Beware Of Toxic Ingredients In Skincare Products 

As a naturopathic doctor, natural products play a huge role in my treatment recommendations for my patients as well as in my own daily life. It’s no secret that I am a big believer in using and suggesting safe, non-toxic products as one of the key components to optimal health – and there are big reasons for this.

One of the biggest: many standard skincare products on the shelves today have a ton of toxic ingredients hiding in their ingredient list. What’s worse – some supposedly “natural” products can have them, too. These can ultimately go unnoticed and wreak havoc on the body, disrupting the endocrine system, irritating the skin – and even causing breast cancer.

The good news: this is totally preventable if you understand your products and know what to look out for. That’s why, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to shed a light on these toxic ingredients, helping you understand what’s in your skincare products and what toxic ingredients to avoid. 

Toxic Ingredients to Avoid 

Unfortunately, many big brands use toxic ingredients to increase product shelf life, stabilize formulas, or save money.

This is an especially big problem in the U.S. because there is practically no regulation for cosmetic products here. While the EU has banned over 1300 chemicals, the US has only banned 11. On top of that, cosmetic products in the U.S. can go straight from manufacturing to store shelves without any approval or safety testing.

That’s why we have to take our product education and safety awareness into our own hands. Here are some top toxic ingredients to avoid:
  • Aluminum: Aluminum compounds, which can be found as the active ingredient in many antiperspirants, can mimic estrogen in the body. This promotes the growth of breast cancer cells, which is why there has been such a negative spotlight on certain deodorants in recent years.
  • Parabens: Parabens are a family of preservatives (methylparabens, propylparabens, butylparabens, and ethylparabens)  that are commonly used to extend shelf life by preventing the growth of bacteria and mold. They may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders, which is why the FDA acknowledges many studies linking parabens to breast cancer, skin cancer and decreased sperm count.
  • Propylene Glycol: This is an alcohol compound commonly used as a skin conditioning agent. It has been associated with skin irritation and contact dermatitis.
  • Phthalates: Phthalates are a class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. They are typically found in synthetic fragrance, nail polish, or hair spray. They can be serious endocrine disruptors and even cause birth defects – which is why Congress has actually banned several types of phthalates from many children’s products.
  • Triclosan: Often used in liquid soap, triclosan was recently banned by the FDA because it has been shown to decrease thyroid hormones and make certain bacteria resistant to antibiotics – yikes!
  • Fragrance: The word “fragrance” is essentially a cop-out for many companies that don’t want to admit to all the chemicals that they have in their products. At their most basic, these “fragrances” are engineered scents or flavoring agents that may contain any combination of 3,000-plus stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens.

Other Tips To Remember 

Also, remember to avoid common marketing phrases that try to fool you into thinking that a product is clean.

Many skincare and cosmetics companies know the buzzwords that you’re looking for, and they’ll use those buzzwords to promote products that aren’t really good for you. This includes phrases like “natural and organic” or “free of.”

For the former, the problem is that the terms “natural” and “organic” are not regulated (you can see Health Canada statement here and FDA position here) so you never know what that really means. That being said, not all products with the word ‘natural’ on their labels are misleading. And when you see certified organic on a label, that means the company adhered to strict government standards.

For the latter, remember that companies love to list everything that their products don’t contain – saying things like “paraben-free” or “sulfate-free” – to distract you from the problematic ingredients that they do have. A lot of shampoo companies, for example, claim their products are “silicone free” when shampoos never contain silicones to begin with.

In short, don’t let the big companies fool you and do your best to stay educated so you can make smart, informed decisions about your health.

By Dr. Maura Henninger, Licensed and Board-Certified Naturopathic Physician.  For more information on Dr. Maura, please visit



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