The Shocking Truth About What’s in Your Skin Care Products

Healthcare experts discuss the shocking truth about skin care products

Who is looking out for our healthcare? Certainly not the manufacturing companies, who may say such ingredients are “safe”. But the reality is that testing on the long-term and combined affect of many of these chemicals is unknown. We have to educate and protect ourselves!


Fragrance is in so many skin care and beauty products! You don’t always know what you’re getting with them because manufacturers aren’t required to list the individual ingredients that make up a fragrance on the label (they’d be giving away all their secrets, or proprietary information), but you can bet it’s likely a concoction of chemicals you don’t want on your skin or in your lungs. There are thousands of chemicals that could be combined to make fragrances. When you don’t know what’s in a product, there’s also a possibility that you’ll unknowingly put something on your skin that will cause inflammation, and inflammation leads to premature aging. If you want something that smells nice, look for natural skin care ingredients scented with essential oils instead of that catch-all, mystery ingredient, “fragrance. ”If you didn’t know what something was, would you eat it? If you don’t know what’s in “fragrance ”on your ingredients list, you shouldn’t be putting it on your skin or into the air you breathe, either.


Phthalates go hand in hand with fragrance, because they’re often added to personal care products to make the scents last longer. That’s not just for perfume and body sprays. When fragrance is added to shampoo, conditioner, cleanser, or lotion, there’s a good chance phthalates are part of the package, and they’re not necessarily on the list of ingredients because they’re locked under the “fragrance” umbrella. Guess what else? There is very little testing done on phthalates’ effects on your health, even though they’ve been shown to cause problems with the male reproductive system in animal studies. They’re also associated with mimicking and blocking female hormones and early onset puberty.

Mineral oil

Mineral oil is in facial oils, hair treatments (which could also end up on your skin), conditioner, body moisturizers, and other treatments, so you really have to read labels to avoid it. If you’ve ever slathered your body in baby oil, which is just mineral oil with fragrance, you’re familiar with that oddly slick, yet not really moisturizing, coating you get on your skin. It doesn’t soak in completely (probably a good thing, actually), but it just sits there and prevents the skin from doing part of its job—detoxing. The idea behind using mineral oil is usually to lock moisture into the skin, but it blocks your pores and makes it more difficult to sweat toxins out of your body. Mineral oil has also been shown to increase the risk of tumours by about 21 percent in lab studies. Try rubbing a small amount of coconut oil on your skin instead.

Nanoparticles and Oxybenzone

Sunscreen is touted as one of the best defenses about premature aging available, but is it always completely safe? Not really.

  • Nanoparticles may sound high-tech and cool to use, but the whole idea of nanoparticle technology is bad news for your skin and your health. Normal-sized particles that would be harmless on your skin otherwise, sitting on top of it (like zinc oxide in sunscreen, for example), and doing their job, are able to penetrate your skin when nanotechnology comes into play. Once they penetrate the skin, they can make their way into other parts of the body, like the brain, accumulate, and contribute to cell death. The nanoparticle of zinc oxide (remember, zinc oxide is typically deemed as a good choice for natural sun protection!) could cause cancer, increase oxidative stress, and damage your DNA.
  • Oxybenzone may disrupt the normal functioning of the epidermis, plus it oxidizes quickly when exposed to sunlight. In addition, it reduces the capabilities of antioxidants, creating the perfect storm for free-radical skin damage. Oxybenzone also acts like estrogen once it’s absorbed into the body, and it could play a role in endometriosis in women and sperm production in men.

Look for sunscreens that do not boast of nanotechnology or nanoparticles, and choose natural sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES/1,4-Dioxane)

If you’re using a skin care product that foams (like your cleanser for face or body), there’s a good chance it contains sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. These ingredients are added to everything from car washes and garage floor cleaners to facial cleansers and bubble baths. Sodium lauryl sulfate tries to sneak by on labels that say “made from coconut”to make it sound natural. It’s not natural; the SLS is a result of a process involving coconut oil. One study says sodium lauryl sulfate has been shown to contribute to “a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing qualities,”while ammonium lauryl sulfate has, in animals, been linked to death. Both were shown to be skin irritants. SLES is SLS after it has gone through a process where it reacted with ethylene oxide, which is a known human carcinogen. The reaction occurs and the end product is added to products like body washes in order to make the ingredients less harsh on the skin.


