Clean, Non Toxic Beauty
“Clean” beauty products don’t use harsh chemicals found in most mainstream beauty products, opting instead for high-quality, organic ingredients. These products are especially important given the lack of regulation in the beauty industry. Beauty companies aren’t required to do “safety tests” — and the Food and Drug Administration only regulates 11 chemicals commonly found in such products. A study published by JAMA Internal Medicine in August found the number of complaints to the FDA about adverse reactions to conventional beauty products are skyrocketing.
Greenwashing Claims With Beauty Products
Studies show that people often read product labels for only a few seconds—start reading the label all the way through, particularly if a product boasts one of these claims.
The best advice for finding safe products is that simpler is better. Choose products with fewer chemicals, avoid synthetic fragrances, and use fewer products overall, especially on children or when pregnant. The Skin Deep database from the EWG is a great resource for researching your favorite products to find out what’s in them and how they rate for toxicity. Choose products in the 0-2 least toxic range, with the green circles.
(For more on ingredients to avoid, click here.)
What about products that are preservative-free? Is that a good thing?
Not necessarily. Preservatives are important for water-containing products, otherwise microbes could become a big problem. And preservatives are definitely tricky; their job is to kill bacteria, so they are toxic by nature. But some are far more toxic than others. The worst offenders are preservatives that release formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen and potent skin irritant and allergen. These formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are in many popular products; they go by names such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and bromopol. Parabens are also worrisome because they can act like estrogen in the body, and higher estrogen exposures are linked to breast cancer. Many products contain parabens, and the exposures add up.
Are there any worthwhile certifications?
I don’t put much stock in certifications, there are so many and it’s too confusing to keep them straight. But I do appreciate the Whole Foods Premium Body Care Standards—the standards are tough and the products with this special label at Whole Foods are among the best. Also look for the USDA organic seal—any product that meets that designation is the best of the best.
What are the five most perilous personal care products and why? What can consumers do to find safer alternatives/options?
When our partners at EWG first created the Skin Deep database, which compiles toxicity data on thousands of products, we were anxious to see which company was the worst offender for making toxic products. We were surprised to find there was no “worst”—the mainstream companies are making basically the same products! Formulations are remarkably similar across the board, from the high-end boutique products to the cheapest drugstore brands. Most haven’t changed in decades. When you pay more for conventional products, you are paying for marketing and packaging, not better formulas.
We did find, however, that certain product types are far more toxic than others. Among the worst are hair dyes, hair straighteners and perms. Anything that changes the shape and color of hair tends to be quite toxic chemically. While there have been some interesting innovations in hair dye, the truly safe and effective hair dye has yet to be created—we’re keeping an eye out for that! For straightening or curling, stick with heat treatments and avoid the chemicals.
Also among the most toxic: Nail treatments such as acrylics (with formaldehyde glue) and nail products containing acetone, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, or formaldehyde should also be avoided. And last but not least: skin lighteners. These products are problematic not only for what they say about cultural standards of what is supposedly beautiful, but also because they are highly toxic. Most contain hydroquinone, a carcinogen that is banned in most industrial countries but is still legal to use in the US.
If women want to do something about this on a legislative level, what can they do?
There has never been a more important time to get involved. I’m convinced that women will be the ones to lead the charge to a new economic revolution—one that values life, health and happiness over ever-increasing sales of cheap and toxic stuff. We need to get organized. We need to work together. Here are some things you can do:
Make a commitment to buy safe products: Look not just at the label but at the company. Are you supporting companies that support your values? I’ve stopped buying products from all the mainstream beauty companies and choose instead to buy from smaller independently owned companies (local if possible) that I have come to know and trust. Check out the Safe Cosmetics champion companies and other companies that have low scores on the Skin Deep database.
Get political: How can we turn the powerful and growing green and organic consumer movement into an unstoppable political movement? All these issues are connected: toxic products made from oil byproducts, rising rates of disease, our increasingly unhealthy and pesticide-laden food system, climate change… We need to exert our power as moms, sisters, daughters, sons and fathers to say No to systems that are poisoning people and the planet, and Yes to an economy that values life.
