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Common Skin Care Ingredients Your Skin Hates

June 07, 2023


Many buyers purchase skin care products without really looking into the ingredients incorporated into it. It's common for people to select items based on recommendations of people they know or based on advertisements that promote their product as beneficial for the users.

However, it is important for everyone to learn about what they put on their body. If you take the time to learn about the chemicals and ingredients in your products than you can better decide whether it is worth it to use the products beyond the negative effects they may have. Remember that these products are being absorbed into your body.

The sad reality is that many of these commonly included chemicals are skin irritants. They can cause inflammation or may even trigger acne problems for those with sensitive skin. Unfortunately, while these ingredients are harmful, there are still many products in the market that contain them.

Scouring through the ingredients of your beauty products can be daunting and tough. But it has to be done so you are armed with the necessary information. Don't be a victim of brilliant marketing that simply makes empty promises of “beautiful, youthful skin.” Don't be overwhelmed by labels that mention chemicals you can barely pronounce.

Ingredients to Look Out For

You can only protect yourself if you learn to decipher what those words on the label actually mean. Cliché as it may sound - knowledge is power. Here are some common skin care ingredients that your skin might actually hate. You may be surprised by how familiar many of these are.   

Benzoyl Peroxide

This is an ingredient that many people know about as being “great for fighting acne” but sadly the risk of damage to skin that it holds isn’t worth it’s power to kill Propionibacteria acnes. Yes, benzoyl peroxide attacks the acne-causing bacteria which is why a consumer has reached for it in the first place and why it is on the market, but acne bacteria is not all it attacks. 

Far beyond the uncomfortable (burning, peeling, skin-drying) side-effects of this chemical, benzoyl peroxide also has been show to deplete the vitamin E in your cells, induce an inflammatory reaction in your skin, and create the condition called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can damage DNA in cells to the point of making skin more vulnerable to cancer. It should be completely avoided, there are other ways to fight acne bacteria that don't present this kind of danger! 


Another ingredient that has been shown to be pro-oxidative with all of the same dangers as benzoyl peroxide is aluminum. This ingredient is often present in deodorants, sunscreen, and antiperspirants. The reason it is included in deodorants and anti-perspirants is that it helps to reduce sweating.

But skin is permeable to aluminum salts and even products applied only to the underarm may transfer to other body parts that will absorb even more of this mineral that skin hates. And if the oxidative stress aspect is not enough to scare you away from aluminum, know that aluminum also poses risks of itching, redness, and swelling for some individuals.


Sulfates (including sodium lauryl sulfate) are used in a lot of dental hygiene, hair care, and skin care products to produce a rich, foamy lather. This chemical also acts as an emulsifier in cosmetics to help achieve a uniform texture which allows for a smoother and easier application. When used in minimal amounts, sulfates can provide cleansing benefits to the skin.  

Often though, they are used in a higher percentage than what would be beneficial to skin and they can cause problems for those with sensitive skin or eczema. Issues such as dryness and redness are quite common when exposed to products with this ingredient. With other more natural ingredients developed to make bubbles and clean the skin you aren't stuck with sulfates anymore. These gentler lathering ingredients are a better option to protect the integrity of the skin's moisture barrier. 


Another ingredient that seems to have become a mainstay in many skin care products is retinol, or synthetic vitamin A. It is part of almost everyone’s skin care routine as it is included in so many moisturizers, serums, and creams.

Retinol is used in products to reduce fine lines and wrinkles while increasing the appearance of skin firmness. It aids in improving uneven skin tone as well as smoothing and refining the skin’s surface. Additionally, it helps in lessening the effects of many environmental stressors.

Just like ingredients previously mentioned, retinol can be drying and irritating to the skin. The effects may not be as adverse and rarely does it yield to toxic reactions, but strong or unstable retinoids can contribute to uncomfortable skin irritation. Retinoids can also increase photosensitivity, making you more prone to sunburns, so use them at night and apply sunscreen during the day.


Many skin care products carry a sweet and inviting scent. This may please the user’s sense of smell but fragrances are also the number one cause of skin allergies. It is not the scent or fragrance that actually triggers the allergy but the chemical compounds used to achieve a certain smell.

A hoard of skin care products may claim to be “unscented” but they may still contain chemicals to hide the formulation’s true scent, and so their ingredient lists need careful examination.

Those who have allergies to these chemicals may suffer itching and swelling of the skin. In some instances, the allergic effects are so severe that the eyes may shut down. Phthalates are among the worst offenders and have been linked to issues as serious as high blood pressure, diabetes, and ADHD. For pregnant women, phthalates can increase the child's chances of developing asthma

Look for Alternatives

You can still get the youthful glow you want to achieve by using products with alternative ingredients. They are safer than those ingredients previously mentioned and are even safe for sensitive skin. The next time you buy skin care products, check out the label and look for these ingredients:

Salicylic Acid

Many skin care products contain this ingredient, which primarily acts as a chemical exfoliant. It mimics how the skin peels off when we were younger leaving it with a youthful glow. Given how salicylic acid (also known as beta hydroxy acid or BHA) is able to penetrate the pores and exfoliate both the inside and surface of the skin, it is good for reducing blackheads, whiteheads, and even breakouts. Other benefits of salicylic acid include soothing properties, minimizing uneven skin tone, and the ability to hydrate skin.

Magnesium Oil

Look for magnesium oil in antiperspirant or deodorants rather than aluminum. This is actually a misnomer since magnesium does not have an actual oil, it just has an oily texture. This is a skin-beneficial ingredient that is effective for keeping underarms fresh and clean.

Sulfate-Free Products

Without getting too technical, sulfates allow your ordinary shampoo to produce a thick lather. Of course, for the consumer, the perception is that the thicker the lather, the more effective the cleanser is. Sulfates are a group of chemical compounds like ammonium lauryl, sodium lauryl, and sodium laureth.

Those with sensitive skin, however, should steer clear from sulfates because they can trigger irritation and inflammation. Not all sulfates deserve the trash bin as many were developed from natural resources and are gentler alternatives. Sodium palmate (saponified palm oil), sodium cocoate (saponified coconut oil), and coco-glucoside (another surfactant made from coconut oil) are all wonderful alternatives to SLS. 

Natural Alternatives to Retinol

Retinol has been proven to have anti-aging properties, but it is too harsh for those with dry or sensitive skin. Retinoids can be more gentle and are available over the counter in skincare products. Skincare rich in vitamin C can also bring the benefits of antioxidants. Products with glycolic acid are also great for exfoliating, and peptides will help your skin produce more collagen for that youthful look while also preventing dehydration. For the brightening effect of vitamin A, products with arbutin and licorice help to lighten dark spots. And nothing beats the natural vitamin A (called trans-retinoic acid) present in rosehip seed oil for overall skin health.