While the FDA does say that this ingredient hasn’t been shown to cause problems in humans, the site does admit that it has been linked to hormone disruption in animals. It’s used as an antimicrobial in body washes and soaps, but the EWG points out that triclosan and triclocarbon are actually pesticides, too. Why put pesticides on your body when you’re trying so hard to keep them out of your diet?

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

These are popular in anti-aging skin care products (serums, treatments, and even moisturizers) because they exfoliate, soften, and cleanse the skin while reducing the appearance of fine lines and smoothing out the skin tone. However, they’ve also been shown to increase UV sensitivity, so they could potentially backfire with long-term, daytime use (or at least daytime use without a good, natural sunscreen). You’ll often see AHAs listed as glycolic acid or lactic acid.


Parabens (isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben, etc) can be found in cosmetics, moisturizing creams, sunscreens, and more, whether you’re shopping in the drugstore or a high-end department store. They’re used as preservatives in skin care products. Methyl paraben has been shown to potentially cause skin damage when exposed to sunlight. Unless you’re only using your paraben-containing products at night (probably not, as parabens are everywhere), there’s a good chance you could actually be aging your skin with your skin care regimen. One study showed that methyl parabens combined with UV exposure increased oxidative stress and cell death, not exactly what you’re aiming for when you slather a product on your face to make it look better! Aside from the aging factor, parabens have been linked to endocrine disruption and breast cancer.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide, a common ingredient in acne treatments, can be phototoxic when exposed to UVB rays.

Beta-Hydroxy Acid (Salicylic Acid)

Salicylic acid exfoliates skin and can improve its texture and color. It also helps with acne. Many skin care products contain salicylic acid. Some are available over-the-counter and others require a doctor’s prescription. Studies have shown that salicylic acid is less irritating than skin care products containing alpha-hydroxy acids but has similar results in improving skin texture and color.

Warning: People who are allergic to salycylates (found in aspirin) should not use products containing salicylic acid. Salicylic acid can be absorbed into the bloodstream and may cause an allergic reaction or contactdermatitis. Pregnant or nursing women should not use products containing salicylic acid.


Skin care products containing hydroquinone are often called bleaching creams or lightening agents. These skin care products are used to lighten hyperpigmentation, such as age spots and dark spots related to pregnancy or hormone therapy (also called melasma). Some over-the-counter skin care products contain hydroquinone. Your doctor can also prescribe a product with a higher concentration of hydroquinone if your skin doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments. If you are allergic to hydroquinones, you can use products containing kojic acid instead. Pregnant women cannot use hydroquinone.

Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is a more recent remedy for treating pigment problems and age spots. First developed in 1989, kojic acid has a similar effect as hydroquinone. Kojic acid is made from a fungus, and studies have shown that it is effective at lightening skin.


Retinol is made from vitamin A, and it’s in many non-prescription skin care products. Retinol’s stronger counterpart is tretinoin, which is the active ingredient in Retin-A and Renova, available by prescription only. If your skin is too sensitive to use Retin-A, retinol is an alternative, although the effects are less impressive. Retinol may improve mottled pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, skin texture, and skin tone and color. You may also hear about retinyl palmitate. This is in the same family as retinol, but if the skin care product you choose contains retinyl palmitate, you will need to use more of this product than one that contains retinol to get the same effect. Pregnant women or nursing mothers cannot use retinol.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps to minimize fine lines, scars, and wrinkles. It’s the only antioxidant that is proven to boost production of collagen, which is a key part of skin’s structure. Be choosy when selecting a vitamin C product. Vitamin C in its most commonly found forms is highly unstable when exposed to oxygen, making it useless. Choose one in a tube or a pump. Also, many topical vitamin C preparations do not penetrate the skin enough to make a difference. If you are considering using a topical vitamin C preparation, ask your dermatologist which product will be the most effective for you.

Hyaluronic Acid

Skin care products containing hyaluronic acid are often used with vitamin C products to assist in effective penetration. Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally (and quite abundantly) in people and animals and is found in young skin, other tissues, and joint fluid. Hyaluronic acid is part of the body’s connective tissues, and is known to cushion and lubricate. Aging destroys hyaluronic acid. Diet and smoking can also affect your body’s level of hyaluronic acid over time. Skin care products with hyaluronic acid are most frequently used to treat wrinkled skin although they don’t replace anything the body has naturally lost. These are very effective moisturizers.

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