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Toxic Twenty

Stay away from these unsavory ingredients in your personal care products. 

Keeping you and the planet safe!

At SUR Clean Skincare ®, we are committed to a health and safety standard that goes well beyond what is legally required in the United States. This includes chemicals banned or restricted in personal care products by the European Union, Canada, Japan and other countries as well as ingredients researched by our own team.

Currently, we screen out hundreds of toxic ingredients to deliver products that are good for you, safe for the environment and engineered for effectiveness. We do our homework, so you don’t have to.

Our TOXIC TWENTY List is a robust roundup of the most commonly found health-hazardous skincare ingredients to avoid. Many of these ingredients can cause allergies, disruption to your metabolism, neurotoxicity, reproductive issues, organ toxicity and environmental damage.  

Use this list to make sure what you’re using is safe.


Benzalkonium Chloride

A disinfectant used as a preservative and surfactant associated with severe skin, eye and respiratory irritation and allergies. Found in: Sunscreen and moisturizers

Benzophenone and derivatives

A possible human carcinogen, hormone disruptor and reproductive toxin used as a fragrance ingredient and to absorb UV radiation. Toxic to aquatic life and bioaccumulates in the environment. Found in: lip balm, nail polish and sunscreen. Also listed as: oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, and sulisobenzone sodium.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

A hormone disruptor that may also alter DNA, used in plastics and resins. Found in: plastic bottles, lining of aluminum food cans, possibly in eyeshadow and styling gel. 


A solvent used to control viscosity, or a "fragrance" additive. It irritates skin and may cause cancer and reproductive toxicity. Found in: fragrance and hair color. 

BHA and BHT-

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used as preservatives in a variety of personal care products including lipsticks, moisturizers and makeup. Suspected endocrine disruptors, may cause cancer (BHA), developmental and reproductive toxicity, and may cause liver damage. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Banned in Canada and California. 

Carbon Black

Carbon black is a dark black powder used as a pigment in cosmetics such as eyeliner, mascara and lipstick. It is produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-based products such as coal tar, and has been linked to increased incidence of cancer and negative effects on organs. 

Coal Tar Dyes 

A  byproduct of coal processing that is a known carcinogen banned in the EU, but still used in North America. It is used as a colorant, anti-lice and anti-dandruff agent. Found in: hair dye and shampoo. Synthetic colors are made from coal tar. They contain heavy metal salts that may deposit toxins onto the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic. Look for P-PHENYLENEDIAMINE hair dyes and in other products listed as "CI" followed by five digits or "FD&C Blue No. 1" or "Blue 1". Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals that are toxic to the brain. 


Widely used in moisturizers, makeup, hair products, etc. to soften, smooth, and moisten. They make hair products dry more quickly and deodorant creams slide on more easily. Suspected endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxicant. Look for ingredients ending in "-siloxane" or "methicone". May interfere with hormone function and damage the liver. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.  


Not usually listed as it is a byproduct of manufacturing made from adding carcinogenic ethylene oxide to make other chemicals less harsh. It is a probable human carcinogen (a known animal carcinogen) as well as toxic to organs and the respiratory system, and a skin irritant. Likely to be present where ethoxylated ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate, PEGs and ceteareth are listed on ingredient labels. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found 1,4-dioxane in 57% of baby washes in the US. Avoid any ingredients containing the letters "eth". Found in: shampoo, body wash, bubble bath. 

Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid (EDTA)

A chelating (binding) agent added to cosmetics to improve stability. May be toxic to organs. Found in: hair color and moisturizers. 

Ethanolamines or Nitrosamines (Cocamide DEA, Diethanolamine)

On the surface this one sometimes seems ok, Cocamide DEA is a modified form of coconut oil after all. However, in this form watch out! These are surfactants and pH adjusters linked to allergies, skin toxicity, hormone disruption, and inhibited fetal brain development. Found in creamy and foaming products such as: hair mousse, mascara, foundation, fragrances, moisturizers, sunscreens, shampoos and body washes. Can react to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. 

Formaldehyde & Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

Widely used as a preservative in hair products, moisturizers, etc. These chemicals, which help prevent microbes from growing in water-based products, can be absorbed through the skin. They are known carcinogens that are also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, allergic skin reactions and developmental toxicity. Banned in the EU and California. Look for Formaldehyde, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, methamine, polyoxymethylene, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitroproane-1, 3-diol(bromopol), glyoxal, or quarternium-15. Widely used in hair products, moisturizers, etc


A skin lightening chemical that inhibits the production of melanin and is linked to cancer, organ toxicity and respiratory tract irritation. Found in: skin lightening creams, skin cleansers, facial moisturizers, hair conditioners, finger nail coating products. 

Lead and Other heavy metals

Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, aluminum, zinc, chromium and iron are found in a wide variety of personal care products including lipstick, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner and nail color. Some metals are intentionally added as ingredients, while others are contaminants. Exposure to metals has been linked to health concerns including reproductive, immune and nervous system toxicity. 

