15 Toxic & Harmful Chemicals for Skin to Watch in your SkinCare Products


Harmful Chemicals for Skin: A few life-changing experiences acted as triggers for me to stop and spend a minute on reading the labels of every personal care product that I used for myself or my family.

(Read what made me start reading labels here).

In order to share what I learned from my experiences, and to simplify things for you a little, I have consolidated a list of 15 harmful chemicals for skin found in your skincare or personal care products that you should be aware of. 

Here are the List of Harmful Chemicals for Skin to be Checked Before Buying it:

1. Parabens

Watch out for: names like Methylparaben, Butylparaben etc.

Mostly found in: Parabens are added as preservatives to increase the shelf-life of cosmetics, shampoos, toothpastes, cleansers, deodorants etc.

Harmful effects: They have been found to interfere with the body's endocrine and reproductive systems leading to infertility. They can also cause skin irritation and long-term exposure has been associated with cancer.

2. Sulfates

Watch out for: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate(SLES).

Mostly found in: Added to cleaning and personal care products like liquid soaps, laundry and dish detergents, shampoos, bath bombs etc. to create lather.

Harmful Effects: Long-term use may irritate skin, eyes and lungs. It can also aggravate skin dryness leading to Dermatitis or Eczema.

3. Hydroquinone

Watch out for: Hydroquinone, tocopheral, tocopheral acetate, tocopheral linoleate or other compounds starting with “Toco”.

Mostly found in: Skin lighteners, facial and skin cleansers, moisturizers, hair conditioners, nail glue.

Harmful Effects: Causes allergies, immunotoxicity, respiratory tract irritation, cancer. It may also cause Ochronosis, a condition where the skin turns thick and bluish grey in colour. Exposure of the eye can cause pigmentation and permanent corneal damage.

4. Nanoparticles

Watch out for: Fullerenes, micronized zinc oxide, nano zinc oxide, micronized titanium dioxide, micronized quartz silica.

Mostly found in: Used as UV filters or preservatives in deodorants, toothpastes, shampoos, lotions, foundation, anti-aging creams, and nail polish.

Harmful Effects: Nanoparticles are insoluble and can change properties like colour, transparency, solubility and chemical reactivity of the cosmetic products that they are used in. They are easily absorbed by the body when applied on the skin. Titanium dioxide and Zinc can badly affect the skin damaging DNA and cell function. Fullerenes have been linked to liver damage in humans and may also affect the immune system. There are very few studies on the long-term effects yet but whatever there are suggest that they are bad for humans and for the environment.

5. Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate or (OMC)

Watch out for: Octinoxate,o methoxycinnamate (OMC), parsol, parsol MCX, parsol MOX, escalol, 2-ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate

Mostly found in:  hair color products and shampoos, sunscreen, lipstick, nail polish, and skin creams [5]. In products other than sunscreens, it is used as a UV filter to protect the products from degrading when exposed to the sun.

Harmful Effects: Reduces thyroid hormones in blood serum and affects other hormone systems as well. Has been found to alter the reproductive systems of female and male offspring leading to infertility and miscarriages and reduction of sperm count respectively.

6. Petrolatum/petroleum Jelly

Watch out for: Petrolatum, Petroleum Jelly, Paraffin Oil, Mineral Oil and White Petrolatum (refined and safe for use).

Mostly found in:  Derived from petroleum, it is often used in personal care products, lotions and creams as a moisturizing agent. 

Harmful Effects: When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns. However, petrolatum that is often not fully refined can be contaminated with toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)which are known carcinogens.


Watch out for: PABA, OD-PABA, padimate O, 4-aminobenzoic acid, para-aminobenzoic acid, p-aminobenzoic acid, Et-PABA, 2-ethylhexyl ester, p-carboxyaniline

Mostly found in: PABA and PABA derivatives are commonly used in sunscreens as ultraviolet B (UVB) filters.

Harmful Effects: Causes allergic dermatitis, photosensitivity and has a tendency to stain clothing. Some research links PABA with thyroid-disrupting activity. 

8. Phenoxyethanol

Watch out for: Phenoxyethanol, 2-Phenoxyethanol, Euxyl K® 400 (mixture of Phenoxyethanol and 1,2-dibromo-2,4-dicyanobutane), PhE

Mostly found in: As a preservative and a stabilizer in moisturizer, eye shadow, foundation, sunscreen, conditioner, mascara, eye liner, shampoo, lip gloss, concealer, body wash, hand cream, blush, hair color, hair spray, lip balm, lotion, nail polish, baby wipes, baby lotions and soaps, soap (liquid and bar), shaving cream, deodorant, toothpaste, fragrance, hair removal waxes, hand sanitizer and ultrasound gel.

