Because you have the power to engage with cosmetics on your own terms!
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 strong 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The safeguards which should exist—those which many of us assume exist—are simply outdated and weak. Let’s put it this way: Canada bans over 500 ingredients in cosmetics, the European Union bans over 1,300 ingredients in cosmetics, and the United States has banned…wait for it…less than a dozen!
The FDA doesn’t approve new products or brand new chemical ingredients (except color additives), and they don’t even have the authority to remove beauty products known to be dangerous or problematic from store shelves. All this lack of oversight has created a beauty industry which is largely self-regulated.
This industry that promised to self-regulate and look out for our best interest (alongside their own, of course) is failing to appropriately address the issue of long-term, low-dose exposure to a wide range of chemicals commonly found in our beauty products.
3. Shop smart.
Try browsing a well-curated natural cosmetic shop, such as:
Other retailers, such as Pharmaca and Target have excellent green beauty sections, and you may find a great deal!
4. Understand which ingredients are controversial and potentially toxic.
If you’ve been using mainstream beauty products for so long you feel like there’s no hope, be encouraged that switching to clean beauty CAN make a difference. And quickly. A rather remarkable 2016 study by researchers at UC Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas demonstrated that even a short break from certain kinds of makeup, shampoos, and lotions can lead to a significant drop in levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in the body.
Hormone-disrupting chemicals—AKA endocrine disruptors—are a big deal in beauty products. These types of chemicals are concerning because they disrupt the normal function of hormones. Since our hormones drive ALL the body’s functions, their presence is worth paying attention to. Endocrine disruptors may affect bodily processes related to brain function, reproduction, and normal growth.
It’s unlikely you’ll ever be faced with a single, toxic dose of any of the ingredients listed below. But this is about chronic, low-dose exposure to toxic chemicals which the body absorbs at a rate greater than it can metabolize or excrete it.
When you see “fragrance” in an ingredient list, take note. Thanks to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966, fragrance is considered proprietary information and allowed to be hidden from consumers. So while you see that single word on the label, it may contain any number of secret ingredients.
In other words, by hiding behind fragrance, the maker of that product is choosing to not disclose all ingredients. They have, in effect, robbed you of the power to make a choice with your eyes wide open.
But thankfully more and more companies are choosing to disclose all ingredients in their cosmetics, thus empowering you to make informed choices. So when you find a beauty product that stands by all its ingredients, that’s a good thing.
Linked to hormonal disruption and birth defects, these chemicals can be found in undisclosed fragrance ingredients.
This potentially carcinogenic contaminant is derived from petroleum and found in shampoo and body wash.
Found in skin-lightening creams, this chemical is linked to cancer, organ toxicity, and skin irritation. There’s a reason why many products containing hydroquinone also carry warning labels!
Parabens—in particular the so-called long-chain ones such as butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and propylparaben—mimic estrogen, and therefore may alter its normal production within the body.
Parabens are found in all sorts of cosmetics from lotion to foundation, shampoo to mascara.
…Triclosan and Triclocarbon
These controversial antibacterial agents have been linked to hormonal disruption in the thyroid and have been found in human breast milk.
Found in hair dye and some anti-dandruff products, coal tar is a known carcinogen.
This known carcinogen is also linked to neurotoxicity, asthma, and developmental problems. It’s used as a preservative in products like shampoo and bubble bath.
You won’t always see “formaldehyde” on the label, but it is present in DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, among others.
…Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazalinone
Found in shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, these chemical preservatives are a common source of contact skin allergies.
A common sunscreen ingredient, the CDC showed that oxybenzone was present in 97% of American bodies.
Oxybenzone is bioaccumulative and may cause endocrine disruption. It penetrates the skin barrier, is found in mother’s milk and is even associated with female endometriosis.
Found in nail polish, this volatile petrochemical is toxic to the immune system and linked to birth defects.
5. Don’t succumb to ingredient list overwhelm.
Some ingredients are familiar, like jojoba oil and aloe vera.
Other ingredients, like the safe-but-scary-sounding disodium cocoamphodiocetate, aren’t so familiar. Don’t let those big names intimidate you. There are resources to help you understand what’s in your beauty products—the ThinkDirty app and EWG’s wallet-sized shopper’s guide to safe cosmetics can help you conquer any ingredient list.
6. Be empowered to make choices that are right for you.
More power to you if you’re paraben-free/phthalate-free/GMO-free, but don’t build your beauty routine based solely on what it lacks. Green beauty isn’t just about stripping away what you don’t want. It’s also about natural, organic, wild-crafted, good-for-you abundance.
Substance matters. Choosing products based solely on what you’re avoiding robs you of the pleasure of the positive qualities they may contain. You aren’t only defined by what you are not—shouldn’t your cosmetics be given the same courtesy?
Ultimately, green beauty is about engaging with beauty on your own terms. So empower yourself by choosing beauty products that respect your body and intelligence.