When it comes to shopping for beauty products, most of us share the common goal of finding products that are safe for us, safe for the environment, and that actually work. After all, your skin is the body’s largest organ, and what you put on your body is every bit as important as what you put in it.
Unfortunately, all it takes is a quick glance at the labels on many skincare and cosmetic products to see that some beauty companies aren’t nearly as concerned as we are. From artificial fragrances and sulfates to parabens and phthalates, many cosmetic companies are still putting a lot of nasty ingredients in the personal care products we use every day.
So, what’s a girl to do? Should you purge your bathroom cabinet and brave the world with a bare face every day? Does all-natural really mean a product is natural? And, what exactly is clean beauty… and is it really important? How do you even know where to start making changes?
If you’ve been asking yourself these questions, you’re not alone. Women of all ethnicities and backgrounds are making smarter decisions when it comes to purchasing beauty products. In fact, one of the reasons K-Beauty products have become so popular in recent years is because of their commitment to using safe, gentle, natural ingredients.
Much like any other healthy lifestyle choice, it all comes down to doing your research and reading labels. Here’s everything you need to know to start making smart decisions when purchasing beauty products.
How to Get Started on the Path to Cleaner Beauty
Thankfully, there’s no need to toss every product in your bathroom and boycott makeup forever. The smartest way to approach clean beauty is to make the change gradually. Start by taking a look at the labels of products that cover large areas of skin, such as body lotions.
Then look at products that sit right on the skin most of the day, like your face serum and sunscreen. These are the products you want to switch first. Over time, you can begin to replace things like shampoos, body washes, and makeup with cleaner options as they run out.
Here’s What You Want to Avoid and Why
Everyone has their own criteria for what clean beauty means to them, but there are some ingredients that are so toxic, they should be avoided altogether. Here’s what smart consumers will want to avoid and why.
- Parabens: Parabens are added to cosmetics as a preservative. They prevent mold and bacteria from growing in your beauty products, which would be a good thing if the parabens themselves weren’t so toxic! Unfortunately, parabens mimic estrogen, possibly leading to hormone-related cancers, reproductive issues, thyroid dysfunction, and even obesity.
- Phthalates and Synthetic Fragrances: We all want our beauty products to smell good! The problem is, the term fragrance can be used to describe all sorts of nasty ingredients because “fragrance” is considered a trade secret and cosmetic companies aren’t required to disclose what’s in them. They often contain phthalates and other chemicals that have been linked to reproductive issues and hormonal imbalances. Fragrance is a common allergen and irritant, so you’re better off avoiding it anyway.
- Formaldehyde: Can you believe they still use this globally recognized carcinogen in hair care products? While it has been removed from many products, it’s still hidden in keratin smoothing treatments under names like methylene glycol, methanediol, formalin, and methanol. These ingredients release formaldehyde when combined with water. Ladies, if you work in a salon or use straightening products regularly, read your labels carefully! Long term exposure can cause cancer, and even occasional use can lead to itchy eyes, nosebleeds, and a sore throat.
- Petroleum: Yep, the stuff you put in your car is widely used in moisturizers, lip balms, and more in the form of mineral oil, petrolatum, or paraffin. Eww! Not only is this practice terrible for the environment, but mineral oil may actually accumulate in the body over time and could lead to cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
Clean Beauty Buzzwords: What Do They Really Mean?
Wouldn’t it be great if buzzwords like organic, vegan, clean, and cruelty-free actually meant a product was toxin-free? Unfortunately, there’s no regulation on how companies can use these terms, so they’re free to set their own definitions. You’ve still got to read labels carefully.
In general, the term clean should indicate that a product is safe for both people and the environment. If a product is labeled green, the manufacturer is claiming that their product is environmentally friendly. The generic term “non-toxic” could be applied to any beauty product sold in the US, so don’t take it too seriously.
If a product is labeled “USDA Certified Organic,” it’s safe to say the product is pesticide and GMO-free. “Sustainable” usually indicates the product and packaging are not harmful to the planet and the ingredients are ethically sourced in an environmentally friendly way.
Vegan beauty products do not contain any ingredients sourced from animals, including honey and beeswax, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the product is clean. And finally, the term cruelty-free indicates the product has not been tested on animals, but it does not indicate that the product is vegan.
Is Natural Always Better?
When shopping for beauty products, keep in mind that natural doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is safe for people or the environment. For example, many people assume essential oils are completely safe because they’re natural, but that’s not always the case. Many essential oils are very strong, and they can cause anything from a mild breakout to a severe allergic reaction if not used properly.
And, when it comes to the environment, palm oil is the perfect example of a natural ingredient that’s quite harmful to the environment. Producing palm oil requires large plantations, and that means deforestation and the loss of crucial animal habitats. The World Wildlife Fund reports that an area the size of 300 hundred football fields is cleared for palm oil production every hour, putting Sumatran tigers and orangutans at risk of extinction.
Switching to a cleaner beauty routine makes sense, not just for your personal health, but also for the health of the planet. It’s up to each of us to do our part and make smart decisions when it comes to choosing the personal care products we use every day.