Topical Skin Care Products To Avoid For Autoimmune Diseases Affecting The Skin


A variety of autoimmune diseases manifest in the skin including eczema, psoriasis, scleroderma, and vitiligo, to name a few.

Autoimmune diseases start with an abnormal immune response; therefore, we generally treat these conditions from within the body with a focus on the gastrointestinal tract where the immune system starts. But I often get asked, “what should we put on the skin itself to help with these diseases and what should we avoid?”.

I recently attended a conference this year in which Dr. Trevor Cates, an ND specializing in skin health, gave a presentation on skin care ingredients and autoimmune diseases and I want to share with you here. 

Leaky Skin

There is a term called leaky skin that many health care providers use (yes, it mimics the same principles as leaky gut that many people are familiar with). It essentially refers to an increased permeability of the skin. Skin should provide an external barrier against foreign pathogens but should also provide a platform for healthy bacteria to live so that they can protect against infections, keep the skin healthy, and decrease inflammation. In most autoimmune diseases involving the skin, increased skin permeability or leaky skin, leads to a decrease in this natural barrier and a loss of a healthy environment for healthy bacteria to take residence. 

Topical Ingredients To Avoid

There are many factors that influence this permeability and bacteria, including age, hygiene, diet, lifestyle and environment. Below you’ll find a list of topical ingredients commonly found in skin care products that affect the skin, increase its permeability, disrupt hormones, and overall negatively affect the health of the body. 

  1. Antibiotics: Topical antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary, should be limited as they can kill the good bacteria that are important for fighting infections and improving wound healing
  2. Fragrances: Artificial fragrances most often contain hormone disrupting chemicals that disrupt the natural hormones of the body. 
  3. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing products: These products are used as preservatives in skin care products and can lead to inflammation and DNA damage. Look for ingredients such as quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, bronopol, or imidazolidinyl urea
  4. Mineral oil and petroleum: These oils absorb through the skin and can reach the lymph nodes, spleen, and other organs. Cosmetic grade mineral oils are supposed to be purified and free of cancer-causing molecules however research suggests that they may not be free of these molecules. 
  5. Parabens: Parabens have estrogen mimicking activity. Estrogen positive breast tumors have been found to contain parabens
  6. Oxybenzone: Usually found in sunscreens and chap-stick containing sunscreen, these chemicals can build up in fat tissue and also disrupts the body’s natural hormones. 
  7. There is a variety of other skin care ingredients that are harmful for the skin and the body including ethanolamines, hydroquinones, BHA, triclosan, triclorocarbon, coal tar ingredients, talc, Teflon, phenoxyethanol, toluene, etc. 

When choosing skin care ingredients, choose products made from natural ingredients. Stay tuned, and I’ll elaborate on some great natural ingredients for skin care next time!

Dr. Jamie Berner, ND


Cates, Trevor (2019). More Than Skin Deep: A Dermatological Perspective.