10 Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in Your Skincare

10 Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in Your Skincare

If you've been wondering how to protect yourself and your family from toxic chemicals in personal care products, look no further. You might be especially interested in the ten poisonous ingredients to avoid. Our simple guide breaks them down to bite-sized, manageable chunks.

We understand that chemical names can be confusing.  We will help you familiarize yourself with them; so you can recognize the ones to avoid while just glancing over product labels.

We want to empower you to make informed choices as you purchase beauty products. It's scary to think that something you use on your face could give you cancer or complicate your hormones. But when you know better, you can do better and protect yourself and your family.

Realistically speaking, we might not manage to eliminate all toxic chemicals from our lives, but we can certainly reduce them by using organic products.

1. Parabens

These are a group of chemicals that have earned their place in the 'notorious ingredients' list. That is why these days, you see many skincare products labeled as "Paraben-free." A brief history:

  • The 1920's: Pharmaceutical companies began using a group of chemicals referred to collectively as 'Parabens' to preserve products. Soon food processing companies also started using them to preserve food products.
  • 1981: Findings from an FDA report indicate that parabens are used in over 13,200 beauty product formulations.
  • 1998: A study is published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology (a scientific journal), which reveals that some Parabens are estrogenic. This means they affect hormonal balance by competing with estrogen for binding sites in the body.
  • 2002: A report in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology sheds light on estrogenic effects of parabens, particularly the inhibition of specific estrogen receptors in the presence of high concentrations of parabens.
  • 2004: According to a study published in The Journal of Applied Toxicology, parabens are detected in 19 or 20 human breast tumors sampled.

Beyond Skin Care:

Why are Parabens commonly used in personal care products? They suppress microbial growth in shampoo, conditioner, perfume, toothpaste, soaps, and other hygiene products. Apart from topical products, they're used in food products as well.

An excerpt from the 1998 study: "The average daily intake of parabens in food is estimated to be 1–16 mg/kg for infants and 4–6 mg/kg for persons aged two years or older."

As you can see, Parabens can (and are) making their way into our body systems in various ways. Don't be alarmed. By adopting a whole foods diet, you can eliminate or at least reduce your Paraben exposure from food. Go for organic produce, nuts, seeds, dried beans and grains, without additional flavoring. Avoid food that's sold in boxes and cans as much as possible.

On the labels, look for:

  • methylparaben
  • ethylparaben
  • propylparaben
  • butylparaben

Phenoxyethanol: Not a Good Alternative

Parabens have been proven to be harmful without a doubt. As an alternative, companies are now using Phenoxyethanol to preserve their products. It's supposedly safer, but several studies have already shown it to be toxic, even in moderate concentrations. Some of the adverse effects include:

  • Reproductive and developmental complications
  • Contact dermatitis (skin irritation)
  • Brain and nervous system damage

In Japan, Phenoxyethanol has been outlawed as an ingredient in all cosmetics, while most other countries have limited its use to 1% concentration.

So What Should You Do?

There are several natural preservatives available! We use naturally derived Sodium Benzoate to preserve our products to help keep them fresher, longer.

It's awesome that instead of endocrine disruption, brain damage, and reproductive complications, you can use natural Sodium Benzoate to keep your products fresh. Of course, the shelf life might be shorter than products that use synthetic preservatives, but we think that's okay. Your health comes first!

2. Phthalates

Interestingly, Phthalates are often not listed on the label. When companies indicate "fragrance" in their ingredients, they're not obligated to disclose what the constituents of that fragrance are. Why? This is classified as 'proprietary information'. If you want to avoid this harmful group of chemicals, stay away from products with 'fragrance' on the label altogether.

Which Products Contain Phthalates?

It's difficult to say for sure. A wide range of products contain phthalates such as your everyday body lotion, deodorant, nail polish, and scented lip balm.


 Phthalates are pretty good at mimicking human hormones, with disastrous effects.

Males are at risk of infertility, reproductive system issues, and decrease in testosterone levels as reported in a study by the University of Maryland. 

Women are prone to endometriosis and premature delivery when exposed to Phthalates.

Alternatives to Fragrance

Given these nasty health effects, there's no reason to buy products that list "fragrance" on the ingredient label. Nature already provides so many things that smell lovely!

Choose products that use natural essential oils to make them smell amazing. Apart from a beautiful scent, essential oils also have aromatherapeutic benefits. 

3. Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is the most common prescription to clear up acne. It deals with breakouts by killing bacteria on the skin and reducing oil production.

The downside is that your skin uses oil (and some of the bacteria) to function normally. Using benzoyl peroxide long term is extremely drying and damaging to most skin types.

