5 Common Toxins In Skincare Products

A mother and daughter wearing white robes apply lotion to their legs.

At Dr. Green Life, our skincare line is free from parabens, pesticides, sulfates, PFAs, Phthalates, Petrolatum, SLS, and chemical fragrances. We created our skincare line with families in mind so that people of all ages can benefit from high quality products without toxic ingredients.

- Dr. Ashley Mayer, Founder and CEO of Dr. Green Life™

The skin - the largest organ in the human body - serves as a barrier between the body’s external environment (including toxins) and internal health. The skin is also permeable, meaning substances can penetrate its layers and enter the bloodstream (1). This is important to know, especially for parents of infants and children, as children’s skin is more permeable than adults (2), and chemicals are frequently found in conventional skincare products, even those marketed for babies and children.


In this article we will focus on five - though there are certainly more - of the most common toxins found in skincare products, examine their potential dangers, and provide alternative options for clean skin care. 

Common Toxins

Companies use toxins in products for a variety of reasons, primarily because they are a cost effective way to achieve certain "benefits," such as enhancing stability, increasing shelf life, or improving texture. Here are five common toxins used in skincare products.

1. PFAs

Many skincare manufacturers use PFAs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in their formulations to increase the stability of a product, allow for better skin permeation, or increase water/oil resistance (i.e in sunscreen) in a cost effective manner.

These chemicals are known for their resistance to degradation; hence their nickname "forever chemicals." They literally do not degrade. The downside is their persistence in the environment and human body has been linked to a range of health issues, including hormonal imbalances and cancer (3).


Luckily, it is possible to stabilize and preserve skincare products without the use of toxic chemicals. All of our products at Dr Green Life are PFA free and 100% shelf stable thanks to the use of natural botanicals like Japanese Honeysuckle , which soothes the skin and can relieve general skin irritation (4) while acting as a natural preservative (5) to help maintain the integrity of the delicate organic ingredients used in our skincare formulas. We also utilize Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, which naturally contains peptides and hyaluronic acid that keep the skin hydrated (6) and good bacteria from the natural fermentation process. This good bacteria nourishes the biome of the skin and acts as a natural preservative (6).

A boy sitting on the beach has sunscreen all over his face and chest.

2. Parabens

Parabens are used in skincare products and cosmetics as chemical preservatives to help extend product shelf life by preventing the growth of bacteria and mold. Despite their preservative properties, parabens can mimic estrogen in the body (7), potentially leading to hormonal imbalances and an increased risk of breast cancer (8). Research has detected parabens in human urine (9), blood (10), and breast tissue (11), indicating that these chemicals can indeed be absorbed and accumulate within the body following topical application. The presence of parabens in breast tissue is particularly concerning due to the potential link between parabens and estrogenic activity (12), raising alarms about their implications for breast cancer risk. Opting for paraben-free products is a straightforward way to reduce exposure to these chemicals.

3. Fragrance

The term fragrance might seem relatively harmless, but it often represents a mix of undisclosed chemicals. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has listed over 3,000 substances that are used in the fragrance industry (13), any of which could potentially be part of a fragrance formulation in skincare and cosmetic products. Under current regulations in the United States, companies are allowed to list fragrance as a single ingredient to protect proprietary formulas, even though it could actually be a complex mixture of many different chemicals. Without specific disclosure of what a fragrance entails, consumers are left in the dark. Seeking out fragrance-free products, or those that use natural essential oils for scent, is the best way to avoid exposure to synthetic chemical ingredients.

4. Petrolatum

Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, is an inexpensive ingredient obtained as a byproduct from oil refining (14). It is often used in skincare products as a moisturizing or barrier ingredient. The concern with petrolatum in skin care revolves around its potential contamination with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known carcinogens (15). The risk is particularly high when petrolatum is not fully refined. In the European Union, regulations require petrolatum used in cosmetics to be of a certain purity, but the standards in the US are not nearly as strict (15).


To avoid the potential risks associated with petrolatum, consumers can look for products that use safer plant-based emollients and moisturizers. Alternatives like shea butter , mango seed butter , and plant oils (such as coconut oil and jojoba seed oil) offer more benefits without the risks associated with petroleum by-products. These natural ingredients not only moisturize the skin but also provide it with a host of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants, supporting the skin's overall health.

An infant is lying on a pink blanket while lotion is applied to her belly.

5. SLS

SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) is a common ingredient in products that foam, such as cleansers and shampoos. While it's effective for this purpose, foam really isn’t necessary in order to effectively clean and SLS can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to irritation, dryness, and compromised barrier function (16). When the barrier is compromised, other toxins in the formula may be more readily absorbed. For individuals with conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, SLS can be especially irritating.


Fortunately, it’s 100 percent possible to clean the skin without disrupting its natural balance. At Dr Green Life we choose to utilize coco-glucoside in our gentle cleansers for face, hair, and body. This gentle alternative to foaming agents ensures effective cleansing while maintaining the skin's integrity (17). Coco-glucoside is known for its excellent skin compatibility and mildness, making it suitable even for infants and those with the most sensitive skin (17). 

Choosing Clean Skincare Products For Your Family

The importance of using clean skincare products cannot be overstated. PFAs are found in umbilical cord blood samples (18), and research is linking early puberty in children and exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (19). 

