Be Your Own Expert: Ingredients

We've discussed how to decipher marketing claims and how to navigate aningredient label, but one of the most important steps of becoming your own skin care expert is understanding the ingredients themselves. There is no easy way to present a topic of such importance and scale, but below we highlight ingredients to avoid, ingredients to question, and what ingredients to look for.


Parabens - Parabens are the most commonly used skin care preservative (mainly because of its low cost), yet have been linked to breast cancer. In fact, one 2012 study published in The Journal of Applied Toxicology found parabens in nearly 100% of all cancerous breast tumors studied. How to spot them: look for the word paraben. Often times it will start with ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-, butyl-.

Preservatives - While parabens are the most common, there are many other chemical preservatives used, including some that can release formaldehyde. Other side effects can include headache, allergies, and fatigue. Two of the many to look out for are Urea Imidazolidinyl and DMDM Hydantion. It should be noted that unless stored in a refrigerator, all skin care products do require a preservative. There are many non-toxic alternatives, like the eco certified preservatives we use. Preservatives are always on top of mind, so we are always researching new and improved healthy alternatives.


Sulfates – Sulfates are known skin irritants and hormone disruptors, but can still be found in a countless number of lathering products and hair care products. How to spot them: look for sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES), and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS).

Alcohols – not only can they be severely drying and irritating to skin, but they are made from the petroleum derivative propylene and can act as a “carrier” to allow other harmful ingredients to enter the skin. How to spot them: look for isopropyl, ethanol, methanol, and benzyl alcohol.

Artificial Color – Often made from coal tar and other chemicals, artificial colors can be irritants to the skin and even pose a cancer threat.

Lead - Traces of lead from color additives can be found in hundreds of skin care products, including lipstick, foundation, and nail polish. While the debates continue on about what is a "safe level" of lead, we believe that any amount is too much and avoid it at all cost. How to spot it: look for Yellow No. 5 or Red No. 30 

Fragrance – The term"fragrance"seen on a product labelcan indicate that any number of toxic ingredients have been used, including pthlates. These "hidden" ingredients are used to give fragrance more staying power, but are known hormone disruptors (especially in males) and can affect brain development. Artificial fragrance ingredients have also been known to induce allergies, dizziness, headaches, and skin rashes. Learn more about fragrance by clicking here. How to spot it: look for "fragrance" on ingredient lists, ethylene oxide, or Dibutylphthlalate (DBP, DEP, butyl ester)

Aluminum - Found in many antiperspirants, aluminum has the ability to mimic estrogen and infiltrate into breast tissue. How to spot it: look for Aluminum Chlorohydrate (ACH) or Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex GLY (AZAG)


Mineral Oil – petroleum by-product that creates a layer over the skin that prevents beneficial ingredients from entering the skin and toxins from leaving. It interferes with cell development, which results in wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of aging. Learn more about mineral oil by clicking here.


Propylene/Polythylene/Butylene Glycol – We’ve talked about Propylene Glycolbefore, but it should be known that Polythylene and Butylene Glycols should be avoided, too. All three reduce skin moisture and weaken cellular structure.

Triclosan – a hormone disruptor and suspected carcinogen used in antibacterial soaps and some toothpastes. It is also an environmental threat, affecting our waterways, which has caught the attention of many other countries who are making moves to ban it. It is a serious enough threat that it deserves its own blog post - stay tuned!


DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine) & TEA  (triethanolamine) – these hormone-disrupting, carcinogenic ingredients have already been banned in Europe, but can still be seen in products like shampoos and shaving cream bought it the US.



Spotting an animal-derived ingredient can be tricky since some ingredients offer a plant-based alternative of the same ingredient. You should always inquire about which form of the following ingredients is used:

  • Glycerin – can be derived from cow and pig fat, animal hooves, OR derived from soy
  • Hyaluronic Acid – can be derived from umbilical cord fluid, rooster comb OR created in a lab using biotechnical methods 
  • Allantoin – can be derived from the uric acid of cows OR derived from the Comfrey Plant (and organically sourced!) 
  • Lecithin – can be sourced from nervous tissue, eggs, or blood OR derived from a non-GMO soy


These ingredients, however, should be avoided:

  • Lanolin – this ingredient, used as an emollient, is produced by the oil glands of sheep and is extracted from their wool. However there are plant-based emollients available, like cocoa butter or camellia oil.  
  • Emu Oil – The extraction of this oil requires killing the emu bird. Three very effective plant-based alternatives: jojoba oil, camellia oil, and olive oil.  
  • Carmine – This dye is typically used to make red colored cosmetics, but did you know that Carmine is made from the crushed female cochineal bug. In fact, it takes 70,000 beetles to make one pound of dye.




When not grown organically, a plant-based ingredient could be exposed to any number of toxic pesticides to help its growth. These pesticides can leach onto the ingredient and become part of your product formulation. To spot an organic ingredient, look for the word "organic" on ingredient list - it could either preceed the ingredient name or be indicated by an asterisk. Looking for just one organic ingredient isn't always enough; ensure that the majority of the ingredients used are organic.



Becoming aware of INCI terminology is important since botanicals and other plant-based ingredients are required to be listed in their hard-to-pronounce INCI name. Beyond INCI terminology, it's important to know that some commonly talked about ingredients like vitamins and antioxidants are listed as their specific form. Take for instance:

  • Vitamin C - Known on labels as L-Ascorbic Acid. You might see magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate, which are both Vitamin C derivatives, but you want to stick to the L-Ascorbic Acid since it's the only effective form used in skin care products.
  • Vitamin E - Known on labels as Tocopherol.
  • Antioxidants - Known on labels as Resveratrol, Coenzyme Q10, or any number of botanicals.



We understand that this is a lot of information to absorb, so we urge you to ask us questions! We will continue to update you as new studies, research, or ingredients become available!


1 comment

  • Jana Pendragon

    This should be information given to our children early on so they can be informed and able to make the healthy choices! Very nice.

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