Harmful Ingredients to Avoid in Topical Products and Medications

harmful ingredients

Unfortunately, many skincare and topical pharmaceutical products on the market contain harmful chemicals and toxins that you might not normally think about.

When considering which topical products to use on your patients in the clinic or even on yourself, you may want to consider avoiding certain ingredients that may not be the best for you or your patients’/clients’ health.

Thankfully, there are healthier alternatives that offer chemical-free ingredients.

Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Topical Products

Topical products used in clinical settings carry many of the same toxic ingredients as skincare and cosmetic products. To help you choose healthy products for you and your patients, we have compiled a list of harmful ingredients to avoid.

Be on the lookout for: 

  • EDTAs – calcium disodium EDTA, disodium EDTA, tetrasodium EDTA, trisodium EDTA. EDTAs are chemical chelators that bind to some minerals and metals. They are included in many products to help maintain their stability and preservation. These ingredients can increase the penetration of other ingredients in the product, which can be dangerous when it enters the bloodstream.
  • Ethanolamines – diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), monoethanolamine (MEA)Phthalates – DBP, DEHP, DEP, or bisphenols (BPA). These organic chemical compounds work as surfactants and emulsifiers in many topical products. They can irritate the skin. Likewise, they have been found to be toxic in high amounts.
  • Solvents – toluene, hexane, benzene, methyl cellosolve, butoxyethanol, benzyl alcohol, methoxy ethanol. Solvents are used in topical products to enhance their functionality and texture. While not all of these ingredients are inherently toxic, they must be used in moderation because they can be quite irritating to those with sensitive skin. Solvents can dry and redden the skin with excessive use.
  • Cyclic silicones – Cyclopentasiloxane (D4), Cyclopentasiloxane (D6) or Cyclopentasiloxane (D5). Cyclic silicones are used as solvents.  There is some evidence that cyclic silicones can be cancer-causing and cause endocrine disruptions. They are banned in both Canada and Europe.
  • Polyacrylamide. Polyacrylamide is a polymer, a molecule made from merging other small molecules knowns as monomers. While natural polymers exist like rubber and wood, they are made synthetically in order to create rubber, polyester, plastics, epoxies, and glass. They are also used in topical products to enhance their ability to remain on your skin. Due to the large molecules, they are highly unlikely to be transdermal. Studies have shown a low toxicity profile, however, if you are concerned about natural origins, this is a product to avoid.
  • Styrenes – styrene acrylates copolymer, styrene-butadiene copolymer, polystyrene, styrene copolymer, styrene resin, ethylbenzene, and vinylbenzene.  Styrenes are organic compounds derived from benzene in order to create a solvent. These ingredients are commonly used to create plastics, fiberglass, rubber, and latex; but it can also be found in cosmetics including nail polish, sunscreen, body cleaners, shampoo, and eyeliner.  These ingredients are generally recognized as safe (grass), however, they can irritate the eyes, skin, and upper respiratory tract. If ingested, they can be toxic to red blood cells and the liver.

Clean topical products should not include any of the above ingredients. We encourage you to always read your product labels thoroughly to ensure you are using the cleanest products possible.

To learn more about boosting your business with CBD,
download your FREE E-Book

Environmental Toxins to Avoid in Topical Formulations and Skincare Products

Many of us do not think about the impact our topical products have on the environment. If you consider sunscreen, for example, it gets slathered onto the skin before swimming in the ocean. Little do we understand, many sunscreens and its toxic ingredients can harm our ocean wildlife.

Similarly, the same principle applies to any topical skincare product you use on your skin, particularly soaps and body washes when they run down the drain. But this is also vital to consider for massage clients who may want to wash off any oils you use on them during their session.

Here are some ingredients to avoid in topical products for environmental concerns

  • Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP). Phthalates are a group of chemicals commonly known as plasticizers and can be found in many types of plastics to increase flexibility. They can also be included in topical products to act as a binding agent. They can negatively impact the reproductive system. 
  • Bisphenols (BPA). BPAs are chemical compounds often used to formulate plastics and resins, however it was also a common ingredient in lipstick, nail lacquers, and eye and face makeup. While the use of BPA in cosmetic or topical products was banned in 2006, it is still authorized to be used in the packaging of cosmetics. BPA has been shown to have environmental impacts on both fresh and saltwater aquatic life. Likewise, it has been found to be a hazardous endocrine disruptor. 
  • Mercury or ingredients containing mercury. Mercury is a silvery-white liquid chemical element also known as quicksilver. It is commonly used in industrial appliances like thermometers and fluorescent lamps, but it has also been found in cosmetics including skin lightening agents, anti-aging creams, soaps, and anti-acne creams. It was banned for use in topical and cosmetic products in 1974 due to its harmful effects on the human endocrine system. However, companies are still allowed to include trace amounts of it. If mercury leaches into drinking water, it can be detrimental to the environment, aquatic life, and humans.
  • Palm-derived ingredients that are not “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)” certified. Ingredients derived from palm trees like palm oil or stearic acid can be detrimental to the rainforests, which negatively impacts climate change. However, sustainable practices are possible. The RSPO is a group that monitors sustainable palm oil cultivation. They offer certifications so consumers can verify if the products listed are sustainable.
  • Oxybenzone, octinoxate, benzophoneone, and avobenzone. These chemicals are used to filter out UV rays in many topical products, particularly sunscreens. They can be toxic to waterways when they are washed off. Some studies have indicated concerns about their excess use due to the potential for them to disrupt estrogen hormones.

