5 Beauty Ingredients You Should Absolutely Avoid (and Why)

by Carley Klekas June 13, 2017

5 Beauty Ingredients You Should Absolutely Avoid (and Why)

There are certain beauty ingredients you’ve probably heard are best to avoid (like parabens and phthalates,) but you may not know why. Some ingredients actually sound positive (like fragrance,) and others are probably new to you (…like what’s a PEG?) Here are our top 5 ingredients you should avoid, and why:

#1: Parabens (EWG rating 4-7)

  • Also known as: methyparaben, ethylparaben, butyparaben, isopropylparaben, propylparaben
  • Function: preservative, fragrance ingredient
  • Potential concerns: hormones disruptor, allergen, environmental toxin

#2: Phthalates (EWG rating 10)

  • Also known as: DEP (diethyl phthalate), DBP (dibutyl phthalate), DMP (dimethyl phthalate), and any ingredient name that includes the word “phthalate”
  • Function: fragrance ingredient, plasticizer (promotes flexibility), solvent (dissolves other ingredients)
  • Potential concerns: hormones disruptor, allergen, organ system toxicity, carcinogen (causes cancer)

#3: Fragrance (EWG rating 8)

  • Also known as: synthetic fragrance, or simply “fragrance” in the ingredient list
  • Function: pleasing odor or masking poor odor
  • Potential concerns: irritation, organ system toxicity, environmental toxin

#4: Polyethylene glycol (EWG rating 3)

  • Also known as:  PEG
  • Function: thickener, solvent (dissolves other ingredients), softener
  • Potential concerns: carcinogen, contaminated with 1,4 Dioxane

#5: Formaldehyde (EWG rating 10)

  • Formaldehyde releasing chemicals: DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate,  imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15
  • Function: preservative
  • Potential concerns: organ system toxicity, irritant

Wondering what those EWG ratings means?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization who advocate for environmental health in multiple industries. They are working to help educate beauty consumers with their Skin Deep Database where you can look up products and ingredients to see how they are rated in terms of toxicity. The rating is from safest to most harmful, with 1 being the safest and 10 being the most harmful. Check out how our Biossance products rate. 

They also have a new verification you can get called EWGVERIFIED(™) which requires brands to have their formula’s screened for safety and to provide ingredient transparency.  All Biossance products are EWG VERIFIED(™).

Why would companies even use toxic ingredients in the first place?

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why companies sometimes use potentially harmful ingredients.

One of primary reasons comes down to that cold hard cash. These ingredients are often cheap to make or source, thus are a cost efficient way to perform the specific duty needed for the product. For example, silicones provide slip or glide, so your makeup or moisturizer glides on easily. Or fragrances provide a masking or pleasant scent to a product that would otherwise smell rather awful. Or preservatives like parabens to help prevent your product from going bad. Sometimes the alternatives just do not perform as well, or a good alternative just does not exist yet. The cosmetics industry is constantly innovating, but some healthier alternatives have yet to be discovered and/or formulated.

Another key reason is that the health effects of these ingredients were not evaluated when these ingredients first came to market. That is something we just didn’t do in the 1960’s. People smoked indoors and used harmful chemicals all over their houses (hello, lead paint filled walls).The health considerations of ingredients were simply not a factor then because we simply didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Luckily, the beauty industry has changed drastically for the better in the last decade. This game of catch up is primarily being driven by companies updating their own standards, rather than any enforced regulations. Although the new Personal Care Products Safety Act could help us make some progress if it’s passed. Either way, it is now easier to find cleaner products and consumers are becoming more educated. Voting with your wallet does make a difference.

Wondering how to make sure you avoid these ingredients? Download our Clean Beauty Cheat Sheet and save on your phone to reference on your next shopping trip.




Carley Klekas

Carley Klekas
Carley Klekas


Developing ingredient guidelines (a.k.a. The Blacklist), integrating sustainability into the brand, working with our amazing non-profit partners and leading external communications is what I do all day – I’m Carley, the Sustainability and Marketing Manager for Biossance. Avid snowboarder, barre class enthusiastic, and a big traveler. Lover of pirate joke day and sustainability. I studied sustainability while getting my MBA. My work at Biossance is at the nexus of what I care so deeply about. Clean cosmetics and environmental health is my passion and I am one lucky girl for getting to work on this each and every day. Previously of Bare Escentuals.

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