The Beauty Industry can be a tough one to navigate through. With a lot of jargon and different marketing schemes, it is hard to figure out if a product is truly what it claims to be. Below you will find 4 tips that you can follow to make healthier and smarter beauty buying decisions.
1: Beware of marketing schemes and terms that lead you to believe a product is natural and good for you or the environment
Terms are thrown around loosely in marketing to convey a false sense to the customer that they are putting healthy ingredients on their skin. A product labeled as natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. Ingredient labels and packaging should be carefully read, understood and taken seriously. Although, some companies adhere to strict definitions of the terms they use, others do not.
It comes down to being able to read ingredient labels, like you do the food you eat.
Here are some common terms you will see thrown around in the beauty industry and what they actually mean:
Natural-There are no guidelines or definitions on using the term natural. It is subjective and dependent on the company’s opinion of the term and definition. Several companies have used this term to market their products when in fact, the only thing natural about their product, was one ingredient (water) while the rest of the ingredients were chemical and synthetically derived.
Hypoallergenic- Defined as (especially of cosmetics and textiles) relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. According to Web MD this doesn’t always mean that it is allergy-proof or gentler for your skin. There aren’t many standards for manufacturers on the use of "hypoallergenic" to describe their products. They don’t have to test the specific products to prove it won’t cause a reaction. It's impossible to guarantee that a cosmetic or skin care product will never cause an allergic reaction.
Pharmaceutical Grade- This term means that the ingredients used must be 99% pure and contain no unknown binders or fillers, etc. However, this does not always mean that the ingredients used in the pharmaceutical grade products are good for your skin or health. These types of skincare and makeup products may still contain parabens (proposed endocrine disruptors)
Allergen Free- See hypoallergenic above
Organic- The FDA has no definition for the term “Organic” and the cosmetic industry does not have an agreed upon definition either. The US Department of Agriculture does have a set of specified standards to determine the appropriate use of the term organic in labeling. However, this can only be enforced with USDA certified organic products.
Non-toxic- In theory this means that the product will not cause toxic harm. Unfortunately there are no specific standards for the “non-toxic” claim. This means that products could actually contain toxic ingredients.
Safe Synthetics- This is a made up term to convey a sense of safety for chemically made cosmetic ingredients.
2: Get familiar with ingredient labels
Cosmetic Ingredient labels are broken down similar to food labels. Ingredients are listed in descending order starting with the largest amount used in the product.
I thought it would be interesting to break down an actual cosmetic ingredient label to see what you are putting on your skin. This is how a typical label reads:
Active: Octinoxate (2.5%), Titanium Dioxide (1%) Other: Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Butylene Glycol, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Dimethicone, Magnesium Sulfate, Silica, Dimethicone/PEG-10/15 Crosspolymer, Laminaria Saccharina Extract, Algae Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Lecithin, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Methoxy Amodimethicone/Silsesquioxane Copolymer, Laureth-7, PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Propylene Carbonate, BHT, Chloroxylenol, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben; May Contain: Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides, Chromium Oxide Greens
But what are all those ingredients and what are they doing to your health? I’ve pulled out a few from the list to breakdown for you.
Water- Anytime water is added to an ingredient it immediately needs a preservative to prevent bacteria growth. Also, water in beauty products actually dehydrates the skin (promoting aging)
Butylene Glycol- derived from petroleum (skin suffocator)
Cyclopentasiloxane- chemical linked to tumor formation and endocrine disruption
PEG-10 Dimethicone- a member of the silicone family, contamination and toxicity concerns
Chloroxylenol- used as a preservative, strong skin irritant, possible immune disruptor, classified as toxic and harmful according to the European Union
Phenoxyethanol- skin irritant, evidence of nervous toxicity
Methylparaben- paraben that mimics estrogen, acts as a hormone disruptor, interferes with gene expression
Propylparaben- high risk paraben, linked to hormone disruption, human intoxicant
A little crazy huh?!
It’s okay though, you are well on your way to becoming an educated consumer of the beauty industry.
