Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid

We trust skin care, hair care, and beauty products to nourish and care for our bodies, improve our hygiene, and help us enhance our natural beauty. While most products appear to do just that on the surface, they may be doing the exact opposite on a deeper level.

For quite a while, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer based watchdog group for safety, has been sounding off on the toxic ingredients in skin care products we use on a daily basis. Their studies report even popular, mass-market products can contain hormone disruptors, carcinogens, allergens, and other common irritants.

Unfortunately most people think products are safe as long as they boast a familiar brand logo on the bottle. However, reputation doesn't always equal safe and beneficial. Name brands are not above cutting corners and using cheap ingredients to increase their profits at the expense of their customers' safety and health.

What's Really in the Beauty Aisle?

Luckily, as the internet makes information more readily available, these toxic ingredients are becoming more common knowledge, and many consumers are starting to make the shift to "clean beauty" products to put extra care into their beauty routines for the sake of their health and wellbeing. Still, there are some brands that will make claims that they are natural or clean, but they aren't always adequately backed up.

You may not realize that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the personal care and cosmetic industry. They do require that ingredients be considered "safe," but leaves the safety testing methods up to the discretion of the cosmetic company. While there are some prohibited ingredients, this still essentially means that cosmetics companies can get away with a lot more than what is genuinely 100% safe for usage. Aside from said prohibited ingredients, these companies can put any ingredients they choose in products, and not even list some of the ingredients if they're sneaky enough.

According to the EWG, we absorb over 123 ingredients daily into our body through the skin. What's scary is that over 90 percent of these ingredients have not been safety tested. By law, companies are required to post a warning label on products that have not been fully assessed for safety, but warnings often go ignored as consumers blindly trust big name brands.

While using the term "organic,"to promote a product is regulated by the FDA under the National Organic Program standards, there is also no FDA regulation in regards to promoting a product as "clean" or "natural" so they mean almost nothing as far as the health and safety of the products.

So if we can't trust labels or companies to tell us the truth, what is a consumer to do to ensure the products they use are safe and minimize the risk of absorbing toxic ingredients? At the end of the day it's up to individuals to become smart consumers, do their research on ingredients, and be on the lookout for brands just trying to profit. The safe principles outlined below should help you make more educated decisions when purchasing self care products, and taking these extra precautions will help benefit your health in the long run.



Don't assume because a brand is well-known, highly promoted, endorsed by celebrities and influencers, and marketed as "natural" that it's safe. Become educated on what ingredients are flagged as toxic and don't buy products that contain those ingredients.


There are many databases on the Internet that you can use to search safe products such as EWG's Skin Deep and Skin Safe. They list companies and grade them for safety and even list all the ingredients. Just because a product has the word "clean" or "non-toxic" on it, don't think it's safe. This is a marketing tool used to sell products to unsuspecting buyers. Many herbs are soaked in toxic preservatives that don't even list the agent it was preserved in. To find out any side effects to botanicals or herbs listed on a product, check for more information on MedLinePlus.


Certain ingredients are known to be toxic but may be found in many products. Next time you're shopping for products such as deodorants, skin care, toothpaste, etc., check to see how many of these ingredients are listed on them:

  • 1,4-dioxane - a carcinogenic contaminant found in cosmetics and personal care products. Could be contained in ingredients such as ethoxylated surfactants, a commonly used foaming agent.
  • Alcohol - Frequently found if mouthwash and facial toners, alcohol is not helpful for the health of your mouth or skin. It can dry out your skin which can lead to wrinkles, or your mouth which can lead to gum disease and cavities.
  • Diazolidinyl Urea - Found in many products, this is a strong irritant and may cause contact dermatitis.
  • BHA - Found in exfoliants and perfumes, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) has been linked to cancer, skin depigmentation, liver damage, and hormonal imbalances.
  • Diazolidinyl Urea - Found in many products, this is a strong irritant and may cause contact dermatitis.
  • Dibutyl phthalate - a known toxin found in most nail polish.
  • Echinacea - This popular herb has been associated with an increased incidence of rash in children. Side effects can include stomach discomfort, nausea, rash, headaches, and muscle aches. The risk may outweigh the potential benefits of preventing a cold.
  • Fragrance - Fragrance can mean it contains many separate ingredients, many of which can be toxic and cause allergies, headaches, hyperactivity and other outbreaks and irritation, as reported by the FDA. Fragrance is one of the most common allergens found in cosmetics, skin care, hair care, and of course perfume products. While sweet smelling face lotions and shampoos are tempting, the redness and irritation that may result aren't worth it in the end.
  • Lanolin - Lanolin is usually obtained from sheep wool. It is highly contaminated with pesticides and insecticides.
  • Mineral Oil - This petroleum by-product clogs the pores, promoting acne and skin damage.
  • Oxybenzone - A common chemical found in sunscreen, oxybenzone has been shown to act like estrogen in the body, alter sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. It's also a common allergen. It doesn't just affect our bodies though, it is toxic to coral reefs which are crucial for underwater ecosystems.
  • Parabens - Used as a preservative in many products in the form of methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl. Two studies reported finding this chemical in breast cancer tissue.
  • Polyethylene Glycol - Petroleum based ingredients can dry the tissues. It thickens products.
  • Propylene Glycol - Another petroleum derived ingredient. Commonly used to preserve herbal extracts (organic and non-organic), but not listed on labels.
  • Retinyl palmitate/Retinyl acetate - Used for its alleged anti-aging properties in moisturizers, lip balms, and serums, retinols can actually have the opposite effect because they increase sun sensitivity which will further sun damage, increasing the risk for premature wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancer.
  • Saccharin - This and similar artificial sweeteners have found themselves on and off the FDA toxic list. You're better off avoiding them.
  • Salicylic Acid – This "natural" ingredient is an anti-inflammatory found in Aspirin, many anti-aging skin care and acne treatment products. It dries the tissues and can cause allergies with long-term use. This is found naturally in all botanicals in varying amounts. Using products with herbs and extracts frequently could result in allergies due to salicylate content.
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) - A foaming agent and industrial detergent found in most if not all shampoos, toothpaste, bath gels and other personal care products. It can cause outbreak of canker sores, dry the tissues and result in contact dermatitis.
  • Stearalkonium chloride - found in conditioners, is an irritating chemical.
  • Tea Tree Oil - According to MedLine Plus, this herb which is also known as melaleuca, has many reports of allergy taken by mouth or used on the skin. Skin reactions range from mild contact dermatitis to severe blistering rashes.
  • Triclosan - This antimicrobial agent is found in body soaps, deodorants, dish soap, shampoos, toothpaste and mouthwash. The Center for Disease Control reports overuse of antimicrobials may lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

At Cleure we live by the motto "Ingredients With Intention" and strive for complete transparency, so you'll never see these ingredients in our products, just locally sourced, naturally derived, and explicitly listed ingredients that are backed by the medical community. You can find more information on the ingredients we do use in our Ingredient Glossary.

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