Here’s how to spot smarter, healthier beauty products:
1. Ignore the hype.
Don’t rely on label promises such as “natural”, “dermatologist-tested”, “gentle” or “hypoallergenic.” These phrases are marketing tools and mean little. Opt to read the ingredient list instead.
2. Remember that government safeguards may not be as safe as you’d like them to be.
Don’t expect the FDA to ensure that every bottle on the store shelf is up to your safety standards. The FDA has its strengths–who else here read The Jungle in high school?–but it has limited authority to ensure safety in cosmetics. For example, the FDA has no authority to require companies to test products for safety, and the FDA doesn’t review or approve the vast majority of products before going to market. Furthermore, the FDA does not have the authority to require recalls of harmful cosmetics, and the US government does not require that manufacturers of dangerous cosmetics report cosmetic-related injuries to the FDA. And disturbingly, over 500 products sold in the United States contain ingredients banned for cosmetic use in the European Union, Canada, and Japan.
3. Shop smart.
Try browsing a well-curated natural cosmetic shop, such as:
4. Review the ingredients.
Buy a beauty product only after reviewing the ingredients. Some ingredients are familiar, such as jojoba oil and aloe vera. Other ingredients, like the safe-but-scary-sounding disodium cocoamphodiacetate, aren’t so familiar.
The resources to help you make informed purchases are out there. Learn more about individual ingredients at the Environmental Working Group’s massive Skin Deep database, the Truth in Aging ingredient index, or the excellent book A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter. For help while you’re out shopping, keep the EWG’s free shopper’s guide to safe cosmetics in your wallet for easy reference.
5. Avoid dangerous or questionable ingredients.
These ingredients are not your friends: