Mother Earth Living

The Good Life

All things Mother Earth Living

Add to My MSN

Five Ingredients to Avoid When Buying Summer Skin Care Products

5/21/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: toxic chemicals, personal care products, skin care, green products, beauty

Reading the ingredients labels on cosmetics can feel like reading Russian, so it’s no surprise that most of us don’t check what’s in our skin care products before we toss them into our shopping cart or rub them on our faces. But if you’re not checking out what’s in your beauty products, maybe it’s time. 

For years, major cosmetics companies have been inserting potentially dangerous chemicals into their products, erring on the side of cost savings rather than focusing on their customers’ health. Now that summer’s here – along with the prospect of a new, seasonal skin care regimen – flip that bottle over and see what’s really inside your beauty products. 


Many skin care products contain preservatives, such as parabens, to lengthen their lifespan and kill bacteria. Because they’re cheap, cosmetics companies use ethyl-, methyl-, butyl- and propl- parabens, but these chemicals can irritate and harm your skin, and some of them even release traces of formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Parabens have also been linked to breast cancer. 

Keep an eye out for – and avoid – these ingredients: 

• Bronopol (often listed as 2-brono-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol)

• Diazolidinyl urea

• DMDM hydantion

• Imidazo lidinyl urea

• Quaternium 15 


Glycols are often used in moisturizers because they lock in humidity (they’re also used in industrial antifreeze, paints and floor waxes). These chemicals absorb into the body through the skin, and overexposure can cause kidney and liver damage. Some glycols have also been known to damage the reproductive system and cause birth defects. 

There are several kinds of glycols: propylene glycol (a byproduct of petroleum), glycerin, ethylene glycol, carbitol and diethylene glycol. Scan the label for anything with methyl in its name as well as:







Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) 

SLS—which is also commonly used in engine degreasers, car wash soaps and garage floor cleaners—gives your beauty products that rich, foamy lather. Prolonged use of SLS can actually change the genetic information in human cells and can break down the protein in skin and hair. It has also been shown to cause cataracts and improper eye development.


When gasoline is produced, petrolatum is created through the distillation process. Although it’s used as a moisturizer, petrolatum actually has the opposite effect. It coats skin and clogs pores, keeping skin from “breathing” properly. This in turn prohibits skin from naturally moisturizing itself. Petrolatum can also stimulate sun damage.

Artificial colors 

Some moisturizers are made with synthetic colors. Because they’re based on coal-tars, many artificial colors contain heavy-metal impurities, such as arsenic and lead, which are known carcinogens.

Most artificial colors are labeled as D&C or FD&C with a number next to them. Keep an eye out for:

• FD&C Blue 1 (carcinogenic)

• FD&C Green 3 (carcinogenic)

• D&C Red 33 (shown to cause cancer)

• FD&C Yellow 5 (shown to cause cancer)

• FC&C Yellow 6 (show to cause cancer) 

If you’re looking for a good moisturizer that leaves out the parabens, petrolatums, glycols and other nasties, check out Aveda’s All-Sensitive Moisturizer or Aveda’s Brightening Moisture Treatment


Not all sunscreens are equal, and many contain dangerous chemicals. These chemicals protect the skin on its surface but can be harmful once they’ve absorbed into the body. 

Look for sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium dioxide, two naturally occurring minerals. Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen is made with titanium dioxide, a naturally occurring mineral that reflects light, and it comes in both SPF 15 and SPF 30. Aveda also makes some moisturizers with built-in sunscreen.Burt
Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen is made with titanium dioxide and is 99.11 percent natural. Photo Courtesy Burt's Bees. 

Related Content

Natural Lip Balm: Addicted to Lip Balm: Skincando Luxe Brew Lip Balm

Freelance writer and natural beauty expert Kim Wallace feeds her lip balm addiction with Brew, a new...

New Body Moisturizers from Dr. Hauschka Skin Care

Dr. Hauschka Skin Care introduces three new formulas to its collection of beloved Body Moisturizers.


Expert Answers to Your Health Questions

Natural Dog Shampoo: John Masters Organics Tea Tree DogPoo

One reader gives her dog a bath with John Masters Organics DogPoo, a new organic shampoo developed s...

Content Tools

Post a comment below.


Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.