Skincare Ingredients I Avoid

by Gio
6 skincare ingredients to avoid

Warning: this is NOT your usual toxic-skincare-ingredients-to-avoid list.

You won’t find the usual suspects here. I won’t tell you to avoid silicones, parabens and mineral oil. Those are all perfectly fine (but they did make it onto my Top 7 Unfairly Maligned Ingredients).

The truth is there’s nothing in your skincare that’s toxic or will give you cancer. But, there are quite a few ingredients that can give you a bad rash, cause an allergy or make your skin breakout.

I’d rather avoid those, don’t you? Here’s the list of all the skincare ingredients I avoid:

NOTE: Concentration and skin type matters. A high dose of a comedogenic ingredient will give you pimples, a smaller one won’t. Likewise, an ingredient that upsets sensitive skin may be perfectly fine for other skin types.

1. Palmitates and Myristates

These are two families of ingredients that include anything with Palmitate and Myristate in the name, such as Isopropyl Palmitate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Isopropyl Myristate and Myristyl Myristate. They’re fatty acids that moisturise skin, leaving it soft and smooth.

There’s no scientific proof (yet!) they cause pimples but every time I use a cream that has one of them near the top of the ingredient list, my face erupts in zits. I’m not the only one, judging from the emails I get from you.

If you have dry skin, these ingredients will probably be fine for you. But if you’re oily or acne-prone, beware!

Related: Is Isopropyl Myristate Comedogenic?

2. Alcohol

Let’s be clear: not all types of alcohol are bad for skin. Fatty alcohols like Cetyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol are very moisturising. Keep using them.

The alcohols you should avoid are Denatured Alcohol, Ethyl Alcohol, Ethanol, Methanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol and SD Alcohol.

These alcohols are used to thin down solutions and help other ingredients penetrate the skin better. But, they do this by disrupting the skin’s protective barrier. Overtime, this dries out your skin.

There’s a workaround: if your serum or moisturiser is also loaded with moisturising ingredients, they’ll be able to counteract the drying effects of the alcohol. But I still don’t recommend them to anyone with dry skin.

Related: What Does Alcohol-Free Really Mean?

3. Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel is one of the few natural ingredients I prefer to avoid whenever possible. The extract from this plant is used in toners as a gentler alternative to alcohol.

It’s true that witch hazel has soothing properties. But, it also contain a lot of tannins, a group of antioxidants that can irritate sensitive skin.

But what really worries me is the distillation process. During this phase, 14-15% of alcohol is added to witch hazel extract. If, like me, you’re trying to avoid alcohol in skincare as much as possible, you’d want to stay away from witch hazel, too.

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

I know I said you wouldn’t find the usual suspects here but Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is one of the very few ingredients that deserves its bad reputation.

SLS is a surfactant: it helps water mix with oil and dirt so that they can be rinsed away. But it’s also very drying and irritating. So irritating that when scientists want to determine how irritating another ingredient is they compare it to SLS!

Related: Should You Avoid Sulfates In Your Shampoos And Shower Gels?

5. Peppermint and Menthol

Ever wondered why peppermint and menthol are in so many lip products? It’s not just to give a fresh feel to your lips or give the lip balm a nice scent.

Both peppermint and menthol swell up your lips, making them look larger. This is NOT a good thing. They do the trick by irritating the skin. The swelling is a sign your skin is badly irritated!

6. Sodium Cocoate and Sodium Palmate

These are two of the main surfactants (that word again!) used in bar soaps. Their problem? They cleanse skin TOO well.

These surfactants are usually formulated at an alkaline (high, about 7 or higher) ph. But skin has a slightly acidic (low, about 5.5) ph.

In plain English, this means they disrupt the skin’s protective barrier, making skin dry and prone to irritations. Give your bar soap a pass and use a liquid formula instead.

Related: Bar Soap VS Liquid Soap: Which One Should You Use?

Do you avoid any ingredients in your skincare? Share your undesirables in the comments below.

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eight January 8, 2013 - 5:59 pm

Good to know! I avoid alcohol in skincare as well, though I always forget which alcohols are “good” XD

beautifulwithbrains January 8, 2013 - 7:19 pm

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

Pam January 8, 2013 - 9:24 pm

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 January 11, 2013 - 10:36 pm

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.

Jenn January 9, 2013 - 2:06 am

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! 😀

beautifulwithbrains January 10, 2013 - 10:52 pm

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.

Jocelyn January 10, 2013 - 1:23 am

i am not too hot about mineral oil, it is a petrolleum derived. It just screams trouble in the long run.

beautifulwithbrains January 17, 2013 - 10:46 pm

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.

Janessa January 11, 2013 - 4:13 am

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 January 11, 2013 - 10:29 pm

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 January 12, 2013 - 3:04 am

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 January 12, 2013 - 7:18 am

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. 🙂

olivia April 20, 2013 - 3:04 pm

Nice posting, very useful for me..

beautifulwithbrains April 20, 2013 - 9:07 pm

Olivia, I’m glad you found it useful.

Char June 4, 2018 - 3:28 am

I agree with al the ingredients you listed except Witch Hazel. I found a wonderful Witch Hazel that is alcohol free made by Thayers. I find that alcohol free witch hazel can be very soothing!

Gio June 8, 2018 - 1:50 pm

Char, yes, when it’s not distilled with alcohol, witch hazel can be very soothing. The problem is that companies usually don’t tell you how they distill it so it’s easier to stay away from it entirely.

Leanne January 1, 2019 - 10:33 pm

I’ve been looking up new sunscreens to try lately, and am amazed how many include citrus oils and and other dubious plant extracts. I have heard that citrus extracts are photo toxic, in that they actually magnify the damaging effects of UV. Some of the most expensive sunscreens are the worst!

Gio January 12, 2019 - 11:40 am

Leanne, I know, right? It’s incredible how many good formulas are ruined by natural extracts and oils like anything citrusy! 🙁 I get it they make the product smell good but they’re not that good for skin.


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