Reading ingredient labels on beauty products is at best confusing, and more often than not, very frustrating. We can't read (nonetheless pronounce) most ingredients, and when we actually manage to recognize one, the odds are not good that we'll be able to recall if it's on the "good" or "bad" list. Furthermore, when we actually recognize an ingredient as “bad,” we find ourselves wondering just how bad it really is. Like, does it cause skin irritation? Or cancer? (We don’t want either, but the latter is far less worthy of compromising for.) Why is making a healthy choice so damn difficult?!
We don’t have all the answers, of course. But we're happy to share a few resources and tips that have made our lives - and shopping for safer, healthier choices - a little easier.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
Beautycounter’s Never List is an invaluable resource, highlighting the most commonly used toxic ingredients in the beauty industry. As a company, they’ve banned these ingredients (more than 1,500, actually) from their products, in the name of safety, and have set a new industry standard in doing so. For more info on how why they've deemed each Never List ingredient toxic, visit their website.
Thank goodness for Beautycounter's credit-card-sized, printable Never List cheat sheet. (Click here to print. Share the extras!) Next time you’re at Sephora, pull this handy-dandy card from your pocket book and see how that lipstick-you-can’t-live-without measures up.
HOW TO INVESTIGATE YOUR PRODUCTS
While consumers have wised up, so to have the beauty brands. They’ve even gotten sneaky. One example: toxic ingredients have started to take on alter-ego names. Perhaps you recognize “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate,” as a no-no. But would you recognize it as “Sodium Salt Sulfuric Acid?” Perhaps more alarming is the fact that beauty brands are not required to list all ingredients in their products. Just because it’s not listed, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
A great solution to this problem is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep app and website search function. The EWG has tested, ranked and catalogued over 60,000 products and ingredients for safety. While some ingredients and products have limited studies, data or research conducted, it's still a great start.
WHY CHOOSING NON-TOXIC PRODUCTS IS IMPORTANT
For the ingredients listed on the Never List alone, the side effects include everything from hormone disruption to respiratory infection, skin irritation to cancer. This is not something to be taken lightly.
You may be thinking, “it’s just on my skin” or “I shower every day, so what's the big deal?” How quickly we forget that our skin is our largest organ. What we put on our bodies is absorbed into our bodies. It should come as no surprise that if we use a lotion with a hormone-disrupting ingredient, it can, indeed, disrupt our hormones. We used to think that what we were using had such a small amount of the toxin that it wouldn’t impact our health. But consider the potency of birth control: a pill with, on average, only 35 micrograms of estrogen can prevent pregnancy (source). Little things can have big consequences.
This super-helpful info-graphic on environmental health - a term we'll all be hearing much more of in the coming years provides a great introduction to what we're talking about.
WHY "ALL NATURAL" AND "ORGANIC" AREN'T INFALLIBLE
Now you may be thinking, “I only use products labeled all natural. I’m good to go, right?” Nope. The US has not passed a regulation in the beauty industry since 1938. There is no one regulating them and no one protecting us. The use of the term “all-natural” in the beauty industry is completely unregulated. Plus, just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it is safe. Mercury, for example, is naturally occurring and is used as a preservative and antiseptic, but it’s also known to damage brain function.
Organic is a bit better, but keep in mind that a product does not have to use all organic ingredients to claim their product as such. A blend of 97% organic ingredients and 3% toxic chemicals could still be labeled "organic."
Don't get us wrong: there are absolutely companies that use these terms in an ethical and honest way. It's just really important to do your homework! Read. the. label.
Or... if you’re like me and find the process of vetting every ingredient daunting, tedious and unlikely - but want to know what’s in your products - use brands that guarantee the safety of their ingredients and denounce those that are not up to snuff.
Have an idea to share with us about this topic? We'd love to hear from you. Contact us.