The Dirty Dozen of SkinCare

Have you ever looked at the back of a skin care product and wondered if it was truly safe? Here's a list of the worst offenders and healthier alternatives

Coal Tar

My middle son, Brett suffered from severe cradle cap as in infant (among other issues). It was advised by both my dermatologist and pediatrician to use a coal tar shampoo. What they didn’t realize at the time was that Coal Tar is carcinogenic and causes both cancer and tumors in lab tests. While it can alleviate itching and flaking, the risk far outweighs the temporary benefits. It is still available in products today

What to look for – estar, impervotar, KC 261, lavatar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, petroleum benzin [3,4], Coal, Tar

Referenced Study:

Healthy Alternatives: Diluted Neem Oil, Sweet Almond Oil, Coconut Oil -Mix a small amount in an organic baby shampoo and apply a small amount after cleansing.


These are chemicals used in skin care products as a PH adjuster (look for one of these when you see the claim “PH Balanced” They are found in cleansers, lotions, paraffin treatments, makeup and household cleaning products as well as hair coloring products.  Better known as DEA, TEA & MEA , DEA is banned in Europe and TEA & MEA have been linked to cancer, tumor growth and hormonal disruption in children. Unfortunately many times these products are combined with absorption enhancers, resulting in increased absorption and more severe side effects.

What to look for – Triethanolamine, diethanolamine, DEA, TEA, cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearamide MEA, TEA-lauryl sulfate

Referenced Study: Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition

Healthy Alternatives: Citric acid is a ph adjuster and recognized as a safe alternative – (easily deciphered on the label as Citric Acid)


Widely available online and at spas, hydroquinone is used to fade hyperpigmentation (dark spots).   It’s also carcinogenic (do you see the pattern?)   Studies showed that repeated use has been linked to liver damage, respiratory infection, and cancer.   What is worse – the skin lightening effects are only temporary.  When you stop using the product the spots return!

What to look for – Hydroquinone, tocopheryl acetate

Referenced Study:xogenous ochronosis and pigmented colloid milium from hydroquinone bleaching creams.British Journal of Dermatology93(6), 613-622.

Healthy Alternatives:Mulberry Root, Licorice Root, Honey, Lemon (avoid facial application – can cause irritation) 


This is a common absorption enhancer known on labels as PEG.  It’s not one chemical, but a mixture of compounds.   Unfortunately, many of those compounds are contaminated.  Peg 4, Peg 7 & Peg 100 have Ethylene oxide which is toxic in small doses and was used in WWI nerve gas.  Other PEG formulas contain 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen.

What to look for – Polyethanol-Glycol

Referenced Study:Biondi O, Motta S, and Mosesso P. “Low molecular weight polyethylene glycol induces chromosome aberrations in Chinese hamster cells cultured in vitro.” _Mutagenesis_17, 3 (May 2002):261-4.

Healthy Alternatives: Aloe Vera, Lecithin (either plant or egg based)


Parabens are components of many of the preservatives used in the skin care industry today.   About 85% of the products on the market today contain parabens for their antimicrobial properties.    The issue with parabens is that they are categorized as xenoestrogens (estrogen-inhibitors) and are linked to breast cancer,  reproductive issues and early onset of menopause.      Parabens were found in a malignant breast cancer tumors during a study in 2005 and there is a concern that combined with penetration enhancers the cumulative effect can be quite damaging.

What to look for – Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben

Referenced Study:  Parabens and Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Ligand Cross-Talk in Breast Cancer Cells

Healthy Alternatives:  A quick note about preservatives.   I’ve gone the route of “preservative free” and compared the risks of using a preservative with the impact contamination can have on your skin.     Keeping in mind that your body absorbs 60% of what it is exposed to either one is going to have a negative impact on your health.     I spent two years researching and found that Benzylalcohol & Dehydroacetate Acid, which is naturally derived and approved by both ecocert & cosmos for organic products to be the most effective compromise of the two.


Phalates are solvents that are used in breaking down fragrance and essential oils as well as a chemical component used to make plastic softer.    The absorption of Phalates have been linked to ADHD, Athsma, Low IQ, & Cancer (how common is ADHD now?!), Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to tell if you are applying phalates to your skin because they are not required to appear on the label.  Furthermore, the product does not need to have phalates in the formulation for exposure.  These buggers travel and are easily leached from the container they are packaged in.  So what’s an educated consumer to do?

What to look for – For now, look for “BPA Free/PABA Free” packaging- Ask the manufacturer if they are using “Phalate Free” ingredients.   NOTE – we practice what we preach – All of our products are packaged in BPA-/PABA free containers and our oils are extracted using steam instead of solvents.

Referenced Study:   Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (Chap) on Phthalates – National Academy of Science, 2014

Healthy Alternatives:  BPA and/or PABA free packaging, Steam or Co2 extraction methods.

Petroleum & Petroleum Derivatives

Petroleum is nearly as sneaky as phalates when it comes to being included in your skin care products. These are disguised as products that lead the consumer to believe as beneficial, but in reality, they smother your skin inhibiting its ability to breathe, cause dermatitis and contain 1,4 Dioxane.   1,4 Dioxane is a carcinogen and was listed earlier in the article.

What to look for – Petrolatum, Xylene, Toulene, Mineral Oil, Paraffin

Referenced Study:

Healthy Alternatives:  Glycerin, Coconut Oil, Jojoba Oil, Shea Butter, Beeswax

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