How Safe Are Your Beauty Products?

May 17, 2023

As the saying goes, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’

However, we all know that, in reality, a substantial part of our beauty routine relies on products we apply to our skin and hair. From cleansers to toners, moisturizers to mascaras, shampoos to conditioners, and everything in between, beauty products have become a staple in our daily lives. With the continued growth of the cosmetics and personal care industries, women now use an average of 12 products a day, men use an average of 6. Many of these products are applied to our largest organ, our skin, providing a pathway to possibly entering the blood stream. With so many chemical laden products on our bodies, we need to stop and think about what these products are made of and, more importantly, how safe they are?

The Beauty Industry: A Closer Look

The beauty industry is notorious for its secrecy. While regulations exist, they often don’t go far enough in demanding transparency from companies. In the United States, for instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require cosmetics to be approved before they hit the market. In fact, the FDA has very little oversite of what goes into the products so many of us use on a daily basis. Many chemicals that are commonly used in products in the US have been outlawed in other countries. As consumers, we must be proactive in ensuring the products we use are safe and healthy.

Understanding Ingredients

One of the most effective ways to determine the safety of a product is to understand its ingredients. However, this is easier said than done. Ingredient lists can be a confusing minefield of unpronounceable chemical names and vague descriptions. Despite this, it’s essential to educate ourselves about commonly used ingredients and their potential risks. Many products contain parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde which have been associated with allergies and other more serious health problems.

For instance, parabens, a common preservative in cosmetics, have been linked to hormone disruption. Added fragrance which may offer a pleasant experience, often contain phthalates which have been connected with reproductive issues. Hair relaxers, most commonly used by African American women, have recently been linked to certain cancers, resulting in a class action lawsuit against the companies that produced and sold these products. Some cosmetic products marketed as skin lightening and anti-aging treatments even contain mercury which has led to mercury poisonings and neurological damage. While the research is still ongoing, the potential risks associated with certain beauty products have led many consumers to seek safer alternatives.

The Rise of Clean Beauty

The growing concerns about the safety of beauty products have given rise to the ‘clean beauty’ movement. This approach focuses on products that are free from harmful chemicals, ethically sourced, and environmentally friendly.

While the definition of ‘clean’ can vary, it generally refers to products that are transparent about their ingredients and prioritize safety over synthetic chemicals. Unfortunately, products may be marketed as “clean” or “natural” but without careful scrutiny of a product’s ingredients, the safety of these products may be unclear.

It’s important to note that just because a product is labeled as ‘clean’ or ‘natural’ doesn’t automatically mean it’s safer. Poison ivy is natural, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to rub it on your skin. Similarly, some synthetic ingredients are perfectly safe and can be more effective than their natural counterparts.

How to Make Safer Choices

When selecting a product, it can be hard to determine what to look for to see if it is safe. Here are some tips to help you make safer choices when it comes to your beauty products:

  • Read the Ingredient List: While it might seem daunting at first, getting familiar with ingredient lists is crucial. Look out for known harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), and formaldehyde, among others.
  • Do Your Research: Information is power. Use resources like the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep database, which rates the safety of cosmetic ingredients.
  • Look for Certifications: Certifications from organizations like Leaping Bunny, EWG Verified, or COSMOS can provide some assurance about a product’s safety and ethical standards. Be on the lookout for “greenwashing”. Just because a product is labelled organic or natural does not mean it doesn’t contain harmful ingredients. These organizations and certifications can help assure you are buying something safe.
  • Less is More: When in doubt, go for products with fewer ingredients. The fewer components a product has, the less likely it is to contain harmful substances.
  • Know Your Brands: Support brands that are transparent about their ingredients and production processes. Many smaller, independent brands prioritize safety and transparency and deserve your patronage.
  • Consult a Professional: If you have sensitivities or skin issues, consulting with a dermatologist or aesthetician is a good idea. These professionals can analyze your specific sensitivities and needs and provide recommendations for safe products.
  • Do a Patch Test: When using a new product, consider a “patch test”.  Apply a small amount of product to your skin and wait 24-48 hours to observe any allergic reaction.
  • Safe Disposal: Products not only touch our skin and hair but also impact the environment. Consider ways to properly dispose of products so harmful chemicals to find their way into local water and soil. Look for minimal packaging that is easily recycled. Some cosmetic stores and companies have recycling and disposal programs available for their products.

While it may seem like a difficult and time-consuming task to find products that are effective and safe, taking a few steps can bring you closer to a safe, clean beauty stash. The impact on your health and well-being is well worth the effort.

Stay Informed

The safety of beauty products is a complex issue, requiring us to be proactive and informed consumers. It’s important to do your research, understand ingredients, and choose brands that value transparency and safety. After all, beauty should never come at the cost of our health.

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