In recent years, we’ve seen consumers and celebrities alike become more dedicated to improving their overall health and wellness. Whether it’s participating in a popular diet or signing up for a healthy meal delivery service, it’s safe to say that the wellness industry is booming. But while many people are paying attention to the ingredients and foods they put in their bodies, most don’t take a second glance about the cosmetics or personal care products they use daily — and they should.
The FDA has control over what we consume with food and beverages, the law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to get FDA approval. And since our skin can absorb upwards of 60% of what we put on it, it’s vital that consumers are aware of the ingredients in their beauty products.
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What is clean beauty?
The clean beauty movement has gone mainstream in recent years as awareness increases about the harmful ingredients in everyday cosmetics and personal care products. People are beginning to demand safe, nontoxic products from cosmetics companies more than ever before. While there isn’t a legal definition of what exactly clean beauty is, clean products are free of ingredients such as sulphates, parabens, artificial colors and pesticides.
Gwenyth Paltrow’s lifestyle company goop was one of the first to lean into the clean beauty movement. Goop launched its own clean beauty and fragrance line, and also published a book that aims to help women discover internal beauty along with clean beauty on the outside. Jessica Alba, co-founder of The Honest Company, also launched a line of beauty products that uses only safe-for-skin ingredients and falls into the category of clean beauty. The line, called Honest Beauty, features a variety of skincare and makeup products, and has taken home several Best of Beauty Awards.
Not only are celebrities launching product lines that fall into the clean beauty category, but they are actively trying to get beauty industry regulations to change as well. Kourtney Kardashian has been meeting with legislators in Washington D.C., advocating for the Personal Care Products Safety Act (PCPSA). As a mother, Kourtney has become more aware of the ingredients in personal care products that she was using on her children, and wants the FDA to regulate cosmetics more actively.
What is natural beauty?
While natural beauty products may sound like something that we all want to add to our routine, it’s super important to look at the ingredient list of these products. Companies can call their product “natural” if it contains even just 1% naturally-sourced or plant-based ingredients. Natural cosmetics can also contain high levels of metals that are found naturally in the earth, including aluminum, lead and mercury. It’s an unregulated term, and products that are labeled as natural could be a majority of synthetic ingredients. If you are ultra-concerned about ingredients, it’s recommended that you opt for clean products rather than just natural.
Other types of beauty products
Clean beauty products are becoming more available in major stores and retailers, but there are a number of other options if you want to try swapping out some of your products with “cleaner” versions.
Organic cosmetics are regulated by the FDA and contain cruelty-free and sustainably sourced ingredients. However, it is worth noting that products only need to contain a certain percentage of organic ingredients for the FDA to allow it to be labeled as organic. If it has a USDA Organic seal, that means the product contains at least 95% organic ingredients.
After struggling to find beauty products that were free of harmful chemicals, former supermodel Miranda Kerr launched her own line of organic skincare products called KORA. Her collection of products includes organic ingredients such as noni fruit, green tea, caviar limes and coconuts. “My passion was to make certified organic skincare, but it needed to be super-effective and results-driven,” Miranda says, “There’s no point putting something on your skin that won’t be effective.”
When you hear the word “vegan,” you likely associate it with a specific type of diet. But cosmetics and beauty products can also be vegan! These products do not use any animal-derived ingredients and are not tested on any animals. Kat Von D, who has been a vegan since 2015, owns a makeup line that has never been tested on animals and is cruelty-free. When the line originally launched, it was found that some of the products contained carmine, a bright-red pigment produced from the bodies of beetles and other insects. Since then, Kat has reformulated almost all of their products to be completely vegan.
Fair trade beauty
Fair trade is a regulation that ensures fair prices are being paid to farmers and producers in developing countries where ingredients are sourced. People most commonly associate fair trade with the coffee industry, but it also applies to the beauty and cosmetics industry as well. It’s a long process to become fair trade certified — it can take almost a year to earn the certification — but with nearly 85% of millennials looking for responsibly sourced products, it’s worth it.
Ingredients to avoid
You don’t have to fully adopt a clean beauty lifestyle, but it’s important to be aware of harmful ingredients. Here are some commonly found ingredients that dermatologists recommend avoiding.
Parabens are synthetic compounds that are most commonly used as preservatives in health and beauty care products. You’ll likely find parabens on the labels of deodorants, shampoos, conditions, lotions and makeup. While these ingredients help to stop the growth of fungus and bacteria, they have also been linked to hormone imbalances and breast cancer.
This is a chemical compound that can be found in nail polish, nail polish remover and bleaching products. It is highly recommended that women who are pregnant avoid products containing toluene, as it can be toxic to the immune system and even cause birth defects.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. In cosmetics, the most common type of phthalate is dibutylphthalate (DBP), and can be found scented lotions, body washes and nail polish. When tested on animals, phthalates have been found to cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive systems.
Sodium lauryl sulfate
A commonly found ingredient in personal care products, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is an emulsifier that helps cleansing products to turn into foam. SLS has been found to contribute to skin irritation, canker sores and also disrupts the body’s natural production of oils.
DIY beauty product recipes
If you’re still concerned about the ingredients in cosmetics and what you’re putting in your body, try making your own! We’ve rounded up some simple DIY recipes for a variety of purposes that you can feel good about using.
Hair treatment recipes
Egg and lemon hair mask
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 lemon
- Adding shine to hair
- Absorbing excess oils
Olive oil and avocado mask
- 1 mashed avocado
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Hydrating dry, damaged hair
- Promoting hair growth and shine
Almond milk and coconut oil mask
- 4 egg whites
- 5 tablespoons almond milk
- 2 tablespoons coconut milk
- Promoting hair growth
- Reducing general inflammation
Bath and body recipes
Sage and blackberry sugar scrub
- 3 cups white sugar
- ⅓ cup coconut oil
- 9 to 12 sage leaves
- ½ cup blackberries
- Pre-shaving leg prep
- Moisturizing and exfoliating body treatment
Sweet almond oil body scrub
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup sweet almond oil (or coconut oil)
- 5 Vitamin E capsules
- 10 drops of essential oil (optional)
- Moisturizing skin
Simple body lotion
- ½ cup almond oil
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- ¼ cup beeswax
- 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil (optional)
- 2 tablespoons cocoa butter (optional)
- 10 drops essential oil (optional)
- Moisturizing skin
Coconut and honey lip scrub
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ½ tablespoon warm water
- Removing dead, dry skin
- Nourishing skin
Banana face mask
- ½ mashed banana
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- A natural-looking glow
Coffee mud face mask
- 2 teaspoons cosmetic grade clay
- 1 teaspoon coffee grounds
- 1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- Absorbing excess oil
- Tightening pores
- Cleansing and detoxifying
There are many reasons why you might consider switching to a type of clean beauty routine. If you have sensitive skin, removing products that contain irritating chemicals and preservatives could help improve sensitivity issues. You might also want to switch to cleaner products so you know exactly what safe ingredients are being absorbed into your body. Whatever your reasoning, it’s becoming more and more simple to make the switch, with major cosmetics companies developing clean and organic products for everyday use.
Kay, Camilla. “Your ultimate guide to the difference between vegan, natural, organic, clean and fair trade beauty.” Glamour UK, 2018 June 11, https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/the-difference-between-vegan-natural-organic-beauty-products
Morgan, Jessica. “What We Learned Over Breakfast with Miranda Kerr.” Get The Gloss, 2019 April 3, https://www.getthegloss.com/news/interview-with-miranda-kerr-kora-organics-skincare
Raidt, Dana. “12 Ingredients to Avoid in Makeup and Skincare Products.” Hello Glow, 2015 May 14, https://helloglow.co/ingredients-to-avoid-in-makeup-and-skincare-products/
Houlihan, Jane. “Why this matters - Cosmetics and your health.” EWG’s Skin Deep, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/why-this-matters-cosmetics-and-your-health/
Craik, Laura. “The Supermodel Turned CEO: Miranda Kerr Reveals The Secret Ingredient Behind Her Best-Selling Beauty Brand.” Grazia, 2019 April 30, https://graziadaily.co.uk/beauty-hair/skin/miranda-kerr-noni-plant-kora/