4 Chemicals To Look Out For On Your Skincare Labels

As a doctor, I think it’s extremely important to take a holistic approach to overall health and wellness. I know that not all doctors share this same viewpoint, but it was through my own health struggles that I came to learn the importance of healthy eating and healthy living strategies.

For years I suffered with diarrhea prone irritable bowel syndrome as well as severe acne and keratosis pilaris that I could not solve through the help of conventional medical treatments. I eventually discovered the Paleo Diet, and changing the way I ate completely turned my health around. It was on this healing journey that I learned that many of the products I was using on my body and in my home were unsafe. I now believe that when it comes to overall health, what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body.

Our skin is our largest organ, and many of the ingredients we put on our skin get absorbed directly into our bloodstream, so it’s very important that what we apply to our skin be safe. Unfortunately, the skincare and beauty industries are extremely under-regulated. In fact, the last time a major federal law was passed in the United States regulating the skincare industry was 80 years ago, back in 1938. What’s even more frightening is that only 20% of the ingredients used in the personal care industry have ever been tested for safety in humans. We are basically being used as one giant science experiment when it comes to our personal care products, and it’s terrifying.

There are many harmful ingredients used in skincare and beauty products that you should try to avoid. I could write a book on this topic, but to keep it simple I am going to discuss 4 classes of ingredients to be careful of:


Fragrances are considered to be trade secrets. This means that companies don’t have to disclose the ingredients that form a fragrance. Over 3,000 ingredients can be used to create a fragrance, and you don’t get to know the identity of any of them. Ingredients that are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins and other health harming ingredients can be hidden under the term fragrance. When you’re reading labels, if you ever see the words “fragrance”, “perfume”, “parfume”, or “scent”, steer clear of those products. You have no idea what harmful ingredients might be hiding in them.


Phthalates are ingredients that allow products to become more pliable and allow fragrances to stick to your skin and last longer. If you can still smell your body lotion, shampoo, hair spray, etc. at the end of the day, this is a pretty good indicator that there are phthalates in that product.

Studies show that phthalates have estrogen-like properties and anti-androgenic properties. In other words, they act as hormone disruptors. Hormone imbalances can lead to a number of health issues including thyroid problems, infertility, acne, fatigue, weight gain, etc. Phthalates have also been linked to birth defects.


Parabens are compounds that are used as preservatives, anti-bacterial agents, and stabilizers in skincare and cosmetic products. The parabens used most often in personal care products are methyl, ethyl, butyl and propyl paraben.

Parabens are known hormone disruptors, and parabens can also contribute to hormonally based cancers such as breast cancer. One study even showed that 99% of those with breast cancer had paraben accumulation in their breast cancer tumors.

To avoid parabens in your products, watch for any ingredient ending in “aben” on the label. Also, avoid anything with fragrances because parabens can be hidden under that term as well.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are typically an issue with makeup products rather than skincare products. There are two ways that heavy metals can end up in cosmetics: they can be put there intentionally, or more commonly they can be present as contaminants.

Mercury is one of the heavy metals that is allowed to be used intentionally in the beauty industry. It’s extremely harmful to our health and mercury toxicity most commonly affects the neurologic, gastrointestinal and renal systems. In 1974 the FDA banned mercury in most cosmetic products, however, the FDA has said that mercury compounds may be used as a preservative in products that are used around the eyes – such as eyeliners and mascara. The other horrifying thing is that if a company is using mercury as a preservative, they don’t have to disclose this ingredient on the label because the FDA does not require ingredients that comprise less than 1% of a cosmetic product to be shown on the label. However, no amount of mercury (especially around the eyes) is safe.

Contamination of makeup products with heavy metals is generally a bigger issue than intentional use. The concern is that there is no requirement for companies to test for heavy metal contamination in cosmetics. When they have been randomly tested, 95% of lipsticks on the market were found to be contaminated with lead. It’s well known that lead is toxic, especially to children. Lead harms almost every system in the body and has been linked to numerous health problems including brain damage, hearing loss, miscarriages, premature births, increased blood pressure, kidney damage, hormone imbalances and nervous system problems. It’s so dangerous that it’s been banned from many other industries, but so far the personal care industry hasn’t been subject to the same standards of scrutiny. If you want to avoid heavy metals in your cosmetics, make sure the brands you are using test for heavy metal contamination.

While this isn’t a complete list of ingredients you need to be cautious of when it comes to your personal care products, these 4 groups of ingredients are some of the most commonly used and harmful ones in the personal care industry. So, by taking steps to avoid them you will greatly decrease the number of potentially harmful ingredients to which you are being exposed.


Here are the top 4 chemicals to avoid in skincare. Click here to find out what to look for (and to stay far away from!) on your product labels. | Primally Pure Skincare

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Erin Carter

Dr. Erin Carter is a rheumatologist in Calgary, Canada, and is also the founder + author of the paleo food and healthy living blog, Pure and Simple Nourishment. Erin realized the healing power of food when she solved many of her own health issues through adopting a paleo-style diet. Since then she has become passionate about teaching her patients and readers the importance of healthy eating. She is particularly focused on helping those with autoimmune diseases heal their bodies through the food they eat. Erin also recognizes that total health involves more than just healthy eating, and on her blog she discusses many other healthy living + wellness strategies. When she isn’t seeing patients or blogging, you can often find Erin at a spin class, practicing her photography, meeting friends for coffee, planning her next beach vacation or experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.