If you’ve ever tried to decipher a skincare product’s list of ingredients, you know that a PhD in chemistry would be a huge help. This is one of the main issues with conventional personal care products: Consumers have no idea what they are putting on their skin…and potentially, into their bodies. Similar to eating clean, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, you should probably avoid it. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you see how safe (or dangerous) the products in your bathroom are—and if you find one of the ingredients below, promptly toss it in the trash.
In the industrial world, phthalates are used to soften vinyl. In the beauty and skincare world, they are used to carry fragrance, and they often go unlisted on ingredient labels since they can legally be listed simply as “fragrance” even if they comprise up to 20% of a product. The potential dangers of phthalates include liver and kidney damage, infertility, decreased sperm count and early breast development in girls and boys.
Products to pay close attention to: Nail polish, deodorant, perfume, shampoo, hair gel, hand lotion
#2 Benzoyl Peroxide
Though considered to be the gold standard for acne treatment by a majority of dermatologists, the MSDS (material data safety sheet) for benzoyl peroxide states that it is a possible tumor promoter. Anyone who’s ever used this antibacterial zit-zapper is likely aware of its skin-irritating and fabric-bleaching side effects, but fortunately there are many safe alternatives. Products to pay close attention to: Anti-acne cleaners, toners, lotions and spot treatments
#3 DEA, MEA, TEA
If your cleanser or body wash foams, you can probably thank at least one of these ingredients. But in addition to suds (which dry out the skin), this class of compounds often causes skin and eye irritation, as has been linked to liver tumors.
Products to pay close attention to: Soaps, shampoo, conditioner, hair dye, lotions, shaving cream and cosmetics
#4 FD&C Color Pigments
Is a pretty color worth putting your health at risk? If you say no, then skip any products that contain FD&C color pigments. The red and yellow versions have been shown to have a carcinogenic effect in animals and skin irritation is an extremely common side effect across the color spectrum, yet these ingredients still manage to find their way into our personal care products and food.
Products to pay close attention to: Anything with a color
#5 Chemical-based Sunscreen Filters
What good is sun protection if it generates free radicals that damage your cells’ DNA—potentially leading to skin cancer down the line? Ingredients such as avobenzone, benzophenone and ethoxycinnamate are best swapped out for mineral-based UV-blocking ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Products to pay close attention to: Sunscreens, skincare with SPF, cosmetics with SPF
On a final note, besides knowing what to avoid, it’s also important to know what works. So take a look at how vitamin C helps the skin, read more about the power of plant stem cells for the skin (if you want a wrinkle cream that works, buy one that contains plant stem cells), and discover the top anti-aging ingredients to work into your skincare routine. And while you’d at it, be sure to avoid common beauty routine mistakes and explore how oxygen can help your skin look brighter and fresher.