Brand Founders Share What They’d Put On Clean Beauty Forbidden Ingredient Lists

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 15 brand founders and executives: What ingredients do you think should be added to the original clean beauty ingredient no-no lists with parabans, sulfates and phthalates?

Robin Brown Co-Founder, Erbaviva

For one, chemical sunscreen ingredients, including oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These ingredients are absorbed by the skin and body, and are highly toxic. They were developed before there was any true awareness of how much the skin absorbed what we apply into the bloodstream. Plus, they are further damaging to the skin and body as a result of the many chemical interactions that occur as the ingredients react with the skin itself and sunlight. 

Often, the smell of these ingredients is powerful, so there’s a need to use fragrance (not essential oils) to cover it up. Many of these chemicals are particularly damaging to our fragile marine ecosystems, including coral reefs.

I also believe that synthetic fragrances should be added to the no-no list. It’s an ambitious step that I know many people cannot get behind, but it is my personal opinion that they contribute to environmental pollution and worsen allergies.

Nina Zilka CEO and Co-Founder, Alder New York

The ingredients I think most need to be added to no-no lists are part of the PEG group, but tend to get overlooked. These are polysorbate-60, ceteareth-20 and laureth-7. We won't use them because all of them are PEGs and one of the by-products of making them is a known carcinogen, 1,4 dioxane. PEGs also often contain impurities like lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, arsenic, cadmium and more that are strongly linked to cancer and other dangers. And PEGs also make it easier for ingredients to penetrate your skin. 

So, not only is it possible to get a contaminated ingredient, but it's also easier for that contaminate to get into your bloodstream. "Clean" brands are still using the three ingredients I listed above because they provide a certain texture and feeling to products that's enjoyable at low cost, but they can be incredibly dangerous. We know it may take us longer to formulate a product that is highly effective with the same or even better texture and feel than our competitors without using PEGs, but we factor that into our R&D time because it's so important to us to never use PEGs.

Nicoya Hecht Co-Founder, Rising Springs

I would love to see brands look more closely at filtered water as an ingredient. I think the beauty industry is looking at what's inside some of the ingredients, but they are not looking at what's inside the water that is an ingredient in so many products.  Water is the great dissolver, and it carries an energetic/molecular signature of everything it goes through.  

The EPA regulates only 90 of the hundreds of contaminants that are making their way into our water systems.  Even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does track 100 of those hundreds, they remain so far unregulated. In addition, the EPA does not track the accumulated or synergistic effects of the regulated and are only measuring to a certain level for those 90 contaminants they do regulate. It seems to be an oversight in the industry to not inspect this key ingredient more closely. 

Jenni Tuominen Founder and Creative Director, Henua Organics

Palm oil! It is truly sad how much it is used every day and the huge effect of it. It is a major driver of deforestation, destroying endangered species, contributing to climate change, child labor and the list goes on.

Eha Urbsalu Founder and CEO, Viking Beauty Secrets

I grew up in Northern Europe, where “clean” and “green” equals normal. It was disturbing to learn that, while the EU bans over 1,300 chemicals from skincare, the U.S. only bans 30. This was one of the reasons why I decided to bring my certified organic Nordic skincare brand to the U.S. market.

To point out the worst ingredients, I would start with hydroquinone, which is banned not only in the E.U., but also Canada, most of Asia and even in some African countries. Why is it still allowed in the U.S.? Or, more importantly, why do many skincare companies still choose to use it even though they know that hydroquinone is cytotoxic and it kills cells and chromosomes, which can lead to some cancers?

Petroleum and petroleum byproducts such as mineral oils are also dangerous components in many U.S. skincare products. They are toxic, the body does not metabolize them, and they’re linked to causing cancer.

Jeannie Jarnot Founder, Beauty Heroes

The way I look at ingredients are those that have the potential to be harmful to the body and those that are harmful to the environment. In essence, they are one in the same, but so much focus has been placed on toxicity to our bodies without consideration for toxicity to the environment. And what’s bad for the environment is ultimately bad for humans. 

I think that lists should add all PEGs, which are both ethoxylated by nature with a potential to contain 1,4 Dioxane, a carcinogen as well as being harmful to the environment. PEGs are essentially different weights of liquid plastic which get introduced to our environment.

I would also add chemical sunscreens to the list. Two have been identified as being harmful to reefs, but all chemical sunscreen filters are questionable when you really look at the studies. And silicones, all classes of them. While they may not all be toxic to our bodies, they don’t biodegrade and have a lasting impact on our environment.  

I am very passionate about ingredients and their impact on the environment because we are all connected. It’s not enough to just look at whether an ingredient causes cancer from topical use, we need to look at the full life cycle of the ingredient and how it will go back into the earth and live on.  

Nasimeh Yazdani Founder, Seaside Medical Technologies

Being that our most important mission is to lead the way in nontoxic healing, we care most about applying the same principles of banning harmful ingredients to the skin healing world that clean beauty championed decades ago. Still in multitude are products marketed toward the healthcare industry such as soaps, medicated shampoos, neosporin and hydrocortisones, which contain all of the above ingredients listed in your question and, worse, artificial dyes, tricosalans, animal-derived [compounds], formaldehyde, harsh solvents and heavy alcohols.  

In clean beauty specifically, ingredients that have newly extensive data documenting no harm should not fall into a carpeted sweep of banned ingredients, despite former studies. We have to be more selective in order to maintain credibility amongst the scientific and medical community. For example, one of our products was banned from a particular retailer due to inclusion of acrylate, which is EWG category 1, and their reasoning was based on a 1950 study in Canada. 

