How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

What price are you willing to pay in an effort to preserve your youth?


The skincare industry is full of chemical-slinging salesmen trying to pawn off pretty jars full of toxic chemicals as the next beauty miracle. They see women as suckers who they can convince to buy anything so long as they put their cheap chemical fillers in attractive bottles and get teenage supermodels to advertise them. Their ads build up and then prey upon insecurities in women — and it works.

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

The promise of beautiful, glowing and ageless skin is so intoxicating that a lot of women worldwide are willing to put rational thought aside in the vain hope that they may look a bit more like that teenage supermodel, and therefore have more value as a woman. After all, the message being sent is simple: a woman’s sexual value is her only intrinsic value (yet another reason why we need feminism!)

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

Want to look young? Put down the bottle and pick up a green juice!

Here’s where the buck stops: Chemicals can’t permanently reverse aging. The best they can do is irritate the deeper layers of your skin so you get a temporary smoothing effect. As you may guess, this is temporary and not at all good for your skin in the long run. The only thing that can actually affect skin cells in an anti-aging way is plants and a healthy lifestyle. The true anti-agers don’t come in fancy $50 jars. They are: organic essential oils, a plant-based and low-glycemic diet, avoiding the sun, and regular exercise.

Research has shown that while none of the popular drugstore or department-store skincare products are able to deliver on any of their anti-aging promises, what’s certain is that they can be very harmful in the long run. Sure, short-term ill effects might include rashes and allergies, which you can immediately address. However, there are certain ingredients and contaminants in skincare products that manufacturers fail to tell us about — and most of them cause us to exhibit ill effects that don’t manifest until after years or decades of use, or when there’s no turning back.

In fact, there are thousands of chemicals in your products, most of which are being absorbed into your body. These companies have cart blanche to use any ingredient or raw material without government review or approval. That’s why it’s so important to always check your products in the Cosmetics Database and the GoodGuide, both of which rate beauty and consumer products based on toxicity.

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

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This industry is highly unregulated. There is no pre-product approval before a product hits the market and enters your home. Since the FDA’s inception in 1930, the FDA has only banned 11 cosmetics ingredients. In contrast, in the same amount of time, the European Union has banned 1378 cosmetics ingredients. Many of the synthetic chemicals in your products are skin irritants, skin penetrators, endocrine disruptors and are carcinogenic.

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

Here’s an enlightening (and very share-worthy) short video about how the skincare industry works:

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

Here are a few of the most common and harmful types of ingredients you should watch out for the next time you snap a skincare product off the shelves. This is by no means a complete list, as 80% of ingredients in consumer products (cosmetics, skincare, cleaning) remain untested, and the complete list of proven toxic ingredients that are in your products (yes, yours!) is much, much longer. Watch out for these ingredients with every skincare product you consider and, remember, don’t be fooled by high price tags. Higher price tags don’t usually mean higher quality – just more marketing.

Hormone Disruptors

Dibutyl Phthalate, also called DBP or butyl ester, is a very common ingredient in skincare products whose function is to help the skin absorb the products better and achieve desired results faster. What is alarming, however, is that DBP has been classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen, meaning, it can cause cancer. It has also been shown to lower sperm count in men, and cause unborn males to have smaller penis’ and other testicular issues. The health problems resulting from DBP-containing products was raised years ago, but most skincare products in department stores still contain this ingredient, unlisted on the label. It’s illegal in virtually every modern country except the USA.

Foaming Agents

Washing your face with what could be an industrial degreaser could lead to more harm than good, so it’s best to read the fine print and labels before getting sold on a product. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is the main ingredient in most facial washes, as its effect is to strip the layer of oil off the skin to make it look “fresh and clean.” What many don’t know, however, is that sodium lauryl sulfate is also the main ingredient in garage floor cleaners and other degreasing agents. Sure, it can get rid of that oil layer, but it leaves the skin vulnerable, pitted and rough. Take note that the skin needs a considerable layer of oil to stay nourished and healthy.

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

Sulfates are harsh foaming agents that are found in lots of industrial products — and in skin cleaners!

Cocoamide, also called diethylalomine, is what makes moisturizers and shampoos bubble. While bubbling looks and feels nice, studies have shown that DEA blocks your body’s natural choline absorption, which is necessary for proper brain development and function. It can also lead to skin breakouts, rashes and allergies in the short term. In the long term, the consequences are likely to be far more serious.

Synthetic Perfumes

Sometimes, it is the bad things that are disguised in nice-smelling packages. Just because your facial wash or lotion smells wonderful, it doesn’t always mean your body is rejoicing in it. Synthetic or chemical-based perfumes are high in aldehydes (air pollutants) and benzene derivatives, which can lead to dizziness, headaches and other similar toxic reactions. Skincare manufacturers often take to synthetic perfumes because the cost of making natural-based fragrances is high, thereby allowing them to sell their products cheap.