It works basically like a bleach. If this product happens to spill on your towels or clothes, they change color over time. You don't want such a product on your skin!

Naturally, our skin's pH should be between 4.5-5.5, but benzoyl peroxide is alkalizing. Your skin will revert to its naturally acidic balance if you stop using it. For most people this means more oil production. People who stop using products like Proactiv will often have skin issues (like increased breakouts) for a short period. This condition is known as skin detox.

 Benzoyl peroxide is linked to growth of tumors and causes irritation to the eyes and respiratory system.

4. Triclosan

In 2014 the FDA announced that it was reviewing the safety of this ingredient commonly found in hand sanitizers. Why would they do that unless it's harmful?

According to Scientific Studies:

  • A 2006 study published in Aquatic Toxicology proved that this agent interferes with hormones that stimulate thyroid production in bullfrogs.
  • Another study in 2007 showed that this chemical affects the production of thyroxine (a thyroid hormone).
  • Wistar rats were studied in 2008. Results from experiments proved that upon exposure to Triclosan their thyroid hormones were affected.

Considering this information, you definitely need to watch out for Triclosan when choosing products. 

Contrary to what many think, repeatedly removing bacteria from our hands isn't necessarily healthy. Certain types of bacteria are vital to our health. Eliminating bacteria from our bodies too often by using antibiotics, hand sanitizers, etc. is not a health-promoting habit.

5. Resorcinol

If you're a fan of dyeing your hair, you need to watch out for this harmful ingredient.

This hazardous and combustible chemical causes abdominal pain when inhaled. It also causes nausea, unconsciousness, and skin irritation. It's also an environmental pollutant which dissolves easily in waterways, posing health risks to fish and other aquatic animals.

That's not all. Reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that resorcinol affects the nervous system, adrenal gland, and thyroid function. This ingredient is highly toxic when ingested and applied topically. 

The effects of this chemical tend to sneak up on people over time. So you might color your hair regularly with no issues for several years, only to randomly start reacting negatively to it.

Color is one easy way to have fun with your hair. Nothing brings confidence like having shiny, vibrant hair color. If you love switching up your hair color, here are natural options to choose from:

  • Henna - for brown and red shades.
  • Black walnut powder - to darken.
  • Honey and Lemon - to lighten

If you have the patience for it, try out herbal hair rinses. These improve color gradually over time. For blonde color, chamomile tea works best while black tea yields dark hair colors. After rinsing out your conditioner, use the herbal hair rinse and leave it in.

Both natural hair dying techniques and herbal rinses are a safe alternative to using products with Resorcinol and they get the job done.

essential oils jasmin

6. Hydroquinone

It is the most common ingredient in skin lightening products. It gets rid of acne scars, age spots, and sun damage.

Why Not Use Hydroquinone?

  • FDA Warnings. In 2006, the FDA announced that more testing was needed to verify the safety of using this chemical. A proposal was drafted to withdraw their earlier ruling- that it was safe when used at a concentration of 1.5-2%. Ultimately this concentration was authorized for use in over-the-counter products. However, levels over 2% were to be available only by prescription. Outside interests Probably influenced this final decision.
  • It Affects Skin Elasticity. Long term use of hydroquinone can decrease your skin's ability to bounce back.
  • It's Carcinogenic. Scientific studies done on animals have produced evidence that it could be carcinogenic when ingested. Topical use isn't safe either since hydroquinone penetrates deep into the skin. 

Are There Natural Options for Evening Out Skin Tone?

Herbs and nutrients like licorice root, vitamin C, and turmeric can help even out the look of your skin tone naturally.

7. Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a by-product from crude oil manufacturing. That's something which shouldn't be on our skin! But since it's costly to dispose of, oil companies are highly incentivized to find a use for it. Skincare companies can obtain mineral oil cheaply and use as a humectant (draws hydration to the skin).

Mineral oil has a long shelf life because it never expires, but it does nothing to promote healthy skin.

Cheap, But Not Beautifying

  • Human skin isn't designed to absorb synthetic mineral oil very well.
  • It's comedogenic (it clogs your pores).
  • It can be contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals because it's an oil production by-product.

Avoid Mineral Oil

Fortunately, it's easy to avoid mineral oil as there are plenty of natural moisturizing ingredients. On the ingredient label look for the term "non-comedogenic" because that means they lack mineral oil and won't clog your pores.

What are some Moisturizing Oils I Should Use?

