10 skin care ingredients that I avoid & why

ingredients listing

A big thanks to all who participated in my poll last Friday to find out how many of you are into natural or organic skin care products. I received 103 responses – out of which 23% use only natural or organic skin care products, while 63% use natural or organic skin care products whenever possible and 14% are not into using such products at all.   Some of you also commented that not all natural or organic skin care products are genuine and may still contain some undesirable ingredients. Others commented that natural and organic skin care products may not be entirely beneficial – something I’ve discussed in an earlier entry are organic and natural skin care products useless?

I mentioned in that entry that we need to learn to read the ingredient list of a product and avoid some of the harmful ingredients commonly cited.  Well, since writing that entry, I’ve learnt a bit more and today, I’ll discuss the top 10 skin care ingredients that I avoid and the reasons.  Most of these are synthetic ingredients but there are also a number of natural ingredients that I avoid too.

1.  Silicone derived emollients
Silicone emollients are occlusive and are used to create a watertight film on top of the skin to lock in moisture.  Listed under the names of Dimethicone, Dimethicone Copolyol or Cyclomethicone, these show up in over 80% of all skin-care and cosmetics such as foundation, primers, concealers and the popular BB creams.  While they make application smoother,  these compounds coat the skin, making it impossible for the skin to breathe.  This is why they are often described to be like a plastic wrap suffocating the skin and trapping anything beneath it.  Prolonged usage can cause skin irritations and breakouts for some people.  In addition, it also means it would be difficult for any of your skin care goodies to penetrate into your dermis layer effectively, which I believe causes products to become ineffective after a period of time.

2.  Petroleum-based ingredients
These are byproducts of petroleum and include ingredients such as petrolatum, mineral oil, and paraffin which also block your skin and coat it like plastic, thus clogging up the pores.  When the skin cannot breathe properly, it builds up toxins and leads to all kinds of issues.  So these are definitely no no for me when it comes to skin care products.  While, I may not mind using a lip balm containing petrolatum but somehow they’ve never really worked very well for my lips.

3.  Beeswax
For the same reason as silicones, mineral oils and petrolatum, I avoid beeswax in facial products as far as possible.  Although beeswax is a natural ingredient, it is a form of impermeable oil that coat the skin, making it impossible to breathe too.  It also has to be heated at high temperature to be melted into an ingredient mix, which means the product is unlikely to have anymore live cells to benefit our skin.  This ingredient is commonly found in lip balms and lipsticks but I’ll avoid this ingredient in facial products and even body care products as far as possible.

4.  Citrus Oils
Although citrus oils are natural, they can cause photosensitivity when applied topically.  Common examples of citrus oils include Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil and Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Oil.  Others are bergamot, cumin, lemon, lemongrass, rue, angelica root and petitgrain.  I may not mind if the product consist of one or two citrus oils and they’re listed at the bottom of the ingredient list but if it’s a combination of many citrus oils, I would definitely avoid.

5.  Lavender oil
Topically, lavender oil is cytotoxic and increases photosensitivity. I would avoid products containing lavender oil or lavender essential oil as the key ingredient. If it is listed at the bottom of the ingredient list, I would be less concerned. I also avoid linalool as far as possible as this is a major component of the essential oil of lavender.

6.  Sulfates
I avoid facial cleansers containing Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).  These are harsh detergents that are used in cleansers, soaps and shampoos and will strip our skin of its natural lipids.

7. Alcohol derivatives
As a whole, I avoid any products containing alcohol. Those like ethanol, ethyl alcohol, denatured alcohol, methanol, benzyl alcohol, methyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, and SD alcohol are solvents derived from petroleum and are extremely drying and irritating to the skin. With prolonged usage, these may strip the skin’s natural immune barrier, promote the formation of brown spots and cause premature aging of the skin. And even though cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol and lanolin alcohol are said to be beneficial in skin care, I tend to avoid them as far as possible too.

