Safe Alternatives for 8 Toxic Skincare Ingredients

The skin is the largest organ of the human body, and harmful ingredients found in skincare products can be absorbed into the body through the skin. In fact, research shows that it takes 26 seconds for chemicals applied to the skin to enter the bloodstream, and skin absorbs 60 percent of what is applied to it. “In the past, most thought that the skin acts as an impermeable barrier to topical ingredients,” says Vivian Valenty, Ph.D., president of VB Cosmetics. “Recent studies have shown that some harmful substances are absorbed and transported into the body readily through the skin. Chemical hypersensitivity and allergies have been attributed to certain ingredients in beauty products.” As more consumers become aware of the damaging effects of chemicals in skincare, many companies are using alternatives to these ingredients to make the formulas safer, healthier, and more enticing to consumers. Here’s a list of some of the most toxic ingredients found in skincare today, along with alternatives that are considered safer and effective.

Avobenzone: While effective in absorbing a wide range of ultraviolet (UV) rays, avobenzone can increase the risk for cancer. Safer alternatives include zinc and titanium dioxide.

Benzoyl Peroxide: Often used to treat acne, benzoyl peroxide can also cause irritation and dryness. Tea tree oil is a better option.

Hydroquinone: Hydroquinone is used to lighten and brighten skin, but bearberry leaf and Indian gooseberry offer similar and safer benefits.

Oxybenzone: Used in sunscreen formulas, oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones. Safer alternatives include zinc and titanium dioxide.

Plastic Microbeads: These exfoliating beads damage ecosystems and kill marine life. They can be replaced with natural jojoba beads.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: Increasing the foaming action of shampoo, bubble bath, body wash, and toothpaste, this common ingredient has been known to irritate and dry out the skin. While it can be eliminated in formulas, those who want that foaming quality can try sodium cocoyl glutamate, which is made from coconut oil. (It can also be made from palm oil, but that ingredient raises environmental concerns related to its contribution to deforestation and climate change.)

Synthetic Fragrances: Cancer, nervous system disorders, allergies, and birth defects are among the potential side effects. Try substituting cinnamon, clove, ginger, pumpkin, and rosemary.

Talc: Talcum powder keeps the skin dry but is linked to cancer. An alternative is powder with a cornstarch, arrowroot, rice starch, or herbal base.