How can you avoid something you don’t know?

Many popular brands, ranging from the fitness industry to the cosmetic powerhouses, like to throw around the term toxins.  They like to say this product is toxin free or this cleanse will get rid of your toxins.  While toxins are certainly something you should avoid and get rid of, the brands never specify what exactly these toxins are.  The specifics of toxins are nuanced, yet extremely important to understand and internalize. How can you avoid something you don’t know?  For example, we think it’s fair to say that every popular consumer product on the market doesn’t have an ingredient list exclaiming: TOXINS HERE.  When it comes to toxins, ignorance is certainly not bliss.

At JOAHYE, we work very hard to verify the ingredients in our products and curate products containing minimal to no known toxins.  While some are worse than others, we strive to be as transparent as possible with our products and their ingredients. There are many cosmetic brands with popular products that we’ve had to turn away after reviewing their ingredient lists.  We’ve performed the dirty work, so you can be easy and shop for skin care that’s been carefully reviewed through our filter.

For your personal reference, we’ve compiled a list of the top 14 worst ingredients that are common to most skincare brands.  We’ll go through them one by one, but feel free to save this page, screenshot the list, and share with your friends and family.  Our goal is for you to have a skin care routine that is safe and healthy. All you need to do is focus on your regimen 🙂


We also want to encourage you to go ahead and grab some of your moisturizers, cleansers, face scrubs, and other cosmetic favs from your bathroom sink.  Compare each product’s ingredient list with this list. You may be shocked at how many common ingredients these share. You may be shocked that you’ve been using a product that should have been labeled: TOXINS HERE.

The 14 toxic ingredients that we try to avoid at JOAHYE:


Before we delve into each one, it’s important to stress that not all chemical-sounding ingredients are toxic to you.  For example, the scary sounding tetrahydrodiferuloylmethane is an extract from the turmeric plant. And the inflammation-reducing extract from licorice is often labeled as dipotassium glycyrrhizate.  On the other hand, chemicals listed as organic do NOT carry the same goodness as organic food, organic skincare, or organic followers.  Organic chemicals simply mean chemicals containing carbon and some are straight up poison.

Here are our 14 top worst ingredients to avoid in your skincare:

1. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS, SLES)

AKA: 1, 4 – DIOXANE.  

Found In: 22% of all petroleum-based cosmetics, shampoo, body wash, foundation, face wash, mouthwash and toothpaste as well as products that create bubbles.  EWG reported that 46% of all products tested contained 1,4 Dioxane. 

Why Avoid:  It’s known to cause cancer and birth defects. 

Regulations:  It’s been banned in Canada, and is banned in the E.U.  Classified in the State of California to cause cancer, but still avidly sold in stores across all 50 states.


Often used as industrial cleansers, SLS and SLES are cheap ways to enhance a product’s spreading and wetting properties.  They serve to make soap foamy and shampoo lather, at the expense of your health. SLS is known to penetrate skin and act as an irritant, with the International Journal of Toxicology reporting it “had a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties.”  SLES can’t be metabolized by the liver, and thus lasts longer in the body. While in production, it can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen in humans. California’s EPA labels 1,4-dioxane a neurotoxicant and kidney and respiratory toxicant. The Environmental Working Group found 1,4-dioxane in 57% of baby washes in the US.

2. Hydroquinone

AKA: Hydroquinone or tocopheryl acetate.

Found in: Cleansers, skin lighteners and moisturizers.

Why Avoid:  Can cause cancer, allergen, organ-system toxicity and respiratory tract irritation.

Regulations: Banned in the E.U., and restricted in Canada and U.S.

Used to lighten dark patches of skin and even skin tone.  While effective in this regard, it’s carcinogenic- so hardly worth the risk.  Ironically, it also destroys your skin’s elasticity and causes skin thinning. It has also been shown to cause skin allergies and respiratory issues.  Europe, Japan, and Australia have banned the product in their skin care products.  


The FDA warns that this skin-bleaching chemical can cause a skin disease called ochronosis – a condition causing “disfiguring and irreversible” blue-black lesions.  It’s best to avoid imported skin lighteners.  In addition to hydroquinone, they’re likely to contain mercury-a very toxic and dangerous element to everyone.  If the ingredients are not clearly labeled on the products, just avoid buying. If your skin goal is overall evenness, we carry a wide range of skin care products with natural ingredients that are great for your skin tone (and your skin! :).

3. Mineral oil

AKA: petroleum jelly, petrolatum, liquid paraffin, Vaseline,

Found In: Moisturizers, lotions, lip treatments, cosmetics, baby products, hair products etc etc etc. 

