Welcome to our third installment on clean beauty. In case you missed it, we first covered what clean beauty is and five empowering ways you can choose safer today. Last month we saw exactly why you should care about choosing safer products. Today we are going to do a little more of a deep dive into specific ingredients, their impact on human health and a few tips on how you can further educate yourself on personal care products.

When you are shopping for products, online or in a store, the following seven ingredients are ones I recommend avoiding at all costs. These are ingredients that are widely known hormone disruptors, carcinogens, neurotoxins or that do not have enough information shared with the public to be able to make an educated choice.

1. Fragrance. "Fragrance" means an engineered scent or flavoring agent that may contain any combination of 3,000-plus stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets and therefore can remain undisclosed. Look for the term “fragrance,” “perfume” or “parfum.”

2. Parabens. This is a class of preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Parabens are hormone disruptors, which may alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. Look out for words with “-paraben” as the suffix.

3. Polyethylene glycol (PEG compounds). PEGs are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners and moisture-carriers. Depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens. Look out for ingredients with the initials “PEG” followed by a number (i.e. PEG-100).

4. Phthalates. This class of chemicals is used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and may cause birth defects. They are found in synthetic fragrance, nail polish, hairspray and plastic materials.

5. Retinol. Retinyl palmitate is an ingredient composed of palmitic acid and retinol (vitamin A). Data supports that retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may result in adverse health consequences like lesions and photosensitization. There is concern that daily skin application of vitamin A creams may contribute to excessive vitamin A intake for pregnant women and other populations, which can lead to chronic toxicity.

6. Oxybenzoate. This is a sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber linked to irritation, sensitization and allergies and possible hormone disruption. Oxybenzoate can be found in sunscreen and moisturizer, and will most likely be listed as an active ingredient.

7. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES). SLS and SLES are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of ethoxylation, in which ethylene oxide, a known breast carcinogen, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh. These ingredients are most commonly found in shampoo, body wash and bubble bath.

While few of us are world-class chemists who carry years of studying scientific journals around in our brains, there are a few great resources to turn to as you want to research more. First, EWG’s Healthy Living App is a tried, true and trusted resource created for every person. If you want to dive further, you can read up on almost every known ingredient in their SkinDeep Database, which includes links to studies in scientific journals to reference as well. PubMed is another excellent resource for those who wish to take a deep dive in medical journals for a deeper understanding.

Switching up a routine to choose cleaner ingredients can be a bit intimidating, but if you follow these five empowering steps first, you’ll already be a good way there. Understanding the above ingredients and choosing to personally ban them from your home will take you a significant way further. Then, just like that, you’ll be ready to understand and do more.

As the great Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”


Heather Disarro is the author and creator of Heather’s Dish, a blog focused on clean living, food and fitness, and she is the social media boss of Content Titan, a digital content powerhouse. Heather loves spending time with her husband and two kids doing almost anything outdoors, eating good food and laughing. Always laughing.