Other findings include immune modulation, increased blood pressure, and effects on cognitive function (20). These underscore the importance of choosing skincare products that are free from harmful toxins.


By using products formulated with natural ingredients and made by companies that are transparent about product contents, consumers can protect themselves and their families from potential health risks associated with chemical exposure. At Dr Green Life, our skincare line is free from parabens, pesticides, sulfates, PFAs, Phthalates, Petrolatum, SLS, and chemical fragrances.

Summary

We all want the best for our families and being mindful of the ingredients in our skincare products is a simple way we can reduce our toxic burden. The presence of toxins - such as PFAs, parabens, synthetic fragrances, petrolatum, and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) - in skincare products poses various health risks, from hormonal imbalances to increased cancer risk. Always read labels carefully and choose products from companies that prioritize transparency and safety in their formulations.


At Dr. Green Life, our Literally The Cleanest line of face, body, and hair care products for adults, infants, and kids was created with families in mind, so that people of all ages can benefit from high quality products without toxic ingredients. 

References:

  1. Kim JY, Dao H. Physiology, Integument. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554386/

  2. Kong, F., Galzote, C., & Duan, Y. (2017). Change in skin properties over the first 10 years of life: a cross-sectional study. Archives of dermatological research, 309(8), 653–658. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00403-017-1764-x

  3. Fenton, S. E., Ducatman, A., Boobis, A., DeWitt, J. C., Lau, C., Ng, C., Smith, J. S., & Roberts, S. M. (2021). Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Toxicity and Human Health Review: Current State of Knowledge and Strategies for Informing Future Research. Environmental toxicology and chemistry, 40(3), 606–630. https://doi.org/10.1002/etc.4890

  4. Chen, W. C., Liou, S. S., Tzeng, T. F., Lee, S. L., & Liu, I. M. (2012). Wound repair and anti-inflammatory potential of Lonicera japonica in excision wound-induced rats. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 12, 226. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-12-226

  5. Shang, X., Pan, H., Li, M., Miao, X., & Ding, H. (2011). Lonicera japonica Thunb.: ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry and pharmacology of an important traditional Chinese medicine. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 138(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2011.08.016

  6. Majchrzak, W., Motyl, I., & Śmigielski, K. (2022). Biological and Cosmetical Importance of Fermented Raw Materials: An Overview. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 27(15), 4845. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules27154845

  7. Engeli, R. T., Rohrer, S. R., Vuorinen, A., Herdlinger, S., Kaserer, T., Leugger, S., Schuster, D., & Odermatt, A. (2017). Interference of Paraben Compounds with Estrogen Metabolism by Inhibition of 17β-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(9), 2007. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18092007

  8. Tong, J. H., Elmore, S., Huang, S. S., Tachachartvanich, P., Manz, K., Pennell, K., Wilson, M. D., Borowsky, A., & La Merrill, M. A. (2023). Chronic Exposure to Low Levels of Parabens Increases Mammary Cancer Growth and Metastasis in Mice. Endocrinology, 164(3), bqad007. https://doi.org/10.1210/endocr/bqad007

  9. Parabens Factsheet | National Biomonitoring Program | CDC. (2023, December 1). Www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Parabens_FactSheet.html

  10. Mao, W., Jin, H., Guo, R., Chen, P., Zhong, S., & Wu, X. (2024). Distribution of parabens and 4-HB in human blood. The Science of the Total Environment, 914, 169874. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.169874

  11. Exposure to Chemicals in Cosmetics. (n.d.). Www.breastcancer.org. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/risk-factors/exposure-to-chemicals-in-cosmetics

  12. Parabens. (n.d.). Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP). https://www.bcpp.org/resource/parabens

  13. 3,163 ingredients hide behind the word “fragrance” | Environmental Working Group. (n.d.). Www.ewg.org. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/3163-ingredients-hide-behind-word-fragrance

  14. Kamrani, P., Hedrick, J., Marks, J. G., & Zaenglein, A. L. (2023). Petroleum jelly: A comprehensive review of its history, uses, and safety. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2023.06.010

  15. Petrolatum, Petroleum Jelly. (n.d.). Safe Cosmetics. https://www.safecosmetics.org/chemicals/petrolatum/

  16. Walters, R. M., Mao, G., Gunn, E. T., & Hornby, S. (2012). Cleansing formulations that respect skin barrier integrity. Dermatology research and practice, 2012, 495917. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/495917

  17. Coco-glucoside | Ingredient | INCI Guide. (n.d.). Inci.guide. Retrieved February 7, 2024, from https://inci.guide/glucosides/coco-glucoside

  18. Xu, Z., Du, B., Wang, H. et al. Perfluoroalkyl substances in umbilical cord blood and blood pressure in offspring: a prospective cohort study. Environ Health 22, 72 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-023-01023-5

  19. Papadimitriou, A., & Papadimitriou, D. T. (2021). Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals and Early Puberty in Girls. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 8(6), 492. https://doi.org/10.3390/children8060492

  20. Uche, U. (2022, September 13). Pregnant with PFAS: The threat of “forever chemicals” in cord blood | Environmental Working Group. Www.ewg.org. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/2022/09/pregnant-pfas-threat-forever-chemicals-cord-blood 

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