The Dirty 12: Ingredients to Avoid in Makeup + Skincare

Let’s “Klean” up your Skin care Peeps!!

What you put on your skin is just as important as what you put in your mouth. Seriously! The skin absorbs most of what it comes in contact with and anything that permeates the skin gets delivered straight into the bloodstream. If you can’t eat whatever you’re putting on your body, you probably shouldn’t be using it...easier said than done, trust me I know.

So what does years of slathering on skin care products with chemical ingredients, additives, and harmful toxins do to our bodies? Think toxin overload, taxed organ systems, susceptibility to breakdowns, and increased aging - all of which can lead to conditions like cancer and hormonal imbalances. While there are many perspectives and opinions on this topic, we can all agree that using natural products is better for our health and the environment.

Unfortunately the FDA does not regulate how many of these chemicals are present in our favorite products. So as annoying as it is, it’s our responsibility to take the extra step and investigate labels.


1. Parabens. (Found in: makeup, moisturizer, shaving gel, shampoo, personal lubricant and spray tan products). These preservatives are in most products found at your local drug store. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to these “estrogen-mimickers” increases the risk of breast cancer development. Look out for sneaky ingredients with the suffix “-paraben” such as: propyl and butyl paraben and their branched counterparts, isopropyl and isobutylparabens.

2. Fragrance. There’s actually no way to know what “fragrance” is. It’s usually a proprietary blend and a way for companies to hide potentially harmful substances in their products. Most of the time, it causes inflammation and irritation below the epidermal layer of skin, which can lead to the breakdown of collagen. I suggest staying away from this if you want to keep your skin cells plump and young. Not to mention the chemicals that make up fragrances are among the top 5 allergens in the world.

3. Formaldehyde. This is a well-known carcinogen that is still being used as a preservative in WAY too many products. It’s often hidden in products under names like: DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, Bronopol (2–bromo–2–nitropropane–1,3-diol ), 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, and Hydroxymethylglycinate. Love a good mani-pedi? So do I, but I stick to brands like OPI and Zoya because they removed formaldehyde from their polish. Birth defects, endocrine disruption, headaches and respiratory problems are all side effects of frequent exposure to formaldehyde - especially concerning for nail salon workers. I also like bringing my own nail polish in because it’s honestly more sanitary. Think about it…salon polish touches hundreds of strangers toes/nails weekly - I’d rather not risk getting someone’s toe fungus!

4. Phthalates/PEG’s. (Found in: scrubs, body wash, makeup, toothpaste). Those tiny plastic beads in face or lip scrubs and exfoliating washes are made from polyethylene. Anyone remember St. Ives apricot scrub? That used to be a high school staple for me. Oops! These synthetic chemicals are frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which the U.S. government considers a probable human carcinogen and which readily penetrates the skin. In terms of our environment, Polyethylene beads in scrubs and body washes also are not filtered by our sewage systems. In other words, they can collect pollutants and travel into waterways, where they’re consumed by fish and marine animals…which we end up eating. It’s also been proven that they interrupt the endocrine system causing hormonal imbalances in both men and pregnant women.

5. Boric Acid (or Sodium Borate). This is a pesticide and is often used against insects, fungus, and weeds. It’s put in cosmetics made in the United States to prevent bacteria growth, and to protect products from spoiling. Meanwhile Europe banned in in all skin care products.

6. Oxybenzone. (Found in sunscreen). Oxybenzone is one of the highest-risk chemicals found in sunscreen. It acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. Studies on cells and laboratory animals indicate that oxybenzone and its metabolites may disrupt the hormone system. Opt for sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium oxide or avobenzene instead. I’m obsessed with the brand supergoop as they choose only the cleanest ingredients to protect your skin.

7. Hydroquinone. (Found in skin lighteners).The FDA warns that this skin-bleaching chemical can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with “disfiguring and irreversible” blue-black lesions on exposed skin. Illegally imported skin lighteners can contain mercury, which can poison adults and children and is especially toxic during pregnancy. Be wary of imported skin lighteners. Don’t buy products without ingredients clearly labeled, and always avoid products with “mercury,” “calomel”, “mercurio” or “mercurio chloride.”

8. Petroleum distillate. (Found in mascara). Petroleum-extracted cosmetics ingredients may cause contact dermatitis (if you are prone to eye styes, your mascara may be the culprit) and are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities. They are produced in oil refineries at the same time as automobile fuel, heating oil and chemical feedstocks!

9. Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinol. (Found in moisturizer, lip products, sunscreen, anti-aging products). Retinol products (often found in anti-aging products) have the opposite intended effect and become carcinogenic in sunlight, making it extra important to only use them at night and to avoid any sunscreens containing retinol-derived ingredients. I learned my lesson the hard way when I used my mom’s retinol cream in high school, went to swim practice, and got so severely sunburned my face had a purple tint to it. I should have tried out for an umpa loompa part in charlie and the chocolate factory hah! If used correctly (I suggest using this in the winter months) you don’t need to worry. Just take extra caution when going outside even in overcast weather since the UVA rays still penetrate through the clouds.

10. Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine (Coal Tar). (Found in: hair dye, shampoo). Coal tar, a by product of coal processing, is a known human carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Hair stylists and other professionals are exposed to these chemicals in hair dye almost daily. Europe has banned many of these ingredients in hair dyes. Meanwhile, the FDA sanctions coal tar in specialty products such as dandruff and psoriasis shampoos - the long-term safety of these products has not been demonstrated.

11. Triclosan and triclocarban. (Found in: toothpaste, deodorant, antibacterial soap). Triclosan was all the rage as antibacterial products became ubiquitous in the 1990s. Even the FDA agrees that there is no health benefit and in 2013 ruled that manufacturers using it had to demonstrate that there were no long-term detrimental effects. Triclosan (in liquid products) and triclocarban (in bar soaps) have been linked to hormonal disruptions, bacterial resistance, impaired muscle function, impaired immune function and increased allergies. Pro Tip: use naturally antibacterial and antiseptic agents like tea tree oil and coconut oil.

12. Sodium lauryl sulfate. (Found in: shampoo, body wash, foundation, face wash, mouthwash and toothpaste). SLS has been shown to cause or contribute to: skin irritation, canker sores, disruptions of skin’s natural oil balance and eye damage. It is also widely believed to be a major contributor to acne (especially cystic acne) around the mouth and chin. So if you’re dealing with abnormal breakouts, I suggest checking the ingredients in your recently purchased products.

I also HIGHLY recommend using the “thinkdirtyapp” as a guiding hand through the confusing world of beauty. It’s as simple as scanning a barcode on the questionable product (or just searching for the products name if you don’t have it on hand). Think dirty will give you all the pertinent info about chemicals in the product as well as cleaner alternatives. This app can help us all make informed decisions about the products that absorb into our skin on a daily basis -as well as down our drains and into our water supplies…once again YUCK!

The picture below shows just a few of my favorite natural beauty brands. I also love shopping at Credo beauty. For my San Francisco Queens: theres a Credo Beauty on Fillmore St. Sephora is also making me a proud momma with their natural beauty movement. They’re supplying brands such as: Tatcha Harper, Hum nutrition, RMS, ILIA, Briogio, Farmacy, KORA, Kopari, etc. I really hope to see more of these products along with transparency among others. My goal with this post is educate consumers to be more informed about our purchasing power.

Bullet Proof curated the awesome, natural products list below for easy reference , not to mention some great stocking stuffer ideas for the holidays!



HealthKirsten Wessbecher