Why Avoid: Can’t be fully metabolized and is among one of the greatest contaminations in the modern human body.  As with the majority of ingredients on this list, it’s a human carcinogen, linked to cancer. Is also linked to estrogen dominance.

Regulations: In the European Union, petroleum jelly can only be used in cosmetics if a detailed history of the manufacturing process is known.  In the United States, this is still sold avidly everywhere.


Mineral oil is one of the by-products of distilling petroleum used to produce gasoline – think about that next time you’re filling the tank.  Despite this very toxic and dirty process, mineral oil is used in baby oil, moisturizers, and styling gels. The World Health Organization labels mineral oil as a carcinogen, and the EWG reports that it can be contaminated with cancer-causing hydrocarbons during the refining process.  Touted as never spoiling and retaining moisture, mineral oil clogs your pores, hinders your skin’s ability to get rid of toxins, and eventually causes cancer. Yikes!

4. Parabens

AKA: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, and ingredients ending in –paraben.

Found in: Makeup, moisturizer, shaving gel, shampoo, personal lubricant, spray tan, cleanser, body washes and body scrubs.

Why Avoid:  Can cause endocrine disruption, cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity.

Regulations: Some forms are banned in Denmark.


Parabens are used as an antibacterial preservative for skin care products so they last longer.  However, what’s bad for bacteria is not always good for you. Parabens are commonly found in water-based products and examples include methylparaben, proplyparaben, isopropylparaben, and isobutylparaben.  Parabens are known endocrine disruptors, meaning they mimic estrogen in the body and can lead to hormonal imbalances. They have also possibly been linked to breast cancer. These nasty preservatives have been used in products since the 1920s, landing in everything from facial cleansers to body washes.  There are, of course, natural ingredients that offer great antimicrobial properties, such as products featuring honey and aloe vera.

5. Triclosan


Found in: toothpaste, deodorant, antibacterial soap

Why Avoid: Can create carcinogenic chloroform, alters hormone regulation

Regulations:  Triclosan is prohibited for cosmetics use in the E.U.  In September 2016, the FDA announced that it would prohibit the sale of “consumer antiseptic washes” containing triclosan; but triclosan is still widely used by the U.S. cosmetics industry.


Another problematic, antimicrobial agent and is frequently used in cosmetics and deodorants.  On the flip side, triclosan has also been shown to ruin hormone regulation in animals and may be harmful to the immune system.  Its frequent use has contributed to antibacterial resistant strains of super germs becoming more common in bathrooms and sinks, shown by a study conducted by The American Medical Association.  Making this even worse, triclosan can also combine with the chlorine in tap water to create carcinogenic chloroform. It’s been shown that regular soap and water works perfectly well for cleaning your hands.  For cosmetics? How about shea butter cleansers, creams, balms and face masks.  They actually support your skin’s immunity to infection and resistance to those pesky microbes.  All of that without messing with your hormones. 

6. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)


Found in: Many types of cosmetics as a thickener, especially in lotions, scrup, exfoliator, shampoo, and sunscreen.

Why Avoid:  As with triclosan, it can combine with chlorine found in water to create carcinogenic chloroform.  It has also been found to alter hormone regulation.


PEG is easily contaminated with both ethylene oxide (a known carcinogen) and 1,4-Dioxane, discussed in the 1st harmful ingredient on our list.  The tiny plastic beads, often in scrubs and exfoliators, are made from polyethylene.  PEG is one of those toxins discussed in one of our previous blogs that penetrates your skin and causes skin irritation.  And what’s worse, it usually carries the baggage of other carcinogenic chemicals.  Polyethylene has been noted as a skin irritant and should never be used on broken skin.  After washing in the sink, these beads get into drainage pipes and are not fully filtered at water sanitation facilities.  They make their way into fish, drinking water, and other lifeforms. You certainly don’t have to live with this every time you want to exfoliate your skin.  There are many natural exfoliators that are better for your skin (and MUCH better for the overall environment!). 

7. Formaldehyde (PEG)

AKA: Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxyethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal.

Found In: Soaps, body wash, nail polish, nail hardener, hair treatments and color cosmetics.

Why Avoid: Can cause cancer, skin irritation and sensitization.

Regulations: Banned in Japan and Sweden, restricted in E.U. and Canada.  In the United States? You can buy the pure, carcinogenic chemical on Amazon.


In 2003, sales of formaldehyde and derivative products was over $145 billion in 2003 – a whopping  1.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States and Canada. While often used for preserving dead animals in taxidermy, it is also used as a preservative in cosmetics.  It’s a well-known carcinogen that is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. It can be found in other preservatives labeled as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and imidazolidinyl urea.  While it is true that natural cosmetics don’t last as long as products containing harsh chemicals, the shelf life for most natural products is around 2 years. And as we said before, there are plenty of more natural, holistic ingredients for preserving cosmetics, without harm to your health.

