The Everyday Products That Are Ruining Your Skin

Countless products promise to “fix” your skin issues. The dilemma? Everyone’s skin reacts differently. Plus, many products contain artificial fragrances, coloring, and preservatives, which can be allergens or irritants.

We asked dermatologists to share the products they handle with caution. One type of paper you handle nearly every day can cause surprising skin diseases (page 10).

1. Laundry detergent

Female Hand Pouring Detergent In The Blue Bottle Cap
Laundry detergent may do more harm than you think. |
  • The fragrances and dyes added to laundry detergents and fabric softeners to make them smell nice can irritate skin.

“[Laundry detergents] can cause problems for those with sensitive skin, particularly babies,” said Dr. Joel Schlessinger, explains dermatologist and RealSelf contributor. “Look for products that are scent-free or fragrance-free and dye-free and try and stick with the same detergent instead of buying whatever’s on sale.” Wash new clothing before wearing it. You don’t know what it’s come in contact with at a factory or store.

2. Plastic from the dry-cleaner

Young man working in dry cleaners
PERC, a dry-cleaning solvent, could do harm to your skin. |
  • The plastic bags that keep your dry-cleaning fresh can trap chemicals in with your clothes.

Perchloroethylene, or PERC, is a widely used dry-cleaning solvent and potential carcinogen, reports the American Cancer Society. Short-term exposure to PERC can cause skin, eye, and lung irritation, as well as dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Long-term exposure is linked to many types of cancer and reproductive health issues.

California has already banned the use of this dry-cleaning chemical statewide; legislation will take full effect in 2023. Until similar legislation is passed countrywide, it’s difficult to avoid PERC.

3. Alcohol

Pint glasses of beer
Two empty pint glasses of beer | Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images
  • Booze inflames body tissue and dilates pores, leading to redness and acne.

Happy hour won’t make your skin happy. As you sip your drink of choice, an enzyme in your liver processes the alcohol, explains GQ. This enzyme releases a toxic byproduct that dehydrates your skin, causing it to break out and age faster. Drinking also disturbs your sleep habits, which hinders the cellular turnover responsible for healthy skin.

Red wine may be the least harmful alcoholic beverage. It contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that helps the body remove harmful free radicals.

4. Your cellphone

Dirty cellphone
A smartphone touches your skin regularly. | Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images
  • Microbiologists estimate th average phone has over 25,000 germs and bacteria per square inch — more bacteria than a toilet seat!

We have to touch doorknobs, money, and other germy objects. Then, when our phones touch our faces, the bacteria gets into pores, causing acne and irritation. “Some of these germs can include staphylococcus aureus (staph bacteria), MRSA (antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria), and E. coli.”

To get rid of these harmful germs, you can make your own cleaning solution and use it once a week. “Fill a small spray bottle with 80% water and 20% isopropyl alcohol (aka antiseptic) and spray the solution on a microfiber cloth to wipe down your device,” explains Schlessinger.

5. Air fresheners

hand spraying through air freshener
Certain products can affect fertility. |
  • Febreze contains BHT and propylene glycol, two ingredients that irritate skin.

“The labels on these products often neglect to provide a complete list of what’s included in the formula, usually listing ‘quality control ingredients’ on the label,” said Schlessinger.

First, address the cause behind odors — smoking, pets, unclean areas or surfaces — instead of masking them. “A good non-toxic option is baking soda, because it helps eliminate odors without giving off its own scent,” suggested Schlessinger. Then, open the windows to let in fresh air.

Next: Good intentions hurt your skin, too.

6. Face products

Cleansers offered at a Walgreens store
Face and skin cleanser is offered at a Walgreens store. | Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • Cleansing too often can strip the skin of natural oils, making it difficult for your skin to heal and protect itself.

Cleansing and exfoliating too much harms your skin. You may think an apricot or walnut scrub will remove dead skin, but many people exfoliate too often, causing micro-tears and hindering the healing process.

Your go-to face wipes can leave a mess behind, too. While wipes can remove makeup and sweat in a pinch, they leave chemicals, like “formaldehyde-releasing preservatives,” on your skin, explains Insider. Preservatives used in the packaging can cause allergic reactions as well.

7. Dirty sunglasses

Ray-Ban classic aviator sunglasses
You might notice breakouts in areas where sunglasses rub your skin. |
  • Sunglasses sit in the same place every day, so you may see breakouts as oil, dirt, and bacteria accumulate and clog pores.

“The most common areas for breakouts include between the eyebrows and along the bridge of the nose,” Schlessinger said. “Thicker frames tend to touch more skin, so you may also see blemishes on the cheeks.” Adjusting your glasses transfers even mor bacteria. To avoid breakouts, regularly clean your frames with soap, warm water, and a dry cloth. Clean the earpieces and nose pads, too.

