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Rodrigo Louvat
I am a Marketing Associate at Tera in charge of digital marketing and content creation, writing blog articles and newsletters. Drop me a line at if you feel like it!

Top 15 Harmful Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare

1. Parabens
(Methyl, Butyl, Ethyl, Propyl): Parabens are a group of synthetic compounds commonly used as preservative ingredients in a wide variety of cosmetics and skincare products. They are under scrutiny due to their estrogen-like effects, which interfere with the body’s endocrine system and cause hormonal imbalances.

2. Aluminum
Found in antiperspirant deodorants, aluminum can interfere with the healthy functioning of the endocrine system due to its estrogen-like effects. There’s ongoing research on a potential link between aluminum and increased risk of breast cancer, but the scientific community has not reached a consensus yet.

3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) &

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): Known for their lathering effects, SLS and SLES are common ingredients in products that foam, such as soaps and facial cleansers. They can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to drynessirritation, and even disruption of the skin’s natural barrier function. There are also concerns that it causes non-reproductive organ toxicity as well as being an environmental toxin.

What ingredients are in your fragrance infographic

4. Synthetic Fragrances

Synthetic fragrances are made up of numerous undisclosed chemicals. Since manufacturers aren’t required to list these individual ingredients, it’s impossible to know what you’re being exposed to. Some hidden ingredients can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, and may even have links to hormonal disruption.


DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), and TEA (Triethanolamine): These ammonia compounds are used to adjust the pH of products and create lather. However, when they react with nitrites (often used as anti-corrosive agents), they can form nitrosamines – compounds known to be carcinogenic.

6. Mineral Oil

A by-product of petroleum, mineral oil can create a film on the skin that interferes with its natural ability to breathe and eliminate toxins. This can potentially lead to clogged pores, breakouts, and skin irritation.

7. PEG

(Polyethylene Glycol): Used as a thickener in many skincare products, PEG can interfere with the skin’s natural moisture balance, potentially leading to dryness. Some studies suggest that PEGs can also be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, both of which are classified as human carcinogens.

8. Phthalates

Often hidden under the umbrella term “fragrance”, phthalates are plasticizing chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine system and have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and infant developmental issues.

9. Propylene Glycol (PG) &

Butylene Glycol

These ingredients act as penetration enhancers, allowing substances to absorb more deeply into the skin. While this can be beneficial for some ingredients, it also means potentially harmful ingredients can penetrate deeper as well.

10. Triclosan

Triclosan is a synthetic antibacterial agent that’s been associated with hormone disruption, particularly thyroid and reproductive hormones. Its potential impact on human health and the environment has led to its ban in several countries.

11. Siloxanes

Watch out for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone”. They are commonly used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisturize the skin. However, siloxanes are suspected endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxicants. Moreover, they are harmful to fish and other wildlife, raising environmental concerns.

12. Coal Tar

An unexpected name in skincare, isn’t it? A byproduct of coal processing, coal tar is a known carcinogen, meaning it has the potential to cause cancer. It’s also recognized as a skin allergen and respiratory toxicant, which can cause breathing difficulties. You might be surprised to learn that it’s often found in hair dyes and anti-dandruff shampoos.

13. BHA & BHT

These two ingredients are synthetic antioxidants used as stabilizers to extend product shelf life. They are also likely carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They may also cause liver damage.

14. Retinol

This synthetic derivative of Vitamin A is ubiquitous in anti-aging skincare products due to its touted benefits for skin revitalization. However, it’s essential to note that data from an FDA study has suggested that retinoid ingredients may accelerate the growth of skin tumors and lesions when skin is exposed to the sun (source: EWG). Additionally, retinol can cause skin irritation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and it’s not recommended for use during periods of pregnancy or breastfeeding due to potential health risks

Bad Ingredient "Danger Formaldehyde" sign

15. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is widely used as a preservative in cosmetics, yet it is a known carcinogen linked to conditions such as asthmaneurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. It can also irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs. Its cunning comes into play when it sneaks into your products as an impurity in other ingredients. Key culprits to watch out for are quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and diazolidinyl urea, among others.

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