8. Oxybenzone

AKA:  benzophenone-3, Milestab 9, Eusolex 4360, Escalol 567, KAHSCREEN BZ-3

Found in: Sunscreen, moisturizer, lip balm, and makeup

Why Avoid: Can cause skin allergies, disrupt endocrine, and alter thyroid function.  After being absorbed in your skin, remains in your body for an undetermined amount of time.  Was awarded “Allergen of the Year” in 2014 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

Regulations:  Remains FDA approved and is still widely used in chemical sunscreens and other cosmetics.


Although it has been cited as a skin allergy fein, it remains a key ingredient among the most common sunscreens on the market.  While in your body, oxybenzone can alter your hormone function by disrupting the endocrine system. It has also been known to alter thyroid function.  These chemical sunscreens should be avoided, especially among children as hormone disruption can cause serious developmental issues. As well as sunscreens, oxybenzone can also be found in moisturizers, lip balms, and makeup.  We recommend a mineral sunscreen that physically blocks UV rays, rather than by a chemical method. And if your skin gets burned, we’d definitely recommend our Aloe Skincare Box  or Harakeke Skincare Box.

9. Phthalates

AKA: Phthalate, DEP, DBP, and DEHP

Found In: Perfume, Eye Shadow, Moisturizer, Nail Polish, Liquid Soap, and Hair Spray.

Why Avoid: Can cause endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and cancer.

Regulations:  Some forms banned in the E.U.  In December 2013, it was listed as a chemical “known to the State of California to cause cancer”.


Phthalates are mostly used to improve the elasticity of plastic and are often used in sewer pipes.  In cosmetics, these chemicals are used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics in the products.  This helps products stick to our skin; but unfortunately, these chemicals are often also absorbed by the skin into the body.  From there, the phthalates can cause issues stemming from hormone malfunction and eventually cancer upon continued use. Phthalates can be extremely dangerous to children, and in 2009, it became illegal for phthalates to be incorporated into toys in the U.S.  Although skin care products do need time to absorb into your skin, there are better ways to do this than using a plastic additive. We recommend frequent and continued use of our complete K-beauty routine in order to give your skin plenty of opportunity to absorb the wonderful natural remedies for clear and bright skin.  After completing your skin care routine, spending 10 – 15 minutes with a face mask will give your skin plenty of time to absorb all the nutrients it has to offer.

10. Phenoxy Ethanol

AKA: Phenoxyethanol, 2-Phenoxyethanol, Euxyl K 400 (mixture of Phenoxyethanol and 1, 2-dibromo-2, 4-dicyanobutane), and PhE.

Found In: Moisturizers, lip treatments, color cosmetics, hand lotion, body washes and soaps.

Why Avoid: Can cause allergies and nervous system effects.

Regulations: In Japan and the EU, its concentration in cosmetics is restricted to 1%.  Currently mildly restricted in the U. S. by the FDA.


It’s found in a large range of products, and is used to balance the perfume smell in many cosmetic lines.  It is especially common in face cleansers and lotions. It can also be used in fragrance. This preservative is an alternative to parabens and formaldehyde.  Although it’s better than these noxious ingredients, don’t let the lesser of two evils fool you. Exposure to phenoxyethanol has been linked to reactions ranging from eczema to severe, life-threatening allergic reactions.  Infant oral exposure to phenoxyethanol can acutely affect nervous system function. It’s use is restricted in Japan and Europe, and the FDA has even issued a warning about the presence of it in nipple cream. We’d recommend just avoiding it.  Fortunately, there are a large range of natural facial creams – containing ingredients suitable for all skin types.  And they range from a Hyaluronic Acid Calming Cream (evaluated as the top safety level by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to a Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate Cream (certified by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) as a functional cosmetic)


AKA: Triethanolamine, TEA lauryl sulfate, cocamide DEA, Cocamide MEA, DEA-CETYL, phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, lin oleamide MEA, myristamide, DEA, Oleamide DEA, steramide MEA. (This list is not comprehensive.) 

Found in: Wetting agents and product foam in products such as facial cleansers, shampoos, hair colors, hair relaxers and body wash.

Why Avoid:  In 2013, the International Agency for Research classified these compounds as suspected carcinogens to humans.  They have also been shown to hinder brain development.

Regulations: The FDA does not regulate the use of DEA or its derivatives in cosmetics at this time.


