Skincare Ingredients I Avoid

This is not your usual toxic-skincare-ingredients-to-avoid list. You won’t find the usual suspects here (well maybe one). Silicones, parabens and mineral oil may all have a bad reputation, but it is undeserved. They may not work well for everyone (but that’s true of any ingredient), but they aren’t toxic nor harmful. There’s nothing in your cosmetics that will make you sick. It’s illegal to put toxic substances in them and I can’t see why companies would want to do that either. After all, their aim is to attract more customers, which is kinda hard to do when you kill off those you already have.

The real dangers some skincare ingredients pose are irritations, allergies (and again, every ingredient could potentially cause them) and comedogenicity. So, when I avoid an ingredient, I do so because it’s considered particularly irritating, or because it either dries my skin out or causes it break out. And just because an ingredient doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you. Concentrations and frequency of use are also important. An ingredient that is irritating in high doses can be perfectly safe in minuscule amounts. But enough with the long introduction. So, what skincare ingredients do I avoid?

1. Palmitates and Myristates

These two groups of ingredients, which include Isopropyl Palmitate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Isopropyl Myristate and Myristyl Myristate to name a few, are naturally-occurring fatty acids that act as emollients, giving skin a soft and smooth appearance. However, they are also very comedogenic and whenever I use them, huge pimples pop up all over my face! Ewww! If you have dry or normal skin, then their emollient properties may be beneficial for you, but those with oily skin instead should stay far away from them if they don’t want their faces turning into war zones!

2. Alcohol

Not all types of alcohols used in skincare are bad. Fatty acids, a group of alcohols that includes Cetyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol have emollient properties that are beneficial for the skin. The alcohols you should avoid instead are Denatured Alcohol, Ethyl Alcohol, Ethanol, Methanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol and SD Alcohol. These ingredients are used as astringents, to thin down solutions and can help other ingredients penetrate the skin better, but they are also irritating and drying. They can disrupt the skin’s protective barrier and cause free radicals formation as well. If a product also contains antioxidants and emollients, these will greatly reduce the side effects of alcohol, which is thus less likely to cause damage to the skin. In this case, the benefits of alcohol may surpass its cons. But as a rule, I tend to avoid products with high concentrations of alcohol.

3. Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel, which has astringent properties, is often touted as a gentle, soothing and natural alternative to Alcohol to help absorb excess oil. But while it is true that this plant has some anti-irritant properties, it also contains a high concentration of tanning, a powerful antioxidant that can irritate skin. In addition, during the distillation process, alcohol (usually in 14%-15% concentrations) is added. And as we’ve just seen, Alcohol can irritate skin as well. In other words, Witch Hazel causes more problems than it solves.

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a surfactant that helps water mix with oil and dirt so that they can be rinsed away. However, it is also very drying and irritating. It is so irritating that, when scientists want to verify how much irritation a substance can cause, they compare it with it! Luckily it is not so difficult to avoid this ingredient because very few companies are still using it.

5. Peppermint and Menthol

Both peppermint and menthol (which is derived from peppermint) have a lovely fresh scent and a nice cooling effect on the skin. But they can also irritate it. That’s actually the reason why they are included in many lip plumpers. The irritation they produce causes lips to swell, thus making them plumper. And no form of irritation is ever good for skin. And while I enjoy the fresh feel of menthol of my lips, and don’t avoid this ingredient completely, I use products with it very sparingly.

6. Sodium Cocoate and Sodium Palmate

Sodium Cocoate and Sodium Palmate, which is derived from palm oil, are two surfactants that are mainly used in bar soaps. Although they cleanse skin well, they can also be drying and irritating, and disrupt the skin’s protective barrier. That’s because they are usually formulated at an alkaline (high, about 7 or higher) ph compared to that of the skin which is slightly acidic (low, about 5.5). Although I don’t buy products with these ingredients, I have a few bar soaps formulated with them, which were given to me as gifts and which I use from time to time. I find that, if used sparingly, you can enjoy their cleansing properties (and lovely scents) without side effects. But they definitely shouldn’t be used daily, especially if your skin is dry or sensitive.

Do you avoid any ingredients in your skincare?

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    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Eight, there are way too many types of alcohols, aren’t there? It’s so difficult to remember that all!

