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3 Skincare Ingredients To Avoid (+ Alternatives To Try)

By: Dr Poonam Jatana, MD Dermatology
August 24, 2021

I’ve been a skincare enthusiast for a good chunk of my life. I can never remember a time when I didn’t take care of my skin. I hear more and more chatter around the negative effects of ingredients like Parabens, Sulfates, Mineral Oil…etc., but it is hard to keep up with all the new skincare products on the market.

Ever wonder whether the skincare products you use contain ingredients that may be harmful to you? I do. As a skincare consumer, it would be easy for me to sit back and not look at all the bottles of skincare I own. We become accustomed to using skincare products without really knowing what is in them or their long-term effects on our skin. But I don’t want to take a chance with my skin and neither should you.

These 3 ingredients represent a selection of potentially harmful substances that we should try to avoid in our skincare and beauty products. There are undoubtedly hundreds more out there, but here at Bare Beauty Babes, we have focused on 3 common examples that are found in many skincare products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not banned these 3 ingredients, yet it is important to educate yourself on what they are because of the potential health risks they pose to the human body and the earth.

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate

This versatile ingredient is used in everything from shampoo to toothpaste to cleansers. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is a surfactant and is used mainly for its foaming abilities. Many urban myths exist about the harmful effects of SLS and while these are mostly debunked, it is undoubtedly a strong irritant.

In formulations above 2%, SLS has been proven to have strong sensitizing effects on the skin, causing irritation and dryness. Its stripping effects can be too much even for the oiliest skin types and it is best to avoid this ingredient altogether.

If you’re missing the deep cleansing feeling that comes with using SLS-based products on oily skin, Bare Beauty Babes recommends the Paula’s Choice RESIST Perfectly Balanced Foaming Cleanser ($19.00). 

2. Parabens

Parabens such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben are used most often as preservatives in cosmetics. 

Of all of the ingredients on this list, this is probably the one you are most likely to have heard of. But do you know why so many consumers have chosen to boycott parabens in their skincare products?

Parabens are endocrine disruptors, meaning that they mimic estrogen in our bodies and can interfere with hormone production. One regularly cited study found traces of parabens in the breast tumor tissue of 20 patients. This study was too small to prove any link between parabens and breast cancer, nor was any causal relationship between the two established. 

Most studies have found that the low concentration of parabens in most cosmetic products is unlikely to be harmful, however, many consumers still choose to avoid the risk altogether. There are plenty of paraben-free brands and products on the market for people who make this choice, such as Naturopathica and Naked & Thriving.

3. Polyethylene

Polyethylene is a thermoplastic polymer that is used often in cleansing balms to give them that melting, buttery texture. Polyethylene is not thought to be dangerous to human skin, however, it is an environmental concern. Unfortunately, when used in these formulations, it becomes a dreaded microplastic that is incredibly harmful to marine life.

When you use products that contain this ingredient on your skin and then wash it off. The microscopic pieces of plastic are swept into the water supply eventually making it to the ocean where they have proven harmful to marine animals and disruptive to food chains. See the National Ocean Service for more information.

Thankfully, there are some excellent cleansing balms on the market from environmentally conscious brands that work just as well and do not contain this harmful compound. We recommend the Oat Cleansing Balm from the Inkey List ($9.99).

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