Shortcut to Natural Beauty: 7 Ingredients to Avoid

woman putting on red lipstickI love natural beauty, but it’s not like I’m some crazy Birkenstock wearing woman with stinky underarms.

I wear lipstick as much as the next girl—I just like to know mine’s lead-free. Think I’m kidding? Studies have shown that two-thirds of lipsticks contain lead, which is a neurotoxin. And that we women eat about nine pounds of the stuff over our lifetimes.

All gag reflex aside, it’s super important to know what’s in our health and beauty products, because they’re designed to be put on our skin. And as we all know from high school health class, as much as 60% of what goes onto your skin goes into your body.

When you’re shopping, use these as red flags to put products back on the shelf—and out of your life.

So how to know what’s good and what’s bad in beauty? Look for these red flags. When you see these on a label, more chemicals tend to follow. Avoid them and you’re one step closer to being a natural beauty. Birkies optional.

1. PARABENS are a common preservative found in conventional personal care products from moisturizer to sunscreen; look for them prefaced by “methyl,” “ethyl,” “propyl,” “butyl” and “isobutyl.” Parabens have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive disorders, according to the Breast Cancer Fund.

2. PHTHALATES are reproductive toxins which can affect the development of children yet are so prevalent that repeated studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found phthalates in the urine of nearly every subject they tested. If you see the word FRAGRANCE on a label, you can be pretty sure the product also includes phthalates.

3. ANTIBACTERIALS such as TRICLOSAN in personal care products can compromise the immune system (ah, the irony) and may make bacteria resistant to antibiotics. According to the FDA, hot water and soap work just as well to kill bacteria.

4. 1,4-DIOXANE and SODIUM LAURYL/LAURETH SULFATE are found in things that suds up like shampoos, baby wash, bubble bath, toothpaste and liquid soaps. 1,4 dioxane is a human and animal carcinogenic and a nasty byproduct of processing harsh chemicals with ethylene oxide to make them less harsh. Got sodium lauryl sulfate? Ethyoxylate it and you get sodium laureth—the “eth” indicates the process–but you also get 1,4 dioxane.

5. FORMALDEHYDE causes cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. It can be produced from the breakdown of DIAZOLIDINYL UREA, IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA and QUATERNIUM compounds, so avoid those as well.

6. PROPYLENE GLYCOL and ETHYLENE GLYCOL, also found in brake fluid and antifreeze, have been linked to asthma and allergies. Look for products made with naturally derived softeners.

7. CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS like OXYBENZONE are linked to hormone disruption and skin allergies; RETINYL PALMITATE in sunscreen can increase skin cancer risk, according to EWG. I like zinc, which provides a physical barrier to the sun, and no longer leaves you with big white splotches on your nose.

When you’re shopping, use these as red flags to put products back on the shelf—and out of your life.



  1. This is really an informative post for those who are really the beauty conscious and they must also know what are the chemical involved in the product those are being used by them. This completes the Phrase as beauty with health.

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      Thanks Natalie! Yes, it is SO important for all of us to do our research when it comes to anything we put in and on our bodies. Thanks for reading! 🙂


  1. […] makeup, sweat and dirt without splashing. As with all Acure Organics products, these are free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, as well as synthetic fragrances, preservatives and colors; instead, they call on organic and natural ingredients to cleanse and […]

  2. […] DEA, MEA, TEA, triclosan or synthetic fragrances, colors or dyes—basically anything on my list of red flag ingredients. All of the products are PETA and Leaping Bunny certified, and most are vegan–except for the […]

  3. […] experienced some sort of burn this summer. But many over-the-counter burn creams are chock full of parabens, petroleum byproducts and other red flag chemical ingredients, you may want to avoid them. Feeling the burn? I hear you. That’s why I was so excited to […]

  4. […] and personal care industry has formulated products without taking into account links between parabens and hormone disruption, synthetic fibers and Toxic Shock Syndrome, or synthetic fragrance and allergies–to name just […]

  5. […] so many. We shift our skincare and cosmetics, but we’re still treating our underarms to a toxic soup of potentially carcinogenic chemicals. But a new company now offers the best of both worlds: non-sticky, non-staining natural deodorants […]

  6. […] contamination comes from so many sources: fracking, big agriculture, industrial manufacturing, just to name a few. And it seems like the lack of government regulation has let pollution spiral […]

  7. […] to China for proposing stricter regulations on toxic chemicals in cosmetics, which will bring them more in line with the EU’s. A second draft of the country’s new […]

  8. […] formulations and the FDA is only allowed to ask them to recall products. Which is how we got formaldehyde in hair straighteners, lead in lipstick and mercury in mascara. But I […]

  9. […] PARABENS are preservatives found in conventional personal care products from moisturizer to sunscreen; look for them prefaced by “methyl,” “ethyl,” “propyl,” “butyl” and “isobutyl.” […]

  10. […] their Pocket Guide, which categorizes ingredients as Superpower or Villain. It reminded me of the red flag ingredients that I go on about ad nauseum at Mommy Greenest, but presented in a much more charming […]

  11. […] PARABENS are preservatives found in conventional personal care products from moisturizer to sunscreen; look for them prefaced by “methyl,” “ethyl,” “propyl,” “butyl” and “isobutyl.” […]

  12. […] me ad nauseum on this subject, but in case you missed it: In personal care products like sunscreen,“fragrance” is a blanket term that can be used to mask hundreds of toxic chemicals, many of which are synthetic phthalates also linked to hormone disruption. Want some messed up […]

  13. […] takes me literally five minutes. I use five natural beauty products. And there’s not a toxic chemical in the bunch. Here’s […]

  14. […] without parabens: Found in breast cancer tissue, parabens are a common preservative found in conventional personal care products from moisturizer to sunscreen; look for them prefaced by “methyl,” “ethyl,” “propyl,” […]

  15. […] heard it all before: The skin is our largest organ, as much as 60% of goes onto our skin goes into our bodies, women use about 12 beauty products daily, delivering as many as 168 potentially toxic chemical […]

  16. […] that tube you giggled over in the sex shop and stashed in your nightstand is probably chock-full of parabens, hormones, silicones and petroleum by-products which can cause irritation that makes you more susceptible to decidedly unsexy yeast infections. […]

  17. […] toxin and skin irritant. Add to the hot list parabens and synthetic fragrance—two of my favorite red flags to watch out for. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a conventional acne remedy that isn’t loaded with […]

  18. […] But if you’ve got to get color fast, self tanning is the only way you’re going to get it. Look for natural self tanning creams—not sprays—like Caribbean Solutions Beach Colours and True Natural Colors Self Tanner, both which score a low two on EWG’s scale. And avoid beauty red flags like parabens and synthetic fragrances. […]

  19. […] green girl to do—aside from learning to love her true colors? First, look for a brand that is free of the chemicals listed above, as well as parabens, propylene glycol and resorcinol, while maintaining low levels of PPD, also known as […]

  20. […] But what are phthalates? These chemicals, also known as plasticizers, are used to soften plastic. (Want to know why that your old ball gets brittle? That’s because phthalates have leached out of it.) They also serve to help personal care products penetrate the skin, as well as preserve synthetic fragrances. […]

  21. […] to take it one product at a time? Click through to this short list of what to avoid. Where you find these chemicals, more are likely to follow, so use these as your red flags for […]

Speak Your Mind