9 Product Ingredients That Make Beauty Editors Cringe
What to avoid in your skin, hair, and makeup formulas, and why.
We’ve all witnessed the meteoric rise of natural beauty—also known as green beauty, organic beauty, and clean beauty—over the past few years. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a skin-care and makeup lover who is willing to part with her beloved staples, myself included. Instead of throwing away all my favorites just because they’re not organic, I’ve become adept at reading labels and avoiding the ingredients that I know are either bad for the environment and/or my skin and hair. There are a lot of cheap, accessible formulas out there that companies continue to use despite the risks, so I say educate yourself the best you can and make the choices that are right for you. To help identify what in particular to steer clear of, I polled seven beauty editors for the ingredients they’ll never, ever use. Check them out below.
Katie Becker, Beauty & Health Director at Elle:
“Oxybenzone: It’s the only sunscreen ingredient that multiple derms have started to advise you avoid. There is some science that shows it can enter your bloodstream and may have hormone-disrupting properties. That said: WEAR SUNSCREEN, people. The potential harm you can do yourself from sun damage has been heavily documented and is quantifiably more of a risk than the often remote fears associated with sunscreen in general.”
Sable Yong, Freelance Beauty Writer
“Sulfates: We don’t need them, they’re drying as hell, and they destroy our microbiome. Boi, bye.
“Dimethicone: I know, it’s for ‘texture,’ but it’s also a do-nothing filler that usually just clogs pores and makes your makeup/skin care all pilly. Or for hair product, it just coats your hair and somehow makes my hair look greasier after the day, and also attracts dust, so it feels grimier. Plus, it’s more difficult to wash/rinse off. No bueno.
“Essential Oils: I know they smell nice and stuff, and I really think they’re fine for aromatherapy, but in skin care they are KNOWN to be irritants for a significant amount of people, yet are used as a marketing tool to promote the ‘naturalness’ of a product. What a con.”
Stephanie Saltzman, Senior Beauty Editor at Fashionista
“Alcohol: I try to stay away from most skin-care products that contain alcohol, and it’s crazy how many toners have it really high up on the ingredients list. It strips skin and messes with its surface pH, which can lead to inflammation, flaking, and lots of other complexion weirdness. Instead, the ‘toners’ I look for are hydrating essences, which replenish moisture, or chemical exfoliants with BHA, AHA, or PHA—or some mix of those—but never alcohol.
“Coconut oil: I’m totally fine if this ingredient is in a lip balm, hand cream, conditioner, or even a body cream. But I’d never (ever!) put coconut oil on my face. I have combination skin that’s very prone to breakouts and congested pores, so it’s just too heavy for me. Even in the winter when I bust out my heaviest moisturizers, I steer clear of coconut oil specifically and instead look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid and even jojoba oil, which mimics skin’s naturally occurring oils, so it doesn’t have the same potentially pore-clogging effects as coconut oil.”
Crystal Martin, Contributing Writer for The New York Times
“Sodium lauryl sulfate: I’m not allergic to sodium lauryl sulfate and don’t have sensitive skin, but because I’m on an aggressive anti-aging regimen, I avoid it. It strips skin of its natural oils, disrupting barrier function. In other words, it dehydrates my skin.
“Silicone: Silicone is one of those ingredients that’s just my personal bête noire. It’s a safe and even helpful ingredient for the skin, but I absolutely hate that slip that silicone gives skin-care products. It feels so artificial, like I’m putting a coating of plastic on my skin.”
Kathleen Hou, Beauty Director at The Cut
“Chocolate: I don’t like any of the typical stuff: Alcohol, oxybenzone, sulfates in shampoo, and any perfume that says ‘red velvet cupcake accord.’ I’m also personally allergic to lanolin and benzoyl peroxide. But what I really, really hate is beauty products with chocolate in them. Don’t give me your chocolate-scented makeup or cleansers. Spare me from your chocolate scrubs. I want chocolate to melt in my mouth, not on my face, my hand, or in a spa treatment. Even as a person with a sweet tooth, I don’t want my shower to smell like Hershey Farms. Even from a functional perspective, what is the point? It’s allegedly an antioxidant, but there are way more powerful ones. I’ll take vitamin C instead, thanks.”
Erin Lukas, Associate Beauty Editor at InStyle
“Sulfates: My chocolate-brown hair is extremely thick, dry, and color-treated. I have to color my hair every two months because it turns brassy on its own, so I avoid using any products that are going to accelerate fading—especially shampoos that contain sulfates. Sure, I’m surfacing a hair-washing experience with shampoo-commercial-level lather, but I’m not potentially stripping my hair color or depleting my hair follicles of the essential oils needed to keep my hair hydrated and less frizzy.”
Faith Xue, Editorial Director at Byrdie
“Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a beauty editor is to be gentle with my skin and opt for lightly hydrating ingredients instead of harsh cleansers that are traditionally marketed for oily skin and oily scalp (both of which I’m lucky enough to possess). Thus, I avoid any skin-care and hair-care products that have sulfates in them. They’re a common cleansing agent that give your skin and hair that squeaky-clean feeling, but often if they’re at the top of the ingredients list, they can over-dry your skin and scalp, leading to excess oil production. I’ve found that switching over to gentler cleansers with less harsh surfactants has made a world of difference with both my skin and hair.
“Mineral Oil: There have been a couple of studies about the sketchy effects of mineral oil on the body, and none of them conclusive. Other than the fact that it’s derived from petroleum, untreated mineral is a known carcinogen (though most mineral oil in cosmetics have been highly refined). However, given the fact that there are so many great alternatives on the market, I tend to avoid it when I can and go for its more natural counterparts (i.e., grapeseed oil, argan, etc.).”
Want more stories like this?