Grab the spring + summer capsule wardrobe!

yes, please!

8 Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid (& Why)

login to save


shop now

I'm a mom of two boys living in Denver. The Fox & She is where I share my easy outfit ideas, style tips, beauty hacks and wellness tips for inspired, happier living—everyday.

Favorite Find


I'm Blair Staky

These packing cubes are so cute—6 to a set, fun patterns, durable and make staying organized while traveling so easy.

Learn more

toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare

Not that long ago, I was completely clueless that any of my products had toxic and potentially harmful ingredients in them.

Like, what? Was that even legal?

Unfortunately, yes, the U.S. has very few laws regulating the cosmetic industry. Which is crazy, because I thought we were one of the most regulated countries!

I’ve always believed in the power of food as medicine and believed that what you put in your body has a huge effect on your health. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done research on which foods are best for your skin.

But, something I hadn’t considered was how products I was putting on my body affected my health.

Before Owen was born, when we first started thinking about having a baby…

I did lots of research and reading on how to best set myself up for a healthy pregnancy and one thing that shocked me was the negative effects of so many ingredients and chemicals found in skin care products.

Our skin is our body’s largest organ and can easily absorb anything we put on it–including the average 12+ beauty and skincare products we’re putting on every single day.

I immediately dug through my beauty cabinet and was really disappointed when my pile of stuff to toss was considerably larger than my ‘keep’ pile.

Switching my products to safer ones not only makes me feel better about the health of our baby, but my skin and body are also benefitting in a big way. My skin is clearer, looks healthier and I just feel good about it knowing I’m doing something positive for my long-term health.

But, navigating which ingredients to avoid can be tough, especially when you can’t even pronounce them—how are you suppose to remember which ones to avoid!

There are many out there, but these were the most common ones I found and some of the most commonly used toxic ingredients, so it’s good to know them!

Ready to dig through your own beauty cabinet and see what’s in there?!

8 Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid

1. Parabens

Parabens are a whole family of chemicals (methylparabens, propylparabens, butylparabens, and ethylparabens) that help preserve shelf-life of products. When going through my own products, parabens were the most common offender.

I found them in nearly every product from face wash, night cream, makeup, masks, body wash and shampoo—they were everywhere. Parabens can mimic estrogen in the body disrupting our delicate hormonal balance.

They’ve been linked to breast cancer, and since they act as a hormone disruptor they can lead to reproductive and fertility issues.

Most Commonly Found In: face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, foundation, shampoo
Swap For This: Calming Cleansing Milk, Nourishing Cream Cleanser, Cleansing Balm, Sugar Body Scrub, Citrus Mimosa Body Butter, Tint Skin Foundation, Daily Shampoo & Conditioner

2. Phthalates

Phthalates group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics in cosmetics. This helps products stick to our skin.

Phthalates can be extremely dangerous to children, but it’s best to avoid them all together as they can be serious endocrine disruptors and even cause birth defects. Congress has actually banned several types of phthalates already from children’s products.

Most Commonly Found In: deodorant, lotion, fragrance & hair spray
Swap For This: Pure Deodorant (I love the lavender scent), Citrus Mimosa Body Butter, Volume & Shape Mist

Take the Clean Skincare Quiz >

3. Fragrance

This one doesn’t sound so scary, but “fragrance” is considered a trade secret which means that companies don’t have disclose what ingredients are inside. This is a sneaky one! It’s in sooooo many products!

Often, the ingredients include tons of chemicals that can cause allergies, hormone disruption and lead to bigger health problems reproductive issues and infertility.

Most Commonly Found In: moisturizers, hand creams and hair products
Swap For This: Adaptive Moisture Lotion (this stuff is amazing!), Citrus Rosemary Body Oil, Hydrating Body Lotion, Citrus Mimosa Hand Cream, Sea Salt Spray

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and/or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

SLS and SLES are known to cause skin irritation and trigger different allergies.

Most Commonly Found In: shampoo, body wash, bubble bath
Swap For This: Daily Shampoo, Citrus Mimosa Body Wash, Kid’s Body Wash, Baby All-Over Wash (our favorite for Owen)

5. BHT

These are synthetic antioxidants that are used to extend shelf life and are likely carcinogens and hormone disruptors that may cause liver damage.

Our liver is our bodies’ main form of detoxification and if that’s not functioning at its best, it’s likely that other organs are functioning at their best either.