8. Fragrances
Some fragrances listed as musk or 6-methylcoumarin can cause photosensitivity too. Hence, I generally avoid facial products containing fragrance unless they are derived from essential oils. 

9. Hydroquinone
This ingredient is not so common and only used in some skin whitening products. I’ve used the ingredient before as prescribed by a dermatologist but this ingredient is terribly damaging as it thins out the skin when used after a few weeks. When the skin becomes thinner, it also means that the skin becomes more proned to sensitivity and damage under the sun.

10. Alpha- and Beta-hydroxy acids (AHA/BHA)
I avoid creams and lotions containing AHA or BHA altogether as these ingredients also make our skin more sensitive to the sun.  I have so far only tried Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser and I don’t mind it so much only because it doesn’t stay on my skin for a prolonged period.  But having said that, I don’t use the product any longer now. 

You will notice that I didn’t include parabens in my list.  Actually, I don’t mind parabens that much unless if I see a whole bunch of them like Ethyl, Methyl, Propyl and Butyl Parabens in an ingredient list.   If it’s just one or two of them and they’re listed right at the bottom, they don’t bother me that much.  However, since I’m using more natural and organic products, they do not contain parabens anyway.

For beauty sake
As you can see, my reasons for avoiding such ingredients stem from a beauty standpoint such as fear of photosensitivity or skin suffocation rather than a health standpoint because the ingredients are toxic.   Typically, I avoid products – natural or otherwise – with a long ingredient listing as I am not familiar with some of the ingredients and I also have a tendency to miss  or misread some words along the way.   Additionally, I do not believe that effective products need to have a long list of ingredients.  What’s more important are the active ingredients used in the formulation.  As I’ve written in my entry 5 things to know about skin care labels, only the top 33% of the ingredients matter. 

So what about you?  Are there any ingredients you avoid in particular?


  1. zhenling says:

    i’ve noticed alot of foundations contain silicones =[
    reccommend foundations please?
    for sensitive skin thanks

  2. prettybeautiful says:

    hmmm silicone is my big big fear factor. salicylic acid used to be my enemy, now it is rescuing my acne. i guess our skin really changes a lot from time to time.

  3. sesame says:

    Yes, they do. Go with mineral foundation if you want something with bare minimum ingredients. I’m very happy using those from LA Splash. Or go with organic foundation. I use Zuii foundation and it’s lovely too. They don’t contain silicones but their ingredient listing is much longer than those of mineral foundation.

  4. guest says:

    You mentioned about citrus oils. I have just started using Suki’s moisture rich cleansing lotion. What’s your take on the use of lemon oil?

    But I must say Suki’s transformative clay cleanser helped cleared up my skin after 2 weeks of application.

    organic sage (salvia lavandulaefolia), thyme (thymus vulgaris) & rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) infusions (aqua), organic sunflower (helianthis annus) & grapeseed (vitis vineifera) oils, organic lavender (lavandula angustifolia) & rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) extracts, 100% natural beeswax (cera alba), pure vegetable glycerin (glycerine), organic fair trade cocoa butter (theobroma cacao), honeysuckle flower extract (lonicera caprifolium), kaolin (kaolinite), organic oat milk (avena sativa), organic lemon oil (citrus medica limonum), organic non-gmo lecithin (lecithin), cetearyl alcohol (cetearyl alcohol), food grade xanthan (xanthan) & arabic (acacia catechu) gums, aroma (pure premium steam distilled essential oil)

  5. heather says:

    isn’t it difficult to find a product that doesn’t have all the ingredients that you listed out? btw, do you mind doing a post on your skincare regime?

  6. AtelierGal says:

    So far, I only buy products that state Parabens-Free e.g. Yes To Carrots products which I really love.

    I tend to avoid thost containing alcohol too, but they are hard to avoid e.g. ZA’s Dewy Effect.

    I use them in moderation.