DEA and DEA-related ingredients are often used for foaming in foam cleansers and foam moisturizers in cosmetics.  They also adjust a product’s pH or acidity. Sounds great, if these ingredients didn’t also lead to producing the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines that are readily absorbed into the body.  The National Toxicology Program found a connection between the topical application of DEA and cancer in lab animals. Another study showed that DEA hinders brain development in baby mice when applied to their pregnant mothers.  But don’t worry, you don’t have to rid your life of all foam moisturizers. Where labs fail short, nature delivers! This Honest Cleansing Foam by Benton uses Palm Oil and Camellia Japonica Seed Oil as a natural foaming agent.  It works great and without all the carcinogens.  

12. Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluen (BHA & BHT)

AKA: Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluen.

Found In: Lip treatments, color cosmetics and fragrances.  Mostly used in moisturizers and cosmetics as a preservative. 

Why Avoid: The U.S. National Institutes of Health report that BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.  Can cause endocrine disruption, organ-system toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, and irritation.  Harmful to fish and other wildlife. 

Regulations: BHA is banned in the E.U.  Although recognized as a carcinogen by the National Institute of Health, BHA is still being avidly used in cosmetics across the country.


BHA is actually a strong antioxidant, which is partly how it acts to preserve certain cosmetics.  However, not all antioxidants are superfoods and good for you! This toxin can cause skin depigmentation and has been shown to produce liver damage and stomach cancers such as papillomas and carcinomas.  Additionally, it can significantly interfere with your reproductive system, future children, and hormone levels. The European Union considers it unsafe in fragrance and bans this product.  If you’re looking for a moisturizer that’s rich in antioxidants that are actually good for you, try this Green Tea Balancing Cream by Innisfree.  This vegan-friendly cosmetic locks moisture in your skin naturally with Cocoa Butter while giving your skin all the antioxidant benefits from Green Tea.


AKA: p-phenylenediamine, “CI”+number, “FD&C”+number, “D&C”+number. 

Found In: Used extensively in cosmetics and especially hair dyes.

Why Avoid: Human carcinogens, linked to cancer, and often contaminated with heavy metals that are toxic to the brain.  Frequent exposure is linked to skin irritations and rashes. Toxic to fish and wildlife, as well as humans. 

Regulations: Coal Tar is banned in the E.U. and the E.U. classifies p-phenylenediamine as toxic when in contact with skin, by inhalation or if swallowed.  California requires products containing more than 0.5% of coal tar to be labeled with cancer warnings.


These artificial colors and dyes are used in everything from foods, prescription drugs, textiles, and cosmetics – especially hair dyes!  These ingredients cause a number of health concerns. They have been linked to tumours in laboratory tests, as wells as ADHD and learning difficulties in children.  While children should never be using products containing these dyes, mothers using these products frequently transfer these toxins onto their children. This poses several dangers for a child’s development and overall health.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer groups products containing more than 5% of crude coal tar as Group 1 carcinogens. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to avoid products containing these harmful dyes. The best plan of action is to seek products using natural ingredients.  Most of these products won’t necessarily have fabulous colors, but by using natural ingredients, your natural tones and colors will be accentuated and glamorous. You won’t even have a need for artificial coloring – and you’ll be much healthier for it.

14. Fragrance/parfum

AKA: Complex mixture of over 3000 chemicals are used as fragrance. 

Found In: The majority of cosmetics and personal care products.  Even products marked as “unscented” have fragrance added!  Perfumes, colognes, deodorants, shampoo, soaps, lotions etc.  

Why Avoid: Triggers allergies & asthma, linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some are harmful to fish and wildlife. 

Regulations: In the U.S., fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in their list of ingredients.  E.U. restricts the use of many fragrance ingredients and requires warning labels if they contain any of the 26 allergens commonly used as cosmetic fragrance. 

This is the toughest ingredient of all to avoid.  It’s an unregulated ingredient that often includes harmful chemicals and carcinogens.  This catch-all phrase sometimes contains hundreds of constituents that make up a particular fragrance, none of which are legally mandatory to list.  MADE SAFE, a nonprofit organization that tests and certifies nontoxic products, notes that “companies are legally allowed to keep individual fragrance ingredients secret because they’re deemed ‘confidential business information,’ or what’s also known as a ‘trade secret.’”  Many of the ingredients used to maintain the scent and color of perfume, lip balm, and nail polish include phthalates, which have been banned in the EU and in children’s toys in California. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive disorders in both males and females, endocrine disruption, allergies, and breast cancer.  What’s worse? If it’s on you, it easily gets transferred to your kids. It was found that children subject to high levels of phthalates were 70% more likely to develop asthma between the ages of 5 and 12.  Unfortunately as a retailer, fragrance is the most difficult ingredient to properly vet due to its ambiguity.  At JOAHYE, many of our products have no fragrance, and we put pressure on our collaborating brands to stop using this harmful ingredient in their products.  For the products containing fragrance, we strive to remain transparent and emphasize the possible toxin with a warning.