16 Dangerous Skin Care Ingredients

Many popular skin care and cosmetic products contain potentially harmful ingredients. Here's a roundup of ingredients to look out for, the products that may contain them, and why they can be dangerous:

1. Coal tar. Used in hair dyes and dandruff prevention products, this carcinogen is often labeled as FD&C or D&C on product labels.

2. DMDM hydantoin and bronopol. These cosmetic preservatives are particularly dangerous as they decompose, releasing the carcinogen formaldehyde—one of the many reasons to replace your makeup once a year.

3. Formaldehyde. Used in hair straighteners and many cosmetics to preserve shelf life, it's a known carcinogen that can also be toxic to nerves, development, and can trigger asthma and skin reactions.

4.Fragrances. These can trigger allergic reactions and disrupt hormone balances. Choose products labeled "phthalate-free" to avoid any potential reactions.

5.Heavy metals. Lead and mercury are often found in makeup and hair dye to help preserve the compounds, despite the fact that they are known to be toxic and are banned from other substances. Lead is a carcinogen and mercury can damage the nervous system.

6.Hydroquinone. This skin-bleaching agent can have disfiguring side effects and has been proven to cause tumors in animals.

7. Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone. These are much easier to find in personal care products than they are to pronounce. Products containing these chemicals are highly likely to irritate skin and cause allergic reactions.

8. MEA/DEA/TEA. These ammonia compounds are used to adjust cosmetic pH and are used as foaming agents—they can irritate skin and eyes.

9.Oxybenzone. Found in sunscreens, oxybenzone is a known allergen that's suspected to disrupt hormone balance.

10.Parabens. These preservatives are extremely common in skin care products. Parabens are known to wreak havoc on hormones, the endocrine system, and have a strong link to breast cancer. Parabens are seen on labels as propyl, butylparaben, isopropyl, and isobutylparabens.

11.Petroleum-based ingredients. Ingredients containing petroleum jelly, mineral oils, or paraffin can block the skin's ability to breathe and self-exfoliate—potentially leading to breakouts and contact dermatitis.

12. Phenylenediamine (PPD). Banned in Europe, this substance is still found in many U.S. hair dyes. It's thought to can cause skin irritation and lead to respiratory problems.

13. Phthalates. Found in everything from deodorant to lotions, these skin-penetrating additives have been linked issues in to male reproductive system.

14. Retinol, retinyl palmitate, and vitamin A (in large quantities). Popular in skin creams for their anti-aging properties, these compounds can be toxic and lead to skin cancer when combined with sun exposure. They can cause birth defects when used during pregnancy. If you decide to use any of these ingredients, restrict use for only nighttime.

15. Sulfates. These help to give shampoos and toothpaste their lather, but can cause damage to eyes and skin.

16. Triclocarban or triclosan. These antibacterial ingredients in soap and toothpaste are environmentally hazardous. They can also interfere with thyroid function and hormone balance.

The FDA does not regulate most cosmetic ingredients and just because a product is labeled "organic," only 10 percent of its makeup may be derived from organic ingredients. Your best bet is to scan labels for potentially harmful ingredients and be your own advocate.




Ewg.org: "Myths on Cosmetics Safety." Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. 2011.

Ewg.org: "Top Tips for Safer Products." Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. 2011.