  7. sesame says:

    Lemon oil makes an effective ingredient in a cleanser with its antiseptic properties and ability to cleanse really well. In fact, my cleanser has this ingredient too.

    If it’s just one citrus ingredient, I’m less concerned. Moreover, it’s a cleanser, and if it’s a good cleanser, it won’t leave any residues so the oil won’t stay on your skin. If the lemon oil is in a lotion or moisturizer that you leave on your skin, then that could cause photosensitivity. In that case, always make sure your sunscreen provides broad spectrum protection.

  8. sesame says:

    Hmm…I agree it can be difficult with commercial makeup products. But with skin care, it is possible if you select only natural or organic products. Those that I use do not contain most of these ingredients and for makeup, I use mineral or organic so they do not contain most of these too.

    I did consider doing a post on my skin care regime but hesitated cos some of the products are not readily available to all. I’ll think about it.

  9. sesame says:

    Yup, agree…not always possible to avoid. Need to make a conscious effort and it’s not always easy. Eg. a lot of sunscreens also contain alcohol. I had to source for one that doesn’t contain most of the ingredients I’ve listed and it was not an easy find.

  10. sesame says:

    That’s true too about skin changing with age. I don’t remember my skin breaking out so easily with food that I consume. Plus, I think sometimes what to use is also personal. It’s like one man’s meat maybe another’s poison.

  11. Jyoan says:

    wow! Thanks a lot. I really, really love this post. I like the way you put everything together and tell us why they are no good.

  12. sesame says:

    You’re welcome! I hope some info here are useful for you.

  13. Sanae says:

    wow that’s a long list! thanks for sharing!
    I had no idea about the silicon emollients!
    I’ll watch out for those when I go shopping next time#k8SjZc9Dxk#k8SjZc9Dxk

  14. sesame says:

    You should find them in lots of products though…

  15. beautiful skin says:

    you have provided excellent information. Now-a-days most of the skin care products contain parabens and petroleum based ingredients.

  16. Dee says:

    I try to avoid Sulfates and anything with fragrances in them. They always dry up my skin or make my breakout. I’m exactly like you when it comes to parabens. Seeing 1 or 2 is okay with me, but a see a list full of them, I tend to put them back on the shelves. Lovely post Sesame.

  17. sesame says:

    I think a whole list looks kind of worrying…one or two at the end, we can deal with it huh?

  18. knockingknees says:

    Lavender- that is interesting. They are actually in a lot of skin care products and I do use them quite a lot. I love the smell and so far, those products that I use with them are great – like the Aesep primrose facial hydrating cream, which is a reasonable moisturizer.

  19. priscilla_clara says:

    wow.. your post really open my eyes..
    now I’ve become more conscious about the ingredient in my makeup and skincare..#k8SjZc9Dxk#k8SjZc9Dxk

  20. sesame says:

    Yes, they do. Look out for the natural and organic products. The genuine ones don’t contain these.

  21. sesame says:

    Yes, it was a shock to me to find out about lavender too. I don’t love it that much but it is in a lot of products. I still use products with the oil, as long as it is not the key ingredient but somewhere at the bottom. That, or I use the product at night to minimize the risk of photosensitivity.

  22. sesame says:

    Actually, there are more ingredients that are said to be toxic…but it can get endless. I just focus on those that make me uncomfortable due to problems they could create for my skin.

  23. Raelynn says:

    i agree with avoiding products with long lists of ingredients.. i stepped into Korres recently at ion, though the SA kindly pointed out that the ingredients they used included organic and natural porducts, i was uncomfortable with the long long list of ingredients which i didnt quite understand their properties (and this is even after reading up on skincare ingredients)

  24. abby says:

    Oh no! So many things! This post should be pinned!

    I detest mineral oils! Petrolatum i use on my lips:Vaseline. So far nothing else has worked as well as it.

    I hate parabens too! Trying to getout of using it. And SLS though that is getting less common i think.

    Beeswax and ctrus oils are bad? Oh gosh. I thought that essential oils are good.

