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Ingredients To Avoid In Skincare (And Why)

What’s the story? Do we really need to avoid these ingredients?

Your beauty supplies are running out, and you find yourself wandering up the aisles looking for your next skincare product. You’re starting to see “clean beauty” listed around the store but what does that really mean?

What exactly is clean beauty?

According to many skincare companies like ESW Beauty, clean beauty refers to products made with safe, ethical ingredients that are beneficial to your skin all while considering their environmental impact.

Why does it matter?

The impact a product’s ingredients have, even the smallest quantities, can make a big difference for the health of your skin and that of our earth. It’s important to look for formulations that are not only free from toxins, but are beneficial to the skin and its needs.

Here's a list of ingredients to avoid:


Also Known As: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, and ingredients ending in –paraben. What are they? Preservatives found in many skincare and beauty products used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. They are known endocrine disrupters which means they have been found to alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies and can cause cancer.

According to Tasha Stoiber, PhD, Senior Scientist at EWG, “Given the endocrine disruption capacity and documented female and male reproductive harm, coupled with the potential for repeated lifelong exposure, it is clear that long-chain parabens (isobutyl-, butyl-, isopropyl- and propylparaben) should not be used in personal care or cosmetic products. Further, products can be made without these chemicals”


Also Known As: DEP, DBP, DEHP and other What are they? Plasticizing chemicals used to make products more durable. They are in many beauty products and have been known to disrupt hormonal and reproductive systems.


Also Known As: Polyethylene glycol What Are they? They are often used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. PEGs are sometimes found contaminated with measurable amounts of carcinogens


Also Known As: (MEA/DEA/TEA) What Are They? A group of chemicals that work as surfactants and emulsifying ingredients in personal care products and cleaning products. The risk includes cancer, environmental concerns (bioaccumulation), and organ system toxicity

Synthetic Fragrances

What Are They? Synthetic fragrances are petroleum-based chemicals that are toxic and harmful to health. They may contain a multitude of combinations of chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens.


Also Known As: Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxyethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal. What Are They? Used as a cosmetic preservative, these chemicals can cause cancer after long exposure. They also cause skin irritation, sore throat and even nose bleed for high exposure individuals.

Yashi Shrestha, research scientist and green cosmetic chemist, warns that formaldehyde may be hiding behind another name on the ingredient label and explains it “has become a well-known toxic ingredient to avoid in beauty products, many don’t know about the lesser known ingredients that release formaldehyde which are formulated in cosmetics today,”


Also Known As: Butylated hydroxytoluene What Are They? BHT is a lab-made chemical that is added to foods as a preservative. It is likely a carcinogen and hormone disruptor and may cause liver damage.


Also Known As: Beta Hydroxy Acid, beta hydroxybutanoic acid, salicylic acid (or related substances, such as salicylate, sodium salicylate, and willow extract), tropic acid, trethocanic acid What Are They? This chemical has been found to be a human carcinogen and exposed as an endocrine disruptor and a collaborator to the underdevelopment of the reproductive system


What Are They? Alcohol is often a top skincare ingredient used to dry out the skin. It is known to disrupt your skin’s natural barrier, opening your skin up to irritants leaving you with inflamed skin.


Also Known As: diethanolamine What Are They? They are used to make cosmetics creamy and sudsy. DEA and its compounds cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation and in long exposures have been shown to cause liver cancers and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid.

Sulfate Detergents

Also Known As: SLS, sodium lauryl sulfate, and sodium laureth sulfate What Are They? Sulfate detergents work to remove residue and dirt from your skin and hair. Though they produce that squeaky clean feeling, sulfates often leave your skin and hair dry and irritated causing long term damage to their protective barriers. Some have even found their acne worse than before using products with sulfates.


What Are They? Silicones are used to smooth skin, lock in moisture, and heal wounds, but unless you’re dealing with an open wound on your face, silicones don’t provide any tangible benefits to the skin, nor do they contribute to the long-term health and improvement of your skin. Silicones are bioaccumulative, which means once they are washed down the drain they contribute to the buildup of pollution in oceans and waterways and may not break down for hundreds of years.

"In cosmetic products, they mostly deliver a pleasant-feeling carrier base,” says Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a board certified dermatologist and member of the Healthline advisory board. She also explains they don’t provide any tangible benefits to the skin, nor do they contribute to the long-term health and improvement of your skin.
“For acne-prone patients, silicones can act as a ‘barrier’ and trap oil, dirt, and dead skin cells, making acne worse,” Mraz Robinson says.

Synthetic Dyes

What Are They? Artificial colors can leave your skin irritated and your pores clogged. Some dyes are known carcinogens and can be linked to cancer and also affect neurons which cause allergic reactions.

Aluminum Powders

What Are They? There is strong evidence that cosmetics using aluminum powder are immune and respiratory toxicants or allergens. They are also known to damage the human nervous system

Animal-Derived Products

What Are They? Vegan products that do not contain animal-derived ingredients are not only more sustainable but are better for the health of your skin. Eliminating animal-derived ingredients also means eliminating additional additives and including better vitamins and nutrients for your skin.

It’s time to start reading labels! Skin nutrition is just as important as the other ingredients you put in your body. Look out for clean, vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainable products– it’s never too late to refresh your vanity and start a clean beauty routine.

Shop our clean sheet masks here, at


ESW Beauty Raw Juice Sheet Masks.jpg

Meet The Brand Behind The Blog!

Explore the brand behind the blog! We are ESW Beauty, a clean skincare brand inspired by healthy living! All of our products are formulated with clean & vegan ingredients, are cruelty free, and made sustainably. Learn more about us below!

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