If you haven’t started already, transitioning to a green beauty routine is by far the best lifestyle choice you’ll make this year. But like any other choices, you should start by asking yourself why you are doing it. Are you worried about hormone disrupters or other long term health concerns? Is your skin highly sensitive to certain ingredients? These answers will help you understand which ingredients to focus on and how quickly you should switch to a more natural skin care routine. Spending hours reading labels and understanding ingredients can be dull, so we’ve summarized hours of medical research into these simple steps.
Get your beauty stash together and check each product’s label.
Every beauty product must list its ingredients. Here’s what you need to know to understand the chemical jargon on the labels:
1. Start with preservatives, and put aside anything containing:
- Parabens: While most common parabens use the suffix “paraben” in their name, for example butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben, also watch out for the ones that don’t, for example Alkyl parahydroxy benzoates.
- Other nasty chemical preservatives include DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Triclosan, Triclocarban, and Triethanolamine (or "TEA"), as published by The Environmental Working Group.
2. Next, look for ingredients starting with "PEG" or using "-eth" in the middle of their name, for example Sodium Laureth Sulfate. These ingredients are normally listed along with soaps, surfactants, and lubricants.
3. Lastly, don’t forget to look for ingredients like FD&C and D&C. These are food and cosmetic-grade colorants that can also have a nasty effect to your skin and health.
What you need to know about parabens, sulfates and colorants.
Nasty #1 Parabens
Parabens are chemicals used in the beauty industry since the 1950s as antibacterials and preservatives in products like lotions, lipsticks and scrubs.
Until recently it was thought that parabens where safe due to their low toxic profile. But new research has shown that the build up of Parabens in the body and their interaction with other commonly used chemicals may lead to hormone disruption and can lead to an increased cancer risk, as published by the Organic Consumers Association.
As the number of consumers seeking paraben-free products increases, many beauty brands like Revlon have started taken voluntary steps to remove parabens from their products, but there are still many companies and beauty bloggers in the market labelling parabens as unharmful in small doses.
The greater risk with paraben-free products is caused by manufactured using parabens’ substitutes with far great health concerns, such as Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate. Just because a label doesn't say paraben, it doesn’t mean a product is safe. If you are unsure about any of the listed ingredients, do a bit of research first. Scroll down for some great research tips.
Nasty #2 Sulfates
Sulfates are cleansing and foaming agents that can be found in some body washes and cleansers. They have ben found to break down proteins, which can lead to a degenerative effect on the cell membranes; and to leave residue in the heart, lungs, and brain.
Just like with parabens, some companies have replaced sulfates with other chemicals in their products, which can be even more detrimental to your health and skin. Look for products that use fruit or vegetable-based cleansing ingredients instead.
Nasty #3 D&C and FD&C
D&C and FD&C are colorants commonly used in cosmetics, drugs and foods. In some countries, D&C are approved for use in drugs and cosmetics, while FD&C can also be used in food. You would expect that FD&C dyes are subject to more rigorous testing, but their certification doesn’t always address potential effects derived from prolonged exposure.
A large number of D&C and FD&C colorants have been linked to allergic reactions, skin irritations, nervous system toxicity, reproductive system disruption and even cancer. For example coal-tar-based dyes such as FD&C Blue 1 and FD&C Green 3 have been found to be carcinogenic in animal studies when injected under skin. Synthetically-enhanced colors may also contain heavy metal salts which can penetrate into the skin.
Due to their health risks many of these dyes have been banned in many countries but there are still plenty of them in use out there. Some regulators take the side that as long as we are not ingesting them there’s no harm but this ignores the fact that what we put on our skin is also absorbed into our bloodstream. Additives like FD&C Red 4 and FD&C Red 1 are banned in food in some countries, but can still be used in cosmetics. And even worse D&C colors are allowed twice as much of the toxic lead and arsenic as FD&C colors.
Australian beauty company Alexami offers a lot of information on this topic on their website. If you’d like to take the safe side, look for natural colorants like carrot oil, beet extract and henna, which are considered safe and are exempt from classification.
Is that it?
Not quite. There are other harmful chemicals in use out there like mineral oils. But here are the two main things you should consider when transitioning to a green beauty routine:
- You don’t have to get rid of all products at once. Identify your main concerns and what ingredients are linked to these concerns, and slowly start replacing these products for safer alternatives. Keep a log of any changes you notice on your skin. Even if no visible signs occur immediately, your skin and body will thank you for it in the long term.
- Just because a product is labeled natural or organic it doesn't mean that there's nothing in it you want to avoid. So always read your labels and ask questions before buying a new product.
Tips for doing your own research
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database is a great place to start your research. Skin Deep offers product and ingredient safety ratings on over 69,543 products and 2,089 brands, health information about cosmetics ingredients and smart shopping tips. You can look up a product, an ingredient, search by company or find safer alternatives.
Skin Deep rates each product and ingredient based on dual score: a hazard score and a data availability score.
- The ingredient hazard score, from 1-10 reflects known and suspected hazards of ingredients.
- The data availability rating reflects the number of scientific studies published by the medical profession and Skin Deep research team.
A product’s low score on the hazard scale doesn’t mean much if scientists know very little about the chemicals in it. Your best bet? A an ideal score would have a low hazard rating and high data availability. Go ahead and try it out yourself.