Natalia Bednarek Co-Founder, Herla

First of all, I would add silicones to the list. Silicones are becoming a controversial ingredient due to raising questions of their biodegradability. More and more, they are considered a threat to the environment. Despite people claiming benefits of silicones, they’re very cheap fillers that do more harm than good. We managed to achieve a perfect slip without silicones. In the EU, where we formulate and manufacture our products, there are regulations underway that question the use of this ingredient in cosmetics.

Formaldehyde donors would be my second no-no ingredient (for instance, DMDM hydantoin). These are formaldehyde-releasing chemicals that decompose slowly to release preservatives in cosmetic products. Low amounts are considered safe to use in cosmetics, but there’s increasing research suggesting that formaldehyde donors can be carcinogenic and mutagenic. There are safer preservative options that companies could implement in their manufacturing processes. We don’t use formaldehyde donors in our products.

Mariya Nurislamova CEO and Co-Founder, Scentbird and Deck of Scarlet

I think mineral oil, formaldehydes and formaldehyde-releasing agents, retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone, to name a few, should be on everyone’s no-no list.  

Mineral oil. This ingredient is super common in skincare because it locks in moisture to help heal dry, irritated skin and can make formulas feel silky-smooth. But, watch out, it is derived from petroleum and does not absorb into the skin because its molecular size it just too big. Since it remains on the skin’s surface, mineral oil can act as a reflector of the sun and actually lead to more sun damage and discoloration. Worse yet, it can clog pores and suffocate skin. There are a ton of great, hydrating oils out there that will fully absorb into skin, but mineral oil is not one of them.  

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents. Believe it or not, formaldehyde is used in cosmetics as a preservative, slowly releasing small amounts of formaldehyde overtime to prevent mold and bacteria from growing in your products.  Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and, recently, new studies have linked the chemical to leukemia.

Retinyl palmitate. Vitamin A is an antioxidant that is often added to skincare products because it is thought to help slow aging. However, most people don’t know that, in sunlight, retinyl palmitate can form free radical that can damage skin’s DNA. 

Oxybenzone. This ingredient is super common in sunscreens as its primary function is to absorb ultraviolet light. However, some toxicology experts believe that oxybenzone is linked to hormone disruption and potentially to cell damage that could lead to cancer.

Gabriel De Santino Founder, Gabriel Cosmetics

Aside from parabens, sulfates and phthalates, there are several other ingredients that should be on beauty no-no lists including coal tar derivatives, synthetic colors, antibacterials, DEA/TEA/MEA, dioxane, formaldehyde, lead, fragrance, oxybenzone, toluene and petroleum.

A growing amount of evidence suggests these add-ins have connections to long-term health concerns like cancer and reproductive problems, but they’re still widely used in beauty products like nail polish, sunscreen, soaps, shampoos, mascara, eyeshadow, foundation and many others.

Without compromising aesthetics, functionality or accessibility, our products offer consumers earth-conscious and ethical options to their beauty needs. All products are made from 100% natural ingredients with no synthetic chemicals or animal by-products, and that should be the standard.

JENNIE FRESA Founder and Owner, Copal Clean Beauty

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative used in many clean skincare and cosmetic products to prevent the growth of bacteria and extend shelf life. In recent studies, we learned that it’s actually a skin irritant and nervous system suppressant, while also being linked to reduced fecundity (meaning longer times to get pregnant). Nowadays, there are alternatives available, and many clean beauty brands have already formulated phenoxyethanol out of their products.

Another one that is always on my radar, as it’s very misleading, is fragrance. Most synthetic fragrances cause skin and respiratory issues. Even still, somehow synthetic fragrances are allowed to be listed as trade secrets and can cover up a multitude of other harmful ingredients.

EVELYN GINOSSI Founder, Marine + Vine

Petroleum-derived products should be added to clean beauty no-no lists to reduce the risk of toxic ingredients in beauty products while building toward greater environmental sustainability. As the petroleum industry is one of, if not the biggest, causes of pollution and environmental devastation in the world, the clean beauty movement should look to phase out petroleum-derived products to create truly cleaner products free from crude oil.

While many petroleum-derived ingredients may be considered acceptable for skin use in the U.S. (e.g., PEGs), the process of manufacturing such ingredients involves strong and toxic pollutants, often carcinogenic in nature. For instance, both mineral oil and petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and the European Union has classified petrolatum as a carcinogen on this basis.

Cathy Chapman President, Lunette

Major brands of period care products are known to contain antimicrobials, dioxin and use bleach in their production process. All of which are avoidable by using a Lunette Menstrual Cup. It’s important to know what you’re putting inside yourself, so it’s reassuring to know that Lunette Cups are made from medical-grade silicon which is hypoallergenic, toxin-free, comfortable and safe.

Joshua Onysko Founder, Pangea Organics

Being in the industry for 20 years, I think it’s more important to hold brands accountable for listing all of their ingredients, and let the consumer make their own decision. To my knowledge, 70% of brands don’t list all their ingredients. This isn’t fair to the customer. 

Mary Schulman CEO and Co-Founder, PYT Beauty

The EU has banned over 1300 ingredients in cosmetics while the U.S. has only outlawed less than 20. We adhere to the EU guidelines along with many more ingredients that we just don’t think need to be in our makeup.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].