  • Grapeseed Oil - High in linoleic acid, this oil is suitable for oily skin and gives a good dose of non-greasy moisture.
  • Coconut Oil - This oil soothes and moisturizes dry skin deeply.
  • Avocado Oil - It penetrates the skin deeply and is high in vital antioxidants and omegas.


8. Methylisothiazolinone

Also known as MIT, this is a biocide (meaning it kills microorganisms). This makes it a powerful preservative but it's not something that belongs in the human body.  MIT has been shown to cause brain damage.

The Full Story

In September 2002, the Journal of Neuroscience published a disturbing study that tested the effects of MIT on rat cells.

 After only ten minutes of exposure to it, the neurons in these cells were damaged. They recommended that the safety of MIT be reevaluated because few or no studies before had looked at the effects of this widely used chemical.

How did the cosmetics industry respond? The European Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for Consumers, suggested that companies limit the concentration of this ingredient to 100 parts per million. U.S. companies, however, are not required to follow this guideline.

Which Products Have MIT?

This chemical is found mostly in rinse-off products like shampoo, conditioner, hair color, body wash, laundry detergent, liquid hand soap, bubble bath, and dishwashing soaps. If you don't see Methylisothiazolinone on the label watch out for any of these synonyms:


9. Oxybenzone

This sunscreen ingredient makes us wonder if it would be better to ditch sunscreen altogether. (Luckily there are natural versions, so we don't have to make that decision.)

Oxybenzone is called a chemical sunscreen because it absorbs rather than blocks UVA and UVB rays. The bad news is, harmful compounds are produced when it reacts with sunlight. Oxybenzone also penetrates deep into the skin, potentially interfering with internal processes.

In 2008, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly all Americans were contaminated with oxybenzone. 

Oxybenzone disrupts body systems in the following ways:

  • Once it penetrates the skin, oxybenzone causes rapid production of free radicals in skin that is exposed to light. In simple terms, using oxybenzone could promote conditions that lead to cancer.
  • Studies done on animals suggest that oxybenzone mimics human hormones. Hormone imbalance is linked with infertility, improperly developed sexual organs, and decreased sperm count in men.

Better Options for Sun Protection

Sometimes we think of natural alternatives as being less effective in the short term but zinc oxide is a case where that isn't true. Zinc oxide has been used for years, as the safest and most effective physical protection against UV rays.

It offers broad-spectrum protection, meaning it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are those responsible for premature aging and cancer, whereas UVB rays cause sunburns.

Newsflash: SPF rating only pertains to UVB rays. So when your sunscreen says SPF 30, that's no indication of whether that sunscreen protects you against the cancer-causing UVA rays.

10. Artificial Dyes and Synthetic Colors

Life without color would be dull to say the least.

Color in our makeup and skincare products is for visual appeal. That cool green color reminds you that your lotion has cucumber in it; that ruby red color of your lip balm emphasizes the strawberry scent.

Unfortunately these vibrant shades are often achieved using very unnatural ingredients. Let's take a look at some of them:


Ext. D&C Violet 2 is a synthetic colorant used in a wide range of cosmetics and personal care products like body washes, nail polishes, bubble baths, bath salts, hair products, liquid hand soaps, moisturizers, and antiperspirants/deodorants.

The "Ext." in the name means that it is used for external applications only, while "D&C" means that it is approved for use in drugs and cosmetics.

The FDA determined that this chemical is safe for externally applied cosmetics and personal care products. However, it's not permitted for lip or eye products, as this would create the risk of it entering the body.

The EWG warns that Ext. D&C violet 2 is made from petroleum or coal tar sources—coal tar is a known human carcinogen. It would be in your best interest to steer clear of this ingredient.


Carbon black is an ingredient you may find in your eyeliner. It's linked to cancer and organ toxicity. It may be listed by its other aliases: pigment black 6, pigment black 7, acetylene black, froflow, arotone, arovel, arrow, channel black, atlantic, arogen, and black pearls.

Natural Alternatives

Nature has abundant options for color lovers.


  • Alkanet root - from the borage family, alkanet produces a naturally beautiful red hue (it's sometimes used to improve the color of not-so-vibrant wines). 
  • Fruit pigments like pomegranate are used by some companies to create natural lipsticks. You can even use the fruit directly on your lips to get the effect. 


  • Activated charcoal is perfect for those looking for natural eyeliner. Do a little internet research and experiment with the recipes you find. 


  • Some people on our team swear by using cocoa powder as a natural brown eye shadow. Suitable for the stomach and the face. Win-Win!

How about a small challenge for tonight? Take a look at your beauty products to see if you find any of the ingredients we've talked about so far. 

Wishing you health, beauty, and wellness!

The Sole Toscana Skin Care Team


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