On top of it, the word “Fragrance” on an ingredients label is deemed a “trade secret”, and therefore companies don’t have to disclose the contents of this concoction. Many companies hide the most harmful ingredients under the cloak of “Fragrance”.


Your mainstream skincare products almost certainly contain parabens and other nasty preservatives. Parabens possess estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer. These chemicals are absorbed through the skin and have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors.

Many other preservative chemicals, like methylisothiazolinone, are actually banned in Europe from being included in leave-in products – like the cream you keep on your face all day, but are still allowed in products sold in the USA. Another red flag for this nasty chemical is that, in lab tests, brain cells were altered after regular application, signifying that this ingredient is likely a neurotoxin!

Petrochemicals & Other Nasty / Toxic Chemicals

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging YouMainstream skincare products contain many petroleum-based ingredients …and for some reason we all thought that was okay. However, research has shown that using products that contain petrochemicals can result in kidney problems, nerve and brain damage and cancer in the long run. They say beauty is pain, but they probably didn’t mean like this!

There are so many toxic chemicals in skincare and cosmetics nowadays that it would seriously take a university course to get up to speed.

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

The Solution

I never shop at drugstores or department stores — only at organic-focused health food stores. I use the simplest organic products I can (here’s my Pinterest board with natural beauty brands), and I make a lot of my own skincare creams and oils myself. I take my makeup off with 100% organic coconut oil and I make my own oil or shea butter + essential oil face and body creams (it’s easy!). I use Raspberry Cider Vinegar (it’s like Apple Cider Vinegar, but smells better) as a toner and skin probiotic. I use natural soaps like Dr. Bronner’s bar soap for my hands and body. I stick to organic products with as few ingredients as possible – and only ingredients I understand.

How to Tell Which SkinCare Products Are Toxic & Aging You

Wondering if you should toss the products in your cabinet? Check the ingredients in the Cosmetics Database (aka. Skin Deep / EWG) and the GoodGuide, both of which rate beauty and consumer products based on toxicity. Skin Deep and GoodGuide both have apps you can download on your phone, to scan a barcode for fast checking in-store. GoodGuide also has an Internet browser toolbar that slides up from the bottom of your window, to subtly warn you when you’re shopping for a potentially toxic / harmful product (based on selected criteria you care about), and suggests similar options you might like that fit your criteria better.

The best part? The natural glow that comes from a combination of natural products coupled with serenity in knowing that you’re not poisoning your body.

Let’s face it, we all grow old and, frankly, the true secret to beauty inside and out is happiness, contentment and a positive attitude. It sounds cheesy, but it’s a genuine smile, along with a healthy body and outlook that will ensure we live beyond the life expectancy statistics — while aging gracefully.

Read more about toxins in products you use:

Avatar of Hilary Rowland

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 175 Comments

  1. Avatar of Margot White

    Hi Hilary – thank you so much for shedding light on this important subject. Unfortunately we are so far behind Europe when it comes to consumer safety. Products made by the same companies need to be made safer for European consumers, but not here… We had a terrible time finding skincare products without these chemicals, which is why we opened The Choosy Chick.

    • Avatar of Hilary Rowland

      Looks like a great store — it’s wonderful to see how many people are concerned about this issue, and voting with their dollars.

  2. Avatar of Amanda Carpenter

    Amanda Carpenter

    WOW! Awesome database! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Avatar of Cheryl Reeves

    Cheryl Reeves

    Thanks! have been trying to make healthy changes in food and products for myself.

  4. Avatar of Cindy Nichols

    Cindy Nichols

    As someone with obnoxiously sensitive skin and eyes, I found out how rough even “hypo-allergenic” products can be on my skin!

  5. Avatar of Vera Wolfe

    Vera Wolfe

    I’m shocked to learn about these dangerous makeup (and skin care) ingredients. It’s sad to know that toxic chemicals “come” in beautiful packaging

  6. Avatar of Elizabeth Coleman

    Elizabeth Coleman

    I have been concerned about my makeup and wanted something natural. But I do not feel comfortable with “natural” makeup companies that say they are chemical free.

  7. Avatar of Joyce Morgan

    Joyce Morgan

    Makeup is part of my daily routine and it’s a bit scary to learn that I’m putting toxic chemicals on my skin 🙁

  8. Avatar of Robyn Carr

    Robyn Carr

    Uh oh! Before I ran onto your page, I felt I was on the path to natural bliss… I’ve cleaned up my diet, eliminated harsh cleaning products and traded synthetic products to organic… But now… I’m thinking

  9. Avatar of Yolanda Tate

    Yolanda Tate

    Thank you for this! Now I can educate myself and can do my research before I buy.

  10. Avatar of Kathleen Adams

    Kathleen Adams

    Let’s not get fooled by the high price tag. Even if you’re buying from high-end brands, it doesn’t mean they’re better than the drugstore or affordable ones. Always check the label and the ingredients list before cashing out your money.

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