Why we say no no no
Parabens are used as preservatives in most conventional personal care products. You'll find methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben - all members of the paraben family. They are very effective in preventing microbial growth in products. This is why they're so popular, especially in companies with very large distributions, as their products can stay on shelf for years. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence to show that the paraben family of preservatives interferes with natural hormone levels in humans and animals. Specific studies have shown decreased menstrual cycle length in women with high urinary paraben concentrations, and decreased birth weight and gestational age of babies born to mothers with high concentrations of certain parabens in their blood. Of course, it's important that your skincare products remain safe, but we prefer to do this in healthier ways than using parabens.
Phthalates are used in many pesticides, in certain plastics to make them flexible, and in fragrance to make it last longer. They can be absorbed through the lungs, the intestines, the skin, and through the blood stream via IV tubing. Even if you make a conscious effort to avoid them, you probably have detectable levels in your urine. It's a concerning phenomenon because phthalates are xenoestrogens, meaning that they act like estrogen in the body, disrupting our normal hormone cycles. They are being increasingly linked to obesity, breast cancer, thyroid dysfunction, and reproductive anomalies.
Sulfates in personal care products are used as foaming agents, prevalent in sudsy things like shampoos, laundry detergents, and even toothpaste. The main reason we don't use sulfates in our products is that they are often dermal irritants, especially sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Then there's sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), which can be slightly gentler on the skin, but it's been ethoxylated, and that's a whole new can of worms. Both SLS and SLES are on the no-no list for people with perioral dermatitis.
Lots of petrochemicals, like petroleum jelly and mineral oil, are used in personal care products to protect the skin and prevent water loss. They are readily available as byproducts of the petroleum industry. We avoid petroleum-based ingredients, in part, because we'd like to do our share to decrease dependence on that industry. But, petroleum-based ingredients often have comedogenic (pore-blocking) properties. Since our skin is an exchange organ, and both mineral oil and petroleum jelly block that exchange, we don't think they are the healthiest choices. This category also includes phenoxyethanol, a preservative approved for use in organic products, but still a petroleum-derived and ethoxylated ingredient.
FD&C colors, also called food coloring, are dyes that have been approved for food, drug, and cosmetic use. Unfortunately, questions are starting to arise about their toxicity and most of them are petroleum-derived. Colorants serve no purpose in skincare products like lotions and creams, so we don't see a reason to use them at all in those products.
Fragrance is a broad category that we avoid for several reasons. First, it can be listed as a single ingredient without listing all the components it comprises. This is concerning because most synthetic fragrance contains both petrochemicals and phthalates, and some have hundreds of components! Second, fragrance is highly allergenic, and can cause severe headaches and dermatitis for the chemically sensitive.