The definition of “clean beauty” when it comes to product use is easy to embrace: Don’t make or use cosmetics that could harm us or the environment.
It may not surprise you that it’s incredibly hard to reach that goal. The list of ingredients of concern is more than 10,000 items long and is always evolving. Labeling requirements are lax, and in some areas, especially hair care, there still are very few “clean” options.
And yet this is a goal we must keep moving toward, even if it takes years or decades more to arrive at it. We’re talking about potentially saving ourselves from cancer, reproductive issues, allergies, slowed metabolism and other threats to our health, and saving our planet from additional water, land and air pollution.
Don’t let this intimidate you, though. The best way to start making a difference is to focus on the products you use daily and make any changes you’re able to.
Let’s take a look at a few of the basics.
There is no definitive link between using antiperspirant containing aluminum and breast cancer, though patients are told to avoid it during radiation treatment.
Skin absorbs very little aluminum but the amount increases from .01% to .06% after shaving, so one way to be safer is to switch to natural deodorant after you shave.
Many of the most-damaging compounds consumers are told to watch out for are regularly found in moisturizers. Among them are “fragrance” or “perfume” (catchall terms for ingredients in scented products that don’t have to be individually listed, including phthalates), parabens, PEG (polyethylene glycol) and BHA and BHT (preservatives that are likely carcinogenic and endocrine disruptors).
Retinol’s inclusion on some lists has been controversial and it is not recommended for pregnant women, but can be more safely used at night to avoid its possible hastening of damage to sun-exposed skin.
Mineral sunscreens only containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide scatter UV rays when they hit your skin, sometimes leaving a white cast that can vary between products.
The much more common chemical sunscreens include well-known hormone disruptors like oxybenzone and oxynoxate, which wash off your body and into water systems when you shower or swim, damaging wastewater plants and helping to kill coral reefs.
This and the other skin care products you leave on your skin all day are particularly important to keep clean. The most common ingredients you need to watch for with foundation are parabens (linked to thyroid disruption, reproductive organ harm including cancers and obesity) and ethanolamines, aka MET, DEA and TEA (research is limited but links to allergies, hormone disruption and inhibited fetal brain development have been reported.
Shampoo and conditioner
Researchers have had a tough time finding “clean” chemistries that clean, condition, scent and color hair well enough to be a marketable product, but their work continues.
In the meantime you can work at phasing out such harmful ingredients as the ones mentioned above, plus formaldehyde and sodium lauryl sulfate (SES), coal tar, EDTA and lead. That’s right, lead.