, and skin irritation. When inhaled, it also causes respiratory problems as well as eye and nose irritation, so, if possible, you should not handle hydrogen peroxide. Lastly, when it enters an open wound, this chemical can penetrate into the deep muscle layers and create oxygen bubbles that may hinder circulation and cause severe health consequences.
Commonly Found In…
In addition to hair bleach, hydrogen peroxide is used in cosmetic products like sterilizing liquids, some anti-aging treatments, deodorants, makeup removers, conditioners, shampoos, hair restoration treatments, and tooth whitening solutions. It’s also found in other dental health products like mouthwash, toothpaste, and whitening strips.
You may also find acne treatment and natural health products that use hydrogen peroxide as one of their main ingredients, so you should take the time to review all your products for this mutagen.
Quaternium-15 is a type of compound known as an ammonium salt. This chemical was developed to use as a preservative for a variety of uses, including cosmetic products. It’s known to cause allergic reactions in high concentrations and it has a variety of additional health disadvantages that makes it one of the scariest on our list.
Known to be more dangerous for hairdressers and other professionals that are exposed to large quantities of this chemical, this toxic ingredient is also used in other applications that include the production of paint, metal-penetrating fluids, glues, liquid floor polishers, and many more. With this in mind, it’s also important to note that this compound is so toxic, it was banned in many parts of the world in 2017 including Europe.
This harsh chemical negatively affects the human body in many different ways. First of all, it’s a known allergen that can cause rashes, redness, itching, inflammation, and other symptoms of dermatitis. It may also affect the respiratory system and the eyes depending on its concentration.
Remember formaldehyde, number 10 on our list? Well, quaternium also releases formaldehyde into the body, so it may increase the risk of cancer and result in premature aging of the skin. Similar to other harmful ingredients, quaternium is used because it can prevent the development of bacteria, but it can also damage the skin’s flora and produce dry patches.
Commonly Found In…
Because it can be used as an antibacterial solution, quaternium is usually present in creams, lotions, hair styling gels, face cleansers, wipes, shaving cream, aftershave, and even some eye drops. It can also be found in makeup, for example eyeliner or blush, as well as plant-based conditioners, rinses, shampoos, and other hair products.
A large portion of manufacturers have also started using quaternium in their self-tanning lotions and baby products to give them a longer shelf-life, so be careful when choosing your personal care products and always check for this harmful chemical.
Learn More About the Cosmetic Products You Need to Avoid
Despite the fact that the ingredients in cosmetic products should not harm your skin, there are many chemicals that can produce short and long-term health issues. Instead of simply trusting cosmetic companies, your best bet is to learn about the different chemicals they contain and learn which ones you should avoid when looking for your next anti-aging product.
The list of toxic ingredients is huge, but we’re hoping the ingredients listed above gives you a good idea of the main chemicals you need to avoid. We also want to be diligent when purchasing personal care products that have an impact on our family’s overall health.
In addition to the ingredients mentioned above, you may also want to look out for coal tar, titanium dioxide, and lead, all of which can cause irritation in the skin as well as more complex health issues.
The Solution to Protecting Skin Damaged by Harsh Chemicals
A great alternative that helps maintain your skin’s appearance without relying on harsh chemicals is Taut’s Premium Collagen Drink Advanced Formula, It uses natural ingredients with no chemicals or preservatives to help you maintain that fresh, rejuvenated glow while nurturing, restoring, and protecting your skin.
The magic behind the formula is the 100% marine-sourced collagen derived from red snapper fish scales caught from the South Pacific Ocean.
Marine collagen has collagen peptides that are small enough to be effectively absorbed when ingested, triggering your body's own production of new collagen, which in turn creates radiant skin results. The collagen is broken down into super tiny pieces thanks to a process called hydrolysis. It’s also highly potent.
See Our Intense Transformation Collections:
The formula also contains additional clinically studied ingredients that work together with the marine collagen to create even better results. There’s grape seed extract that helps protect the skin from free radicals. It also includes hyaluronic acid that hydrates and strengthens the skin and vitamin C which supports the body’s production of collagen.
To learn more about skin care ingredients to avoid at all costs and our high quality, marine collagen-based anti-aging solutions, contact our team today and we’ll be glad to help.