8. Coffee

Croissant and coffee on wooden background
Coffee can dehydrate the skin. |
  • Coffee is known for its dehydrating effects and dairy and sugar additions don’t help either.

“Coffee is a natural diuretic, meaning that fluid must be restored or dehydration can occur, causing general skin dryness and flakiness,” explains Seth B. Forman, M.D., of Forman Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute in Tampa, Florida.

Cream and sugar can harm your skin, too. “Like milk, creamer can contain hormones that lead to inflammation and acne,” says Schlessinger. “Sugar molecules can also break down collagen through a process called glycation, which causes premature signs of aging.” If you can’t give up your daily coffee fix, try drinking it black or with a splash of almond milk.

9. Dirty sheets and pillowcases

untidy bed with a white crumpled blanket
Dirty bedding is not your skin’s friend. |
  • Your linens may not look dirty, but bacteria, dust mites, skin cells, sweat, oil, and animal dander are hard to spot with the naked eye.

Not washing your pillowcases or sheets enough is hard on skin. The buildup from skin, hair, and pollutants lead to breakouts, inflammation, and irritation. “Wash your sheets once a week and shower at night to help minimize the irritants you bring with you,” Schlessinger says. You can also flip the pillow over and sleep on the other side when it’s not laundry day.

10. Receipts

shopping receipt
You may want to pass on the shopping receipt. |
  • Touching receipts can increase the body’s absorption of BPA, a chemical linked to health concerns like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

A 2014 study by the University of Missouri found that thermal receipts used in restaurants cause BPA absorption through the skin and contamination as the chemical passes from fingers to food. “Some suggest that BPA can also cause skin irritation and sensitivity, but this has not been scientifically proven,” Schlessinger said.

Not all stores use thermal paper for receipts. If you’re unsure, you can avoid BPA by declining a receipt or opting for an electronic receipt.

11. Cleaning products

House cleaning product
Always wear gloves when using powerful house cleaning products. |
  • Created to disinfect our homes, most cleaning products are made with powerful chemicals that cause skin reactions.

“Some ‘green’ cleaning products have gentler formulas, but in some cases, these products don’t clean and disinfect well,” Schlessinger explains. This isn’t an excuse to avoid cleaning! Protect yourself with gloves and long sleeves, and wash your hands as soon as you’re done.

12. Plastic containers

Row of water bottles
Be wary of plastics containing BPA. |
  • BPA from plastic containers can be absorbed through the skin, as well as consumed through food and drink.

“Examples of plastics contaminating food have been reported with most plastic types, including styrene from polystyrene, plasticizers from PVC, antioxidants from polyethylene, and acetaldehyde,” says Forman. While this is scary, contamination can be avoided by using glass containers to store your food and drinks.

13. Hair products

Hair Coloring
Chemicals in hair dye can irritate the skin. | Alex_Doubovitsky
  • Hair dyes can often cause irritation, inflammation, redness, swelling, or a rash, especially for those with sensitive skin.

“Two chemicals often to blame are ammonium persulfate, used to lighten hair, and paraphenylenediamine, or PPD, used as a permanent hair dye,” Schlessinger says. His tip: Ask for vegetable dyes or a trend like ombre, which places color at the ends of your hair instead of near your scalp.

Hairsprays, shampoos, and conditioners can also cause irritation, often caused by added fragrances or propylene glycol, explained Schlessinger. “Conditioners specifically contain an ingredient called isopropyl myristate that can clog pores and lead to acne if it’s not properly rinsed from skin.”

14. Certain makeup

makeup products on wooden background
Your skin may be sensitive to certain cosmetics. |
  • Non-mineral makeup contain a long list of ingredients containing harsh chemicals, dyes, fragrances, and preservatives.

“Non-mineral formulas are often liquid, and far more likely to soak into the skin, clog pores, and exacerbate acne,” Schlessinger said. “They usually contain oil, which can disrupt the skin’s natural balance.” He suggests mineral makeup, especially for acne-prone skin. “It stays on top of the skin, so it won’t clog pores.” Another tip: Don’t sleep with your makeup on.

15. Wax

woman putting some wax on legs
Waxing is probably not a good idea if you have sensitive skin. |
  • The wax used to remove hair is usually safe for most skin types, but those with sensitive skin could experience irritation.

“Nearly everyone experiences redness and mild inflammation, or irritation that quickly subsides after treatment,” said Schlessinger. “The temperature of the wax can burn skin and the act of pulling hair out by the root can leave an open follicle to become infected.” To avoid these side effects, use other hair-removal methods like shaving and laser hair removal.