Detox Your Bathroom 101: Ingredients To Avoid

Detox your bathroom
Posted in Content Beauty

If switching to organic beauty products features on your list of ‘to-do’ list, getting started can be easy. Start with a simple ‘detox your bathroom’. There is research that would indicate that some common ingredients found in beauty products might have negative long-term side effects for the skin & body. As beauty products don’t need these ingredients to deliver results and as there are so many amazing products free-from these ingredients, it is easy to choose to avoid them.

How To Detox Your Bathroom

We often get asked which are the most important ingredients to avoid when attempting to detox your bathroom. This list is by no means exhaustive but provides a starting point to get you thinking about what’s in your skincare and questioning whether you really want it to be there. Jot them down then start investigating the products in your bathroom cabinet, shower and make-up bag. For an extended list, see the ingredients we avoid at CONTENT.

Mineral Oil and Petrolatum

Mineral oil is a clear, odourless oil derived from petroleum and favoured by the skincare industry for its price (very cheap), inertness and long shelf life and while it causes few reactions, it also doesn’t actually do that much for your skin. It is the base oil for many moisturisers, cleansers and body oils.

Mineral oil is a by-product of the crude oil industry. Within the EU it must be refined and processed to meet cosmetic-grade standards for use on skin and is tested to ensure it is not contaminated with carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). What I’m not so fond of, is that this very inexpensive oil often makes up a large percentage of even the most costly products.

Other forms include petrolatum, and petroleum jelly, which crop up in nappy cream, lip balms and ‘everything’ balms. None of these forms are approved for use under organic and natural certifications. All are from a non-renewable source.

Looks like this on a label: paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum, petroleum, paraffin oil and mineral oil. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

These are used as surfactants (detergents for cleansing)and emulsifiers and are found in everything from body washes to shampoo, toothpaste and face wash – but I’ve seen them in foundations too. Foaming agents in general can be quite taut on skin as they can upset the protective layer of oils and make the skin itself more permeable to other ingredients, some of which will be welcome and some not. It is often associated with outbreaks of eczema and people with dry skin also do well to avoid this ingredient. While SLS is approved for use under the COSMOS certification standard, SLES is not approved under any certification. SLES is considered a gentler detergent but is still often citied as an eye and skin irritant and is not approved for use under organic and natural certification as it is made using ethoxylation. This process produces 1,4 dioxane – a known carcinogenic compound.

Methylisothiazolinone (MI) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI)

These are two synthetic preservatives found in skincare. They have gained lots of media attention since 2013 as UK doctors consider them the trigger for one for one of the worst skin allergy outbreaks they had ever seen, causing dermatitis and rashes. They are not approved for use under natural or organic certifications.

Looks like this on a label: Methylisothiazolinone, or Methylchloroisothiazolinone. 


Synthetic preservatives found widely in skincare – not so long ago they were almost as common in products as water. They occur naturally in fruits and vegetables where they are a defence mechanism against bugs, and the synthetic variety is used in products to the same end. Why are they a concern? Parabens have been found to disrupt physiologically important functions and avoid until further studies have been conducted. They may also cause topical skin reactions in some. They are not approved for use under any natural or organic certifications.

Looks like this on a label: methylparaben, ethylparaben, proplparaben, butylparaben and heptylparaben or ‘anything’ paraben.

Propylene Glycol (PG) and Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Propylene Glycol (PG) is most often a synthetic petrochemical used as a humectant and emulsifier. It has been known to cause skin reactions such as hives and eczema. It is, like PEG, use as a penetration enhancer. PEGs are followed by a number and it has been found that the higher the number, the more likely it might be a skin sensitiser for some. All synthetic version (propylene glycol can also be created via fermentation which would be classed as a natural source”are not approved for use under natural or organic certifications. There are two glycols approved for use under Ecocert certification: propandiol and pentylene glycol (made from corn cob or sugar cane stalk pulp).

Looks like this on a label: PEG (followed by a number which denotes its molecular weight). Propylene Glycol, PG/Propandiol


While it may not be knowingly added to your skincare products and you may not find is listed on the label. It’s important to note that synthetic preservatives have been found under certain conditions, to combine with other ingredients to release small amounts of formaldehyde into the end product.

Longer storage times and high temperatures have both been found to increase the likelihood of it being released. Ingredients that may release formaldehyde, if they right (or wrong!) conditions prevail, include:

  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate – a cosmetic preservative used in shampoos, baby wipes, cleaning agents, cleansing bars, lotions and many other household products.
  • DMDM hydantoin – used as a preservative in products for its antibacterial qualities, this is a strong skin, eye and lung irritant and has also been known to trigger an immune response that can include burning, itching, blistering or scaling of skin.
  • Quaternium-15 – an antimicrobial and antistatic agent often found in hair products.
  • Imidazolidinyl urea – diazolidinyl urea and polyoxymethylene urea – found in personal care products, shampoo, conditioner, blush, eye shadow and lotions.

Not approved for use under natural or organic certifications.

Looks like this on a label: formaldehyde, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea. polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol and glyoxal. 


A group of ingredients that are used as foaming agents, emulsifiers and stabilisers. The most common is cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA). This is, actually, a derivative of coconut oil (coconut oil combined with diethanolamine) and it can be found in soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners and dyes, lotions, shaving creams, household cleaning product, pharmaceutical ointments and cosmetics. In animal studies it has been shown to cause the formation of nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. It is approved for use in products and the percentages are small but when The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists cocamide DEA as a possible carcinogen for humans, why use it? Not approved for use under natural and organic certifications.

Looks like this on a label: Triethanolamine, diethanolamine, DEA, TEA, cocamide DEA, cocomide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearamide MEA, TEA-lauryl sulfate. 


These are compounds used in the production of plastics to help make them soft and pliable. Some were used in products such as nail polish, but these were banned from cosmetics in the EU in 2005, with the exception of Diethyl phthalate (DEP), which is widely used in fragrance products to render the alcohol undrinkable. Now we probably are more likely to come into contact with these via everyday plastic items than our skincare, but it’s good to know that phthalates can act as oestrogens once ingested or absorbed, interfering with normal hormonal function and metabolism. The European Commission has determined that there is sufficient evidence that two types, DBP and DEHP, are endocrine (hormone) disruptions. Not approved for use under natural or organic certifications.

Looks like this one a label: dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP) and Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) or ‘anything’ phthalate. 

If you’re based in London, you can book in a FREE Detox Your Make-Up Bag consultation with our resident green beauty experts instore? They’ll talk you through our selection of organic skincare and natural make-up to help you find the ones that work for you. Get the details here.

Parts of this post were adapted from sections of The Nature of Beauty book by CONTENT founder Imelda Burke.

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