3: Look for key certifying agencies to help validate a product’s quality
We know our bodies flourish when fed whole and unprocessed foods. This same logic applies to our skin too. If we nourish our skin with whole, unprocessed ingredients it will flourish! Combine this with proper rest, exercise and stress reduction, and we are well on our way to our best skin yet! Here are some key things you want to look for when selecting Beauty and Body Products:
-Certified Organic Products: Does the company use Certified Organic ingredients to make their products? There are several certifying agencies. The USDA Certified Organic stamp of approval being the most popular. This means that the ingredients used to make the product meet the requirements of a certifying agency and was produced with the absence of chemicals, pesticides etc. (ps. We use both USDA Certified Organic Ingredients and Oregon Tilth Certified Organic Ingredients)
-Non-GMO: GMO’s are genetically modified organisms that were created in a lab for a desired effect and outcome. GMO plants can be harmful because they can actually modify your DNA resulting in chronic illness. Numerous recent studies have closely matched a rise in the incidence of more than thirty human diseases with the increased consumption of foreign proteins created by genetically modified plants . Try to find products sourced from Non-GMO ingredient sources.
- Certified Paleo Stamp of approval:The Certified Paleo label was developed and trademarked by The Paleo Foundation Inc. to identify food products that meet the standards of the Paleo Diet. This means products must be Grain-Free, Legume-Free, Dairy-Free, Have no Artificial Coloring, Artificial Preservatives, Artificial Sweeteners and be Artificial Flavor Enhancers-Free. They now approve beauty products that meet the same set of strict standards. (PS: as a celiac I can’t even begin to tell you how eating Paleo and adopting this lifestyle has changed my life...Ahhmazing!)
4: Look for whole, minimally processed ingredients:
Nature gives us many amazing and natural ingredients that have been used for years by humans for their skin-loving and health promoting benefits. Shopping for cosmetics and body care products should be treated similar to how one would shop for a high quality food or protein bar. It still takes a bit of processing to get the food into bar form, but essentially it should be made with the most raw and unprocessed ingredients possible (no additives, artificial colorants, chemicals, etc). Look for ingredients like the ones below:
-Certified Organic Jojoba Seed Oil: Certified Organic Jojoba Oil is quite the superfood for your skin. It improves elasticity, suppleness and protective abilities. Jojoba oil also mimics the existence of sebum (natural skin oil) and assists with the breakdown of sebum that has clogged up pores, making it great for acne prone skin. Anti-oxidant rich and moisturizing it makes the perfect anti-aging elixir.
-Certified Organic Raspberry Extract: Packed with the super antioxidant vitamin E and a high content of linoleic acid. Remember that lipid barrier we discussed? Raspberry Extract helps to repair it. This allows moisture to be locked in leading to ultra hydrated skin, improved elasticity, suppleness and softness. All of these things prevent skin aging, fine lines, wrinkles etc.
-Certified Organic Argan Oil: Restores the barrier function and maintains the water-holding capacity of skin preventing aging and visible wrinkles.
-Natural Clay: Known for its detoxifying and healing properties, absorbs excess oil, packed with natural earth minerals.
-Certified Organic Beeswax: Forms a protective layer on the surface helping to avoid damage from weathering and the outside world. Also reduces water loss keeping the skin hydrated and moisturized. Beeswax is a humectant that draws moisture in from the surrounding area which also adds to the skin’s soft and hydrated texture.
-Certified Organic Green Tea and other Polyphenols: Loaded with anti-oxidants that help to ward off free radicals. Green Tea Polyphenols have been shown to decrease inflammation and protect against UV light exposure. One study showed that using EGCG reactivated dying skin cells.
***Note that some labels use the scientific names for ingredients and others use the common name. For example the scientific name for Rosemary Extract is Rosmarinus officinalis. Both are the exact same ingredient.
I hope these guidelines help you to more confidently shop for beauty and Body products! As always, let me know if you have any questions.
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2.Sinija V, Mishra H. Green tea: Health benefits. Journal Of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine [serial online]. December 2008;17(4):232-242. Available from: Alt HealthWatch, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 2, 2016.