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Questionable ingredients: which cosmetic ingredients you prefer to avoid

Cosmetics are there to make you feel good in your skin and down to the ends of your hair. Protect, care, balance, tame, cleanse - this is how carefully selected ingredients make cosmetics a real treat. It is clear that this cannot be the same for every product. But they should be manageable and do you good. Therefore, be careful with questionable ingredients, which often only aim at superficial effects.

Recognize questionable ingredients in cosmetics

Photo: KoolShooters

This is how you recognize questionable ingredients in cosmetics

In the EU and Switzerland, there is an obligation to declare. In other words, you can find all the ingredients on the packaging or the package insert on the so-called INCI list. This is the only reliable source to be sure that a specific substance is not included. Unfortunately, what may work in theory can hardly be implemented in practice, because the INCI list is like a closed book. If you want to learn how to read the INCI list, then I recommend my article The INCI code – finally seeing the list of ingredients . In this text, however, we focus on the questionable ingredients and show you below how you can best avoid them without memorizing them all.

Overview of questionable cosmetic ingredients


The preservatives are similar in structure to estrogen. Therefore, they are suspected of influencing the hormonal balance. Experiments with rats suggest this effect. 1 Researchers have also discovered that parabens are stored in the body. 2 How exactly this will affect the long term is unclear. Because long-term studies are not yet available.

How to recognize parabens on the INCI list:

  • Methylparabens (most commonly used)
  • ethylparabens
  • butyl parabens
  • propylparabens

Our natural cosmetics are of course without parabens, silicones and mineral oils .

Chemical UV filters

There are two different systems to protect the skin from UV radiation. Mineral filters, such as those found in natural cosmetic sunscreens, and chemical filters, which are used in classic sunscreens. While the mineral mirrors, like many small mirrors, reflect the sunlight, the chemical filters convert the UV rays into heat. Unfortunately, some of these chemical filters are suspected of being hormonal and affecting fertility.

How to recognize questionable chemical UV filters in the INCI list:

  • Octocrylene
  • Benzophenone-3
  • homosalate
  • ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate

See my article on mineral sunscreen for more information and recommendations.

Microplastics, liquid plastics, silicones and nylon

You have probably already read about microplastics. First and foremost, this means solid particles that are found in cosmetics, especially in peelings, shower gels or toothpaste. Due to pressure from the media and consumers, most manufacturers have supplemented the tiny little beads with degradable alternatives. Problem solved? Not at all. Unfortunately, huge amounts of artificial polymers in gel, wax or liquid form are still being used across the entire spectrum of cosmetic products. Toothpaste, decorative cosmetics, shower gel, etc. - everything is included. There are almost no limits to their use, so they are used as opacifiers, emulsifiers, smoothing agents, etc. The use of plastics is not primarily a matter of ingredients that are harmful to health, but an environmental problem (which then of course has an effect on our health). You can find out more about this in the article Cosmetics without microplastics .

How to recognize artificial polymers in the INCI list:

  • Acrylate Copolymer (AC)
  • Acrylate Crosspolymer (ACS)
  • Dimethiconol
  • methicone
  • Polyamides (PA, Nylon)
  • Polyacrylates (PA)
  • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
  • Polyquaternium (PQ)
  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polypropylene glycol (PPG)
  • Polystyrene (PS)
  • Polyurethane (PUR)
  • siloxanes
  • silsesquioxanes

Source: Greenpeace, checklist: remove plastic make-up | Greenpeace


Aluminum is suspected of promoting cancer and other diseases. However, the metal occurs in cosmetics in various compounds. Some are so stable that they are considered harmless. However, aluminum salts, which you encounter as aluminum chlorides or aluminum chloride hydrates in antiperspirants, are critical. Because in water-soluble form, the aluminum can be released and get into your system.

While researchers are still investigating exactly how aluminum is linked to breast cancer risk, it is advisable to avoid using antiperspirants containing this substance. This is recommended by the Federal Office for Risk Assessment. Because we take in so much of it through food and other aluminum-containing products that the weekly maximum is quickly reached. 3

Addendum 2020: The Federal Office for Risk Assessment has reassessed the risk in a statement and writes: "According to the current state of scientific knowledge, health impairments from the regular use of ACH-containing antiperspirants are unlikely. However, when assessing the risk of aluminium, it is fundamentally important to Total intake via the various entry routes such as food or products containing aluminum for food contact must be considered. However, the contribution of antiperspirants containing aluminum to the overall exposure to aluminum is significantly lower than previously assumed."

We recommend that you use deodorants that work differently than antiperspirants .

How to recognize aluminum in the INCI list:

  • aluminum chlorohydrate

With products from FIVE you can see the INCI list at a glance and have more time to shine.


Fragrances include both the natural essential oils obtained from flowers and other parts of plants, as well as synthetically produced fragrances. On the INCI list, they are usually declared together as "perfume". This is permissible, since these are often well-protected fragrance compositions.

Some fragrances can cause allergic reactions. The EU has defined 26 allergenic substances, which are always shown separately in the list of ingredients and are therefore not hidden in the collective term "perfume". At the very end of the INCI list you will find names such as linalool, limonene, farnesol, geraniol, citronellol, also on ours. In natural cosmetics, these terms are supplemented with an asterisk and the designation "*part of natural essential oils". Here the fragrance has not been added individually (isolated), but comes from an essential oil that is naturally very complex and contains many individual fragrances.

Why do we use essential oils in our own natural cosmetics when they are considered questionable ingredients? Because we are so convinced of the mostly positive effects of essential oils . As an allergy sufferer, however, you should take a close look or use fragrance-free products. Not sure if you have an allergy? In this article I will explain the difference between sensitive skin and a contact allergy .

4 tips for cosmetics without questionable ingredients

Fortunately, you can use these tricks to fish out products from the ocean of offers that will spoil you in the long term.

  1. Rely on natural cosmetics : Here you can be sure that there are no parabens, chemical UV filters, microplastics, liquid plastic and anyway no synthetic polymers, which are at the top of the list of ingredients in conventional cosmetics. You won't find mineral oils and their derivatives here either.
  2. Use products with few ingredients : Not only is the composition manageable here, fewer ingredients also mean less potential for negative reactions. Sensitive skin in particular will thank you. By the way, that was the idea behind the founding of FIVE. Because with us, each product contains, as the name suggests, a maximum of 5 ingredients.
  3. Do bother to look up the ingredients : Seriously?! When the lists are endless? Don't worry, help is at hand. Apps like Codecheck , Yuka or the INCI app from make it easy for you. The INCI app tells you everything about the function, occurrence and type of individual ingredients. With Codecheck, you simply scan the barcode and the app will tell you what's in it, what it does and whether the product is lactose-free, gluten-free or vegan. You can also find the FIVE products on Codecheck; simply search for "Five Skincare" in the search mask at the top.
  4. Pay attention to the organic content : natural cosmetics are not necessarily organic. The latter is practically a quality class above it. However, organic raw materials are massively more expensive than conventional ones. But we think it's worth it. Pesticides in particular are soluble in oil and get on your skin. Most manufacturers add the organic origin to the INCI list. By the way, so do we.

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