Skincare Ingredients: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

If you are into your skincare, you will have read about bad ingredients you should be avoiding, like Parabens and Sulphates. Skincare companies are all moving towards nasty-free formulations, but what should you look out for other than the most well-known ingredients, and why?

Here is a short guide on what is good, bad, and what you should be looking out for on the back of the bottle.


1. Preservatives, otherwise known as Parabens.

Preservatives are needed in all formulations that contain water and moisture, to essentially stop the product from going mouldy. 

The Good Ones

  • Vegetable Glycerine
  • Sodium Benzoate
  • Benzoic Acid
  • Potassium Sorbate
  • Phenoxyethanol (if it is less than 1.0%, or is low on the ingredients list)
  • Benzyl Alcohol (if it is less than 1.0%, or is low on the ingredients list)
  • Acetic Acid (if it is less than 1.0%, or is low on the ingredients list)
  • Essential oils like Rosemary, Tea Tree, Turmeric and Oregano have natural preservative properties

    The Bad Ones

    • DMDM Hydantoin which releases Formaldehyde
    • Imidazolidinyl Urea
    • Diazolidinyl Urea
    • Quaternium-15

    Look out for ingredient names that end with “-paraben”, “methyl-“, “ethyl-“.


    2. Formaldehydes

    Formaldehyde is widely used as a preservative, particularly in nail varnish, makeup, lotions, and deodorants. Any form of Formaldehyde is not good.

    Look out for ingredient names that end with Formaldehyde, Formalin, Bromopol, or Glyoxal such as:

    • Imidazolidinyl urea
    • Diazolidinyl urea
    • Bronopol
    • DMDM hydration
    • Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
    • 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane
    • Quaternium-15


    3. Foaming Agents

    Foaming agents are widely disputed as to whether they are safe to use or not. They are found in all products that foam up, from toothpastes to cleansers. Particularly in haircare, foaming agents can strip away valuable moisture and oils. There is a common misconception that a foaming shampoo washes your hair better - that is not the case and is often only added in to give customers that expected texture. Ideally, foam-free products are the best. 


    • Ingredients that contain Vitamin E
    • Ingredients with Antiseptic properties
    • Anti-inflammatory ingredients
    • Those high in Allantoin
    • Hydrolyzed Wheat
    • Benzoic Acid
    • Benzyl Benzoate


    • SLS - Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate
    • SLES - Sodium Laureth Sulfate (though less irritating than SLS)


    4. Petrolatum

    Petrolatum is used for its moisturising properties - it is even FDA approved. Good quality Petrolatum can be okay, but often cheaper versions are used which can potentially be harmful. Petrolatum is thought to not be good for long term use, as it creates a barrier on the skin that locks moisture in, but by doing so it also prevents the skin from absorbing external moisture, making the skin dryer as a result. 

    Good Alternatives:

    • Soy Oil
    • Beeswax
    • Vitamin E
    • Coconut Oil
    • Shea Butter

    Look Out for:

    • Mineral Oil
    • Paraffin Wax
    • Benzene
    • Names that end with ‘-eth’


      5. Phthalates

      Phthalates are used to keep the texture of products soft and flexible. They are very common and have been linked in some studies to hormone disruption. They can be hard to spot as they are often included under 'Fragrance', which manufacturers don't have to list out.

      Look Out for:

      • Phthalate
      • DEP, DBP, DEHP
      • Fragrance

      Good Alternatives

      • Diethyl Phthalate (CAS 84-66-2)
      • Di Propylene Glycol (A better solvent than just Propylene Glycol)
      • Isopropyl Myristate
      • Benzyl Benzoate
      • Resins


      6. Fragrance

      As mentioned previously, it is not a requirement to list out what makes up a fragrance. Sometimes, but not always, this means some nasty ingredients can be hidden.

      Essential Oils are the better way to fragrance a product, and will often be listed in the ingredients. However some Essential Oils can also irritate the skin, so if you have the choice, fragrance-free is the best.

      Look Out for:

      • Fragrance
      • Perfume
      • Parfum
      • Aroma


      7. Alcohol

      Alcohols provide a smooth texture to skincare products and ensure fast drying. Not all alcohols are bad, but 'drying' alcohols can be very irritating, as well as drying to the skin as they strip away it's natural protection.

      Drying Alcohols include:

      • Ethanol
      • SD Alcohol
      • Methanol
      • Denatured Alcohol
      • Ethyl Alcohol

      'Fatty' alcohols do not damage skin and can help to moisturise, such as:

      • Cetearyl Alcohol
      • Cetyl Alcohol
      • Isostearyl Alcohol