Clean Beauty – What’s Really in Your Products and Why it Matters
Haven’t you ever wondered?
Possibly yes, there being ever more whistle blowers in the beauty world. But, maybe not, because who wakes up one day and questions the ethicacy of their soap, the one carried in every store? Or that popular shampoo with ads interrupting your Hulu stream every five minutes? Or the toothpaste you grew up on? Not me, that’s for sure. Or at least, for the first 21 years of my life.
But, before I jump into this little exposé, I want to make sure you know none of the information is meant to freak you out or drum up fear — it’s just the facts. All I want is for you to have the information you need to make the decisions you want to make – aka, knowing what’s going on and in your body, for real.
Why care to share, you might ask? Well, you can read my full story, here. The short version is, I had allll of the weird and painful health crises that could have been avoided with a little information. Now I feel personal accountability to share all the offbeat, not readily accessible information I know, and if it helps even one person, I’m a happy girl.
In the way of clean beauty, I fell in love with style, aesthetics, and even cosmetics when I lived in LA. I firmly believe that makeup and personal care can be a form of self expression, which is why it makes me, well… pissed that anyone could taint or take advantage of that.
After working alongside a naturopath, my eyes opened to the reality of chemicals in our everyday products, but also how unregulated the personal care industry is. Afterward, while working in the creative industry, I realized there were hardly any options for clean makeup and hardly anyone knew to care.
For example, did you know the U.S. hasn’t made any new regulations or federal laws about your personal care items since 1938? Neither does pretty much… anyone.
That’s over 80 years, people! In that time, the European Union has been busy, banning over 1,400 toxic chemicals from being used in personal care products – The US has only partially banned about 30. Bad U.S.
These ingredients the EU banned, well, they’re still being used in everyday products right here in the U.S. Wild, right?
In a country as regulated as ours, it’s hard to believe we’ve fallen this short. Well, believe it.
Alright alright, I know what you’re thinking now:
“I mean, if we haven’t banned these things yet, there has to be a reason, right? Maybe if the products aren’t going in me, it doesn’t matter as much?”
Omg girl, no.
If you care about what goes in your body, you’d want to know what you’re putting on it.
Why? Because, actually, those are the same thing.
Let’s drive that home a bit.
I bring you, the garlic test: If you put a garlic clove between your toes, or rub garlic on your feet, you’ll taste it in your mouth and smell it in your nose within 15 minutes. In those 15 minutes, the allicin in the garlic has been metabolized and the sulfuric components have reached the mouth and lungs. Fast, right? Not every substance is absorbed equally, of course, but this gives you an idea of what’s possible. This is an example of how easily chemicals are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. Permeable membrane, people!
Another thing you may be asking: “But if the US hasn’t bothered to ban them yet, how bad could they possibly be?”
There’s parabens, for instance. Something you’ve heard of, but might not know the reason for it’s buzzword-y ness.
Parabens are used to keep products fresh but they’re linked to hormone disruption. They mimic the hormone estrogen, disrupting the endocrine system, which is known to be a cause of breast cancer so undeniable that blocking and removing excess estrogen is actually a form of breast cancer treatment. Also, when applied to the skin, parabens react with UVB rays and accelerate skin aging and DNA damage. Now that’s the fun stuff.
Then, there’s Phthalates – as fun for the body as it is to say. They’re found in most fragrances, unless specifically labeled phthalate free (and make sure that label is coming from a company you trust, mind you. Again, hardly any regulation here). Phthalates are another endocrine disruptor and have been linked to birth defects, but also kidney, lung, and liver damage. Uhhh… what?
The list of toxic ingredients is… pretty long. Again, I don’t say any of this to fear monger, only to help you see the reality of the situation, and that avoiding these ingredients aren’t necessarily silly preferences from picky people.
Now that you know a little about ingredients, let’s talk dirty products. I’m gonna give you a few examples of some traditionally chemical as hell, everyday products; why they’re a “no”; and better alternatives.
Benzylkonium Chloride, Oxybenzone, Benzophenone; Diphenylmethanone; Diphenyl Ketone; 119-61-9; Benzoylbenzene; Phenyl Ketone; Oxybenzone; 2-Hydroxy-4 Methoxybenzophenone; 131-57-7; Benzophenone-3; (2-Hydroxy-4-Methoxyphenyl), and Octinoxate.
Remember every one of those words. There will be a test.
Chemical sunscreens are Endocrine disruptors, also toxic to sea life and coral reefs, hence why Hawaii and Key West have either already banned them, or are in the process. The non-toxic alternative? Mineral sunscreens that physically block the sun’s rays, either using Zinc or Titanium ingredients.
Pthalates, Synthetic Fragrances, Synthetic musks, Butoxyethanol
These are more endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxins. All of ‘em.
