Making the Switch to Clean Skincare? Top 10 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid and Why - Botanical Republic

Making the Switch to Clean Skincare? Top 10 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid and Why

As you stroll down the skincare aisle, it can seem like nearly every product you pick up has some toxic ingredient or another in it. You probably notice that even the “natural” brands have suspicious ingredients that sound anything but natural. Why does shopping for clean beauty have to be so difficult? Sadly, it isn’t easy being green. We’re trying to change that with our line of truly pure and natural skincare. For those of you making the switch to clean beauty, these are the most common skincare toxins to avoid:


Parabens are a type of preservative. They allow products to sit on store shelves for years without decaying. While this noble-sounding cause seems like it is keeping your health and safety in mind, that is really not the case. Parabens are harmful to your body. Scientific studies have linked them to hormone disruption since they compete with estrogen in the female body. Keep a lookout for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. These are some of the most common offenders. 


Pthalates are chemicals that can disrupt your endocrine system, which regulates your hormones. This can contribute to neurological, reproductive and development problems. For women, it can even affect the quality and number of eggs that she produces, leading to fertility problems. Premature delivery and endometriosis are also linked to pthalates. For men, decreased fertility is also possible, in addition to lowered testosterone. Phthalates are often found in fragrances, which have no business in your skincare routine. 


Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are rampant in conventional skincare products. They are typically used as thickeners and softeners. They can also be used to give products a gel-like consistency. Finally, PEGs can also enhance penetration of other ingredients, which sounds like a good thing until you consider that products with PEGs likely contains other harmful toxins that you don’t want penetrating your skin. PEGs are often contaminated with carcinogens like ethylene oxide, which can cause brain and developmental problems. They may also contain 1, 4-dioxane, which contributes to environmental pollution. 


Fragrances in beauty products are a real danger zone. If you see the word fragrance on the label, put the bottle back on the shelf. Fragrances can contain unlimited numbers of toxins, which are blended together to create a specific scent. 

The ingredients that make up a given fragrance is anybody’s guess. While government regulations typically require cosmetic products to have transparent labeling, there is a loophole when it comes to fragrance because it is considered proprietary information. Essentially, a fragrance is a secret concoction that is protected as part of a company’s marketing strategy. Scented products are often made from harmful synthetic chemicals that are not part of a healthy skincare regimen. 


When most people hear the word formaldehyde, they think of the strong chemical that is used for embalming fluid. Formaldehyde is also used in the beauty industry to prolong a product’s shelf life. This dangerous toxin is a known carcinogen, meaning it has been proven to cause cancer in living tissue. 

Unfortunately, formaldehyde is a sneaky ingredient that makes its way into many conventional beauty products. While you won’t normally see formaldehyde listed on the ingredients list, you might be surprised to learn it is still in there. How could that be? It turns out many common preservatives actually release formaldehyde over time. 

Check the label to avoid these common formaldehyde-releasing ingredients:

  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • Quaternium-15
  • Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )
  • 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane
  • Hydroxymethylglycinate


SLS and SLES are harsh chemicals used in everything from facial cleansers to shampoo to laundry detergent. While they clean effectively, they can irritate skin, eyes and lungs. SLS and SLES can rev up skin sensitivity issues, leaving you with dryness, rashes and redness. 

Both ingredients may also be contaminated with 1, 4-dioxane, which is an environmental pollutant. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is the worse offender of the two since it has been linked to organ system toxicity according to the EWG, but both should be avoided. 


Triclosan is a pesticide and antibacterial ingredient that makes its way into soap, body wash and other personal care products. This toxin has a moderate to high hazard level according to the EWG, and should be avoided. Firstly, it can irritate you skin and eyes. Secondly, it can throw your hormones out of whack and even cause toxic buildup in your organs. The CDC detected triclosan buildup in 75 percent of the people they tested. Unfortunately, triclosan is a common beauty ingredient. 


From plush pinks to vibrant blues, artificial colours can make everything from bath bombs, facial cleansers and mud masks look irresistable, but don’t be fooled. Dyes have no business in your beauty products. They are made of chemicals that can harm your skin. 

We all love a little colour in our world, but not at the risk of our health. Some dyes contain heavy metals that can increase skin sensitivity and even cause cancer. Researchers found that Blue 1, for example, caused allergic reactions. They also linked it to cancer. The FDA also has some convincing evidence that Red 3 may result in thyroid tumours. Yellow 5 is another allergen, and Yellow 6 is linked to kidney and adrenal gland tumours. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but synthetic colours are best avoided as part of your clean skincare routine.


BHA & BHT are preservatives often found in beauty products. However, they are classified as possible carcinogens and allergens. Long-term exposure to high levels of these ingredients caused blood clotting problems, poor lung function and liver, thyroid and kidney problems in a 2004 study. They can also cause reproductive issues in both men and women. Most governments agencies including those in the USA, Canada and EU recognize BHA and BHT as carcinogens, yet they are still allowed in cosmetics in small doses. You’ve been warned.


Most beauty products are made with water. While responsible manufacturers only use purified water, you should be wary of homemade beauty products that might contain tap water instead. The danger? Tap water can sometimes contain heavy metals, chlorine and fluoride, all of which are toxic in high doses. At the very least, it may cause redness and sensitivity of your skin and eyes. Tap water is also less clean. It can carry microbial species that would thrive in your favorite jar of moisturizer.

Water also dilutes active ingredients, allowing manufacturers to make products cheaper to make. That eye cream or face serum with water as the first ingredient may not be doing as much good for your skin as you hoped. Some water is necessary in many beauty products because it emulsifies ingredients. Cleansers and shampoos are good examples. But if it is the main ingredient, your money would be better spent elsewhere.

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