Read Your Labels: Toxic Beauty Ingredients You Should Toss This Weekend

You’ve restocked your pantry, cleansed your closet – now it’s time to de-bug your beauty drawer. And to help you out, we’ve enlisted a pro who’s been living and breathing skincare since single-digits.

Ever since the age of eight, Ayla Beauty founder Dara Kennedy has been obsessed with skincare. While most of us were raiding our mom’s beauty drawers for the first time, Dara was developing a passion that went way beyond playtime. Her love for quality skincare and beauty products is what ultimately propelled her to start Ayla, her beauty studio in San Francisco and online shop. Natural beauty can be overwhelming for even the “greenest” of us – so we’re thankful for beauty mavens like Ayla who can help us figure things out.

Ready to detox your beauty loot? Here is Dara’s short list: the most toxic beauty products you should toss – plus, amazing non-toxic beauty products you should replace them with:

5 Beauty Products to Toss


Phthalates — endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are found in most perfumes — are towards the top of my list of ingredients to avoid. But it’s really difficult to find a fine fragrance that’s phthalate-free. Most “clean” fragrances are essential-oil based. (Which is fine, but if you’re a fragrance fan, it can be a tough switch.)

Replace it with:  Ellis Brooklyn, a line of phthalate-free body milks that smell like fine perfume — because the scents were created by famed perfumer Jerome Epinette, the genius behind Byredo and other fragrances. The body-milk base is free of questionable ingredients, lightweight and also really nourishing, so you can moisturize and put on a luxe fragrance in one step. The glass bottles are gorgeous, too. I love everything about these products! They’re made by a chic mom in Brooklyn who also happens to be a Style columnist for The New York Times and a writer for Vogue.


Given the recent articles that have appeared about the dangers of certain sunscreens and the soaring rates of skin cancer, you might be tempted to throw away all of your sunscreen, go nocturnal and avoid the sun completely. That’s not necessary, but I do recommend avoiding certain chemical sunscreens at a minimum. Oxybenzone, octinoxate, and PABA are the most problematic as they can cause allergic reactions – and oxybenzone and octinoxate have been linked to hormone-like activity in the body. They can also cause serious damage to coral reefs if used in the ocean.

Replace it with: Luzern Labs La Defense SPF 30, which is one of my favorite products. The only sunscreen ingredient it contains is non-nano zinc oxide — the best source of non-toxic broad-spectrum sun protection. Miraculously, it’s super lightweight, not at all sticky and rubs in clear. Luzern packs a lot of additional anti-aging ingredients into the formula too, so you feel completely protected when you use it.


There is a lot of chatter about the safety of petrolatum. Some reputable organizations have reported that there could be some risk of contamination, depending on the quality of petrolatum in question, while others contend that it’s perfectly safe. To me, the bottom line is that there’s simply no reason to use a product that contains petrolatum, so just be on the safe side and avoid it. It doesn’t perform as well as other options out there anyway. If you’re acne-prone, you should avoid it in anything you put on your face, because it’s very acnegenic. If you’re prone to dryness, it’ll lock in moisture but won’t enable moisture exchange with the atmosphere, so it’s quite limited in its ability — whether it’s in your fancy face cream (ahem, La Mer) or your lip balm.

Replace it with: Voya’s Me Time moisturizer is packed with potent seaweed from Ireland that makes it a true miracle worker, in my view. And Holocuren’s wax- and petrolatum-free Miracle Lips Salve is the most healing lip treatment I have ever come across; it even helps with cold sores.


I’ve seen a lot of products on the market containing hydrolyzed collagen or elastin, especially supplements that people take in the hopes of achieving firmer skin. Most dermatologists aren’t convinced that these supplements will do anything for your skin. I’ve also learned there are some safety concerns involved here, because while these animal-derived ingredients have probably been tested for bacteria, they could carry other potentially infectious agents — like prions, which are abnormal protein molecules.

Replace it with: Plant-derived products like Biocyte’s Hyaluronic Forte, which features plant-based hyaluronic acid. It’s not only safer, but also proven to boost collagen production in the skin — and this particular type is highly bioavailable.


Hydroquinone is a frequently used solution for hyperpigmentation, but it has been linked to allergies, it’s a suspected neurotoxin and carcinogen and it can have a paradoxical darkening effect. Why use something that could harm you when it might not even work that well?

Replace it with: There are a variety of options here; the one you pick should depend on the type of hyperpigmentation you’re dealing with. Azelaic acid works wonders on post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (the dark spots left behind after pimples heal), and it’s a key ingredient in Medik8’s amazing betaGel Spot Treatment. Liquorice, bearberry and aspergillus ferment are powerful natural alternatives to hydroquinone, and all three are found in Luzern Labs Serum Radiance, which is a great general treatment for sun spots and melasma. And AHA-rich night treatments will help speed the process of brightening skin by exfoliating its top layers — my current favorite is BioRecept BioStrata de Peau, a great night cream from Paris that also contains short-chain hyaluronic acid to boost collagen production in the skin.

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