    Mind listing down all the brands you use? Skin care, makeup, hair care? I knw it is probably a lot of work but it would be real helpful!


  25. sesame says:

    Thanks for the info. Cosmetic database is a resource I rely on quite heavily when unsure.

  26. sesame says:

    Their products are not totally natural or organic if I remember some of the ingredients.

  27. sesame says:

    Beewax is okay for lip products. Citrus oils are not bad, but can cause sensitivity. So I tend to avoid products with a bunch of them.

    Okay, two months ago this was what I use in the morning:
    – Sukin facial cleanser which is SLS and paraben free
    – Hydrosol as toner
    – Grapeseed oil as moisturizer (around eyes too)
    – Marie-Veronique Creme de Soliel sunscreen

    In the night, it was:
    – Sukin facial cleanser
    – Hydrosol
    – Grapeseed oil around eyes
    – John Masters Organics Mandarin Maximum Moisturizer

    There is a change now. Instead of grapeseed oil and John Masters Organics, I use products from True Bio Skin Care which are free of those ingredients I mentioned. Will probably review the products in time.

  28. Passion says:

    The more I know of synthetic ingredients and their effects, the more I avoid them. The list posted is nearly the list I have. I am trying to educate my teenage daughter to understand the ingredients in the bottles. I regret to say that she belongs to a group where they think they are invinsible.:( She can happily use a product where Urea and Parabans are in the top of the list!). we come from a family with cancer gyenes. I hope my daughter will fast apreciate the education.

  29. Deanna says:

    There really are so many ingredients to avoid, which includes the natural products. There is also a lot of alarmist behavior on the internet which, in the end, just confuses people. I would also suggest doing the research on any ingredient at the cosmetics safety database (cosmeticsdatabase.com). If you use it to reference any skin care product you want to try, or if you’re looking for safe skin care, it’s hard to go wrong there.

  30. Ali says:

    AHA’s are fine to use on the skin as long as you wear a sunscreen which people should wear everyday anyway

  31. sesame says:

    It’s individual preference. Not everyone needs AHA, especially if the skin is sensitive. Anyway, I don’t see much benefits using AHA in the past and I rather not use them.

  32. tina says:

    hi ! you mentioned citrus oils . and i just realized sukin foaming facial cleanser contains most of that . so is it still bad ?

  33. sesame says:

    They’re listed almost at the bottom so I wouldn’t be so concerned cos the amount used should be very little. But if you’re not comfortable, then use it in the evenings only.

    I’ve moved on to other cleansers now and have not been using Sukin’s for awhile now – after maybe 6 or 7 bottles.

  34. Poeta says:


    I think your products are wonderful and you’re very knowledgeable, however, I don’t agree with avoiding all products that contain lavender essential oil.

    I am an aromatherapist and linalool is only a percentage of of what lavender is made of. You definitely do not want to use lavender on its own, but products that contain less than 3% lavender essential oil (which most do) is very beneficial to skin.

    I am a big supporter of lavender in that it is absorbed by the skin and bloodstream and works over time to actually regenerate the surface of the skin, not just get rid of dry skin symptoms.

    As far as causing photosensitivity, I don’t agree with that either, unless of course you apply it undiluted on the skin, which most people will not do unless they are comfortable working with lavender.

    As far as moisturizing is concerned, lavender is not a humectant or moisturizer on its own, but is very beneficial to our skin and overall health and should not be avoided if the rest of the ingredients in a product are good and safe. Definitely avoid lavender fragrance as opposed to lavender essential oil.

    I commend you on only using ingredients that you have researched and feel comfortable with. I also make safe and natural body care products and am passionate about educating the public on ingredients to avoid. I would like products like ours to be more readily available and easy to find and not have big corporations confuse people and offer unsafe products and ingredients claiming to be good for you!