Harmful effects: Eczema to severe, life-threatening allergic reactions. Infant oral exposure to phenoxyethanol can acutely affect nervous system function.

9. Polyacrylamides

Watch out for: Polyacrylamide; acrylamide; polyacrylate, polyquaternium, acrylate

Mostly found in: Facial moisturizers, anti-aging products, color cosmetics, lotions, hair products, sunscreens, and more as a stabilizer and binder.

Harmful Effects: Though it is not a concern in itself, it is can break down into acrylamide, which is a carcinogen, and is also linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity.

10. Retinol and Retinol Compounds

Watch Out for: Retinol, vitamin A, retinyl acetate, retinyl palmitate, all-trans retinoic acid, tretinoin.

Mostly found in: Anti-aging creams and lotions, moisturizers, and foundation.

Harmful Effects: Retinol or Vitamin A can be harmful to your health when it’s added to cosmetic products in certain forms--Retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate, in combination with sunlight, may increase the risk of skin cancer. Retinol itself should not be used in high doses and the too under a doctor’s supervision.

11. Triclosan

Watch out for: Triclosan (TSC) and triclocarban (TCC)

Mostly Found In: Antibacterial soaps and detergents, toothpaste and tooth whitening products, antiperspirants/deodorants, shaving products, creams, color cosmetics as anti-microbial agent.

Harmful Effects: Cause Endocrine disruption and environmental toxicity (bioaccumulation) and create triclosan-resistant bacteria. 

12. Coal Tar

Watch Out For: Coal tar solution, tar, coal, carbo-cort, coal tar solution, coal tar solution USP, crude coal tar, estar, impervotar, KC 261, lavatar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, petroleum benzin.

Mostly found in: Shampoos and scalp treatments, soaps, hair dyes, and lotions

Harmful Effects: Studies have found that exposure to and application of coal tar produce skin tumors. It has also been associated with cancer of the lung, bladder, kidney and digestive tract. Pyridine, a coal tar constituent, has been linked to neurological damage including emotional and sleep disturbances, and/or loss of coordination. 

13. Homosalates

Watch Out for: Homosalate, Homomenthyl salicylate, HMS, HS; 3,3,5-trimethyl-cyclohexyl-salicylate

Mostly Found inSunscreen, Skin Care Products with Sun Protection

Harmful Effects:  Homosalate is a potential endocrine disruptor, may impact hormones, and may enhance the absorption of pesticides in the body. 

14. Preservatives

Watch Out for: Formaldehyde, DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal, Ethylparaben etc.

Mostly Found in: Almost all cosmetics and personal care products like shampoos, conditioners, lotions, moisturizer, facial and shower cleansers, nail polish, baby shampoo, body wash/soap, colour cosmetics and anti-aging products.

Harmful Effects: Cancer, endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, irritation, and many other health concerns.

15. Heavy Metals

Watch Out for: Lead acetate, chromium, thimerosal, hydrogenated cotton seed oil, sodium hexametaphosphate.

Mostly Found in: Lipstick and lip balms, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner, nail colour, foundations, sunscreens, eye shadows, blush, concealer, moisturizers.

Harmful Effects: Lead is a known and proven impurity in many colour cosmetics especially lipsticks. It is a neurotoxin linked to learning, language and behavioral issues. It is also known to reduce fertility in both men and women and causes hormonal changes and menstrual irregularities.

Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative is linked to nervous-system, immune, reproductive and respiratory toxicity.

Commonly used in antiperspirants, aluminium enters the body through the skin and blocks sweat ducts. It has also been linked to breast cancerAlzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis.

Apart from the above Harmful Chemicals for Skin listed ingredients, another potentially harmful ingredient in your skincare or personal care products is Fragrance. While many of us may choose a product based on how good it smells, companies aren’t legally required to list the ingredients in their proprietary fragrance blend. These fragrance ingredients could include allergens, asthma triggers or hormone disruptors such as phthalates and there is no way to find out. 

This is not an exhaustive list, but we hope it is an eye-opener and encourages you to pause and reflect on why you should be reading labels on not just food but skin food as well.

Other blogs you might find useful:

3-Way Sustainable Skincare with Parama Naturals

10 Reasons to Switch to a Natural Skincare Regime

Demystifying Nanoparticles and Why you should care about them







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