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10 Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare Products

The list of bad ingredients to avoid in skin care products just seems to keep growing making it pretty overwhelming to shop for quality products. But just because it's overwhelming, doesn't mean it's impossible. Luckily, there's recently been a dramatic shift in consciousness surrounding clean cosmetic ingredients - and we're here to help you hop on this new beauty trend. In this blog we list 10 different ingredients to look out for when deciding on a skin care product and a few tips on how to avoid them.

Why it's Important to Look at Ingredients

The law does not require cosmetics - other than color additives - to be FDA approved before they go to market. The FDA groups products like makeup, nail polish, moisturizer, deodorant, perfume, toothpaste, hair color into the cosmetics category - meaning these products get no FDA approval before being sold to consumers. This leaves the responsibility to the consumer to find out what is healthy and what isn't.

The results are out, and the study's are alarming. One study found that every day 1 in 13 women are exposing themselves to known or probable human carcinogens through everyday skincare products. Another study done by EWG found that a woman applies about 168 chemicals to their face and/or body everyday. Knowing your ingredient label can help avoid exposure to toxic chemicals and can help you choose cleaner, better products for your skin's health and the environment.

Ingredients to Avoid

1. Formaldehyde

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program classify formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. (4) In skin care products, formaldehyde is used as a preservative to prolong shelf life and prevent bacteria contamination. But something to look out for here: just because a product doesn't explicitly state the use of this chemical, doesn't mean it's not in the product. There are many ingredients that release formaldehyde, and these should be avoided: Bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15.

2. Synthetic Fragrance

This term covers all man-made scents and can be a combination of 3,000+ chemicals that are not required by law to disclose. Fragrances are classified as "trade secrets", protected under US regulations, allowing them to remain undisclosed. Stay away from anything that lists "fragrance" as an ingredient!

3. Phthalates

Phthalates like DBP, DEHP, and DEP are examples of chemicals hidden under the umbrella term of synthetic fragrance. These plasticizing chemicals are used in products to help them stick to your skin or make the product itself more pliable. Classified as endocrine disruptions, there is research that shows that these chemicals are toxic to our organs (and to the environment). The European Union has already moved to ban products that contain phthalates (1), but since they are classified as a "trade secret" under US law, there is a loophole to listing these ingredients as "fragrance".

4. Parabens

Parabens such as methylparabens, isobutylparabens, proplyparabens, butylparabens, propylparabens, ethylparabens, and more are used in products as preservatives and to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. These should be used extra-cautiously since concentrations of parabens have been found in human breast tumors (2). There's strong evidence that shows that this chemical is an endocrine disruptor - meaning they alter important hormone mechanisms in the body. It's important to note that parabens may also be hurtful to people with sensitive skin.

5. Octinoxate

A common ingredient found in sunscreens and is classified as an endocrine disruptor. This chemical has been found in human urine, blood, and breast milk, which indicates how easily it is absorbed by the skin. Octinoxate mimics estrogen and can disrupt thyroid function. (3) Research has shown that this chemical is an established risk factor in the development and progression of breast cancer, has been found to alter the reproductive systems of female offspring, and reduce the male sperm count at all doses. (3)

6. 1,4-dioxane

This sneaky ingredient is rarely listed as it is often formed when common ingredients are mixed together. 1,4-dioxane is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is listed as an animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program. It is included on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects. (3) Avoid products that contain sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, and chemicals that include the clauses xynol, ceteareth and oleth. Another way to avoid this chemical is to choose products that are certified under the USDA National Organic Program, as these products have been tested. (3)

7. Ethanolamine Compounds (MEA, DEA, TEA And Others)

A list of ingredients banned from the European Commission to reduce contamination from carcinogenic nitrosamines, these compounds have been shown to cause abnormalities in sperm, memory function and brain development, and organ toxicity. Ethanolamine compounds are used in products as foam boosters and can be represented on product labels as a variety of names: Triethanolamine, diethanolamine, DEA, TEA, cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearamide MEA, TEA-lauryl sulfate. (3)

8. Polyacrylamide

Polyacrylamide is used as a stabilizer and binding agent in tons of moisturizers, anti-aging products, sunscreens, and more. Although this ingredient is not a concern itself, it is made of a multiple of acrylamides, which is a suspected carcinogen and has been linked to mammary tumors. The EU has set limits to this chemical but the US does not currently regulate it. (3)

9. Isopropyl Palmitate

This one is for those that struggle with frequent breakouts. Isopropyl Palmitate is used as a moisture enhancer by helping bind moisture to the skin as well as an emollient, meaning it helps the product spread smoothly. This chemical is known to be comedogenic (pore-clogging), and can cause flare-ups of pustular acne. The thickness of the chemicals in isopropyl palmitate can deprive the skin of nutrients such as as oxygen. If the skin doesn’t breathe, your pores can become clogged and healthy skin cells can die. (5)

10. Homosalate

Homosalate is widely used in sunscreen products to protect your skin from the sun. This chemical is a potential endocrine distruptor, classified as toxic to organs, suspected to be an environmental toxin, and is even banned in Japan. (5) Along with this, homosalate has been identified in breast milk, placental tissues, and has been shown to enhance the amount of pesticides we absorb through our skin. (6) This chemical is a big no-no, especially for pregnant or nursing mothers.

Safer Skincare Products

We want to voice that each person is different. The body's mechanisms are completely unique to each individual and what may cause sensitivity for you might work for another. A good rule of thumb is to invest in medical-grade skincare and leave the OTC stuff alone. This is because medical-grade skincare is under FDA regulation to contain 99.9% pure ingredients and to ensure safety and effectiveness of each product. These companies perform extensive research into their cosmetic lines (which is why they are a lot more expensive) to formulate cosmetics that are safe and actually work.

The Lotus offers multiple medical-grade skincare lines to help you look and feel your best. If you would like help investing in good, clean products for your skin, set up a complimentary consultation with our amazing team of PA's and Aesthetician by either giving us a call, emailing us your concerns, or by clicking the button below.



(1) Wells, L. (2022, July 14). 20 Ingredients To Avoid In Skin Care Products. Cook Eat Well. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from

(2) Darbre, P. D. (2004, January 8). Wiley Analytical Science. Wiley Analytical Science. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from

(3) Octinoxate. (n.d.). Campaign For Safe Cosmetics. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from

(4) Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk. (2011, June 10). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from

(5) EWG Skin Deep® | What is HOMOSALATE. (n.d.). EWG. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from

(6) Homosalate. (n.d.). Campaign For Safe Cosmetics. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from

Hoff, V. (2022, April 5). 18 Ingredients a Clean Cosmetic Chemist Would Avoid. Byrdie. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from


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