Top 5 Ingredients I avoid in my makeup & skincare products

Beautycounter, Cosmetics

Like many people, I do my best to take care of my health.

I think about eating more veggies, avoiding the Dirty Dozen, buying organic when I can (shout out to Aldi!), and I know I should be exercising regularly. I’ve learned about safer cleaning products and started making changes to what chemicals I bring into our house. I check the labels on Adeline’s toys before I buy them (or open them if they were given to us as gifts) to make sure they are BPA free.

There are so many ways we can take charge of what we put into our bodies. But I never even considered what was in the very products I rub on my skin every day: body lotion, foundation, face wash, shampoo, deodorant, etc.

And because skin is my largest organ, I want to know that what I allow my skin to absorb is safe for me, my husband and my baby girl.

That’s why I’ve become obsessed with learning about the ingredients in my personal care products and finding safer alternatives from my old, often cheaper, supplies.

 Safer Cosmetics, Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid in Makeup

Here are the top 5 ingredients I avoid in all personal care products:

1. Synthetic Fragrance, Flavor or Parfum

Fragrance is an engineered scent that may contain any combination of 3,000+ stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens. In other words, it’s a blanket term for a lot of things we probably wouldn’t want our body absorbing, if we knew what they actually were. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets, and therefore can remain undisclosed.

Fragrance is found in all types of cosmetics and personal care products, so my best suggestion is to avoid it!

*This doesn’t mean your products need to be unscented! You want to avoid synthetic fragrance, but many safer alternatives have great smells because they have essential oils in them that smell lovely! Check your ingredient labels and avoid fragrance/parfum when you can.

2. Parabens and Phthalates

These are buzz words in health circles lately – but do you know why you want to avoid them??

Parabens and phthalates are endocrine (hormone) disruptors. This means they enter your body and pretend like they are hormones: that’s how your body registers them, but they don’t actually perform the  function of hormones, which messes up your hormone balances.

Parabens are a class of preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and are often found in shampoo, body wash and lotion, foundation, and face cleanser. They mimic estrogen and disrupt your hormone signaling. Look for parabens in any part of the words on your ingredient lists. They may have methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- or other prefixes.

Phthalates are a class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to your skin. These may look like DBP, DEHP, or DEP in ingredient lists and have been linked to reproductive abnormalities in baby boys and early puberty in girls. Phthalates are often used in nail polish, hair spray, plastic materials, and that mystery word on our labels, synthetic “fragrance.”

3. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that has been linked to asthma, neurotoxicity and developmental toxicity. Your ingredient label may not outright say “formaldehyde,” so look for the following ingredients that react with water to release formaldehyde: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), and more. These are often found in shampoo, body wash and bubble bath.

4. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG compounds)

These are usually easy to spot with the abbreviation PEG on your ingredient labels, but are safest to avoid because they can be contaminated with measurable amounts of  1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, which are both known carcinogens. PEGs are often found in shampoos, face cleansers, creams, cosmetics and sunscreen because they are often used as thickeners, solvents, softeners and moisture-carriers.

5. Retinyl Palmitate and Retinol (Vitamin A)

Vitamin A on its own is an essential nutrient for you, but it’s not great when applied topically to your skin! These compounds increase skin sensitivity when applied to sun-exposed skin: the sunlight breaks down the Vitamin A to produce toxic free radicals that damage DNA and speed the growth of skin tumors. These are often found in sunscreens, anti-aging skincare and makeup.


This is NOT an exhaustive list of ingredients to avoid, but these are some of the easiest for me to spot thanks to their commonly used abbreviations or my ability to pronounce them. 😉  And as I’m learning more about ingredient safety, these are some of the first ingredients I could actually remember the WHY behind as I saw them on labels.

If you’d like more ingredients to watch out for, check out Beautycounter’s Never List: the 1,500 ingredients they will never put in their products. The link above lists the products you’re likely to find in other products sold today and why you should avoid them.

Another great tool to find out how the products you currently use rate on safety and toxicity is the Environmental Working Group’s website, Skin Deep. They’ve compiled an amazing database that rates products on a scale of 1-10, looking at cancer concern, developmental concern and allergy concerns. They have an app version, too, called Healthy Living, but like many apps, the website is a more complete database. If the products you use don’t pull up, you can search by each individual ingredient on the label.

Safer Baby Products, Beautycounter

Want to talk more about product safety? I’d love to answer any questions you have or tell you more about why I love Beautycounter‘s safer, high-performing products for myself and my family!

Check out more about my journey to safer products here.

Sources: Never List, EWG