Methyl cellosolve or 2-Methoxyethanol

Fragrance ingredient and solvent that is an irritant and a central nervous system toxicant and has shown to damage the lungs and kidney. It is also indicated as a developmental toxin, and cause of DNA mutations that could lead to cancer. Found in: anti-aging creams. 

Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone

Chemical preservatives that are among the most common irritants, sensitizers and causes of contact skin allergies. They have been linked to lung toxicity, allergic reactions and possible neurotoxicity. Found in many liquid care products such as: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, sunscreens, etc.

Mercury and Mercury Compounds (also listed as Thimerosal)

Metallic element used as a preservative and antiseptic known to damage brain function. Mercury compounds are readily absorbed through the skin on topical application and tend to accumulate in the body. They may cause allergic reactions, skin irritation, or neurotoxic manifestations. Mercury is considered particularly toxic to the developing brain during pregnancy, infancy and childhood. Found in: ear and eye drops; may be used in mascara.  


A sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber linked to irritation, sensitization and allergies, and possible hormone disruption. Found in: sunscreen and moisturizer. 


A class of preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Paraben's are endocrine disruptors, which alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. Specially, parabens mimic estrogen; they can lock on to our cell's own estrogen receptors and mess with important natural signals. They may play a role in triggering breast cancer. Look for Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, proylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, other ingredients ending in -paraben. Found in: makeup, moisturizers, shampoo, conditioner, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, and foundation.

Parfum, Fragrance, Musk or Synthetic fragrance

Many products list "fragrance" on the label (often last), but very few name the specific ingredient that makes up "fragrance". Beware this is broadly used even in some products marketed as "unscented". These are usually engineered scents or flavoring agents that may contain any combination of 3,000+ stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law's classification of trade secrets, and therefore can remain undisclosed. This potentially toxic mixture of chemicals can trigger headaches, dizziness, allergies and asthma. Some linked cancer and neurotoxicity. Some harmful to fish and other wildlife. 

Petroleum Jelly or Mineral Oil  

Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, derived from petroleum, is often used in personal care products as a moisturizing agent. When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns. However, petrolatum is often not fully refined in the US, which means it can be contaminated with cancer causing impurities and toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Also listed as liquid paraffin; liquid petrolatum; paraffin oil. This byproduct of petroleum distillation may cause contact dermatitis. Found in: hair products, lip balms, lipstick, baby lotions, cold creams, ointments. 

Phthalates (BBP, DBP, and others)

A class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. Phthalates are linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and cancer, have been banned from cosmetics in the EU and California but still remain prevalent in US products. Found in: synthetic fragrance, nail polish, hairspray. 

Polyethylene Glycol(PEG Compounds)

PEGS are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. Depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens. Found in: creams, sunscreen, shampoo. 

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, aka teflon®)

Telfon® in your makeup? Yuck. This non-stick ingredient and other fluorinated compounds have been associated with delayed menstruation, later breast development and cancer. You can find it in foundation, pressed powder, loose powder, bronzer, blush, eye shadow, mascara, shave gel, lip balm, anti-aging lotion. Look for Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), Polyperfluoromethyllisopropyl Ether, DEA-C8-18 Perfluoroalkylethyl Phosphate, Teflon. 


A colorant and fragrance ingredient that is a skin irritant, toxic to the immune system and organs, and suspected to cause hormone disruption. Found in: hair color and acne medication. 

Retinol (Vitamin A), Retinyl Palmitate, All-trans Retinoic Acid

A nutrient that may damage DNA and speed the growth of skin tumors when used topically. Retinol is the chemical name of the essential micronutrient Vitamin A which can be harmful to your health when it is added to cosmetic products in certain forms. Two derivatives -- retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate -- should be avoided in cosmetics and personal care products while retinol itself should not be used at high doses. Found in: moisturizers, lotions, foundations, and anti-aging skincare. Look for: Retinol, vitamin A, retinyl acetate, retinyl palmitate, all-trans retinoic acid, tretinoin.  


Talc is a mineral substance used in a variety of personal care products including foundations, face masks, lipsticks, baby powders and eye shadows. It is added to absorb moisture, smooth or soften products, prevent caking, and make makeup opaque. Some talc may contain the known carcinogen asbestos. Therefore, it should be avoided in powders and other personal care products, unless it is known to be asbestos-free. Even asbestos-free talc should be avoided in the pelvic area. Look for talc, talcum powder, or cosmetic talc.


Toluene is a toxic chemical used in nail polish and hair dyes. Exposure to toluene can result in temporary effects such as headaches, dizziness and cracked skin, as well as more serious effects such as reproductive damage and respiratory complications. 


Triclosan and triclocarban are commonly used anti-bacterial agents found in many toothpastes, lotions and soaps. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has identified triclosan in the urine of 75% of people tested. Widespread use with few regulations has led to concerns regarding their effects on humans and the environment, such as endocrine disruption, bioaccumulation, and the emergence of bacteria resistant to antibodies and antibacterial products. 


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