Scary Skin Care: Chemicals to Avoid

Halloween is nearly here, so I thought it was the perfect time to review scary chemical ingredients! 

The ingredients I’ll cover have been categorized as harmful or even toxic to your health, yet are widely found in our everyday products.

At Matter, our philosophy from the start has been that given our skin is our largest organ, and its function is to assimilate and eliminate, what we put on it should be just as mindful as what we put inside our bodies. Our tagline “the ingredients are the product” has been synonymous with the integrity of the ingredients we use, thus caring for your health is synonymous with caring for your skin.

There is now much more research and resources on the chemical ingredients found in our personal care products than there was when I first started the company over 20 years ago. In this post I will review a few of the top scary skin culprits that we should avoid, but there are many more, in which I will list, along with resources so you can do your own digging and be more informed when purchasing products.


What is it?
Petrolatum is derived from petroleum and is a by-product of petroleum refining. It is often found in personal care products i.e., petroleum jelly, and is used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin in a variety of moisturizers and in hair care products to make your hair shine.

Why it's scary
The primary concern is as a bi-product of petroleum, it can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The National Toxicology Program (NTP) considers PAHs as a class to contain reasonably anticipated carcinogens. Studies suggest that exposure to PAHs — including skin contact over extended periods of time — is associated with cancer.

What we use instead
Shea butter, beeswax, coconut oil, cocoa butter — these act as barriers and humectants that draw moisture into the skin but also protect it from environmental damage.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

What is it?
SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) is a common ingredient found in soaps, washes, cleansers, household cleaning products, shampoos, and toothpaste. It is used in cosmetics as a detergent to make products bubble and foam.

Why it's scary
SLS is considered a skin irritant. It has been linked to issues such as irritation to eyes, canker sores in toothpaste and those prone to eczema and sensitive skin should avoid it. SLS is also considered toxic to aquatic life and is not recommended to be discharged into the environment. Health Canada has categorized SLES as a “moderate human health priority” and flagged it for future assessment under the government’s Chemicals Management Plan.

What we use instead
Alkyl glucoside is a surfactant (foaming agent) and plant derived. It is extracted from vegetal long-chain fatty alcohols and glucose, extracted from renewable sources. Alkyl glucoside is considered eco-friendly because of its complete biodegradation. It is also considered to have low irritancy and allergenicity.

Phthalates | Synthetic Fragrances

What is it?
Phthalates are a large group of chemicals commonly found in many products common to daily life. In personal care products they are in shampoo, cosmetics and are particularly found in fragrances. Therefore, products containing synthetic fragrances will more than likely contain phthalates.

Why it's scary
The European Union classifies these chemicals as endocrine disruptors, interfering with hormone function. Phthalates have been linked to early puberty in girls, reduced sperm count in men and has also been linked with developmental and reproductive toxicity, causing harm to the unborn child, and impairing fertility lest not forget being linked to causing cancer.

Health Canada notes evidence suggesting that exposure to phthalates may cause health effects such as liver and kidney failure in young children when products containing phthalates are sucked or chewed for extended periods.

What we use instead
Essential Oils are plant compounds extracted from various parts of the plants; roots, bark, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits. They make up the essence of the plant and are extracted from steam distillation process. The volatile oil extracted from these plant essences have many aromatherapeutic values known as aromatherapy along with therapeutic values on the skin including anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties.


What is it?
Parabens are chemicals formaldehyde-releasing preservatives commonly used in cosmetic and personal care products.

Why is it scary?
Parabens are easily absorbed into the skin and are known to interfere with hormone function in women, and possibly in men as they mimic estrogen in the body. There are also links to breast cancer, as parabens have been found in breast tissue.

What we use instead
Radish root ferment filtrate (leuconostoc) is a preservative created by fermenting raphanus sativus (radish) roots with the microorganism, leuconostoc, a bacteria from lactic acid. Small amounts (typically 0.5%) are used in cosmetics to protect them from a wide range of harmful substances that can contaminate the product and alter its effectiveness.

There are many other chemicals that should be avoided when purchasing products and that we consider part of our scary list. They are:

  • Lead
  • Aluminum
  • Formaldehyde (preservatives containing ie.( Dmdm Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidoazolidinyl Urea)
  • Artifical Colorants
  • DEA (diethanolamine),
  • MEA (Monoethanolamine)
  • TEA (triethanolamine)
  • Nano particles
  • Oxybenzone

A good resource and comprehensive list of ingredients that are toxic and harmful is the “The Dirty Dozen” by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Another great resource for checking your ingredient label for toxicity levels is the EWG (Environmental Working Group) Skin Deep Database

This app is helpful in de-coding harmful chemicals found in your personal care products.