Go Clean: The Step by Step Transition to Clean Beauty Series [Part 1]
Natural, organic, “clean” beauty – however you choose to describe it, there’s no denying that it’s the biggest trend in skincare today. And sure, it sounds good – who would choose “dirty” over “clean” after all? But beyond the buzzwords, (most of which don’t have any legally-defined meaning anyway), there are some really great reasons to make the switch to natural skincare.
Deciding to transition to clean beauty products is both a noble and worthwhile undertaking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a little overwhelming at first. There is so much information out there- from ingredients to avoid and brands to follow to keeping up with the current guidelines and legislation. It can feel like a daunting task.
In order to simplify the process, I’ve put together a 5-part blog series all about the Step by Step transition to clean beauty! Throughout this article series you’ll learn the things you need to know before making the switch, ways to get started in the Clean Beauty game, the steps for switching to Clean Beauty products in a simple, clear and concise way, plus bonus tips for making the transition as painless as possible!
I want to help you ditch the chemical-laden, toxic beauty products for good and make the transition to clean beauty as effortless as possible.
Ready to get started?
In this first article we’re going to delve into the basics, the most important things you need to know before you get started on this journey – like, what is clean beauty, anyway? Plus getting to know the top ingredients to avoid, and some killer resources for information regarding clean beauty products.
Why Make the Switch to Clean Beauty Products?
You already know: what goes on also goes in. Your skin is the largest organ in your body and while it’s job is to provide a physical barrier to protect from unwanted chemicals, some 60% of them get absorbed- some even making it all the way through to your bloodstream. Harsh chemical additives found in mainstream cosmetic and skincare products have the potential to cause serious health issues including skin allergies, hormone disruption and even cancer.
Studies have found that the chemicals in these products we use everyday can affect everything from our reproductive, immune and nervous systems all the way to our moods. In the same manner that you pay attention to and choose healthy foods for yourself and your family, it is important to do the same for the products that you use on your skin and hair.
Now, you’d think that somewhere along the line one of the regulatory bodies that are concerned with our overall health and safety would be paying attention when it comes to beauty products and cosmetics.
That is their job, afterall…
… But you’d be wrong.
These chemicals in our beauty and skincare products have almost no regulation by the FDA, and only a small percentage of them have safety data. Not only does the law not require cosmetics be approved by the FDA before they hit the shelves, beauty companies are more or less responsible for regulating themselves when it comes to ingredients and transparency in labeling.
To hammer home the point: there are only 11 cosmetic ingredients banned in the United States. In comparison, over 1,300 have been outlawed or restricted in the entire European Union specifically due to safety concerns.
Honestly when it comes down to it, we really don’t know what’s safe and what’s not. There is no way to know for sure because most of these chemicals have never been reviewed by a third party.
If you’re anything like me, “might be safe” isn’t exactly encouraging when it comes to my health and that of my family. Crossing our fingers hoping for safety isn’t nearly the same as trusting in the safety of a product. In this case, opting for Clean Beauty products alleviates any potential concerns.
What is Clean Beauty?
Because of the general lack of regulation overall within this industry, the rise in popularity of clean beauty products has emerged.
But what is clean beauty, exactly?
Though the definitions may differ slightly from person to person based on their values, clean beauty in general refers to a skincare, haircare or cosmetic product that is formulated without any “toxic” ingredients. (We’ll get to what those ingredients are down below!)
Clean Beauty also goes by many names. There is “clean” of course, as well as “natural,” “green,” “nontoxic,” and sometimes even simply, “safe.” These terms are generally used interchangeably and with little difference in meaning, as there is no legal definition as to what constitutes any of these terms.
A Clean Beauty product needn’t necessarily be hand-crafted, made by an indie beauty brand, be free of any and all preservatives, be vegan, or cruelty-free, etc. Those are specific values that will come into play in your personal buying choices.
Clean Beauty on the whole means that a product was created purposefully without the use of knowingly harmful chemicals. Natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe in the same way that synthetic or made in a lab doesn’t mean an ingredient is inherently harmful.
Ingredients to Avoid
A great place to start when you’re getting ready to take the plunge and transition to clean, non-toxic beauty products is to familiarize yourself with the ingredients you’re trying to avoid and why. Applying meaning to the reason you’re avoiding something will help cement this decision in your mind.
Parabens – Parabens are preservatives added to personal care products in order to keep bacteria and yeast from growing, but they are also known endocrine disruptors, meaning they mimic estrogen in the body and can lead to hormonal imbalances, and possibly even breast cancer. Examples include: methylparaben, proplyparaben, isopropylparaben, and isobutylparaben. Parabens are found in: Makeup, body washes, deodorants, shampoos, facial cleanser – If it has water in it, it probably has a paraben to keep it from growing bacteria.
Sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate)(SLS and SLES) – SLS and SLES are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethoxylation, which is used to process other chemicals in order to make them less harsh. Additionally, chemical compounds known as “nitrosamines” are common by-products of the sulfation process. 90% of nitrosamines are believed to be carcinogenic. Sulfates are found in: shampoos, body washes, bubble bath.
Phthalates – A phthalate is a plasticizer that is added to plastic to keep it from becoming brittle. Phthalates are used in cosmetics primarily in fragrances. Examples include: DBP, DEHP, DEP and others. Like parabens, phthalates are endocrine disruptors and can cause hormonal and reproductive problems and birth defects. Phthalates are found in: almost every product with an artificial scent like shampoos, perfumes, and moisturizers, but also hairsprays and nail polishes.
Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde is used as a preservative in cosmetics. It’s a known carcinogen that is also linked to allergic reactions, asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. Formaldehyde is found in: nail polish, body washes, conditioners, shampoos, cleansers, and eyeshadows.
Oxybenzone (and other chemical sunscreens)- (benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate and octyl methoxycinnamate) These chemicals are found in: any product with an SPF and most sunscreens. Oxybenzone is a known endocrine disruptor and can alter thyroid function. It’s also linked to skin irritation, sensitization and allergies.
Triclosan – Triclosan is an antibacterial pesticide used in antibacterial soaps. In 2016, it was banned from soap used in health-care settings, but it is still allowed in personal cosmetics. Triclosan contributes to antibiotic resistant bacteria and may also impact human reproductive systems. Triclosan is found in: antiperspirant deodorant, liquid soap, soap bars, hand sanitizers, laundry detergents and toothpastes.
Propylene Glycol (PEG)- PEGs are used as thickening agents, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. Due to the manufacturing process, PEGs are often contaminated with both ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens, the latter known to cause respiratory problems. Propylene Glycol is found in: lotions, sunscreens and shampoos.
Toluene – (may also be listed as: benzene, toluol, phenylmethane, methylbenzene) Toluene is a volatile petrochemical solvent that can severely affect your respiratory system, can be toxic to the immune system and can even cause birth defects. Toluene is found in: nail polish, nail treatments, and hair color/bleaching products.
BHA and BHT (Butylatedhydroxy Anisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene) – BHA and BHT are synthetic antioxidants used to extend shelf life. These chemicals mimic estrogen causing infertility, can cause allergic reactions in your kidney, thyroid, and liver, and can be cancer causing. BHA and BHT are found in: lipsticks, moisturizers, diaper creams, and other cosmetics.
Coal-Tar Dyes – (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or naphthalene) Coal-Tar Dyes are a byproduct of coal processing that is a known carcinogen. Coal-Tar Dyes are found in: hair dye, lipsticks, cosmetic products and shampoo.
Before moving on there are two important things to remember when it comes to this list and ingredients to avoid:
- This list is by no means an exhaustive one. A quick google search would surely raise concern with even more questionable ingredients and the list is being added to every day as we learn more about the ingredients that are commonly found in our personal care products.
- Perhaps more importantly: do not overwhelm yourself with this list! You do not need to memorize the ingredients themselves or the harmful effects they are associated with. It’s important to be familiar with them and have a general idea of where they’re found, but we’ll soon dive into some resources that will help make everything easier!
Where to Look for More Information and Do Your Research
The good news is that there are a myriad of resources that can help you out on this journey to a cleaner skin and haircare routine. There are some excellent apps like Think Dirty, EWG and Codecheck that are able to check your products and give you the low down on things like toxicity ratings as well as what ingredients to avoid.
You can also find some great information on the Good Face Index, a database that both analyzes your current products as well as recommends non-toxic alternatives if your product does contain harmful ingredients. Beauty Counter also has a handy tool called The Never List, of more than 1,800 questionable or harmful chemicals that they never use as ingredients in their products which you can refer back to for help.
What does clean beauty mean to you?
Finally, when it comes to getting ready to make the switch to Clean Beauty products, you’ve got to define what exactly that means to you.
- What are your personal values when it comes to the use of personal care products? We know that we want products that are both safe and non-toxic, but beyond that it’s time to decide what else is high on your priorities list.
- Do you value “all-natural” meaning a product doesn’t use any (or very little) synthetic/man-made ingredients?
- Do you value vegan products which use no animal byproducts whatsoever? Keep in mind that vegan means no beeswax or honey, which are two very common ingredients in the Clean Beauty community.
- Do you value cruelty-free products made by companies who have vowed (or been certified) that they do no testing on animals?
These answers will be different for everyone and it is OK to prioritize some values over others. Take some time to sit with these questions and allow yourself to make clear decisions on where your priorities lie before moving forward with your Clean Beauty transition. Then check out the next article in this clean beauty series with the Step by Step process of how to get started!