We are creating the world we want to live in through the choices we make every single day about how we spend our money and our lives. Get registered to vote, run for office, vote your values, shop your values, and let’s create the future our kids deserve.
Join me to continue the discussion at my website MovetheMarket.org.
Going Clean Beauty Regime
Going clean with your beauty routine doesn’t need to be intimidating — or costly. All you need to do is just get started. Here’s an easily adaptable seven-day plan that will get you off and running.
Day 1: Purge your bathroom cabinets
Start on Saturday by taking a long, hard look at all the products in your bathroom. Push yourself to toss out any products that you haven’t used in a while or are long past their expiration date. (Here’s a handy guide on how long you should be keep your beauty products.) This will help you start your clean beauty routine with a clean slate.
Day 2: Go cold turkey
On Sunday, rip off the proverbial Band-Aid by not using any of your usual beauty products. Instead, treat yourself with a detoxifying salt and clay bath, which will help cleanse your skin. Bentonite Clay works perfectly for this.
After taking your bath, rinse off in a cool shower, washing your body and face with only water. If your skin is particularly dry, apply a light layer of moisturizer. Pick a brand that lists oil, aloe or shea butter as the first ingredient. The goal of today is to let your skin breathe as much as possible to allow the skin to “reset” before you introduce new products.
Day 3: Get your hair healthy
If you’re a daily shampooer, consider cutting back. It’s better for your hair — not to mention the environment — to wash less frequently. Buy a shower cap and a nontoxic dry shampoo to cover you between washes.
You can also add another essential back into your routine today: lip balm. It’s easy to ingest lip balm when you apply it (just think about how frequently you lick your lips), which means it’s extra critical to get a non-toxic version of this beloved beauty staple.
Day 4: Focus on your face
It’s now Tuesday, so you’re halfway there! Start today by layering in more essential skin products, including a clean foundation and concealer.
At the end of the day, give yourself a little treat — changing your routines can be hard. Wash the day away with a gentle, cleanser that’s based in aloe, honey or clay. Then, pamper your skin with a non-toxic mask. Since skin masks linger on the skin, it’s crucial to use a nontoxic formula.
Bonus points for making a DIY mask. Mix raw cacao, bentonite clay, Mānuka honey and water into a paste. Apply a thick layer onto your skin and let it sit for 20 minutes while you relax. Remove with warm water (and a dark washcloth — the cacao will stain white!) and apply that basic moisturizer afterwards. Your skin might be rosier than usual due to the cacao but it will calm down shortly.
Day 5: Go makeup free
Take a good look in the mirror this morning. How does your skin look the day after your mask? You’ve now gone three days without wearing a lot of makeup, so it’s the perfect time to see which products you’re missing most and start adding them back into the mix. Opt for a gentle mascara made from beeswax and a blush that contains minerals and oils.
But it’s key to keep your morning routine minimal. Think about your beauty regimen before you began this experiment and pick two products you can wholly eliminate. More products means more chemicals — and besides, a beautiful look can be achieved simply with just concealer, blush and mascara.
Day 6: Make your body beautiful
Now onto the biggest square footage: your body. Exfoliate your body with a gentle sugar scrub to slough off dead skin. Sugar melts into your skin, making it a better alternative than irritating salt-based scrubs. Then, apply a healthy body lotion or better yet, a body oil. A clean body oil doesn’t have any of the preservatives or unnecessary ingredients found in most lotions, including synthetic fragrances.
Day 7: Have fun
By this point, you deserve a treat. And maybe you’re hitting the town for a fun night out (you deserve it)! You’ve tossed the products that were standing in the way of your health. You’ve tried a day without makeup, and hopefully you realized how little you need to look and feel great.
Makeup should be fun, rather than a crutch or coverup. So try out colorful eyeshadows, lipsticks and more. Look for ingredients like mineral color, coconut oil and cocoa butter instead of the harsh, cheap chemicals found in many conventional options.