Most Commonly Found In: lipsticks, moisturizers, diaper creams, and other cosmetics
Swap For This: Sheer Lipstick, Nourishing Day Cream, Calming Diaper Rash Cream, Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer

6. Retinyl palmitate and Retinol (aka, Vitamin A)

This one really surprised me! I always thought retinol was a good ingredient! It might help soften wrinkles, but it’s got some negative sides too. When I found out I was pregnant and was told by my doctor to stop using any products with retinol and vitamin A.

Why, I wondered. It turns out that it may damage DNA and speed the growth of skin tumors when used on your skin. Two things you don’t ever want, but especially not when you’re pregnant!

A new natural retinol alternative, bakuchiol, has come out and has incredible anti-aging benefits. It gives you similar results to retinol without the irritation. This is the skincare line I’ve been using while pregnant and my skin has never looked better—never thought I’d say that while pregnant!

One thing to note here! Despite it being a no-no for pregnant or breastfeeding women and those with known skin cancers, I think retinol and retinoids are actually wonderful products. I started using a retinoid after I was done breastfeeding my last baby. They’re really great for anti-aging, healing breakouts and giving you glowy skin. Every dermatologist I’ve talked to loves them! At the end of the day, do your own research to find out if it’s something you’re okay with.

Most Commonly Found In: moisturizer, anti-aging skincare
Swap For This: Antioxidant Soft Cream (Day Cream), Tripeptide Radiance Serum (highest concentration of bakuchiol), Overnight Resurfacing Peel, Tetrapeptide Supreme Cream (the BEST night cream I’ve ever used), and this Ultra Renewal Eye Cream—goodbye fine lines!

7. Lead

Lead is a heavy metal and is a neurotoxin. It can cause serious behavioral and learning problems, like lowered IQ. It’s already been removed from things like paint and gasoline, but not the things we’re putting on skin.

If you wear lipstick or lip gloss, think about how many times you reapply it during the day. Some of it will come off when you use a napkin, but plenty of it gets gets absorbed and ingested. Speaking of lipsticks, I also recommend avoiding products that include petrolatum (think Vaseline and common balms) as well.

Most Commonly Found In: lipstick, lip gloss, lip balm, Vaseline
Swap For This: Sheer Lipstick (I love Currant and Scarlet), Lip Gloss, Color Intense Lipstick (9 to 5 is one of my favorites)

8. Formaldehyde

Yes, the stuff we used in high school biology to preserve dead animals. I was shocked to find out that it was used in cosmetics! It is a known carcinogen that is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity.

Also, gross. All I can think of now is dead frogs in my hair!

Most Commonly Found In: shampoo, body wash, bubble bath

Swap For This: Daily Shampoo, Hydrating Shampoo, Citrus Mimosa Body Wash or Charcoal Body Wash (my personal fave and my husband’s)

Where to Buy Clean Skincare & Makeup

When I first started on this journey, it was much harder to find clean products, now it’s a lot easier! Here are my top 4 places to shop for clean products:


At Beautycounter, we have a list of over 1,800 ingredients that will never be used in our products! Did you know that the U.S. government only legally bans or restricts 30? How sad is that?

Take the Clean Skincare Quiz >

This brand is leading the way in clean skincare and cosmetic industry reform and is consistently ranked at the top of the list for clean skincare and beauty.

The products are high-performing, luxurious and the company has an incredible social mission behind it, which is a HUGE part of why I partnered with them. My beauty cabinet and makeup bag is nearly 100% Beautycounter and has been for years.


Credo is sort of like the Sephora of clean beauty. They carry a bunch of different brands and also have incredibly high standards.

A few of my favorite brands they carry are: Herbivore, Tata Harper & Indie Lee.

Primally Pure

Another one of my favorites! I absolutely love their masks, dry shampoo and deodorant. I’m always stocked up on those.

Other Places to Shop

Clean at Sephora: I find that the brands included here are mostly clean, but I still think it’s smart to do your own research as they’re not all great.

Whole Foods: As you might know, Whole Foods has really high standards and carries a good amount of skincare and beauty products that are also pretty clean.

Well, how did your beauty cabinet rank? Which products did you find to be the worst offenders? Any safe products you love? Share below!

BTW, 3 daily skincare non-negotiables, and a review of the Isle of Paradise tanning review drops.



Want easy chic outfit ideas?

Download my spring capsule wardrobe and get 60+ outfits in your inbox.


Amazon Finds

browse all >

More Stories You'll Love

Grab the Spring Capsule Wardrobe

60+ chic, minimalist outfits done for you


get outfit & styling ideas

stay inspired

shop my daily outfits here