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 a few ingredients that can give you a bad rash, cause an allergy or make your skin breakout.

These ingredients are different for everyone. Just because something doesn’t agree with my skin, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.

So, don’t take this list as the holy grail of things to avoid. I’m sharing what’s not working for my skin, the skincare ingredients I personally choose to avoid and why:

WARNING! Just because I avoid these ingredients, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should, too. If Isopropyl Myristate has never made you breakout, it doesn’t make sense to avoid it just because it turns my skin into a war zone.

1. Palmitates and Myristates (They Break Me Out)

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?

Struggling to find skincare products that don’t irritate your sensitive skin? Download your FREE “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet to find out what the most common culprits are and cut them out of your skincare routine:

2. Alcohol (It Dries Out My Skin)

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 I avoid are Denatured Alcohol, Ethyl Alcohol, Ethanol, Methanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol and SD Alcohol – and even then only when they make up most of the product.

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.

If my alcohol-laden sunscreen contains moisturising ingredients, like hyaluronic acid or shea butter, I’ll still use it. But those toners with alcohol and little else? They always wreak havoc on my skin.

Related: What Does Alcohol-Free Really Mean?

is witch hazel good for skin

3. Witch Hazel (It Can Be Drying)

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.

When it comes to witch hazel, I apply the same rule I have for alcohol: ok with moisturising ingredients, not ok when this is pretty much all you get.

Related: Once And For All, Is Witch Hazel Good Or Bad For Skin?

why your bar soap should be ph balanced

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (It’s Drying And Irritating)

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.

I’ll pass, thank you…

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


5. Peppermint And Menthol (They’re Irritating)

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 (They’re Drying)

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?