By Caitlin Moakley of Soil & Spirit
With so many skincare products available to consumers, how can we navigate aisles and online marketplaces to find the healthiest products for our skin?
As someone who scours ingredient lists and analyzes brands from a 360-degree angle for a living, I want to share what you can do to investigate the ingredients in your personal care products before making your next purchase.
Keep it simple.
A longer ingredient list doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Often lurking in long lists are preservatives and fillers that dilute key ingredients. Did you know that in most cases, an FDA compliant personal care product has to list ingredients in descending order of predominance? There are exceptions to this rule such as colorants, fragrances, flavors, and ingredients with a concentration of 1% or less – these can be listed in any order after the dominant ingredients are listed.
The ingredients we put onto our skin have the potential to be absorbed into our bloodstream, which can create health issues. On top of personal health, the use of toxic chemicals in skincare can affect our environmental health. In most of our personal care routines, we are washing product down the drain, into our water supply: brushing our teeth, showering, doing dishes, washing clothes, etc. all of these tasks involve mixing personal care products with our water supply. When I buy a product I think: what would happen if I ate or drank this?
What are some ingredients to avoid?
Parabens, harmful preservatives and alcohols
- The FDA states,“Preservatives may be used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold”. Preservatives are needed when oil and water are combined in a product. It’s a way to protect the product, not a beneficial ingredient for the skin – only in the sense that it’s limiting the bacteria that goes onto the skin.
- Did you know that fragrances are basically unregulated? Producers are not forced to disclose the ingredients responsible for the scents in their products. Choose your scented products wisely, ensuring they’re coming from a natural source such as essential oils.
- Artificial fragrances can oftentimes contain phthalates. The FDA states, “Historically, the primary phthalates used in cosmetic products have been dibutylphthalate (DBP), used as a plasticizer in products such as nail polishes (to reduce cracking by making them less brittle); dimethylphthalate (DMP), used in hair sprays (to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair); and diethylphthalate (DEP), used as a solvent and fixative in fragrances.” It’s no wonder why synthetic fragrances tend to linger around, whereas essential oils can offer a short sensory experience during application, and wearing off fairly soon after.
- Artificial fragrances have recently been referred to as the new “secondhand smoke”, as wearing and inhaling them can cause reactions and health concerns.
- Instead of wearing an antiperspirant, use a deodorant. Antiperspirants are made to stop us from sweating – which has implications for our health and wellbeing. Sweating allows us to cool down when we get overheated and allows us to detox through our pores. Ingredients like aluminum block the pores from sweating. Deodorants are made to simply deodorize, allowing us to sweat while helping to absorb wetness and mask or neutralize smells.
Animal Fats & Musk
- Animals fats are used as conditioning agents in skincare and musk is used in fragrance. Follain has animal fats and musks on their restricted ingredient list and states, “Procured from the meat, fat bone or genital glands of slaughtered or live animals. Animals could include sheep, beef, horses, pigs, shark, emu, mink, deer, otter, beavers and more.” These animal-based ingredients are typically obtained in an unethical manner to produce a product. By choosing not to use these ingredients, you are directly affecting the demand for them.
- Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Octisalate, Homosalate and Avobenzone to name a few. Chemical sunscreens absorb directly into the bloodstream, whereas mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin.
- A mineral sunscreen will include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which physically block UV rays from absorbing into the skin, making this the safer alternative. The Center for Disease Control has actually found that 97% of Americans have oxybenzone present in their blood.
If you have access to organic and local products and ingredients, go for it! These are easy ways to support local businesses and organic agriculture.
An ingredient you won’t see on a product label? Intention. Make sure you are looking into a brand’s mission before you choose to vote with your dollar.
While there are thousands of potentially toxic ingredients on the market, it’s important to do our own personal research before we put products on our skin. If you’re looking for resources to help you further investigate ingredients, check out these resources:
Environmental Working Group (App)
Think Dirty (App)
Beauty Lies Truth (Website)
Cambridge Naturals (Cambridge, MA)
The Human Experiment (Film)
Protect Our Breasts (Organization)
No More Dirty Looks by Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt
Not Just a Pretty Face by Stacy Malkan