For some time now, the focus of cosmetics has been on the ingredients. While before everything natural was trendy, now it is important not to use irritating cosmetics. Above all, well-intentioned, but wrong care becomes the focus of attention. Here you can find out why irritating ingredients are such a problem and how to avoid them.

The following 5 irritant ingredients are covered in this article:

  • Alcohol
  • Water
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate and Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
  • perfumes
  • plant extracts

When people talk about attractive cosmetics, they don’t mean that cosmetics are particularly great. On the contrary: this means that it irritates the skin, which can lead to all kinds of problems. In the worst case the skin can develop an allergy, but also severe skin impurities and pimples can develop. The common thing is that the skin can also react quietly and secretly without any external irritation.


Alcohol is one of the most irritating substances. If you think about it, it’s perfectly logical. After all, alcohol as a disinfectant kills bacteria or causes great damage to alcoholics in the body. Especially in anti-pickle preparations, alcohol is usually found at the top of the list.

This follows the logic that alcohol can be disinfected and that impurities can be caused by bacteria on the skin. Alcohol, however, irritates the skin so much and also dries out the skin so much that the positive effect of “disinfection” lags far behind. In addition, bacteria quickly reappear on the skin in everyday life. Damage to the skin is therefore not even worth it.

However, it is important to distinguish between irritating and caring alcohol. For example, irritating alcohols can be found in the list of ingredients as alcohol, alcohol denat., benzyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol. The molecular structure of these species is so small that they penetrate deep into the skin and irritate even deeper skin layers.

Nurturing alcohols are fatty alcohols such as Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol or Stearyl Alcohol. These substances are frequently used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and also have a certain irritant potential, but much lower than the other alcohols. They also improve the texture of products and have a low occlusive effect, i.e. they trap moisture in the skin.


Water’s lovely? Then why don’t showers cause pustules? Water is not irritating in the true sense of the word, but still deserves its place on the list. Here everything depends on the temperature. Water that is too hot or too cold is irritating because it dries out the skin.

The skin notices this and increases sebum production or, if it cannot do this with dry skin, becomes even drier. Indirectly, calcareous water is also irritating. It does not reliably remove soap residues from the skin. As a result, aggressive surfactants remain on the skin longer than intended. So make sure that water has the right temperature, especially on sensitive parts of the body such as the hands or face. After a hot shower, it is necessary to apply a thorough cream. In a hot bath, nourishing oils can compensate for the loss of moisture.

Sodium laureth sulphate and sodium lauryl sulphate

These two surfactants are so irritant that sodium lauryl sulfate is even used to classify new surfactants based on how strongly it irritates sodium lauryl sulfate compared to sodium lauryl sulfate. Unfortunately, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which is a little less irritating, is represented in an unbelievable number of products.

Hardly any conventional shampoo does not list the surfactant as a second or third ingredient. Shower gel also often contains sodium laureth sulfate and especially bath additives contain the substance very often when it comes to foam baths. This is a problem because the skin absorbs substances more easily due to the contact with water and heat and the prolonged contact with the surfactant dries out enormously.


Fragrances are a difficult topic. In general it has been known for a long time that fragrances mostly irritate the skin. However, there are a few surprising exceptions, in both directions. Not everything that smells has to be irritating. For example, if perfume is relatively far behind in the ingredients, you don’t have to worry. Because especially irritating ingredients have to be specially labelled. If we are only talking about perfume, it is not included.

Essential oils, however, are irritating, even if they are at the end of the ingredients. Especially with creams this is a problem because of the long retention time on the skin.

Care should be taken with fragrances such as menthol, citronellol, limonene, linalool and a few others.

Plant extracts

This is a particular problem for natural cosmetics fans, because many natural cosmetics contain plant extracts. However, due to their production, these often contain irritating alcohol or are irritating per se as concentrated oil. Here, too, they are okay in shampoos in individual cases, as the time spent on the skin is not long. Those who prefer a fresh fragrance do not have to worry. These ingredients should not be present in face creams in particular.

Among others, plant extracts from eucalyptus, orange, oakmoss, witch hazel, cinnamon and some others are irritating. These extracts must be explicitly stated in the list of ingredients and are usually listed with their Latin names. Especially in the case of natural cosmetics, caution is therefore advised and a quick Internet search may be recommended to find out whether the substances contained are irritant.

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