When choosing topical analgesics or massage oils to use on your patients or clients, consider using a brand that has less impact on the environment.

In the wake of global warming and increased environmental concern, showing that you and your business align with these efforts can be an effective marketing strategy. When you choose to offer a brand committed to sustainability, you can use this as a positive selling point for your services.

The more you know: With summer coming up, we wanted to emphasize that a reef-safe sunscreen with zinc oxide or mineral base is best for our oceans and waterways. We recommend sharing this with your patients or clients as they spend more time outdoors in the coming months!

Allergens and Irritants to Avoid

Avoiding topical products with allergens and irritants will prevent the development of new or worsening symptoms for those with acne-prone skin or other skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. If you use an emollient to manage your skincare issues, you should also check its label to make sure it is free of these toxic ingredients:

harmful ingredients

  • Talc: Talc is a white clay mineral powder (hydrated magnesium silicate) that is subject to ample controversy due to concerns about asbestos. While not all talc contains asbestos and other toxins, many cheap brands do not filter out all of the impurities that can harm the body and the environment.
  • Resorcinol. Used as an antiseptic in topical products Resorcinol can cause severe skin irritation when it is used in large quantities.
  • Urea. Urea is crystalline compound excreted in animal urine. It is often included in topical products for dry, itchy skin due to psoriasis or dermatitis. However, it can cause an increase in symptoms for some people.
  • Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent found in products intended to lighten the skin, reduce acne scars, or lighten age spots. However, there is some controversy surrounding this ingredient since traces of mercury can be found in these products. There is also the possibility of it having the opposite effect as intended, particularly darkening the skin.
  • Synthetic fragrances. Synthetic fragrances are often added to products to enhance their fragrance. However, many people experience negative reactions such as rashes or headaches when they are exposed to synthetic fragrances. Naturally-derived fragrances from essential oils are experiencing a resurgence in popularity for this reason.
  • Alcohol denat aka denatured alcohol: This is a great ingredient that has been proven to fight germs in hand sanitizers. But use products that feature this ingredient in moderation. It dries the skin with excessive use.

Luckily, there are plenty of natural products on the market that will help keep skin conditions under control without the use of chemicals and toxic ingredients.

Colorants in Skincare Products and Topical Medications to Avoid

When we scan labels to check for ingredients, sometimes toxic colorants get overlooked. What about those dyes and synthetic colors? When possible, gravitate toward plant-based dyes and pigments like those made from real fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Here is a list of colorants to avoid in skincare products and topical medications:

  • Coal tar derived colorants: Coal tar contains many petroleum-based chemicals understood to have carcinogenic hazards. In the U.S., you’ll generally see it listed under a 5-digit color index (C.I.) number. This can appear as FD&C or D&C name with a color name suffix. The most common name you might see is P-phenylenediamine or phenylenediamine. You’ll also see names like carbon black, acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black, and thermal black.
  • Carmine: This is the crushed red cochineal insect used to make red dye in many cosmetics and topicals that desire a red or pink appearance. While generally considered safe as long as the quantity restrictions are followed, some people wish to avoid it for ethical reasons. Likewise, Canadian researchers have expressed some concerns about environmental toxicity.
  • Red 28: In general, you’ll want to avoid numbered ingredients. But this ingredient, in particular, has raised concerns about aquatic toxicity due to bioaccumulation. It has also been flagged as an eye irritant as well as a potential carcinogen.

Clean Topical Pain Relievers and Skincare Products 

Not sure where to get started on your search for clean, topical products free of harmful ingredients?

Fortunately, when deciding which topical pain-reliever to use on your patients or clients, you can rest assured that CBD CLINIC products are made with non-toxic, plant-based, chemical-free, and hypoallergenic ingredients that will not harm your patients’ or clients’ health or cause unwanted side effects.

On top of that, CBD CLINIC products are made with naturally-derived analgesics like camphor and menthol and emollients like hemp-derived CBD, jojoba oil, and shea butter to moisturize and soothe the skin.

If you are interested in checking the ratings of other skin products and their ingredients, we recommend visiting the website of the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The EWG rates products on a number scale from 1-10 with 1 being the least toxic and 10 being the most toxic. Their scores also provide details about harmful chemicals in products and how they can affect the body. Some are carcinogenic while other ingredients may cause allergy symptoms or irritation, for example.

The next time you shop for topical products or skincare products, check to see if it is EWG verified or check its score on the EWG Skin Deep Database.

Key Takeaways

Whether you are looking for more environmentally friendly, plant-based, or 100% non-toxic skincare products, there are many options available. To get a better idea of how CBD CLINIC products can help you and your patients, read our article on Conditions CBD CLINIC Products Be Used For. We also have a superb guide on natural ingredients for fighting pain.

Want to learn more about natural health products you can use to advance your practice?
You are invited to join our community on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If you are a licensed healthcare professional, you are also invited to join our exclusive private group.

Skip to content