We've heard a lot about the food industry lately (Food, Inc., Fast Food Nation, Omnivore’s Dilemma). Well believe it or not, the beauty industry is right up there with the food industry...it might even be worse! There are no standards for ingredients that the “uber” beauty and CPG companies can add to our products. There are standards for the skincare industry in other countries, but not in the U.S. To give you a better idea, there have been more than 1,110 beauty products banned in the European Union…yet only 10 are banned in the U.S. … So if the FDA isn’t evaluating our beauty and skincare ingredients, we need to do this ourselves. But don’t be deceived by all the “green,” “organic,” and “natural” lining the shelves. Natural Ingredients ≠ Natural. Take matters into your own hands (no pun intended…!) and read the ingredient labels on products you’re feeding your skin!
There are many long and intimidating lists of bad ingredients out there. My list might not be the best or "greenest", but it's basic, short, and easy to remember. I generally like to avoid products with any ingredients I can’t pronounce or recognize, but sometimes this isn't possible. I give you the short list.
1. PARABENS (e.g. butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben…these lists go on forever!)
2. SULFATES (this is usually the second or third ingredient in “ubermarket” shampoos and body washes, e.g. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate)
3. PHTHALATES (aka “plasticizers”…they are used in shower curtains, moisturizers, and everything between! e.g. monoethyl phthalate, butyl benzyl phthalate…)
4. Frequent PREFIXES (e.g. tetrasodium, diethanolamine, trisodium, cyclomethicone, methacrylate, polybutene, methylchloroisothiazolinone…seriously?)
5. Frequent NUMBERS (these are usually associated with synthetic colors and fragrances, which are NO GOOD, e.g. ceteareth-20, laureth-7, polyquaternium-7, peg-8, blue 1...)
As their complicated names demonstrate, the ingredients above are completely synthetic, and were developed in the labs of the biggest companies that just happen to have the biggest research & development budgets, as well. Many of these conglomerates sell cleaning products that contain some of the same chemicals as your skincare! This might be convenient for them, and great for business, but I can promise it isn't doing good things for your health. Take a look at the ingredients from four different brands of body wash...
Based on the handy list above, you can see that each product but the last contains toxic ingredients. The second to last product is better than the first two, but unfortunately it still has sodium laureth sulfate, which will dry out your skin terribly. Sulfates like these are added to body washes and shampoos to create the bubbles you remember from childhood. These bubbles are a comfort zone...we have grown up thinking that they mean a shampoo or body wash is functioning properly...but bubbles (from drying agents) or healthy skin?
I choose the latter, thank you very much! Ingredient labels (top to bottom): Dove, La Roche Posay, Whole Foods and Pangea Organics. If you'd like more info on the products in your bathroom, or a more comprehensive list of ingredients to avoid, two great resources are the EWG's Cosmetic Database and Saffron Rouge's "Black List".