  1. Pam says

    Thank you for this great post. I am new to your blog and am looking forward to reading through your archives.
    I avoid all of these ingredients too, since my skin is easily irritated by so many things. Some others that I avoid are cinnamon oil, citrus oils or extracts, and large amounts of lavender or linalool.
    By the way, I have looked for some natural, organic-type skin and hair products, but it is really hard to find one without lavender, mint, or citrus. Lip balms are the worst offenders for me. Do you have any idea why so few natural products are made without one of those fragrances?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Pam, you’re welcome and thank you. I hope you enjoying browsing the archives.

      I’m sorry to hear that, it must be very frustrating indeed. I don’t know the reason for that but my personal opinion is that a lot of companies are simply jumping on the natural=better bandwagon without having the slightest clue of which natural ingredients are good and which are bad. Also, part of the reason could be that they’re added to give the product a particular odour as I know there are lots of people who love citrusy and minty scents.

  2. says

    What a great writeup, Gio! 😀 The last ingredient caught me by surprise as this is the ingredient skin care companies commonly use if they claim that their product is SLS free! That’s good to know – i’ll monitor and see if it dries out my skin!

    You know which ingredient sends me running across the room right? Alcohol – though I won’t say no to wine 😉 Hahaha! 😀
    Jenn´s last blog post ..Jenn Asks: Do you subconsciously buy stuff in the same colour?My Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Jenn, thank you. Unfortunately very often companies replace an ingredient with a bad reputation, whether deserved or not, with something that is just as drying and irritating, if not more. They’re more interested in jumping on the free-from bandwagon than making a good product, it seems and it’s a shame.

      And alcohol on the skin is a no-no indeed.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Jocelyn, it is true that mineral oil is derived from petroleum, but it highly refined to make it safe. I hear lots of people say that it’ll cause problems in the long run, but I know women who’ve been using it for decades and their skin is perfectly fine. There is just no scientific proof that mineral oil will cause trouble for skin when used regularly.

  3. Janessa says

    I avoid 2, 4, phthalates, some chemical sunscreens when possible (avobezone, oxybenzone). I like the minty feel of some lip products; I didn’t know they weren’t good for the skin. I’ve never used anything with witch hazel that I am aware of. I should avoid #1 too, mysristates and palmitates. Surprisingly, I have two face washes that have myristate at the top of the list and I’ve been fine. I have had some minor breakouts and maybe these two ingredients are the cause. I’m going to stop using them now. I’ve read about these little evils before but I never bothered to look up all the other names. Eeks. Thanks again, Giorgia! You’re a lifesaver.

    I’m still searching for a suncreen that will protect well but not tug at the eye area. Do you have any suggestions? All the liquid-y ones I’ve found are full of alcohol, is that not good to use for my dry skin?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Janessa, you’re welcome. The Palmitates and Myristates must be some of the worst ingredients in skincare and it’s surprising how few people know that. They all seem to blame silicones or mineral oil for breakouts when very often it’s Isopropyl Palmitate and its cousins that are the culprits.

      Have you tried Blue Lizard of Burt’s Bees sunscreens? They usually don’t contain alcohol and are formulated with physical sunscreens.

      • Janessa says

        Nope, I haven’t! I’ll check those out. thanks. :] I love my Burn Out sunblock as it’s 20% zinc oxide yet it isn’t greasy and is relatively lightweight. It just streaks on my face unless I’m taking my time to apply it. That’s when I prefer Shiseido, for the cosmetic aspect of it. I primarily use Burn Out sunblock on my neck and hands since I can rub it in easily.

        No mooorre palmitates and myristates for me! I feel like I am free of them now that I am fully aware of them.

        Thank you for teaching me so many ingredients and getting me interested in them. In fact, I love reading the lists and looking up what I don’t know. I am no longer fooled by many false claims and advertisements. I read the ingredients before the claims. I have very much to learn still, but I’m getting better. :]

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Janessa, that’s the problem with physical sunblock. When the concentrations of ingredients is too high, applying it becomes a bit of an hassle. Still, for the protection it gives, I think it’s worth it. :)

          You’re welcome and I’m so glad to hear that. It’s so important to be informed as there is so much misinformation out there that it’s easy to use what’s bad for you and avoid the good stuff otherwise. :)

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