It’s virtually impossible to dodge every single chemical throughout one’s lifetime, but we can make minor changes to limit the amount of toxins and chemicals that we put on our skin by selecting beauty products that are free of the most harmful ones.

If you think that skincare and cosmetic products that are applied to the skin do not get into your body in large amounts, think again! According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group),

People are exposed to cosmetics ingredients in many ways: breathing in sprays and powders, swallowing chemicals on the lips or hands or absorbing them through the skin. Biomonitoring studies have found that cosmetics ingredients – such as phthalate plasticizers, paraben preservatives, the pesticide triclosan, and sunscreen ingredients – are common pollutants in the bodies of men, women and children.


It can be overwhelming to know where to start in choosing healthy beauty products. So, let’s identify the top five ingredients that you want to be sure to avoid, while also offering some healthy alternatives to replace them.

Phthalates are plasticizing chemicals that are used in a large variety of products, from the coatings of pharmaceutical pills, food wraps, shower curtains and nutritional supplements to gelling agents (aka hair gel), nail polish, stabilizers, dispersants, lubricants, binders, hairsprays, and lotions. They are known to be endocrine disruptors and have been linked to human reproductive defects in both males and females. While it’s difficult to avoid contact with phthalates in daily encountered materials, we can make changes to avoid using those products that are put directly onto the skin.

Stay clear of products containing the following, as these are the most harmful phthalate-based ingredients: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP).

Parabens are widely and commonly used as preservatives by cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries to prevent the formation and growth of mold, bacteria, yeast, and formulation breakdown in products.

In the 1990s, parabens were certified xenoestrogens, agents that mimic estrogen in the body. “Estrogen disruption” has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues.

Even though both parabens and phthalates are both considered safe by the FDA, there has been enough substantiated tested material to cause concern about the harmful side effects (based on studies’ results) of these chemicals. It’s best to stay away from all products which use them, especially pregnant women, babies and pubescent young adults.

Alternatives: Look for products that highlight “Paraben-Free” for starters. There are so many naturally-based plant stabilizers that maintain product stability, freshness and safety including phenoxyethanol and ethylhexylglycerin, there is no need for harmful parabens.

Oxybenzone belongs to the class of aromatic ketones known as benzophenones. It provides broad-spectrum UV coverage, including UVB and short-wave UVA (ultraviolet) rays (found in sunscreens, lip gloss and moisturizers). Just like the findings of the phthalates, oxybenzone has been shown to be a probable human reproductive or developmental toxin and endocrine disruptor.

Alternatives: Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the most broadly effective, established and safe sun blocking ingredients available.

According to The Breast Cancer Fund, synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 100 harmful chemical-based ingredients –including hormone-disrupting phthalatessynthetic musks, and ethylene oxide. “Fragrance” is usually a chemical cocktail, often containing individual chemicals associated with allergic reactions and hormone disruption. Until all fragrance ingredients are disclosed on the label, consumers simply cannot know what is in a particular fragrance. (Credit: )

Alternatives: Select products that are noted as “Fragrance-Free” or contain natural fragrances like essential oils.

PEGs (Poly Ethylene Glycol)
PEGs (polyethylene glycols) are petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and soothing moisture-carriers. PEGs are commonly used as cosmetic cream bases. They are also used in pharmaceuticals as laxatives. Dangerous levels of dioxin have been found as a by-product of the ethoxylation process, which has been linked to being a possible human carcinogen (causing cancer).

Alternatives: Naturally-based hydrating emollients nourish the skin from within and are easily absorbed into the deep layers of the dermis to maximize proper hydration instead of creating a layer on the surface. Some examples of naturally-based hydrating emollients are: popular plant-based jojoba, avocado, rosehip, shea, and cocoa butters. These healthy alternative ingredients are so pure that they can be of edible quality, as pure as food.

What are your favorite toxin-free beauty products?

Image via Kathryn McCrary



  1. I like to keep it simple–use water and natural soap to wash, salt or sugar scrubs for the skin, and olive or jojoba oil to moisturize. No need to buy brand-name products or worry about toxic ingredients!

  2. Great information! It can be overwhelming to consider ALL of the bad ingredients in our beauty and skincare products. This article is a great resource, however, because it provides easy to understand reasoning and alternative ingredients to look for!

    I would love to see an article about beauty products that are considered safe and avoid these five ingredients.

  3. This is such a great thing to educate women about! We’re using so many unnatural products for beauty these days. It’s scary! I find that if you stick to natural moisturizing oils, herbs, and essential oils you can get amazing results and skip all this chemical crap. I’ve learned about many alternatives from studying basic aromatherapy and the ancient practice of ayurveda. They are great resources.

    Today, I make many of my own products, but a brand that I LOVE is Caru Skincare out of Astoria, NY. I swear by her stuff. From the packaging, to the ingredients, to the processes – she puts so much thought into her products.

  4. Check out for GREAT clean beauty products that not only don’t contain these bad ingredients, but DO include skin-nourishing goodness from nature!

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