  35. sesame says:

    I don’t avoid lavender totally. It’s hard to avoid since it’s present in many products. However, I wouldn’t use it on its own unless for aromatherapy purposes. I would also avoid if it’s listed right up the ingredient list but otherwise, it should be okay.

    Btw, I’m not Paula Begoun if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ve merely quoted her here.

  36. Memi says:

    Hello, I’ve been using Egyptian Magic Cream for quite a while now… I’ve been mixing with my Suki pure facial balancing to moiturize my skin more… I’ve also been putting a layer of EMC on my scars, (eg.acne,everyday scars etc)… So should I stop using it because it contains a beeswax?? Sorry, I’m still a teenager, and I’m trying to avoid ingreidents that aren’t beneficial to my skin.

  37. sesame says:

    The beewax will coat your skin and it won’t help it to breathe properly. Use it on troubled areas but not on a daily basis.

  38. Memi says:

    Thanks! Sorry to ask again >.< I've been using the Suki balancing facial as a moisturizer, but at times I feel skin feels still dehydrated (sensitive,red cheeks at times). I have acne prone skin, it's oliy yet deyhdrated.
    Since I was mixing my Suki facial with EMC, do you suggest something else I could use with my Suki faical moisture (instead of EMC), or something underneath it?

    Sorry for the long question!

  39. sesame says:

    It sounds like your skin is not well hydrated. Yes, try using something beneath the moisturizer. A light oil like grapeseed oil would be nice.

  40. Michelle says:

    There are 3 levels of skin care. 1.Economical (drugstores, department stores) 2.Professional (Doctors office, spas, aestheticians) 3.Prestigious (High-end genre entailing the top bioligists, herbalists, and bio-engineers in the world). You want to be careful about just applying one element on your skin when the latest technology may entail several elements to give you the best results. I have access to information about skin care on the Prestigious level that is 100% all-natural and botanical based….that will give you the absolute best results. If you want more info, just let me know.

  41. Siew Ying says:

    I avoid myristic acid or isopropyl myristate in my cleansers. I didn’t research on this ingredient but I find that though cleansers with the ingredients tend to clean very well, they are gradually stripping my skin of its natural oils and causing my skin to become sensitive and itchy over time. This was the case with Nivea Visage Cleansing Foam and Kawaii Tokyo brigten up cleanser

  42. sesame says:

    It’s a drying ingredient if I’m not wrong.

  43. Stephanie Rountree says:

    I will respectfully disagree with your comments about beeswax. It is nothing like mineral oil and does not require high heat to melt, if done properly. Among its multiple, valuable skin care benefits, it provides a light barrier and does not clog pores, so the skin is allowed to breathe.

  44. Alia says:

    I just looked at the Sukin facial cleansers. They both contain some kind of alcohol in them.

  45. sesame says:

    I don’t see it in the one I had…at least not the drying alcohol denat. These are the ingredients for the one I used to use – I don’t use the cleanser anymore.

    Ingredients: Purified Water, Organic blend of German chamomile, aloe vera, witch hazel and green tea. Decyl Glucoside (vegetable), Cocamidopropyl Betaine (vegetable), PEG-150 Pentaerythrityl Tetrastearate (vegetable), rosehip oil, macadamia oil, evening primrose oil, Glycerin (vegetable), Sodium Chloride, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate (suttocide) vegetable, Citric Acid, grapefruit seed extract, tangerine essential oil, mandarin essential oil, lavender essential oil, vanilla extract.

  46. Katie says:

    I thought lavender oil was only cytotoxic to in-vitro cells?

  47. Leeann Coleman says:

    I also must disagree about the beeswax item. Beeswax offers anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral benefits, is an emollient and a humectant (attracting moisture from the air to the skin), and also
    also contains vitamin A, which may be beneficial in softening and rehydrating dry skin and in cell reconstruction. As a beekeeper, I would urge all your readers to look for skin care products that contain minimally processed beeswax, as factory-processed beeswax has been super-heated and may no longer contain these beneficial products. I use beeswax from my beehives in all my skin care products. People rave about them!

    Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/192009-skin-benefits-of-beeswax/#ixzz1jdhyXZlb

  48. Mia says:

    Thank you for this!
    I have recently been struggling with finding myself a perfect facial cleansing system, but the more search and read reviews, the more confused I get. Until now I just used random stuff from supermarkets i.e. Garnier cleansing milk and other similar products, but I have recently started thinking about the fact, that my lovely skin will accompany me kindly for another 50 to 70 years, so it is about time to start being kind to my face too.

    So, maybe you could just simply say, what products do you use daily to cleanse and remove make-up, or what products, or at least brands would you recommend.

    Thank You!

  49. Sesame says:

    I use Jurlique balancing foaming cleanser in the morning and in the evening, I use Logona cleansing milk to cleanse my face from makeup or dirt before using an Ecocare (Korean brand) foaming cleanser. Look for those that are free of SLS/SLES.

  50. ThinkAgain says:

    Uh, not so much!! Try doing some outside research on Lavender that does not coincide with your homeopathic naturistic views. Lavendar is terrible for the skin. It actually decreases collagen production over time. It causes irritation to the skin which breaks down collagen.

  51. Karen says:

    I find most labels useless because, like with food, they lie. My favorite products are suddenly causing problems because they changed an ingredient over the season.

    I actually like silicone based makeup as an alternative to cheap oils. It makes products apply and lay smoother. I wouldn’t sleep in it, but it’s good for special days. They say minerals can ruin your lungs over time, so we really can’t win either way.

    There’s a lot of hype to go organic, avoid sulfates, hypo allergenic stuff. However, our FDA is so weak on everything that hypo and derm tested doesn’t even require a dermatologist actually did more than hear about the product and you’ll find organic products aren’t always as organic as they seem. True organic items would have a short shelf life. How convenient for suppliers of food and hygiene products…

  52. Sesame says:

    I know what you’re saying and I won’t be surprised if they’re true. But with organic products, it’s safer to go for the certified ones.

  53. Nbm says:

    Great information Sesame.
    I’ve been using the following Philosophy product, do you recommend them to be safe?

    If not safe, what would you recommend instead of these?

    Thanks loadz

  54. Sesame says:

    I don’t know the ingredient list but I don’t think it’s all that hazardous or unsafe. However they’re definitely not in the natural or organic category. You might want to check out some of my recent posts for recommendation of products…especially the ones from Now Solutions.

  55. Lacey says:

    Thank you Leeann – I find there is more info out there promoting the benefits of beeswax than there is putting it down. I’ve also read that it does not clog pores, only helps lock in the skins much needed oils. Especially beneficial when used with Vit E.

  56. Ju says:

    hello, I would like to make my own facial moisturizer but want to not use beewax. oils alone don’t do their job well on my skin.what do you recommend?
    your input is very much appreciated!

    sincerely, Ju

  57. Sesame says:

    Maybe try coconut oil or shea butter.

  58. natasha says:

    That is a strange recommendation given they are most likely of all natural ingredients to clog pores.

  59. Sesame says:

    Coconut oil is fairly comedogenic but pure shea butter does not clog pores.

  60. Ella Vint says:

    Great post! Very informative.

    I still think beeswax is great for skin & lips, I’ve been using it for years.

  61. Meiyeen says:

    Does shea butter and sweet almond oil suitable for oily skin? I plan to diy a whipped shea butter and sweet almond oil for my face but I worry it will be too oily…

  62. Sesame says:

    It’s not too bad…if your proportion is balanced, it won’t be too oily but it would be quite nourishing.

  63. Charlotte says:

    I dont agree with your comment about beeswax. The healing properties of beeswax is amazing and it allows your skin to breathe. It does not clog pores.

  64. Freya says:

    I would like to know about too skin care products biologically supreme for my skin. I am 45 and wanting a good anti age moisturizer.

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