Another fun fact: scents listed as “fragrance” on ingredient lists can have up to 200 ingredients the company doesn’t have to list. Err on the side of undisclosed fragrance = toxic. Look for labels like “phthalate free”, but even then, do your research into the company, because labels aren’t regulated by any entity whatsoever. I personally use Skylar for fragrance, but I recommend going to EWG.org to look up clean products. I’ll talk about that more in a minute.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Polyethelene Glycol, Formaldehyde, Coal Tar (Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylendiamine), DEA, MEA, and TEA (Diethanolamine, Cocamide, Triethanolamine), Methylisthiazolinone and Methylchlorisothiazolinone,
Oof, shampoo. Here we go.
So all of those things up there are… not so great, but Sodium Laureth Sulfate (or SLS) is a harsh one. Unfortunately, it’s a standard ingredient in anything that foams.
SLES’s are so strong they’re found in concrete cleaners, engine degreasers, and car wash detergent, etc. The chemical makeup in those products isn’t any different from the form found it your shampoo. These chemicals store themselves in tissues (liver, eyes, organs) and have been linked to cataracts and poor visual development in children, also slow healing.
Another point: all of these products aren’t only toxic for you and affecting your body, but also the environment. Everything we use on our bodies goes down our drains and ends up in the ocean with everything that lives there. There’s more than one reason to think twice about these products – food for thought.
Now, we’ve gone over a lot of endocrine disruptors today. There are definitely even more ingredients to look for with other toxic qualities, but I won’t get into every single one in this post for readability’s sake. That’s why I’ve put together a pocket guide to make it easy for you to feel informed the next time you’re picking out products – a little take home, if you will. I’ve also put together some resources to find clean, safe products. I’ll talk more about that in justtt a second.
To wrap this up, I’ve just gotta touch on something called greenwashing: aka when companies market themselves as green to ride the wave of this health revolution we’re in, while misleading consumers to think they’re pure and natural. The ones that make me the most upset are Tarte and Lush.
The first time I was introduced to Lush products years and years ago, my friend said something like, “They’re so natural, you could eat them!”. I’m wholly unsure whether this was actual Lush marketing verbiage, but holy wow is it not true. (Well, you can eat anything you want, but please don’t).
Number one, think of the smell every time you step in a Lush store. Overpowering, to say the least. Some friends can’t even step inside, they start sneezing, headaches galore. So yes, you guessed it, their fragrances are not natural (and we just went over why that’s a hard no) but, there are even more reasons. Some of Lush’s products contain talc, which is similar in structure to asbestos and has been the subject of recent lawsuits with Johnson and Johnson. Talc has been heavily linked to ovarian cancer and a questionable ingredient long before the lawsuits. There are other reasons and other ingredients cite-able in the outing of Lush, but, what more do you need?
Now Tarte markets themselves as veryyy natural, putting leaves and misleading words on their packaging, when they are definitely not as clean as they would like to appear. They say no mineral oil, but contain propylene glycol (a petrochemical derivative used in antifreeze solutions as a solvent, and known to cause damage to the liver, heart, and central nervous system). In my opinion, they do the exact bare minimum to seem health conscious, while slipping in lesser known, not-safe ingredients (aka, trying to cut some cost). The company also uses buzzwords like “sodium laureth sulfate free”, but hello, SLES’s are only used in products that foam, so of course they aren’t in makeup anyway. Fishy, my friends.
My hope is that some day clean beauty will just be “beauty”, but in the meantime, who wants some suggestions for the good stuff? And yes, Karen – natural, non-toxic makeup does “actually” work.
As of now, I’m reviewing my favorite non-toxic products in my pinned Instagram stories. I’m on the hunt for clean dupes for some used-to-be favorite mainstream products (like glossier etc) and finding the most high performance, modern, and truly non-toxic products. You can follow along, here.
Some further and equally amazing resources are Credo Beauty (think clean Sephora) and EWG.org.
Credo has very strict standards for brands + products they carry in store. Every product is cruelty free and brands have to provide proof of all claims and formulations (organic, vegan, all natural etc) leaving room for exactly no surprises. Every product is also free of all the chemicals on their “Dirty List”, which is very similar to the pocket list of toxic ingredients I’ve made for you today. You can order online from Credo, or if local to SF, there’s one on Fillmore.
EWG.org is a GREAT resource. The site has something called the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, where you can search the safety ratings of over 70,000 products. They rate products from 1-10, 10 being most toxic and 1 being heck yeah, amazing, slather on forever. It’s great for checking your current products or finding new ones.
Now, for that guide I keep talking about. I wanted you to have a takeaway, and something to help in your probable mad dash to replace every product in your house (been there). I mean, the point of this whole blog thing is for me to do all this research work for you, right? Right.
So hit the link here for your free pocket guide. Take it with you next time you shop personal care, because, you got this.
Photos by Michelle Waggoner
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