(The Acne Blog, November, 2017)

Most individuals dealing with frequent acne breakouts are aware of the everyday offenders that trigger them, whether it be hormones, stress or diet. Through experience these triggers can become somewhat predictable and in some cases manageable with lifestyle changes.

But what about the less obvious culprits? Currently on the market there are seemingly innocent cosmetic and skin care products using chemicals that not only irritate sensitive skin, but can trigger breakouts.

That is why we have put together this list of the not so obvious ingredients you should be on the lookout for when purchasing cosmetics or skin care products.


Parabens refer to a selection of chemicals found in many acne cleansing products, and are used mainly as a preservative. The most common Parabens you’ll find are as follows:

  • Butylparaben is one of the most common bactericidal/fungicidal additives in both acne cleansers and cosmetics. It has been used in cosmetic products since the 1940s and in pharmaceutical products since 1924.
  • Isobutylparaben is found in many skin care products, ranging from skin cream to acne prevention to deodorant. This is a less frequently used preservative, but can still be found in a few cleansers.
  • Another lesser-seen Paraben found in some anti-acne cleansers is Propylparaben, used for a similar reason but is also linked to skin irritation especially with sensitive skin.

Basically, look for anything that ends with “-paraben” and avoid it.

Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is considered an exfoliator and its effect of repeatedly shedding the upper layer of skin forces the skin to produce new cells.

This can have a damaging effect on sensitive skin, and we typically want to avoid products that damage the upper layers of skin.


Triclosan is the most controversial ingredient on this list because Health Canada, among other countries, has taken steps to limit its use in skincare products while the FDA in the United States has banned it entirely.

Triclosan is a preservative and an anti-bacterial agent used in 1,600 cosmetics and personal care products in Canada – including things like anti-bacterial soaps, hand washes, acne care, and deodorants. Increasingly, scientific evidence shows that it is harmful to the environment as well as humans.

As a result, this is the rarest ingredient you’ll find on this list, but you should be aware of any products that have it since there may be some still available and it is currently legal to use.

What Next?
Avoiding these ingredients may help you to avoid further skin irritation and acne breakouts that often follow.

  1. Take ten minutes to go through your current cosmetics and skin care products to see if they have any of these ingredients.
  2. When shopping for new products be on the lookout for cosmetics or products that’s exclude these ingredients.
  3. Remember everyone has unique skin that reacts differently to ingredients. When trying a new product, you should always follow the instructions carefully and complete a spot test.

* This content is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice.